Monday, 20 March 2017

Are #alternative facts making your face itchy?

"Facts are one thing, but I find that there's one thing, more than anything else that TRUMPS facts, and that is COMMON SENSE."  Yes, a supporter of a certain politician proudly wrote this statement.  And she stands by it, humourlessly.  The lies, acceptance of lies, and normalization of lies makes my face itch, at the very least.

As mind boggling as that supporter’s sentiment may be, it’s actually a growing belief system among various populations.  When Kellyanne Conway first coined the phrase, “alternative facts” I assumed she’d regret having misspoken, but no, she’s doubled down on the concept, as have her compadres.

As opposed to Islam as that politician, Kellyanne and the compadres may be, do they know they are actually following its lead among certain fundamentalists, as shown in The Geometry of God, by Uzma Aslam Khan? This novel is set in Pakistan, under General Zia’s term, when religious fundamentalism grew at the expense of rational, scientific, evidence based thought. 

The Geometry of God is about several characters coping in that regime.  A character named only as Noman (No man) has a father who is high up in Zia’s government.  In his government, Nepotism runs rampant.  Sound familiar?  The dad gives his son a government job writing a magazine aimed at young people that is meant to enflame hearts with religious fervour, and dampen all rational thinking, identifying that as Godless.  Noman is also in charge of editing public school text books to remove all passages that reference science, rational thinking, or the concept of facts themselves.  Early in his unwelcome career he writes himself an encouraging note: “Godlessness is a cancer whose favorite organ is the pen.  It must be treated by every means available or it will spread.  And while on the subject of treating cancer, delete all references to Marie Curie and her so-called radiation.”

The dad also insists that Noman discredit a renowned Pakistani archaeologist, a brilliant man who is struggling to lecture and do research, despite his funding drying up and his government intent on silencing him.  But not according to Dad’s plans, Noman comes to love the archaeologist, as well as his granddaughters, who bristle at the restrictions on their freedom and learning.  However, Noman’s love doesn’t stop him from betraying the people he loves, despite his contempt for his father and the absurd regime.  He has a job to do, after all.  Sound familiar?

This book was first published in India in 2008, though it seems meant for America in the last few months.   As Noman moves forward in his assigned task, he writes more notes to himself:  “If ships sink, it is by His law.  If they float, it is by His law.  Which we can’t question or understand.  Delete all references to Archimedes and his so-called principle…. If an apple falls from a tree it is His will.  If it stays it is His will.  Which we can’t question or understand.  Delete all references to Newton and his so-called gravity… Fertility is His Will.  Heredity is His will.  Which we can’t question or understand.  Delete all references to Gregor Mendel and his so-called peas.”  

Sound familiar?  Did that government truly believe that floating isn’t predictable? Did they truly believe gravity doesn’t exist?  Had they somehow arrived at a disbelief in peas?  Lately we’ve been reading a lot about labelling a lie.  Many are saying that if a person might  possibly believe the lie, it’s not a lie, just a little mistake.

George Orwell also wrote about the disregard of facts in 1984, with the bold government slogan, “Two plus two equals five.”  The point isn’t that anyone believes this statement, but that the government can and does control the masses by appointing themselves the arbiters of fact.  They don’t do this because they have a poor understanding of math.  They do it because they can.  They are proving that they have ultimate control. 

Petruchio does the same in Taming of the Shrew when he tells Kate that the moon is shining, when in fact it’s actually the sun.  Halfway through the scam he admits it is in fact the sun, only to then pull a switcharoo and then insist the orb is in fact the moon, as he’d first stated.  He doesn’t do this because he has bad eyesight, or has a condition confusing day and night.  Nor does it have to do with any facts, misinterpreted or not. He does it because he can.  This is how he asserts his dominance.  Sound familiar?

In America, as we move through the rejection of facts, disparagement of established newspapers and networks, newly announced cutbacks and obstructions to public education, and insistence on blind loyalty to a 2 and 2 equals 5 mentality, we must look at where these concepts lead.  It is neither Islam nor Christianity that is the enemy. Fundamentalism and mind control are what we must resist.  The Geometry of God won’t cure your itching face, exacerbated by a government official’s insistence of alternative facts, air quoted or not.  But it may inspire you to go out and join a march, or write to your elected officials.

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