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A Manifesto Against Truth

When it comes to prejudice, "truth" is no justification

The problem with truth is that it can be just as destructive as a lie, sometimes more so.

This is self-evident for most adults. That's why we have the concept and vocabulary of a "white lie" (and yes, even our language has racist overtones).

Yet, when it comes to racism and anti-Semitism, "truth" and "facts" are frequently assumed to trump any other argument. They don't. 

Consider this a manifesto against truth.

Don't get me wrong: I like verifiable, data-supported facts as much as the next person, perhaps more than many, given my training and background in research.  Even so, I have issues with "truth" -- serious issues.

Here are my Top 3:

#1 There is rarely a single truth. Philosophers have long observed that our reality -- our "truth" -- is strongly influenced (if not outright determined) by one's perspective or point of view. Rather than elaborating, I urge you to watch this video of Chimamanda Adichie about "The Danger of a Single Story."

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#2 Science is NOT politically neutral. To the contrary, everything about science is inherently political. This includes the kind of questions that are asked, the specific methodology used to try to find answers, and the social context that is used to frame the findings. A scientist who claims he/she is "objective" is either being deliberately deceitful or is unaware of how personal bias is impacting his/her work. These are both worst-case scenarios. From the perspective of a science consumer, scientists need to 1. be aware of their own biases (that are relevant to the research topic), and 2. either get support in making sure their bias is not reflected in their research methodology/write-up or be transparent about their bias so that readers can make an informed opinion.

 

#3. Science is still the best game in town, but research findings alone do not justify anything.  I'm not trying to be funny.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is it racist to state that Blacks kids graduate high school at lower rates and generally perform less well academically than white kids?

2. Is it racist to state that Black people, especially Black men are MUCH more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime and more likely to be incarcerated?

3.  Is it racist to state that Blacks score almost a full standard deviation lower than whites on tests of intelligence -- despite no evidence that contemporary tests of intelligence are racially biased.

4.  Is it racist to talk about Jeremiah Wright and the church that Obama attended?

The above are all facts. Their truth is not in question. Yet they can (and often are) used to promote racist ideologies and agendas.  This doesn't mean, of course, that everyone who endorses such statements is intentionally promoting racism. To the contrary, these statements are often explicitly used in support of an anti-racism agenda.  At the same time, without the relevant context, these statements do, in actuallity, promote racism regardless of the speaker's good intentions, because without the propoer context, they reinforce harmful group stereotypes.

As just one example, take the second statement above regarding the incarceration rates for Black men. Without context, the logical conclusion is that Black men perpetrate more crimes, a harmful stereotype, especially considering that the relevant context (specific data are described here) is that 1.) police officers are more likely to profile and stop Black drivers/pedestrians and 2) Black men are more likely to be convicted and sentenced for the same behavior than men from other racial groups. The racial bias in the criminal justice system is widely acknowledged by criminologists and sociologists but is not well understood by the general public. As a result, decontextualized "truthful" statements about incarceration rates of Black men are destructive and racist and entirely unjustified.

I'll say it again: Truth alone is not a justification for anything. And that's no lie!

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Creative Commons License  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a member of the teaching faculty in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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