Truth is relative, and a big part of that relativity is a person’s perception. What one person believes will be relative to their beliefs about how they perceive something as true. Where this relativity starts to become dangerous is when people fail to consider the full range of truth or experiences possible in the human condition. In this episode, Bill Stierle and Tom talk about the purchasing of truth in terms of that relativism. Using the example of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, they discuss how much action has been taken because of the things that have been said, such as the riot and siege on the Capitol. They dig deeper into the ways doubt and skepticism have been planted and the impacts on the efforts in Congress to hold Trump accountable for it all.
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Relativism: The Purchasing of Truth Through Perception in Donald Trump’s Impeachment Trial
Bill, after talking quite a bit about what’s happening around this censure in the State of Arizona, we set up that we would keep talking about some of these subjects and it deserves more discussion. What we’re talking about now moving on that’s related is truth and relativism. I wonder if you can help set us up for that as to what that really means.
I appreciate that, Tom. When something is relative, it’s talking about perception or perspective. A big part of relativism is like a doctrine about knowledge, truth or morality existing in relationship to culture, society and historical context. The weird part about relativism is it’s not absolute. The advocacy that is taking place is saying, “How accurate does a president or a person need to be with the words that are coming out of their mouth and how accountable do they need to be?”
This is why there is wobbliness that we’re experiencing between the letter of the law and the constructs of morality and philosophy. If somebody has the philosophy of Nazi Germany, they have that mindset and belief structure around that, and they say, “The rest of culture and society needs to think like me or else, I get to take a tragic action to say, ‘If you’re not thinking like me, then you belong over there or you belong dead,’” and things like that.Doubt and skepticism are not healthy feelings that will help a democracy run. Click To Tweet
What happens is the person’s mind is only viewing things from that relative position. They’re not considering a range of truth or experiences called the human condition. We have a range of experience, Tom. We’re not brought up in the same town. We didn’t go to the same schools. We didn’t have the same parents. We’re all skewed by these different messages and beliefs. When one group of folks says, “This set of beliefs is what we’re going to run by. Everybody that’s in this needs to believe this way in order to maintain a connection to the community. This is our moral/legal line to be in this community.”
That part in America, we have a general sense of tolerance around. We have a tolerance around different groups of people living next to each other, saying, “Here’s the thing that you get to believe and act upon,” but don’t go and cross the line with your neighbor by leaving a pamphlet on his door or knocking on his door and saying, “Unless you convert, bad things are going to happen to you,” because there will be a police officer that will show up with a threat like that.
Part of the law is not to threaten others. Relativism is that there is a wiggliness right now in what truth looks like. There’s a wiggliness in what knowledge is and there is most certainly a wiggliness in the moral consequence of that, otherwise, we would not be having a trial on impeachment because of something that the former president said. It’s adjusting what’s true and what’s the truth. There’s a little bit of a bridge between, “Yes, you can have that belief but not at the expense of others.” That’s the thing that our society is struggling with right now.
You’re so right, Bill. We are struggling with this and there are definitely different perspectives on truth. We’ve shown this image before that shows a cylinder. From one perspective, it looks like a circle. From another perspective, it looks like a square or rectangle. That helps you understand how different people can have a variation on the truth from yours and that’s very helpful. I also think this wiggliness, Bill, is happening because our representatives in Congress, so often one year argue an issue one way and the next year argue with another. It’s not so much about perspective but whatever serves their purpose at the moment.
They’re hoping that the American people have amnesia and are not going to remember what they said last year. They’re only going to be focusing on what they say now. We’ve seen this with a few things. Last time, we talked about Marco Rubio a bit. He figures into this because he wanted accountability when it came to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. There was quite an investigation that was launched and he said, “We’ve got to get to the bottom of it because four Americans died.” That’s the accountability piece. Fast forward to now, we have the riot and siege on the Capitol, the insurrection, which is now the subject of the second impeachment of Former President Donald Trump.
To hear Marco Rubio talk about it now, he’s saying, “This is stupid.” He used that word, which in modern language is not very politically correct but he said, “This is stupid. We shouldn’t be doing this. We need to bring the country together. This is going to further divide the country. There’s no point because Former President Donald Trump is no longer the president.” At least now, six Americans have died as a result. There have been a couple of suicides now from Capitol police officers. There are more people that died now at this insurrection at the Capitol than died in Benghazi.
He’s not interested in accountability either for a lot of the people that went to the Capitol or certainly the president. They are all like, “Now, we need unity.” I’ve got a funny little cartoon that shows the flip-flop of ‘Now the Democrats want accountability.’ A lot of the nation, if you look at the polls and they believe the president incited the insurrection and he should be held accountable. The Republicans are saying, “We can’t go for accountability now because that’s going to further divide us as a country.”
We need unity. That’s the narrative. It’s like, “Didn’t you guys ask for unity?” The answer is yes but unity and accountability are not exclusive of each other. You get to do both of them at once. Can you imagine one of the press secretaries or communications specialists say that sentence? We can do accountability and unity at the same time. We’re going to hold the people that are accountable for the actions that they did and we’re going to unify with the people who did not take those same actions. I feel good about the thing unity. Thank you so much, Republicans, for bringing up unity because we’re interested in people that have unity with the people who did not do the insurrection acts but the other people we’d like accountability for.
Would it be great if we could do both things at once? I guess they can’t do both things at once. The skepticism that’s needed to allow truth to move from one position to the next. Notice I’m using the two emotion words, doubt and skepticism, to move truth because when I feel doubtful about something, its veneer of truth falls off. If you said, “Bill, I saw some UFOs out on the ocean.” I would have doubt and skepticism in my mind because it’s not real to me. It might be real to you but it’s like, “By the way, Bill, this is the other thing I saw which was interesting.”
Now my doubt and skepticism are going to move, and my truth is going to increase or decrease based on the next thing you said. Regrettably, what has taken place over the years, starting in 2016, is the following seed sentence that affects truth and trust. The seed sentence is, “If I lose, it’s been rigged.” All the brain needs to do is to hear that over a period of time, namely for years and then use the same narrative during the midterms because it was used. There was a blue wave. They did get the things. Meanwhile, no one is saying, “Maybe the Republicans rigged the election.” How did they rig the election then? They did that thing called gerrymandering, and that’s a way of rigging the election.
That doesn’t meet the need for fairness that some votes get counted at a different proportion than other votes too because they’re not representative of the voters in an area. You can’t even get to that discussion because when one person is cast as an evil person, and then the other person tries to recast the other person as the evil person, which you don’t get any truth. What you get is opposition. You get the point of view that starts to dominate the space. The feeling of doubt and skepticism are not healthy feelings that will help a democracy run. You cannot run a democracy, capitalism and business from doubt and skepticism. You can’t run a marriage and parent-child relationship from doubt and skepticism. Those are bad casualties when somebody casts the language to create those emotions.
What it did was it set up what is being referred to in the press widely as the big lie. The big lie is Joe Biden didn’t win the election fair and square, and Donald Trump wants it because of fraud. If that’s the big lie, the phrase that you repeated where the president was setting everybody up for four years, “If I don’t win, the election was rigged.” It’s the descendant liar or the predecessor lie. It wasn’t a lie as much as it was a concept that he was putting forward.
It was a concept that he is putting forward. It’s the same thing. There are people in the nation that believe that Barack Obama was not born in this country. They believe it with all their heart. The reason why they believe that will all their heart is the seed was planted. It was watered by the media that they were watching. The doubt and skepticism, those two darn words are there, again the downset was coming up, maybe, possibly, I don’t know, it could be, people are saying. I have people in Hawaii right now that are researching this. It’s what Donald Trump said in real-time and here’s what they said, “You will not believe what they’re finding out.” What does that create? Doubt and skepticism, “What could they be finding out?” Now, it’s planted in the brain or the psychology of the brain.
Now it’s also an anticipatory thing. People now have curiosity over what those things are that they’re finding that is going to be so egregious. I want to know. Somebody has got to get to the bottom of that as if nobody had already gone to the bottom of it with this process we have called an election. It’s interesting, Bill. I find that this is very similar. The phrase that you’re talking about what Donald Trump did, we didn’t talk about this beforehand. I am curious to see what you think of this because I’m seeing very much a parallel between that and what happened where Rand Paul brought force of vote in the Senate on every Senator because he forced his vote. They had to say whether they believe it is constitutional to have an impeachment trial for a president who’s not the sitting president, meaning for a former president.
He’s planted the same seed. He had them all go on record. They’re not voting on to convict Donald Trump at this point but the very idea of holding a trial for a former president. Is that constitutional? I don’t think you can vote on what’s constitutional or not. It’s either things are or are not constitutional. The Supreme Court usually decides on that, but he put it out there and 45 Republican senators said it’s unconstitutional. It almost seems like it was a pre-emptive strike setting up the impending impeachment trial in the Senate as if it was a big lie.
That’s right because it’s not in alignment with the constitution. The weird part about that is where does accountability fall? Does that mean that the president gets to break all the rules that they can? Because they do it right at the end of their presidency, then they’re not going to be held accountable because they did it right before the line of it and you are not to prosecute.
I was thinking the exact same thing, Bill. That means that the President of the United States is not a king unless it’s in the last month he’s in office or the last week. Call him king for a day, king for a week or king for a month, that means he’s never going to be held accountable.
You can open the door to the last three months of a presidency. If either of the parties is in power, one of the legislative branches then is going, “One of those legislative branches will stall the process for three months.” In many cases, Mitch McConnell stalled things for 6, 9 months with the judges. You can lock up the system pretty good and then call it either unconstitutional or constitutional. Having different things rewritten in order to deal with this existential problem that we went through, we’re going to see in the next 2 to 3 years after the COVID thing starts settled down a little bit. We’re going to see things like that DOJ memo. That thing is getting rewritten. We are not leaving the DOJ memo like that. You can’t litigate against a sitting president because it’s going to mess up their ability to learn.
They’re going to set up a whole set of rules and guidelines that are going to say, “If he crosses this line, you can. If he crosses this line, you can. If it crosses this line, he’s going to be centered. If he crosses this line, he’s going to do this.” There’s been such a moral and ethical. Those committees meant something in the past. There was the ethics committee. The ethics committees had a bite to it. It does not have a bite to it right now. There’s no pain in that other than Joseph McCarthy saying, “I’ll have a talk with her because she said something violent.” Nothing will happen because the talk is, “You may want to tone that one down. That’s not necessarily a thing, or do it in this way so that I can provide you cover.” It’s not about pursuing truth or integrity. What it’s about is, “Here’s how I can give you cover for something that is unethical and immoral that we don’t want in our thing, but you get to stay if you can keep around this moral and ethical line. You can say it this way and I can give you cover.”
You’re talking about the representative from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene. There have been a lot of things that have come out about her. She’s the QAnon believer and follower who was elected to Congress from some district in Georgia, I believe. Now that she’s continued to do some controversial things in her first few days as a sitting member of the House of Representatives, people have been digging into her past and finding all kinds of controversial things that she has said which are, to put it mildly, unbecoming a sitting member of Congress. That’s being nice about it.
It hits that moral and ethical line about what truth is moral and ethically. The moral and ethical thing is a tough thing for us human beings to grapple with. What is the moral and ethical thing to do regarding the need for choice versus the right to life? That’s the center of the abortion narrative. Here’s this person that wants to choose to do what they would with their body. Here’s the person that says, “Life starts at conception and if you do that, you need to take it to term because that’s what we do here, and it’s moral and ethically sound.” No one likes abortion. Trust me on this one but the ability to rob choice or litigate against choice because it’s a moral thing, now all of a sudden you’ve got a big problem.History does change because of perspective. Click To Tweet
We’ll have to see what the Supreme Court does with the next case in that direction, and then we’ll see what the backlash will be because there will be one if it’s overturned. Some people believe the choice of a person that’s alive is different than the choice or the right to life for a person that’s been conceived. People believe that. I’m not even picking a side. I’m trying to spell it out so people can go, “This is a difficult situation. That’s why the courts left it over as a medical thing between the person and the doctor.” They go like, “We don’t want to be in the middle of that.” Now all of a sudden, they’re going to be in the middle of that. I have to see how that one goes.
That’s going to be an ongoing conflict.
That’s a great example of relativism. I am focusing on a moral, ethical society position. It’s hard because knowledge becomes wiggly, truth becomes wiggly. Moral existence in relationship to culture society and the historical concept is not an absolute thing but we want it to be absolute. Meanwhile, we know that when we find out new information, we have to rewrite history. Christopher Columbus was not a nice guy. That’s what we’ve learned. Here are the papers that show that but we used to celebrate his holiday. That was because the guy rewrote it that way. He goes, “We need an Italian hero.” “Let’s write an Italian hero story. Let’s make that a national holiday.” That’s where Italians get to be celebrated in the United States. They get the go from the side that is disdained to the side that is, “We like these people now.”
History does change and it doesn’t even have to. It can change also because of perspective. I remember I went to college in the State of Rhode Island and when I was there, I learned because I was now living in this state that’s not a very big state. There are not even two million people in the state. It’s a pretty small state geographically and population, but every state has its own state holidays. I learned when I was in college, there was this holiday in August where all the state offices would be closed. A lot of businesses would close, and it was Victory over Japan Day. They call it VJ Day from leftover from World War II. At one point, many states had that holiday but it had since gone away because a lot has happened since then. Japan is not this major enemy and it’s not that you’re rewriting the history of what took place in that war. Morally and ethically, there wasn’t a lot of support for celebrating victory over a country that we’re on very good terms with.
They are allies because of all the different things. The constructs and fingers inside their society that we had for years similar to Germany. How do you become this and then all of a sudden, you’re an ally? You need to have a new enemy, then there’s a new ally. It is an unsettling experience as beliefs and attitudes change over time and how to best experience those changes. Our brain does not like the change. We’d rather have things that are stable versus things that are not stable. There’s a point in a person’s life that they decide, “I’m not going to change this thing. I’ve been doing this thing for the longest time. How about that? I’m not going to change it,” and it’s okay to finish a life like that. It’s the things that you’re not going to change. It’s like, “I’m not going to change that belief. I’m going to stick with that.”
We’re trying to build a language so that we can maintain healthy dialogue and stay out of this relativism trap. My way is right, over another person’s way is right and go, “These things are more complex than a black and white answer.” We need to do a better job of not letting our brains get hijacked and be able to fight for each other as a right to express but also a stand for mutual inclusion with the different points of view. That’s a complex choice and many people have to face those complex choices. They’re going to have to struggle with it as they’re making a choice. You can have the opinion, you can even express the opinion but that’s your choice, your moral or ethical stand. That’s where we’re getting into trouble regarding truth.
It is where we’re getting in trouble. It’s going to be interesting to see how the history books are written about this time in early 2021 even what’s happened in 2020 and earlier, but the comparison between something like Benghazi and the accountability the Republicans went after. Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, they’re not so interested in accountability. I wonder how the history books are going to portray this if years from now, certain people in Congress end up being on the wrong side of history as it were. It’ll be interesting to see.
As you were talking there, it started to land on me. There are some ways for us to talk about how truth is purchased and the effectiveness of denial. There’s effectiveness in the strategy of denial and defensiveness that is at play here. It’s undercutting the ability to have truth or having a meaningful discussion because if someone is in denial or starts us down the path towards denial, we can’t have a collaborative conversation because they basically say, “No, you’re not. This is wrong. Shut up. I’m going my way. I’m not going to work with you. I’m taking my choice home.” It’s hard when the denial narrative shows up because it’s not collaborative and not participatory. There are several reasons why that takes place, but it’s something that we can throw our arms around a little bit next time.
That sounds good, Bill. I look forward to that.
Thanks a lot, everybody, for reading. There are more to come.
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