I have a friend who’s 25 years older than me, and we don’t agree on anything, except that we like each other. I think the reason we like each other is that we’re both philosophers at heart, meaning we do a lot of thinking about things, and we are lovers of wisdom.
A couple weeks ago, we got into a real blowout over Black Lives Matter. He claimed that the slogan is racist, and I asked,"Are you really going to dispute that some people have had the short end of the stick based solely on the color of their skin?" Since then, I’ve wondered whether that particular clash was going to drive a wedge between us that was a little too much to overcome and still be friends.
So when I saw him sitting outside the coffee shop, sipping his iced tea and doing his usual technical drawings, I approached him to offer the proverbial olive branch so he knew I wasn’t holding any grudges, and that as far as I’m concerned our connection is stronger than our disagreements.
He received me warmly, which I was happy about, but then it took all of about 12 seconds for him to start going on about the ridiculousness of masks and “the 6-foot rule.” He said, "I wish we had some hard data to tell us what’s really going on, because nobody knows for sure what’s true and what isn’t."
One thing I know is that my own mother was happy and healthy one day, then the next day she tested positive for COVID-19 and five days later she was gone.
“How old was she,” he asked. When I answered “94,” he attributed her death to old age.
It wasn’t my intention to get into another dispute with him, but I brought up the case of the 13 Felician sisters (in a convent of 70 nuns) who died within a 30-day span (12 died in 30 days and the 13th died a few weeks later.) I brought them up because their convent is, literally, directly across the street from where my mother lived. They were in the same hospital at the same time, and the first nun died just two days after my mother.
It’s not that people didn’t “used to” talk about politics, or religion, or other such topics, it’s that they talk about them differently on social media.
“Yeah, but again how old were they,” he asked.
“Regardless how old, do you think it’s normal for 13 out of 70 nuns to die within 30 days?”
To my astonishment he said, “If they were in their 80s or 90s, then it’s likely they would die soon anyway.”
I looked at him quizzically, wondering how this man who claims that All Lives Matter could suggest that the death of an old person is not as important and doesn’t count among the statistics.
Since I know that my friend has a compassionate heart, and a reasoning mind, I knew that what I was hearing and witnessing was not a case of heartlessness or a lack of information but rather a phenomenon social scientists refer to as “motivated reasoning.” It means we decide what evidence to accept and reject based on our worldview, which is formed and reinforced by identification with a particular group, be it racial, religious, social, political, ethnic or ideological.
Some call it identity politics, and it happens on both sides of the political divide.
I’m not going to cite examples of the truths that conservatives refuse to accept and other ones rejected by liberals, because that would only instigate further illegitimate arguments.
However, just because someone calls into question the veracity of easily verifiable facts does not negate them. It just shows that facts have limited power to convince people [of the truth,] especially in politically polarized times.
If this makes it all sound rather guileless, then let me add that just because there are truth deniers on all sides does not mean that all sides deny truth equally.
To even discuss relative age and say one thing is older or younger than something else, implies impermanence; a beginning and an ending; birth and death. So perhaps it would best serve here to examine the beginning of light.
Ron Colone can be reached at email@example.com
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