A recent article in The Economist laments the diminishing importance of truth (September 10, 2016). The most depressing thing about current American politics is not so much Donald Trump but the apparent demise of respect for facts. It does not seem to matter to Trump’s supporters how many times he fudges facts and tells lies. After the first debate with Hillary Clinton where he lied dozens of times, his percentage of support did not diminish. It’s a case of : ”My mind is made up, don’t bother me with facts.”
The Economist blames this on the loss of faith in institutions among people who used to enjoy their place in society; mostly white men. They lost influence and are angry. They feel they have been betrayed by institutions like banks, government, political parties, mainline media, and policies they implemented like globalization and free-trade. So they don’t trust anything coming from the traditional sources of information anymore. They think immigrants and women are taking over and undercutting America’s greatness. They explicitly deride “political correctness.” The Black President symbolizes all this. So they are fighting back.
The authority of mainline media has diminished because social media has become the primary information source. Social media has democratised the information sector. But there is no longer a fact checking mechanism hence no authoritative referee. Truth is determined by “who is saying it.” Anyone who says what you don’t like is unfriended and banished from your sight, so you see only what you like. Even scientific consensus is considered to be unbalanced if it is inconvenient.
As the result, there are few means to verify facts. Truth no longer depends on facts but on “who is saying it.” Truth is determined according to tribal loyalty, race, nationality, religion, or political ideology, leading to statements such as: “ I believe whatever he says, right or wrong; the NDP is leading us into a catastrophe because they are doing what NDP does (even though the Tories might have done the same thing.)” Even aesthetics can distort facts: Nicholos Sarkosy stated that “Bashar Al Assad can not be so bad because his wife is beautiful.” This is why Mr. Trump can get away with untruths.
We are in trouble even after American election is over, one way or another; we have to find a way to restore faith in truth based on facts.
BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE
The sage I adore very much said a long time ago, “It is better to give than to receive.” He was not trying to be funny, because it is true. I know it because I was once on a receiving end of charity and my pride was in tatters. I was envious of people who were rich enough to give to the needy. My idea of paradise is the place where nobody is an object of charity.
It was soon after the end of the WWII in Tokyo in 1945. I was hungry. Everybody was hungry. Infrastructure was totally broken down and food could not reach the cities. People who refused to go to black market starved. The story was the same in Europe, I am told. Then Americans came to the rescue with emergency relief. Were we grateful? Of course we were. But we were also ashamed having to depend on charity. We were proud, as all of us should be. It is a human nature. In an ideal world, we all should be proudly able to keep dignity of independence.
About one million Ethiopians died of starvation during the great African famine of the 1980’s. I worked in Geneva as a member of the team coordinating the relief work. We found that many who died of starvation were farmers. Despite plenty of the available emergency food they starved. Farmers are proud people: they did not want to go for free food until it was too late after eating seeds and selling all farm animals and implements. Then they were too weak to walk to relief centres. They were ashamed that they could not feed themselves.
Christmas is coming. It’s tine to give. We feel good when we give. But what about those who are on the receiving end? Of course they are grateful to receive. But have you ever stop to think that those who have to receive prefer to be on the giving side? It is better to give than to receive. We should work for the world where no one is needy and everybody knows the joy of giving.
There is no more room for dispute: evolution is how all existing life forms came into being. It is the result of natural selection by the dictate of the survival skill of the fittest. I resent the claim by some Christians that only “creationist theory” is the universal truth. I am a Christian too and have no problem accepting the theory of evolution. If they insist that the Biblical story of creation is how the world came into being, I say, “Not true.” The Bible is not a scientific book. The writers of the Bible would be embarrassed to find that some people take their words literary. The Bible is a spiritual book. It’s a collection of apocalyptic fantasies, folk tales, legends, metaphors, poetry, and sermons, all of which are the record of human’s search for the ultimate reality. Scientific facts were not their interest.
I don’t care if some people want to believe that what the Book of Genesis says is how the world came into being. But I have difficulty if a belief affects people adversely. In that sense, I have two problems with the theory of evolution. First, some people say that evolution is also a social theory. They use evolution to justify ethics of free market economy: the winners are entitled to the riches because they have proven to be fit, and the losers deserve to be poor and are unfit to survive. You can not do that. Evolution is natural, not social, science.
The second problem is an assumption that human species are on top of food chain because we have survived this long and now dominate the planet. They credit this to our survival skills and superior wisdom. Here, we must remember that human race have existed for only about a million years. I think that the jury is still out on the question of human forte. Yes, we humans advanced so fast and are thriving. The rate of human population increase is phenomenal. In the process, we must also recognize that we are destroying the balance and equilibrium of the eco-system. It is suicidal. We are rushing in top speed towards a precipice. We could be the shortest-lived organism hence the stupidest and the most unfit.
At the Museum of Insects in Montreal, the most impressive educational show piece for me is the section on cockroaches. I had no idea that cockroaches had lived a few million years before dinosaurs. And they are still with us. Surely the skill to enable a species to survive must be the ultimate test of skill and wisdom. Then, you can say we are inferior to cockroaches judging from the way we are destroying our environment hence ourselves. We certainly are not on top of evolutionary process. Or are we? We’ll see in a billion years.
NO CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IN AFRICA
– Celebrating love without Christmas tree nor turkey-
I lived for eight years in Lesotho, Southern Africa. During Christmas, if someone comes to your door and says “Kresmese! (Christmas!)” he is not wishing you a “Merry Christmas.” He was asking for a hand-out. It wrecked my romantic image of Christmas in Africa. But soon I realized that my idea of Christmas needed a revision. Birth of Christ was not nice nor neat. There was no romance, but there was love.
Christmas comes in the middle of the summer in Southern Africa. Temperatures can go up to the 40 degrees C and above. The celebration awaits the cool air of the night. “Carols in the Candle Light” is a very popular community event in the whole of Southern Africa. Summer nights in South Africa are very dark but the skies are full of stars because there is no pollution. People gather in town squares and soccer fields, sing Christmas Carols in the light of candles, and stage the Christmas pageants.
The pageants performance looks truly authentic. The scenes described in the Bible must have looked like that of the one in Lesotho. Animals are everywhere: Cattle, donkeys, horses, goats, pigs, and sheep roam everywhere in the soccer field. Mary rides on a real donkey. When the Bible mentions a stable the Basotho know it isn’t a pretty sight with a smell of hay, stale milk, and manure.
Shepherds come with real sheep. The audience knows how shepherds look like. Shepherds are everywhere in Lesotho, in the mountains, in the fields, or passing through the city streets. They look like homeless people: rags on their backs, dirty, smelly, and always hungry. They are shunned by decent citizens and chased by dogs like thiefs. They wear no bath robes.
The wise men of the East arrive on real horses. In Africa, well dressed educated intellectuals are often seen as opportunistic and arrogant as they ride around in Mercedes. When ordinary folks in Lesotho hear of wise men giving up everything to pursue what they believed to be the truth, they have a tremendous respect for such men. For them, it is one of the miracles of Christmas.
The women know how to give birth without professional help, because that’s what they do with grannies and girls doing what they can. When I saw the little girls play a nativity scene in a church, I was a bit taken aback. They knew exactly what a birthing scene was like, so they played as it should look and sound like. However, they also knew about an adept use of blankets to provide privacy, as blankets are integral part of their daily attire. There was nothing inappropriate to stage a birth in the church.
As for dinner, Basotho meals are simple. Their staple is “millipap” – white corn mill cooked into solid lump and eaten with yoghurt. When they have extra cash, they can indulge in “stompo” – grains of white corn stewed slowly with beans, beef fat and salt with a bit of curry. Our
Christmas dinner doesn’t work so well in Lesotho. Remember, Christmas comes in South Africa in the middle of extreme heat. By the time the turkey is cooked, one gets sick of the
heat and the smell.
Gifts were mostly hand-made. There was no store nearby where we lived first in Lesotho: we had no car either. Our-4-year old daughter got a hand-crafted model car made of wire and wood from discarded crates. A local village kid made it. I paid a few cents for it. I felt so bad for her remembering tons of store-bought toys she got the year before, in Canada. But she didn’t see any problem. A present is a present, she enjoyed it just the same.
Christmas belongs to all people, particularly to the poor. For not so poor, like me, it is a celebration of love. I enjoy presents and having turkey dinner with loved ones very much. However, without love, food and presents don’t mean much.
“Blessed are the poor. Yours is the Kingdom of God.” I learned a lot about the true Christmas in Africa.
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The photo on top is my spouse Muriel on the left and my sister Taeko on the right taken in South Africa. Picture on the right is me, Tad Mitsui and my cat, George.
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