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Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

2+2=5, Wait! No, It Doesn’t…

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I have noticed that more and more frequently there seems to be a rampant inability for people to to pause, think, and ask the right level of questions to get behind the supposed “facts” that the media machine spews.

Recently, I was driving home from my daughter’s eighth grade recognition ceremony. The school doesn’t want to call it a graduation because the administrators don’t want everybody to show up in big dresses with big flowers, but they do it anyway. As I was driving, I was listening to People Of The United States (POTUS), which is an XM channel focused on politics generally in Politicians own words.

The conversation was about climate change. People were talking about the fact that science is indisputable, but it is still possible for people to question proven facts. There are huge amounts of money spent on disinformation or misinformation campaigns by folks who have a vested interest in public opinion not aligning with scientific proof. If you look at research from the National Academy of Science, which by the way, was first put in place by Republican President Abraham Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other governmental agencies charged with pure science, there’s no question that climate change is happening.

Yet, we have this media market that’s continuing to form a debate around something that’s no longer debatable. What’s debatable is what we should do about climate change. What’s debatable is how much the sea level is going to rise and how fast. No one really knows, but we can legitimately debate that. Yet, it IS a fact that the magnitude of change that human beings have produced in the planet with fossil fuel consumption is enormous. The fact is, we’re taking out of the ground carbon that was put into the ground in the age of dinosaurs, and we’re putting it into the air in a geological instant. That’s fundamentally unnatural.

There are so many times when politicians and political pundits quote opinions as if they were actual facts and statistics. It just seems to me that our search for the truth and rational thought is simply NOT supported by the culture and society that we live in. There are some blogs and websites that are trying to, in an unbiased way, look at the truth of statements and give you kind of a rating of “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert might refer to it. How much is the data screaming in pain by the way it was just manipulated in the sentence that was just said by candidate A or candidate B? I just want to stand up and shake somebody by the collar and say, “Would you just stop it?” You can choose your opinions, but you can’t choose your facts.

It’s a very frustrating place that we live in because we’re able to measure everything more precisely. Consequently, we seem unable to agree on reality when it’s staring us in the face. How do you overcome this? How do we change this? How do we change our educational system so that people are taught to question instead of accept? How do we change how we look at facts? What does fact checking even mean anymore? Well, even if “the numbers” are correct, sometimes people’s conclusions are drawn in a crazy, disjointed, non-straight line. Most importantly, how do you ever appreciate or understand how biased things are?

Look at News Corp., as but one example, the holding company who owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and everybody else in the Murdoch empire. Kingdom Holding Company, the money of the Saudi Royal family, is the second largest shareholder in News Corp. So, do you think there might be some conflict of interest there? My opinion (based on reading, listening, etc. but not indisputable fact) is that the Saudis continue to maintain the notion that they want to keep oil inexpensive because if it gets too expensive, then alternative energies will get funded and be used sooner, with a concomitant negative impact on the value of oil.

You always have to peel back the onion and look at why people might say what they’re saying. We cannot just accept almost anything anymore as fact. It’s frustrating for somebody who grew up when, you know, somebody would give a speech, but you could actually believe that they were attempting to tell you the truth – always through their particular opinion filter. I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I just think it’s getting worse and worse, and it annoys me to no end.

People are focused on this week, this month,and this quarter’s earnings. Nothing else matters, which is ludicrous. But that’s what’s been fostered by our 24/7 cycles of always on “news” seemingly mindlessly intent on the pursuit of only the almighty profit & immense wealth, as if that were the only measuring stick of success. I was just cracking up when the Facebook IPO went live because by 10:30 that morning people were already making projections about how day one would end and what this means for FB and everything yet to ever have an IPO in the future. It was under an intense microscope with minute by minute analysis. When the reality is – no human can truly understand what’s going on when they are in the moment. It’s called the fog of war. You can’t really know what is happening until you step back and gain some perspective. Yet we have a culture where we don’t have the luxury of perspective so we constantly make decisions based on incomplete information. Before you know it, people start to believe some of the stuff that is ‘made up” on the spot. Yet, if you step back and critically assess the ‘right decision’ (or conclusion) you thought you made – it may suggest you ought to have paused and said – “Wait, what? That’s just not right. 2 and 2 don’t add up to 5.” Today we just don’t work that way.

One reason this bothers me so much is because I grew up as a market research person. Part of the whole gig in the market research world is to try to understand what’s really going on. With total human knowledge doubling every three, four or five years, it’s impossible to keep up. So we operate in this nether world of semi truths, opinion masquerading as science, and frankly outright attempts at manipulation yet somehow not enough of us speak out to say there is something very, very wrong with this picture.

Of course somewhere along the line, we have got to realize that there are some universal truths that we as humans have got to get our S*#% together and take action on together. Simple examples – if we don’t have sufficient clean potable water, people will die. That’s a universal truth. Similarly, if we don’t have the ability to grow sufficient food, then people will die.

Unfortunately, humans as a species and in particular we Americans (don’t totally get why – just an observation) have a long history of only reacting when they absolutely have to, meaning that heartbeat before it’s “too late”. We just kind of sit back, waiting and waiting, maybe praying, and basically hoping. I think we’re seeing a lot more activism now than we’ve seen in awhile. People are tired of having things done to them. Ordinary people want to take more responsibility for making things happen, attempting to actually exert the collective power of assembled humanity over the money and resources of a slim sliver of our population – which to me is a great step in the right direction.

Come on folks! No matter my politics nor position and no matter how hard I may shout it, or how many pundits I convince (or pay) to support it, or how clever my PAC commercials may be, or how you may publicly castigate me for questioning your “beliefs” the TRUTH is 2 +2 STILL does not equal 5!*

*Yes, for philosophy steeped friends who will take exception – reminding me that numbers themselves are fictitious; but an imaginary figment of the human mind, certainly not “truth”! However, this time can we agree that my example is “common knowledge” based and let that be enough?


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  • jlarryburns

    Really?   No one is going to comment on this?   You all do realize you are therefore encouraging me to go off on some further rants …. 
     
    Larry.  jlarryburns