'Last Week Tonight', 'This American Life,' And The Bizarre Lies We Tell Ourselves
Maybe it’s the result of an election overwhelmed with lies and nonsense, but there’s a weird thing that’s been happening more and more recently: people are disagreeing about reality. Not that they agree on facts, but disagree about the consequences of those facts. They’re actually disagreeing about real, verifiable facts and truths. And it’s weird.
It’s weird because the most recent episode of This American Life featured this exchange between reporter Zoe Chace and South Dakota State Representative Al Novstrup:
Al Novstrup: You don’t think there’s Sharia anywhere, in the United States?
Zoe Chace: Correct.
Al Novstrup: I think you need to read more.
Zoe Chace: I do read.
Al Novstrup: You don’t think there’s Sharia any place in the United States? You don’t think— wow. OK. You don’t think there’s Sharia? I’m just blown away. We’re living on two different planets.
Yes. Yes, we are living on two different planets. Only I’m pretty sure I’m living on the planet where things can be verified. Does he mean that there are cities where, due to local ordinances or overwhelming business practices, they are effectively living under Sharia law? Because I could then at least understand the argument even if I believed, based on overriding state and national laws, and population proportions, it’s untrue. And then we could also attempt to find such a city in order to prove the hypothesis. But I’m pretty sure he means actual cites where the federal and state Constitutions have been thrown out and replaced with Sharia law. And that is not a thing that’s happening.
I listen to this guy say some nonsense about Sharia law and the parents in the Last Week Tonight segment rail about “being stabbed, taking drugs, and getting robbed,” and am completely gobsmacked by their ability to convince themselves of any conveniently constructed story to support their worldview. Because despite the complete and total lack of evidence that school integration is in any way harmful for white students, that mother is going to continue to spew barely-obfuscated racist bullshit, because that’s what she believes to be true. The lie (busing poor, black children into the local school is only a bad thing because her children will be at a higher risk of danger) allows her to attack actual children without having to face the undeniably racist roots of her beliefs. It would be an impressive feat of mental gymnastics if it weren’t so troubling. I continued feeling smugly satisfied with myself until the bewilderment of her thought process caused me to have a near crisis of faith: What if I have been telling myself the same convenient types of lies? That women are not systematically disadvantaged because of a sexist system, that poor people are not oppressed but only less hard-working, that people of color don’t still face overwhelming levels of racism at the personal and institutional level?
The problem with arguing with people who refuse to acknowledge facts is that you can’t actually win with them. The great thing about arguing with people who refuse to acknowledge facts is that they can’t ever win. Not that that makes the current state of discourse more reassuring, but it might help to know that no one can individually solve this fucking mess. And if that doesn’t help, maybe Oliver having to cover Anthony Weiner again will do the trick.