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Truth is the Object

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Nebraska Rep. State Sen. Bruce Bostelman, in a debate during a school funding bill, moved well past the current boogeyman of the right, CRT (which isn’t taught in public schools) to the core of the problem with education, furries. 

Furries, if you haven’t heard, are groups who dress up as animals and interact with others of their group socially as anthropomorphized versions of the animal. It’s very much like people who enjoy Cosplay, dress up as their favorite Anime characters, or who attend Comicon every year dressed as their favorite Star Wars character. (And if the paragraph you just read seems like gibberish, you may be a Boomer.)

“Schoolchildren dress up as animals – cats and dogs – during the school day; they meow, and they bark,” Bostelman said. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”

In a normal world I would not have to publish the following declaimer: As Mr. Bostelman admitted shortly after making the statement, this accusation is not true. It’s an Internet hoax. Your local school district is not spending your tax dollars on litter boxes for children who identify as cats and dogs. (As seems obvious, it’s just a veiled attack on trans kids and bathrooms).

Why would Bostelman make a statement as “fact” without picking up a phone, calling school districts, and asking superintendents in his state if they were buying litter boxes for their classrooms? If I were going to make such a bizarre accusation, I would want to be very sure it was true. 

One possible explanation would be that he didn’t care if it was true, he only cared about its value as a talking point. Another reason may be that he has internalized the currently popular belief that the truth resides in the subject, rather than the object. That there is no objective truth that exists outside our beliefs.

One early morning in 1980, as my wife and I were finishing breakfast, we heard the distinctive stepped tone of a fire alarm from our police scanner. The dispatcher said there was a fire reported at the old Woodville elementary school where my wife was a teacher (what is now a concrete pad at the intersection of West Live Oak and South Pecan streets). I immediately grabbed my camera bag and we headed over to the school.

We got there about 10 minutes before the fire department, and I immediately started taking photos of the school. By the time they arrived, the fire had spread to most of the building.  

Eventually the District Attorney showed up, and because we were the first on the scene, he asked us to tell him exactly what we had seen. We both gave the same story. There were large flames from the center of the back of the school. The DA asked me to provide him by the next day with 8x10 photos from every frame I shot that day. Which in 1980 meant a long night printing photos in a darkroom.

Before I put the first frame of the first roll of film in the enlarger and saw it on the printing frame, I would have sat in a trial witness box, swore to tell the truth, and testified that when I got to the scene there was a single flame coming from the back, center of the building. But the image on the printing frame showed three flames, the one I remembered seeing, and separate flames from the far left and right ends of the building. Clear evidence of arson.

It is well known that humans make terrible witnesses. We see selectively, drawn to the most striking part of a scene. Our memories are not stored as photographs, forever burned in our brains, but as impressions and feelings. And every time we pull up those memories, they are altered by our ensuing life experiences, to be stored again forever changed.

 Truth lives in the object, not the subject.  Objective truth is truth that exists independently of our beliefs. I believe, for example, that Tyler County Courthouse exists. Should I choose to deny its existence, it will still exist. When I die, when I no longer exist, the courthouse will still be there.

Social media has altered our brains. A decade ago, a state representative who heard a story from a constituent that public school students were coming to school dressed as cats and dogs and demanding that the school provide litter boxes for their use, would have laughed it off. Or he would have at least picked up a phone and called a few school administrators.  Today, he used it without verification as talking points in a debate.

We are doomed as a country if we continue to accept as truth any information that supports our own bias, regardless of the source. I’ve been involved in journalism in one way or another for decades. I have been lied to by politicians from Ann Richards to Gregg Abbott, across the spectrum of left to right. I have sat across the desk from politicians who lied to me when they knew I knew they were lying to me. 

We are not going to survive as a country if we don’t abandon our own bias, demand the objective truth from our representatives in government, and stop spreading political lies ourselves on social media.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Great Caesar's Ghost · 1 years ago
    Excellent points! Weirdos of all stripes now take in all sorts of bizarre, obviously fake "truths" as gospel. If it's on the internet, after all, well, it must be true! See also: right-wingers' Disney "too woke" boycott. Hogwash!