(Hi, sorry, popping out of Holiday Exile long enough to write this.)
You will discover, via that article, that there exist people who are ‘truthers’ about facts that are provably false — they believe that it’s the Berenstein Bears and not the Berenstain Bears, they believe there was a genie movie called Shazaam starring Sinbad instead (or in addition to) a genie movie called Kazaam starring Shaquille O’Neal, they believe that the Vader line is “Luke, I am your father,” rather than “No, I am your father.”
And these people are insistent about these points, assuring that their memories are correct. They further believe these truths so hard that their memories are, perhaps, a sign of an alternate universe, or that we’re all living in a giant simulation. Surely, this is proof. It’s proof of a glitch in the Matrix, or evidence that some people have slipped from one universe to another.
What the —
I mean — god, shit, fuck — what? What?
Stop that right now.
We all get to hold different opinions. I can say, “I think Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie,” and you can say, “Well, I think it’s Return of the Jedi,” and neither of us are wrong because it’s a matter of taste. It’s subjective. But you cannot say, “The line in ESB is ‘Luke, I am your father,’” because it’s jolly well fucking not. You can’t say, “The best Star Wars movie is The Undiscovered Country,” because that’s not a Star Wars movie. You can’t just say shit and have it be true. You can’t just decide that the information you contain in your head somehow automagically defeats the information that exists in reality. This isn’t some kind of rock-paper-scissors game where MEMORY beats EVIDENCE. Your memory of something is not perfectly reliable. Personal truth does not trump empirical evidence.
You just think it’s one way because somehow, that got into the cultural consciousness. It’s like how the word “literally” sometimes is used to mean the opposite of its original intention — there, the definition can change, because the definition of words is (over time) malleable. But empirical evidence is not. The line that Vader speaks will not one day subtly shift to the other thing just because enough people assert it. (Though in the long-view, in two thousand years when no such copy of the film exists, it is possible to change that narrative. That doesn’t change reality, though, it changes our cultural memory based on misinformation.)
We have to cut this shit out.
This is how fake news happens. This is how echo chambers strengthen their walls. This is how we — and I’ve done it, too, trust me — share bad information, because we find people who also believe the same dippy bullshit. And sometimes it’s not even a matter of confirmation bias, it’s just a matter of repeating a lie long and loud enough until the truth of the lie enters into our memory banks. It over-writes other information and begins to code as “true.” And, solipsistic ding-dongs as we all are, we trust our memory of a thing far more than anybody else’s memory of a thing, even so much so as to concoct fuck-brained theories about we’re not wrong so much as well clearly there’s just a multiverse and I’m from Galaxy 5A73B — ha ha ha, that’s all this is, just a common misunderstanding between multiversal citizens!
No! Fuck! Nooooo.
You don’t get to have your own boutique reality! Your artisanal data might be locally-sourced, but bad news: it fell out of a bull’s ass. Sometimes? You’re just wrong!
And it’s okay to be wrong!
School teaches us that it’s bad to be wrong — but fuck that, it’s okay to be wrong! I dare say it is often necessary to be wrong, provided we discover our wrongness, because being wrong — and learning that we are wrong — is how we then course-correct and learn true shit. We have to be very careful in this Brand New Supposedly Post-Fact Post-Truth I-Believe-In-Political-Unicorns age not to let empirical evidence slip through our grip like so much rope. We must accept information. We must trust in experts, actual experts. We must not diminish or disregard entire bodies of data and expertise merely because it does not conform with our memory or with what our gut tells us. Yes, we can test information. Yes, we can shine a bright light on facts to try to hone and refine and seek deeper data. But that doesn’t mean simply diminishing, disdaining and disregarding actual provable information just because, “Enh, fuck it, I’m pretty sure it’s Berenstein and I’m the expert on my own reality, so eat a bucket of duck dicks, Fake News.”
Trust me. It’s Berenstain. My mother worked for the Berenstains as a house-cleaner, and she did this for many, many years, and at no point did they change their name just to be weird. They did not go and seek out all the copies of their books and with infallible pen change the covers just to fuck with us all. They are not Refugees from a Collapsing Multiverse.
It’s always been Berenstain.
The world has always been round.
Climate change is really real.
Obama isn’t a Kenyan Muslim space alien who’s going to steal your guns.
Just because you think something doesn’t make it so.
Just because you feel one way doesn’t confirm it to be true.
This is going to be a real challenge in the next four years. Hell, it’s already been a challenge. We’re looking down the barrel of a government who wants to give you its own version of facts — which is ostensibly always true of governments, but fascist, autocratic governments are far more interested in delivering worldview and agenda and ideology as facts. It’s an abuse narrative, a cult narrative, where they set themselves as the center of the universe. The sun orbits around them, not vice versa. Real news becomes fake news. Science is sold as propaganda. They insist that they possess truth, they have facts, and all they have to do is tell them to you and have you believe them. But that’s not how reality works. Denying climate change doesn’t stop climate change. Closing your eyes and insisting that the train roaring down the tracks straight toward you will not turn that train to vapor. You cannot believe hard enough to change actual reality. Magical thinking feels great, but it also risks endangering us and shackling us to cuckoopants motherfuckers who happily confirm to the beliefs that come up bubbling out of the pool of our own magical thinking. We have to be hella careful not to give too much life to opinions just because they feel good, or sound right, or because someone else gave them to us on a platter but labeled them as REALLY REAL TRUTHY FACT-FLAVORED STUFF.
Facts are not opinions. They’re facts. They’re things we know. They’re not conspiracies or proof of a multiverse. Reality will never neatly line up with our beliefs, no matter our political stripe.
Reality does not conform to us. We must conform to reality.
Or, to reiterate —
Sometimes, you’re just wrong. And that’s okay.
Practice the phrase with me, and you might need it, because we’re all about to engage in THE HOLIDAYS where we’re thrust up against different people with different viewpoints about things. Practice the phrase, “I could be wrong.” And then practice the phrase, “That is not correct, and here I can prove it.” And then prove it. And if none of that works, flip the table and jetpack right the fuck out of there because you’re arguing with a houseplant.
Now read this, as homework: How To Convince Someone When Facts Fail.
*sets fire to your holiday decorations*
*guzzles your egg nog*
*climbs out through the chimney with all your presents*