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How do you know whom to believe?

POSTED: November 25, 2009 4:00 a.m.

In the early days of television there was a game show called “Who do you trust?”


Although grammatically incorrect, the title sounds better than my correct one.


The question, however stated, remains the same, and the answer is not simple.


There is, for instance, health care reform debates. Almost everybody agrees that something needs to be done, yet no one seems to have a real workable solution.


The same statement could be made about the state of the economy, the situation in Afghanistan and even non-political issues.


Years ago, when a unit on propaganda was part of some of the English classes I taught, we discussed how to recognize various propagandistic techniques. People are aware of being consistently bombarded with ideas, information and even rumor or allegations  designed either to foster or to discredit a cause, policy, product or person. And that is the definition of propaganda. Do you recognize it?


Statistics and recommendations, especially coming from supposed authorities, may sway our opinions. One might respond to snob or intellectual appeal, or perhaps the “plain folks or emotional approach is more attractive. The bandwagon approach causes some people to join the crowd; teenagers are particularly susceptible to this “everybody is doing – or saying – it” philosophy.


Who can resist moral or ethical arguments, especially some which resonate with our personal prejudices? How about those who can make a logical, reasonable case from almost any set of facts?


The question is: “How does one recognize truth or how can one determine the best course of action in the midst of conflicting sets of statements?”


And the answer is “Not easily.” The touchstone which i find most helpful is to try to be aware of the motive(s) of the source.


Sometimes that motive is simple, particularly in advertising: They want me to buy. It’s an economic thing. If we look behind that motive, we might be able to discern a more basic principle upon which to base our own judgments: Do the propagandists have their own interests or benefits in mind or are the benefits and interests of others involved? None of us like to be manipulated.


When the question concerns, “What is at stake?” my thought before I decide or reply is “Consider the source — and the motive.” Even then, most of us realize that we view the answer through the lens of our own personal philosophy of right and wrong. Sometimes one must clarify that philosophy in order to decide whom/what to believe.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving.



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