Citizen Activism, Food for Thought

What We Must Do Now: “Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think.”

In the second of a four-part series, the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times focuses on Why Trump Lies. It’s a stimulating article, not only in its premise and setting forth of evidence, but also in its prescription for action.

There have always been those who accept the intellectually bankrupt notion that people are entitled to invent their own facts — consider the “9/11 was an inside job” trope — but Trump’s ascent marks the first time that the culture of alternative reality has made its home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If Americans are unsure which Trump they have — the Machiavellian negotiator who lies to manipulate simpler minds, or one of those simpler minds himself — does it really matter? In either case he puts the nation in danger by undermining the role of truth in public discourse and policymaking, as well as the notion of truth being verifiable and mutually intelligible.

The article concludes with a call to action to each of us, as citizens:

Our civilization is defined in part by the disciplines — science, law, journalism — that have developed systematic methods to arrive at the truth. Citizenship brings with it the obligation to engage in a similar process. Good citizens test assumptions, question leaders, argue details, research claims.

Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.

Too often, in conversation and in making judgments, even the best of us proceed from preconceived notions and positions. We don’t examine our assumptions, but accept them as givens. To counter that, to become keen searchers after the truth, perhaps the most important line in the article is this:

“Good citizens test assumptions, question leaders, argue details, research claims.”

That’s a line worth repeating daily, worth putting over our desks or, better yet, sticking up on the refrigerator so we see it each time we open the door.

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Postscript: An exceptional example of putting “Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think.” into action may be found in Bard College’s 100 Days Initiative. Meet the student fellows of the initiative and hear from them what they want the initiative to achieve here and find out more, including events coming up here.

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