What to Believe When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes and Ears
Be aware of confirmation bias in a social media spin cycle of dirty laundry
It is Friday morning, January 17, 2020. I am in my basement office in Virginia, pulling together the best I can many pieces of a tattered story that, if properly stitched together, might reveal a semi-autobiographical tale of a nation in peril. I cannot tell from the pieces I’ve grasped so far if the final story will be one of a heroic victory over scurrilous dark forces, or a tragic tale of immeasurable loss, the demise of hope and the death of innocence.
The debris of the ship of state
For the past too many weeks I’ve been watching, and reading about, the saga that is the impeachment of the President of the United States. I purposefully immersed myself in the restless, polluted ocean of the media, atop which floats the stained, rotting, barnacle-coated flotsam and jetsam of the wrecked political state. All around me I see alleged facts, pure fiction, lies, hearsay, innuendo, denials, bullying, brashness, shameless pandering, baseless assertions, finger-pointing, bus wheels, self-righteousness, misdirection, dark and insane plots, soulless pronouncements, shredded morals, discarded ethics, ennui, hubris, character assassination, racism, sexism, hatred, and hopelessness.
What does not appear on that stormy sea are the ships of our rescue, a fleet of vessels that once plied the clear and open waters of our national aspirations. Such ships had proud names and honorable legacies: honesty, integrity, comity, thoughtfulness, compassion, humility, daring, public good, fair-play, handshakes, agreeable disagreements, cooperation, compromise, good will, inclusiveness, and opportunity to dream, grow, and achieve. I fear those ships of comfort are long gone over the horizon, their moral compasses pointing away from the debris field of our once honorable ship of state.
As participants in the American democratic experiment, when we are faced with doubtful claims from present or potential leaders, it should be in our nature — and our best interests — to seek out the truth, to question dubious or unsubstantiated claims, to test with reasonable skepticism the earnest but overwrought assertions of men and women attempting to climb the greasy pole of politics on the shoulders of our ballots. We should be wary of charlatans, snake-oil vendors, and glib glad-handers whose fingers pick our pockets of trust. We are taught at the earliest age to not take candy from, or get in the cars of, strangers. Self-protection (or national protection) through healthy skepticism is a fundamental lesson we learn in our youth yet callously dismiss as we grow older.
What to believe
How worn down, but still used, is the phrase, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see”?” And yet how appropriate those words are today when you realize they were written by Edgar Allen Poe, in 1845, in his dark short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, a tale about the state of an insane asylum. Which brings me back to my lead topic: the impeachment of Donald John Trump.
Lev Parnas, no Oracle of Delphi
A new character has emerged who claims to have just the kind of information Democrats desperately seek. His name is Lev Parnas, and he is a bottom-feeder and hired thug of the worst kind. And yet Democrats, and left-leaning media, are trying hard to find Parnas embraceable, as if he was a transmogrified version of the Pythia — the Oracle of Delphi — whose infallible wisdom was much sought after for almost 1,100 years. Those Parnavian optimists forget that the wisdom of the Pythia was, after much modern-day scientific analysis, influenced by hallucinogenic gasses, possibly ethylene, seeping into the oracle’s cave through fissures and faults surrounding the region.
Confirmation bias undermines the road to truth
Ah, well, who cares about the scientific method when there is Parnas in the flesh, on Anderson Cooper 360, offering up the very “evidence” Democrats crave. Talk about confirmation bias! Confirmation bias has gripped the Democratic party and the media — news and social — that is desperate for any impeachment-and-removal-from-office guarantee. The Democrats are so fixated on getting Trump out of office that they are willing to listen to the hallucinated story of a former (and possibly current) Giuliani associate.
Perhaps I worked in Washington for too long (35 years in the political arenas of the Hill and the Executive Branch); perhaps I knew too many men and women in high elected office, of both parties, whose clay feet, dirty hands, and glib tongues revealed them to be nothing more than hacks and conscienceless mimics of their leaders’ equally deficient characters. But all those years in the sewer and all those relationships I formed have taught me to look at someone like Parnas as nothing more than a self-serving, prison-bound, purveyor of convenient lies — convincing lies to some, but lies nonetheless. At the risk of being crude, Parnas is a tar baby the Democrats are being taunted to touch.
I want him gone, too, but not this way
I realize that many, if not the majority of my friends and former government associates who know me as a liberally-inclined, but fair broker of political discussion, will not understand my hard-over animus toward Lev Parnas. Why would I not, they will ask, want everything Parnas alleges to be true? Why do I reject, apparently out-of-hand, the gifts of evidence he is proffering? The answer is simple: he is too good to be true, too slick to be believed, too opportune to be trusted. The liberal media, mostly in the form of CNN, has gotten to the point of pandering to the lowest form of political life for the thin soup of its impeachment stories. And in doing so, they are doing a great disservice to viewers who are now so lashed by winds of misinformation blowing from every quarter that no information — real or imagined — is capable of being evaluated.
In the Bard’s words
The noise of talking heads and outraged politicians is deafening static to my ears; I long for truth, but it is not forthcoming. I leave it to Macbeth to explain:
“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17–28)