Sometimes, you hear something that sounds intuitively true, and meshes well with what you’ve already accepted. You decide to accept what you’ve just heard without asking questions or looking into it.
If this sounds like you, you may have experienced truthiness. But what is truthiness?
Truthiness describes the quality of an assertion that lends itself to being accepted as true based on the intuition of the listener, rather than supporting evidence, if any.
The term in its current usage was coined by political comedian Stephen Colbert on his program The Colbert Report in the year 2005. Previously, the term was obscure and referred to something that was dependably true.
In the political landscape, truthiness occurs on a constant basis. There are many, many examples that illustrate its occurrence.
One example is the video of the emaciated polar bear which trended with the help of global warming alarmists. The video showed the polar bear trudging about, clearly famished, picking through rubbish. The video, as presented, was intended to pull at the heartstrings of viewers, who then make the assumption that human-assisted global warming led to the diminishing of the bear’s natural habitat, resulting in its sad condition.
For the polar bears as a whole, the reality of the matter is far less bleak. The polar bear population is currently booming. What’s more, polar bears are even thriving where arctic ice is receding. As for that particular polar bear, it may not have been as well off, but as is often the case with both animals and people, not everyone gets off as well.
So, what’s the truthiness? Those already accepting of the ideas surrounding anthropogenic climate change see a polar bear struggling, and easily attribute it’s sad situation to the consequences of human callousness. They need look no further into the matter to arrive at a conclusion that fits their preconceived notions, but if they did, they’d have likely arrived at a different conclusion.
Those forwarding the video for reason of climate change alarmism might not have looked far into the matter themselves, but it’s possible that they’re aware of what’s going on, and decided to forward what they decided might provoke a reaction that more strongly favored their cause. Selecting only the evidence that favors a conclusion while ignoring what does not is called cherry-picking.
Another recent example of truthiness has to do with an alleged statement by American President Donald Trump, apparently suggesting “injecting disinfectants” as a means of fighting off an infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
When information media outlets got wind of this, they ran with it. Trump was ridiculed by corporate media outlets (with whom he had an adversarial relationship to begin with), lambasted by media pundits, and his supposed advice was even warned against on Lysol’s website.
However, the recording of the conversation that sparked this controversy is publicly available. In it, Trump asked a hypothetical question about internal use of disinfectants as a possible treatment to a coronavirus infection, and it was directed towards someone studying possible treatments for the novel coronavirus. The question was hypothetical, and didn’t sound like such a treatment was immediately advocated. During the conversation, Trump deferred to the medical professional, which would seem more responsible in that particular situation.
So, what’s the truthiness? It’s the inclination of the usual consumers of corporate information media to assume that President Trump continually goes off on ignorant tirades, as this is how those media outlets habitually portray him. To them, it’s another day to get outraged over something he said, and once they’ve tired themselves out banging pots and pans together, it’s back to sipping overpriced coffee while pondering some philosophy that they read about on some dark corner of the internet.
They didn’t look into what the President actually said, or in what context, but considering that what they’ve already heard goes neatly with the conclusions they’ve already come to about him, why would they feel inclined to do so?
By the way, presenting information that is intentionally misleading in an effort to direct the listener to a particular outlook is called deception.
There are many, many more examples outside of politics, and they largely have to do with rumors, hearsay, and other various forms of misinformation.
For example, it’s been said that Takis snacks cause ulcers. This makes intuitive sense to someone raised on the idea that spicy foods cause ulcers. However, the idea that spiciness causes ulcers is a myth.
You might have heard it said that a party at your college got so rowdy that a soda machine was thrown from a window, and when a student officer attempted to intervene, he was thrown from the window, too. Did you check for police reports or old news stories, or did you take his word for it? You might be asking “did you go to the same college as me?” That same story has been told at many colleges.
Arbitrary third example? Another popular college story is that the library is slowly sinking into the ground because the architects that designed it didn’t consider the weight of the books. It appeals to a sense of irony that a team of educated professionals would make such a short-sighted blunder.
Truthiness works as well as it does in making ideas gain traction because it appeals to preconceived notions while inhibiting the desire to verify. Those who become more aware of it are in a better position to see just how strongly society has been pulled along by it.