The last thing most people want to do these days is to recognize reality.
The attempts to justify alternate “ways of knowing,” the politicization of science research and education, the preponderance of overemotional and manipulative rhetoric, the perversion of journalistic integrity and standards, the rise of religious fundamentalism over common sense—these are all expressions of the same impulse towards denying the existence and significance of an objective reality. Escapism isn’t a phenomenon unique to the 21st century, or even to the modern era, though the advent of truly global warfare and modern weapons technologies had a profound effect on the modern consciousness. Certainly scientific inquiry has always been a thing to fear for some, especially when it reaches unpleasant conclusions, conclusions that challenge the status quo and force us to adopt new ways of thinking about the world. Likewise, people have always felt the need to deal with the realities with which they’re confronted, to find some way to make fact compatible with mythology, prejudice, and preconception. So when I mention this impulse towards denying reality, I don’t mean to suggest that it is unique to 2006—I realize it has a longer history than that.
Nevertheless, it seems to have become increasingly widespread and increasingly relevant in recent years. Even as science and technology experience exponential levels of growth and development, even as we learn more and more about the world around us, most people maintain a belief that facts are to some degree malleable. Reality, within this mindset, is secondary to belief and emotion. The core of the fallacy here is that reality (by definition) actually exists independent of belief and emotion; denying reality doesn’t make it any less real, nor does it keep reality from affecting us. There is an objective, empirically knowable world out there, and while we can certainly entertain some interesting philosophical scenarios about our senses being deceived, we all rely on our senses to give us an experience of the world, and those who retreat to faux nihilism in order to justify ignoring specific parts (the objectionable ones) of the empirical world are being intellectually dishonest.
This tendency is a result of a number of things, but mostly it’s a result of dogma. Religious dogma, political dogma, cultural dogma—the common denominator is the steadfast reliance on ideas that don’t respond or correspond to reality. Most of it, I suppose, tends to be tied to religious/theistic dogma, given that speculation about metaphysics (not to mention many religions’ teachings that the material/corporeal world is not something to worry about and is only a means to an end) is likely to lead to a disdain for the material world, and therefore a disdain for empirical fact. Intelligent Design/creationism proponents tout their beliefs as science because they don’t like the implications of the available data and of the accepted scientific theories; politicians and corporations work to distort science to their own ends, filtering out the research that doesn’t support the “conclusions” that have been pre-chosen according to self-interest; blowhard pundits spout shameless nonsense day after day for the purpose of manipulating public opinion, since the facts are either too much of a hassle to analyze rationally or else not supportive of the pundits’ views; journalists and newscasters twist stories to meet their own largely commercial ends, now that “news” has bled into “entertainment.” In nearly every significant area of life, there is a central drive toward ignoring or outright rejecting facts that happen to be inconvenient. If this isn’t chronic denial in the psychological sense, I don’t know what is.
The bottom line is this: the world doesn’t go away when we close our eyes. It is something that needs to be viewed, studied, analyzed, and dealt with, regardless of how much easier it may be to cover our eyes at the parts that challenge us. Truth seems to have fallen by the wayside as something to strive for, as a noble and important value to hold up beside beauty, freedom, and love (although I suppose at least two of those three are also disintegrating as ideals). This is not as it should be. The limitations of what we know about the world are significant enough without people deliberately ignoring the things we do know for the sake of expediency. Without a steadfast pursuit of truth, those other cherished ideals—especially freedom—start to become trivial.
We should be dealing with the world, and with the social and political and scientific realities of that world. Choosing to arbitrarily ignore these things should be unthinkable. Life doesn’t stop being complicated because we pretend it’s simple. Anyone who advocates this “facts don’t matter” attitude should be openly and publicly criticized–the facts do matter. They always have, and they always will, no matter how many people choose to indulge their ridiculous preconceptions at the cost of things like truth, honesty, and accuracy.