“The greatest kindness one can render to a man consists in leading him from error to truth.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas.
We are living in a unique moment where a deluge of information can be instantly summoned in just a click. Sifting through it all to find the truth has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. How can we real answers to real issues that have an impact on us? Search engines and social media return different sets of data based upon your geographical location and your search history. The AI which drives these platforms serves up information that aligns with your views resulting in people unwittingly getting stuck in echo chambers. Plus there’s a hundred T.V. outlets that will cater to your own bias. These outlets all operate on one premise: you are the product and they’re selling your viewership time to advertisers. So it’s in their best interest to understand you well and give you the information you are inclined to listen to.
Unfortunately, it may not be the absolute truth, and there are likely multiple answers and multiple perceptions of that truth. The motives of the person telling you that alleged truth might be questionable as well. Instead of that one person, that one expert, you may have sought the counsel of in the past; there are thousands of people, entertainers, pundits, anonymous internet posters, and strangers all proclaiming their expertise and providing you their version of the truth. Any question you can ask, you can find multiple different truths. You can find diametrically opposed readings and evaluations of the same data. There is so much truth out there that we rightfully try to block out and harden ourselves off to the rest when we accept any one. We dig in and support the truth we believe is right, and we defend it even to the point of the absurd. We do this because it is easier to hold on to a lie and believe it is true than it is to drill down to a complicated truth.
As preppers, we know that our survival depends on knowing the real truth. If we act on false information, we could find ourselves having prepared incorrectly for the challenges we’ll face in the future. Truth is so important to our community. In this video, we will look at truth, why our information may be tainted or slanted, and how we can determine what is truthful. It’s a complex, heady, and philosophical discussion, with volumes and volumes written about every branch of it. Man’s search for truth started a long time ago. But I will try to make our part of this as clear and straightforward as possible. I will be honest by saying I had to delve into history and philosophy to provide for you the clearest means to decipher the truth, and I consulted a few experts I know, who have taught Rhetoric and were steeped in Aristotelian philosophical tradition–Aristotle being perhaps the first in the Western tradition to define deductive logic, esthetics, ethics, politics, and the discernment of truth. By the end of this video, you should have almost a dozen quick tests to determine the grains of truth from the chaff of misinformation. So let’s uncover the truth together…
We Have a Truth Problem
We have a truth problem in the world today, and it is multifaceted. There are multiple versions of truth and a plethora of voices espousing the one real truth. We tend to think of truth as tied and rooted in fact, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes truth is solely tied to belief and only loosely attached to empirical fact. We have seen in recent years enough truth that has been embraced that has turned out to be later either intentional or unintentional falsehoods that a term for it was created in 2013– Infodemic. This term originated around the SARS outbreak in 2003, so it isn’t surprising that it resurfaced with COVID-19 in 2020.
Infodemic is a portmanteau, a fancy way of saying it is a word blending the sounds and combining two others’ meanings. Here the two words are information and epidemic. This is apropos because we have a globally spreading amount of information, and enough of it is so detached from fact either by intention or lack of proper scrutiny that it only serves to sicken the real truth at an epidemic level.
Many believe that truth is rooted in fact, but a fact is based on empirical research and quantifiable measures. That requires tremendous attention and scrutiny. The majority of people lack the time or sometimes the faculty to pick apart a premise, thesis, or statement to discern the true facts. Plus, that’s hard. It’s much easier for the masses to adopt an opinion as truth and then attack any pieces of contrary truth that would unperch that assumed truth from the center point of their thinking. There’s no lack of opinion either. Go to any website, any news source, any mainstream news outlet, any alternative news outlet, and you will find people with unyielding opinions about precisely what it is you see or read. “Look no further,” they may as well claim because if you do try to look elsewhere or question their vision of truth, you will be told by them you just don’t understand or, worse yet, that you are weak-minded, an idiot, or worse. You can see this every day in the name-calling, terms of innuendo, and other ad hominem attacks anyone uses to attempt to discredit the opponents to their espoused viewpoint. Most people want to be informed, but they also have no desire to be drawn into a heated conflict about the actual underlying facts. So let’s take a look at a few of the key strategies for determining truth. That is why you are here, after all. You don’t want to be duped or lied to, but you also don’t want to have to do hours of tedious research just to understand and uncover the simple truth. So, what are the indicators you might not be getting the truth?
The Credibility of Sources
Source credibility is one of the easiest ways to determine if you are getting the straight dope or the true information, and there are a few ways to discern a source’s credibility. The first is to ask yourself if the source has a tradition of inherent bias. Does the source or person frequently take a stance that is sensational to drive up ratings and profits? Are they known for their extreme viewpoint? While this may not mean they are outright lying to you, it is an indicator that they are shading the truth. They offer their interpretation for profit, and the more extreme their view, the more audience they can attract. The more audience they attract, the more money they make. At some point, the source may be less interested in the real truth and may even convince themselves through a rising audience that they are still offering the unbiased truth and their bank account is the proof.
Another evaluation of a source’s credibility can be found in the words they use when addressing the opposition. The hierarchy of disagreement is a pyramid representation of the levels of an argument. The lower you are on the pyramid, the weaker your argument probably is. The lower you are on the pyramid, the more likely you will not have substantiating facts to the premises you espouse. I won’t go into too much of the model because there isn’t enough time to detail and example each level of the pyramid. Still, it’s essential to understand the model and begin to apply it to the sources from which we get our information. At the lowest level of disagreement, you have simple name-calling. If you have ever heard the term Demoncrat or Repugnican, you have listened to name-calling. Name-calling tries to dismiss any opposing viewpoint by diminishing or dehumanizing the opposition.
The next level up but probably just as weak of a counter-argument is ad hominem attacks or character attacks. If you have ever heard the term “evil” democrat or “RINO,” Republican in Name Only, you’ve listened to an ad hominem attack. An ad hominem attempts to discredit opposing viewpoints by attacking the character of the opposition. Saying someone is “against God” or on the “wrong side of history” are character attacks. When I say they are out of context here, you can probably associate them back to the argument that was perhaps discussed initially. Still, you can’t link them to any specific point of that argument. Name-calling and ad hominem attacks are smokescreens for the uninformed or the cunning Machiavellian.
As you go up the pyramid, you get to more robust forms of disagreement, and I know you have heard these as well. Next is responding to tone, as in “I don’t like the way you said this” or “You don’t need to get angry about that.” This level criticizes the tone but ignores the substance of the argument.
Most people you will meet never rise too high above the first three levels. Often this is because they cannot express or grasp more complex arguments and truths. So, it is at these lower three levels where many decisions are made. It’s at these lower three levels where most of the truth is determined, adopted, and adhered to. But what are the four levels of disagreement above this level?
The first is contradiction. This is where a real opposing case is offered, even if it has little or no supporting evidence. Then, there is a counterargument, where a source contradicts an existing argument, backs up the stance with facts, reasoning, and supporting evidence. Then there is the refutation level, where the source finds errors in the opposing argument and explains why the opposing viewpoint is wrong. At the highest level is refuting the central point. This is where the whole argument is distilled down, examined from both sides, and refuted with supporting facts and details. This highest level of disagreement is primarily free from bias and any attacks on any other viewpoint or adherent to any other view. In fact, this highest level honestly considers different perspectives and gently explains why they are in error.
That’s so much to take in and process, I know. So I will try and distill this down a little bit for you. Listen to the words you hear or read them carefully. Ask yourself, is this source trying to convince me of something? Are they attacking someone or establishing some facts? Are those facts supported rationally? The truth is that if you ask any rhetorician, they will tell you all writing and all locution is intended to persuade.
Assuming this is true, the final trick I will tell you to help you consider a source’s trustworthiness is applying Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle. It sounds like another big heady thing, but I assure you it’s probably more accessible and easier to understand. All argument or persuasive speech or writing can be broken into three types of argument: Logos, Ethos, Pathos. How well a source navigates and uses the Rhetorical Triangle will determine the speaker or writer’s ability to persuade an audience. Logos is logic or the straight presentation of facts or reasoning. It’s free from opinion, and it’s well supported or meticulously outlined. Logos is an appeal to a listener or reader’s reasoning capabilities. Is credible evidence presented?
The second point of the pyramid is Ethos or ethical appeals. This is where the announcer reads off the source’s credits and experience, or the source establishes their own credibility to speak on the subject. Declaring oneself a patriot seeks to establish oneself as such while also trying to cast anyone in opposition as not a patriot. It can be more subtle. You may recall that I earlier in this video stated, “I will be honest by saying I had to delve into history and philosophy to provide for you the clearest means to decipher the truth, and I consulted a few experts I know who have taught Rhetoric and were steeped in the Aristotelian philosophical tradition.” While that is a fact, and I am not trying to fool you or deceive you in any way, it is an example of ethos. I say, “I will be honest,” which tells you I am both trying to be truthful and sincere. I tell you that I consulted with experts, which establishes credibility that I took the time and spoke to the pros to give you the correct information. So, while ethos can be used to establish credibility through deception or the assumption of solidarity or comprehension, it is often used to honestly express the source’s sincerity of intent, depth of study, or solidarity with the reader or listener, as in “I’m a person just like you.”
The third type of Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle is pathos. It is often considered the weakest form of argument, but that’s probably not true if you consider the outcomes. Pathos is an appeal to the listener or reader’s emotions. Have you ever been moved to tears by something you read or heard? Have you ever been driven to anger by something you heard or read? That was pathos at play. When a person asks you to put yourself in the shoes of another or imagine how someone must feel or how they feel or their experience, they use pathos. You can see how that can be used for good and evil. Pathos has incited mobs, and it has elicited compassion. It’s a powerful tool, so long as the wielder is also considered to have logos or logic and ethos or a shared identity with the audience.
When considering if a source is credible and providing you with the truth, consider what they are saying. Consider the words of their mouth. Consider what level of the pyramid of argument from which they are articulating their points. Consider whether they are arguing or taking a stance out of ethos, logos, or pathos. Consider the source to find the truth. That’s the first trick to determining the truth.
Ten Quick Tests for Truth
The remaining tricks for determining truth are probably a little easier to wrap your head around. Recognizing source bias tends to occur in real-time. It’s a determination of whether you are getting played or you are hearing the truth that you make while you are actively reading or listening. These other tricks can be done after the fact and to a greater extent. I will also present these in rapid sequence and not as in-depth as the heady discussion earlier. If you have some information presented as facts and you want to determine if it’s truth, run these tests on it.
First, the source credibility of the information itself, as I have already covered.
Second, don’t accept anything as absolute truth. Do some poking around on the internet or library and look at other things the source has said before. Were those other things seriously biased or all seem to be slanted? Most notably, in today’s day and age, have other things the source presented in the past as truth been disproven or discredited over time. Even one instance of that and you may want to consider not accepting any new information from that source. Think of this in terms of the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
The third is asking yourself if you have any inherent bias. That’s hard because we aren’t always truthful to ourselves. I don’t think we actively seek to lie to ourselves, but we sometimes blind ourselves to other truths as we bask in the comfortable light of the way we first came to understand something. Do you bring any bias or concrete adherence to any idea keeping you from understanding another viewpoint? Does your leaning upon the past prevent you from seeing that truth changes over time and that the new proposition may be a new reality. Trying to overlay the thinking of just fifty years ago on the modern problems and arguments of today may cause you to miss the root causes. Look at communication, for instance. When was the last letter you received in the mail? Could you say we don’t communicate as much today as in the past? You could say it, but when was the last email or text that you received? It may not have been a flowery expressive, and detailed letter, but it was communication. Check your own bias at the door and strive to at least understand where opposing arguments are coming from.
Fourth, if you are looking for a power generator, you will find many video reviews on my channel. Hopefully, I have built some credibility with you over the years, but by all means, don’t consider me your only source. Test details and facts by finding other unrelated sources that substantiate those facts. Do your research. If it’s an outlandish fact from an anonymous source that can’t be confirmed anywhere else, but by other unknown sources and strangers on the internet, it probably isn’t truthful. If the truth is rooted in fact, there will be much credible research around it. There will be empirical evidence in the form of statistics and charts that will support the ideas from which the facts are drawn. There will be other witnesses and testimonies to the integrity of the information. It won’t be a secret mystery that you have magically stumbled upon.
Fifth, look before you leap. Think before you react. Don’t add to the misinformation by spreading it further. There is someone who is weakly minded who may see the information and act upon it in some horrible way. Or, you may be so reactionary as to warrant a response that forces people to stop, address concerns like yours, and moves people further from the truth and hence any solution. Thinking before you react is also critical to survival. If you decide based upon flawed or false information, you may find yourself in harm’s way.
Sixth, accept nothing as truth. Question everything from a person’s intent and motivations to the integrity of the information you are reading or hearing. I often hear or read something and think to myself, “that’s interesting, but we really can’t ever know that truth.” Or I will just say to myself, “That’s interesting, but I will have to read up on that a bit more.” There’s also the fact that two people can look at the same thing and derive two different truths from it. Your truth may be somewhat valid, but their position might be a little valid too. You can think one way, and someone else can think another way. That’s okay. That’s actually healthy. Truth is a nuanced thing. Strive to establish the pillars of fact behind a proposed truth. What supports it? What makes it valid or invalid?
Seventh is to consider Occam’s Razor in your evaluations. This is a scientific and philosophical rule that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily, which is interpreted as requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities. What it means for us truth seekers is that not every fantastic and outlandish plot or plan is correct. When you step back from the issue and look at it from a broad angle, you see people just trying to make the best choices they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves immersed. Don’t make simple things into complex plots and, thereby, obfuscate the truth.
The eighth test you can do is to seek alternative truths. The internet, in particular, is based upon online behavioral marketing. If you click a story on XYZ, it will feed you headlines and information based upon that. The following story may be story UVW because that’s closer to XYZ than ABC, which is all the way on the other side of the alphabet. These little algorithms can end up feeding us thousands of pieces of tailored information that can create a myopic view of the world, as they support that one, perhaps erroneous, stance. If you would like to see the algorithms in action, pick a subject you would never in your life research and start keying it into search engine fields. Before too long, you will begin to see advertisements on that and information presented to you around that subject area. So, if you feel strongly that the sky is only blue, for instance, force yourself to search “What colors can the sky be?” Make sure whatever the question is, you have a 360 view of it and clearly define the opposition’s equally important stance.
A ninth possible test you can apply to any information is to define the opposition’s argument. This has two purposes. First, it forces you to evaluate and acknowledge from where the other side of the argument is coming. Second, it tests your proofs and beliefs. If you have a very passionate stance on immigration, for instance, what is the position opposite your perspective? What do they believe? Why do they think it? What are the points of their argument? What are your counterpoints? Countless professors I have talked to have told me that this is the key to critical thinking, that this is the basis of any fundamental understanding, that it is the beginning of any solution. Understand the other viewpoint.
Finally, the tenth test you can apply to any truth is applicable in all the other tests and methods. It is to ask the questions and to answer the questions. Many people accept a convenient and straightforward thing as truth and doggedly hold on to it by dismissing any counter facts. Truth isn’t like that, though. Truth is slightly fungible based upon comprehension and perspective. When we shut down other perspectives to retain the sole proprietorship of our own truth, you will find you are eventually wrong. Think of truth in scientific terms as a little greater than a hypothesis, but it’s a little less than an immutable universal law. We have to ask and find answers as to what the other side of a truth believes. We have to ask and answer for ourselves if we are getting the whole picture. We have to ask and answer for ourselves if our source has an agenda and if we are being led. We have to ask and answer for ourselves if we are bringing any questions. We have to ask and answer for ourselves. Most don’t ever get to that part of the equation.
We are overwhelmed with believable truths every day, and there are people lined up on either side of any truth with a truth of their own. There’s so much information out there that it’s easy just to shut it all out and accept the most convenient and most straightforward truth, even if that truth is wrong. When you want to know if what you are reading or hearing is true, use the tests I’ve outlined here. Applying the tests of source credibility, understanding bias, and drilling down to the actual facts can help you determine the grains of truth from the chaff of misinformation. As preppers, we know that our survival depends on knowing the absolute truth and the real threats. If we act on false information, we could find ourselves even worse off after a disaster. If we believe in a falsehood, we may find ourselves prepping for the wrong emergencies. What do you think? How do you determine truth? Let the community know in the comments below. I try and read and respond to as many comments as I am able to.
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As always, please stay safe out there.