Civility and Truth

Hidden Agendas and Clear Intentions X

Context

Some thoughts following the US Government shutdown at Midnight, Saturday, January 20, 2018, and band-aid reopening this week.

CivilityCivility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored. And civility begins with us. The Institute for Civility in Government

TruthTruth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth may also often be used in modern contexts to refer to an idea of “truth to self,” or authenticity. Truth is usually held to be opposite to falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also take on a logical, factual, or ethical meaning. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy, art, and religion. Many human activities depend upon the concept, where its nature as a concept is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; these include most of the sciences, law, journalism, and everyday life. Some philosophers view the concept of truth as basic, and unable to be explained in any terms that are more easily understood than the concept of truth itself. This discussion proceeds at Wikipedia.

Over the past two decades, national political and civil discourse in the United States has been characterized by ‘Truth Decay,’ defined as a set of four interrelated trends: an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. These trends have many causes, but this report focuses on four: characteristics of human cognitive processing, such as cognitive bias; changes in the information system, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle; competing demands on the education system that diminish time spent on media literacy and critical thinking; and polarization, both political and demographic. The most damaging consequences of Truth Decay include the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement of individuals from political and civic institutions, and uncertainty over national policy. Read more and download the free ebook

Observations

The paths of civility and truth, in times of peace, seem to run in more or less parallel harmony. During more contentious times including war, these paths rarely seem to intersect. In fact, the visibility of these paths erodes leaving only a memory like a mirage.

The four interrelated trends from ‘Truth Decay’ warrant repeating.

  1. An increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data;
  2. A blurring of the line between opinion and fact;
  3. An increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and,
  4. Lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

Equally important are the four causes discussed.

  1. Characteristics of human cognitive processing, such as cognitive bias;
  2. Changes in the information system, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle;
  3. Competing demands on the education system that diminish time spent on media literacy and critical thinking; and,
  4. Polarization, both political and demographic.

Sometimes problems persist because we don’t know what to do. Other times the problems persist because we are too lazy to make the effort. Address the causes and the resulting trends will change.

Closing

TrustAccording to the latest edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the United States has experienced a significant 37 percentage point drop in trust across its institutions while at the opposite end of the scale, China experienced a 27-point gain. When it comes to government, one of the most important trust indicators, China leads the way. Edelman found that 84 percent of people in China trust their government, the highest level worldwide and an eight percentage point increase on 2017. Read more.

The United States Founding Fathers got it right about democracy. We the people . . .

That was at a moment in time and circumstances have changed; and are now in a state of accelerating, exponential, and perpetual change.

Democracy is not inherited, it is created. We are wise to ask, ‘Are the agendas hidden and the intentions clear.’

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