It’s been said that we live in a post-truth nation wherein emotion trumps logic and facts.
Just this week, I was reminded of that when I came upon a Facebook post asking me to solve this seemingly simple equation…6÷2(1+2). Perhaps you’ve seen this controversial viral post, which has apparently been making the rounds for some time now and leaving some pretty heated debate in its wake. I’m not a fan of algebra–never was–but I do love to study the human condition. So I began to follow this seemingly benign equation to see where it would lead. It appears this little math problem has uncovered three kinds of people, the Nines, the Ones, and the camp that just likes to watch the Nines and Ones fight (that’s my camp). Who knew there could be so much debate over a math problem–isn’t math supposed to be based on rock-solid, irrefutable facts? If you are unfamiliar with this social media phenomenon, simply type the equation into your favorite browser and you’ll quickly find no shortage of roaring debates. But the question raised here is; if we can’t find universal truth in a simple math equation, can we find it anywhere at all?
We live in a nation where there is a growing movement called “Flat Earthers” who actually claim and believe that the earth is flat–imagine that!
We live in a nation where a huge number of people believe the earth is around 6,000 years old–some of them high ranking government officials.
We live in a nation where a large number of people deny that climate change exists or don’t think it is something we need to be concerned about–many of them currently running the federal government.
We live in a nation where people actually still argue about what caused the Civil War, for goodness sake. I’m not kidding. A significant group of Confederate sympathizing “historians” have been actively trying to rewrite history for decades. Known as the “lost causers”, their ideas are steeped in racism and continue to poison young minds, eroding away hard fought progress.
We live in a nation where people tie their personal religious beliefs so inextricably to their politics that they are willing to vote for absolutely anyone, so long as the candidate is associated with a party that is for or against whatever their church’s interpretation of the bible says they should be for or against. In the process, basic truths and common sense are blown up and human rights and dignity become collateral damage.
The list of what should be universally understood truths that continue be challenged goes on and on and it has led us to the brink of what feels like, at best, chaos, at worst, destruction.
Yet, when we consider the bell curve, all hope is not lost.
We can find hope in the bell curve if we apply it to our national conundrum. When we attach America’s political demographics to bell curve and use it as a political spectrum from far left to far right, we would see that the post-truth America is truly only found at the extreme edges of the curve. We tend to hear a lot about these people because they are absolutely nutty and they make great news stories. But in the process, we run the risk of painting with too broad a brush and get a misleading impression of America as a whole. In reality, there is a relatively small number of nutty people out on the extreme edges. You’ll never talk any sense into these people, they’ve gone right ’round the bend–they are gones-ville. Those folks, fortunately, make up a small fraction of Americans, perhaps 10%.Then, a little higher up the bell curve from the crazies are the political party stalwarts. They talk a good game but their minds are not very open. They likely vote a straight ticket but they seem like normal, decent people. They aren’t going to scream at you for thinking differently from them, at least not to your face–though they might scream at you in comment threads on social media. This is a larger group, maybe 25% of Americans. You can talk to these people, but you’re never going to change their minds about much of anything.
So, that’s about 35% of Americans. Their minds are made up and they are closed for business. They also tend to vote regularly–every single time.
The other 65% of Americans make up that fat part of the bell curve. They are closer to the middle–centrists. Some lean harder right or left, some drift marginally one way or the other, and some are almost dead center–all told, they make up two-thirds of us. I find myself in this group. Many of us two-thirders don’t like politics and try to avoid all the controversy. We often take solace in avoidance. Lately, that’s become hard to do.
Here is the critical point about the fat part of the bell curve–close to half of us don’t vote on a regular basis–“my vote doesn’t matter,” you’ll sometimes hear one of us say. The efforts of some centrists to remain above the fray of the political battles have contributed to a huge mess. It’s time to put a stop to the nonsense.
Centrists have got to become more active participants in the political process. This starts with voting. Allowing the most closed-minded segments of the American bell curve to dictate our nation’s path has got to stop. With a more politically active centrist voting block, surely more centrist leaders would emerge. Within that meaty portion of the bell curve, there is even enough power–were it ever to get properly organized–to create and sustain a new, more moderate political party, as well. With a new party, some of the more level headed moderate Republicans and Democrats would likely jump ship and join.
A trend in America’s current religious climate could be a model for the potential found in the middle portion of the political demographic bell curve. A growing number of Christians have become disenchanted with the fundamentalist conservative brand of Christianity, so often deeply invested in political agendas, and have formed a new movement of more progressive and inclusive Christians. Social media has provided a welcoming platform for this burgeoning community of frustrated religious sojourners to congregate and draw comfort and strength from one another.
Could a similar safe haven of the politically frustrated centrists be on the horizon? The only thing standing in the way of it is the reluctance of the centrists themselves.
If you find yourself in the fat part of the Liberty Bell Curve and are tired of the direction our nation is headed, do something about it. People near the edges of the center portion of the Liberty Bell Curve don’t have so very far to reach in order to meet one another in the middle. That’s where the rubber meets the road–that’s where things get done.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Avoiding politics because you don’t like it isn’t working.