How to Respond to “Facts” That Aren’t?
Several times over the last few weeks, I’ve heard someone tell me a “fact” about President Obama’s policies that I know to be false. For example, I was reminded that President Obama signed a UN treaty that will eliminate the Second Amendment. False. Another person complained to me about how much their taxes had gone up because President Obama raised their taxes. False. Someone else said that they didn’t think it was right that President Obama wanted to force churches to recognize gay marriages. False. Those are just some highlights.
So here’s the question: What is the best way to respond to these people? I can explain that UN treaty has to do with arms trafficking and has nothing to do with domestic US gun laws (or that a treaty cannot trump the Constitution). I can talk about tax policy and how taxes have been lowered and are at their lowest rates in 50 years (give or take). And I can talk about same-sex marriage until I’m literally blue in the face.
But the people who cite these “facts” don’t appear to be willing to listen. They head it on Faux News or read it in a chain email that they received from a “trusted” source or even in a mailer from their legislator (and a politician would never lie, right?). And so when these people go into the polls, they are making their choices on policy decisions based on lies. As I’ve said over and over, if that person has a different view than I do, that’s fine (though I’d like to convince them and bring them around to the side of light and good). But if that person’s honest viewpoint is based on dishonest, fraudulent, false information, then of what value is that viewpoint? People don’t want to believe that they’ve been lied to or manipulated, but they often seem unwilling to trust contrary information. The chain email is more reliable than The New York Times because “the mainstream media is biased in favor of liberals” or something similar. And if they heard it on Faux News, then it must be true!
Thus, I’m curious to know how others confront this sort of situation. And please don’t say that you just ignore it or walk away. Allowing a lie to stand just helps make it true to those who repeat it over and over again. But what strategies work to get people to take a realistic look at the false information that they’ve been fed? Which sources of information are deemed reliable enough to justify a reconsideration of “facts”? What styles of argument or explanation work to help debunk the lies that people have latched onto and taken as truth?
Maybe I’m being a bit overdramatic, but I think that the solution to this problem is central to the stability of our political process because we cannot make good decisions on complicated issues if our reasoning is based on fraud and lies.