Slate recently published an op-ed facing a very uncomfortable truth that liberals, moderates, and even some conservatives in America may have to face.
What’s that, you ask? That using facts and reason to win the day may not be an effective tactic.
If you feel a knot of discomfort forming in your stomach, that’s a good thing, and it may mean you’re facing the hard truth that the battle for America will be fought with emotions rather than safe, objective, cool case studies.
Civics Lesson: McCarthyism
During the Second Red Scare in the U.S. from 1947 to 1956, a very sinister political movement took root based on the beliefs and tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was marked by the acceleration of political attacks, aggressive investigations, and questionings targeting private citizens accused of aligning with communist Russia. Most of these attacks were unfounded, but dangerous false accusations could nonetheless lead to ruined careers. Often, those targeted were television, radio, and media professionals falsely suspected of spreading communist propaganda.
With experience in the field, the author has solid grounds for argument. While working for a fact-checking organization, she and her team dubbed undying political myths “zombie rumors,” false political narratives that would keep popping up no matter how many times they were debunked. Sound familiar?
The author posits that by so aggressively trying to stem the tide of falsehoods, organizations like the one she worked for may have actually made the problem worse rather than better. She believes that by constantly attempting to debunk the myths, not only did it do nothing to convince the folks who believed them, but it also meant the false narratives were being repeated and amplified. In fact, one linguist has even posited that the more we try to correct these lies, “the more ingrained they get.”
So, what’s the solution? The author suggests that “facts are not the opposite of lies,” so we must find a new tool to fight them. How that will look is up for debate, but one thing is for certain: however the left chooses to respond, it must be done ethically, and without resorting to untruths.
And that will mean, argues the author, a renewed focus toward appealing to how audiences feel rather than how they think, because in a world where we’re being told “alternative facts” are at war with “fake news,” tried and true fact-checking is an outdated weapon.