It’s hard to believe The Matrix was released over 20 years ago (March 1999). Keanu Reeves encounters 3 teens who never saw the movie and he tries to explain it to them.
The teenage girl gives a response that reveals a lot about the idea of what truth is to many people today – and maybe why we are having so much trouble today with fake news. Do we even really care what the truth is if it makes us happy?
There is lots of self-styled experts and activists using the phrase ‘speaking your truth’ – especially for those who have experienced a trauma or unfair conditions. Unfortunately, like this blog writer/’thought leader’, he says this terrifying assertion when dealing with others:
Truth is not about being right. Truth is about how we feel and what is real for us.
He then goes on to say that even if you make mistakes and hurt others – as long as you’re speaking ‘your truth’ – this is ok. This is the most anti-science, anti-intellectual, and downright horrifyingly dangerous things I think anyone can say for several reasons. I understand where this blog writer, and many others are coming from. What if I can say this idea of ‘my truth’ is dangerously wrong but that we can completely validate people’s experiences, yet also not throw out truth everything depends on?
‘Your Truth’ is Anti-science and Anti-justice
Saying to ‘Speak your truth’ and ‘Truth is how we feel’ is profoundly anti-scientific and anti-justice. This idea says my impression is actual truth. It is a stance that ultimately denies we can understand or have any real impact in our world.
Justice in the world depends on determining actual facts of a case and then correcting wrongs. What if our courts were simply based on what anyone felt at any one time? Yet, this is exactly what is said by ‘Truth is about how we feel and what is real for us.’ Imagine what a court trial like that would look like.
Going further, all scientific thought as well as technological and medical progress depends on the idea that the universe operates by principles that are inherent in themselves – outside of our thoughts or feelings about them. Just ‘feeling’ that my car won’t run out of gas without refilling it, that time should stop spinning so I can sleep in an extra hour, or that eating grass should taste like pizza won’t make it so. In fact, that’s the kind of nonsense that children believe. Science and our very existence depends on the workings of everything from atoms, to electricity, to medicines we take, the safety of buildings, safe food cooking temperatures, to planetary orbits all follow provable and objective truths that exist outside ourselves. If any of those things depended on anyone’s feelings – then we’d be doomed. Unless of course you wish to admit to a God in whom the whole universe IS all held in place…
‘My truth’ also flatly denies decades of psychology and social science that proves there are objectively better and worse ways for we as individuals and society as a whole to act and behave. Science, government policy/laws, and TED talks are based on the notion that we CAN understand causes of problems and then can make changes and know they will solve them. There are great and proven ways to handle conflict, disagreements, addiction, violence, racism, and all manner of interactions we have with each other.
Worse, this logic of ‘my truth is truth’ can be used to control others. It tells others they cannot engage in reasoned discourse or argue. After all, my feelings tell me this is true – so it is true. Some holding this view go further and attack anyone that attempts to debate or talk about root causes or alternative ideas or interpretations. It’s a dangerous form of manipulation and gaslighting that invalidates anyone else’s viewpoint and makes mine the only true one.
Without real truth we can all agree on, this idea essentially makes us powerless to our feelings or even someone else’s feelings – which brings us to the next even more horrifying problem.
I justify what I do based on if I had my coffee this morning
If what is right and TRUE is simply what any individual feels – what if I am wrong? There is no recourse. You are completely justified in just about any amount of action as long as it matches my feelings. But what if you are wrong? It’s very easy to be wrong:
This really gets bad when we disagree. What happens when you make me angry? What happens when you wrong or hurt me? What if I’m angry enough to kill you? Or kill everyone like you? Everyone with that skin color, race, religion, political party, or where you’re from? We’ve had governments and people like this in the past. Without the ability to talk about the objective truth of our actions outside our personal feelings – we end up following cult-like leaders that massage and manipulate our feelings, purge anyone who asks questions or simply makes them disappear – literally.
Living like this, we become completely helpless to our feelings and those that know how to manipulate them. I firmly believe we are seeing that kind political leader on both ends of the political spectrum gaining traction. Unless we have a return to reasoned argument and turn away from outrage (which is a very powerful form of anti-intellectualism), we are headed to the same blunders that have brought about the horrors of 20th century wars and genocides. We need MORE people thinking and acting with their minds – not their feelings alone.
Your feelings are VALID. But not always TRUTH
Instead, what I wish people would say instead is that your feelings and perspectives are VALID but not necessarily TRUTH. And even if they are true, it doesn’t mean I should react in the same way in all cases. The first stages of being an adult is being able to name, claim, and own your feelings. Our feelings are real and valid – but they are only the IMPRESSION we have to what is going on. They alone are not truth. Anyone that has children or sees them interact understands they have lots of incorrect impressions and feelings about the world. What we teach children is to take the next step – using their mind to control their actions so it is fair and right for everyone. Even towards people they don’t like. Ultimately, saying that our feelings are truth is to act like a child. It’s anti-intellectual, it’s anti-science, it’s dangerous, and it’s wrong.
Instead, we can think of it another way and preserve both our feelings and our intellect. Just like a scientist, our feelings are like hypotheses. They seem to be pointing something out (this is fun, this food is delicious, this is unfair, this hurt me), but then we need to use our MIND to figure out if those impression are actually what’s going on. Further, we then need to think even harder about what we need to do about them. Science can absolutely help us with the second two parts – because even our social interactions have patterns for better/worse ways of behaving.
This is what makes us uniquely human. The fact we can use the wholeness of ourselves. We have feelings to help us empathize and connect with others, then a mind that we can use to figure out what is the best responses for us and others. Without that, we act like children – just reacting to our impressions and feelings. We become easily manipulated and lead astray by anyone that can appease our feelings or tell us what we want to hear.