I was watching John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. It is all very well to snigger at wilful ignorance, but when it is fervently subscribed to by political leaders it can’t bode well for the country, or the world.
Watch this clip (starting at 5.50) in which the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives discusses violent crime rates in the United States. Newt Gingrich just flatly denies the evidence, dismissing it as “liberal statistics” (the data comes from the FBI) and then says while it may be “theoretically right, it’s not where human beings are”.
Leaving aside the special code word “liberal” which his target audience can be relied on to understand to mean lies and/or stupidity; he is basically claiming that misconceptions are more valid than facts, and that correcting misconceptions is not something he is interested in doing.
I’m always left wondering whether such people are just cynical manipulators of those who believe in them; or whether they actually believe in their own stories.
Even if you are fed up with establishment politics, and I think that this is something that many Europeans share with their American counterparts; it ought to be a worry that a political party seems to be making up their own version of reality as they go along. It is even more worrying that many voters don’t seem to mind – and this isn’t only an American phenomenon: you can see this in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote*. In an era where it has never been easier to find out the facts, it is peculiar that high numbers of potential voters have decided that the facts are whatever appeals most to their narrative. Are people disillusioned? Cynical? Nihilistic?
*I’m not trying to argue that there weren’t legitimate reasons for having serious reservations about the EU, merely that much of the rhetoric surrounding the referendum had little to do with facts.