As a mile marker of sorts in my journey to find ever-elusive truth about how the world really works (I’m not even close), here are my leading contenders for the “The Top 11 Lies That Americans Tell Themselves”:
11) People at the “ideal weight” are healthier than people who are ten to twenty pounds overweight; and people who lose weight assume the health characteristics of thinner people—even if they just lose a few pounds.
(Reality check: They aren’t, and they don’t.)
10) There is a God and he will never give you more than you can handle.
(Reality check: With detailed critical analysis we can determine that it is extremely unlikely that any anthropomorphic version of “god” exists, and if he did we can’t disregard the suicides, mental meltdowns, and the mass fatalities that he doles out daily—so he can give you more than you can handle.)
9) There is a Mr. or Mrs. “Right” out there for each of us. Once we meet him or her we will want no others; and if we do—or certainly if we love another—we were mistaken about the first person, and we are probably also bad and sinful.
(Reality check: By and large we are serial monogamists by culture, who discard priors and very, very, very rarely pair off and live maximized lives “happily ever after.”)
8) People are more moral if they believe in God, and conversely are more immoral if they don’t.
(Reality check: Empirically not true; proverbially speaking, prisons aren’t filled with atheists.)
7) Money and competition are effective, long-term motivators.
(Reality check: For most they are not.)
6) There is a biological difference between the races.
(Reality check: There is no such biological distinction.)
5) The health care system in United States of America is the envy of the world, and it provides the best care at a reasonable cost; there is nowhere you’d rather be sick.
(Reality check: By so-called “hard endpoint” measurements, we Americans spend the most of any other first-world economy, and are nowhere near the top in what we get for it.)
4) We live in a world where merit matters far more than luck; as in a multi-level soap company, nearly everyone who works really hard in our capitalist system can—and likely will—succeed and be able to achieve “financial independence” (a.k.a. retirement), as well as social mobility.
(Reality check: starting with the family you are born into, the deck is stacked. No one is a bigger advocate for this myth than wealthy thin people who got lucky and worked hard, yet erroneously attribute their “successes” in all things to only the latter; lots of people work very hard, and the overwhelming majority never advance classes from that into which they are born. Cycles of poverty or wealth are the rule.)
3) We have complete “contra-causal free will,” and we each have choices, outcomes, thoughts, and reactions in life that are completely uncaused and without antecedence; we are our own “demi-gods,” capable of acting completely apart from any and all causal influences—environmental and biochemical, known and unknown. We can truly be “self made.”
(Reality check: There are no uncaused effects; contra-causal “free will” is an incoherent human construct, even if determinism is false and randomness rules.)
2) Given adequate access to modern medicine we live and age painlessly; are able to safely give birth to babies beyond our late thirties; prevent or fix just about every malady; defy and mitigate (or ameliorate) the ravages and diseases of aging; live past our late seventies; cure many cancers; prevent most heart attacks; and mostly can achieve “a clean bill of health” at any given time in our lives.
(Reality check: Good nutrition and gains in infant mortality have extended life expectancy from it’s giant dip one hundred years ago, but parts wear out at a predictable rate, episodes of serious back pain befall most of us by middle age; often painful degradation of mind and body ensues with continued aging; we all get some forms of cancer and/or heart disease—and eventually die from it by 75 years of age, 80 if we are lucky. On average, we have “cured” FAR fewer diseases and extended life far less than we believe, particularly in the fields of cardiology and oncology—though we find and “treat” many more cases, at outlandish costs.)
1) “God did it.”
(Reality check: She had nothing to do with it.)
Please keep in mind that I remain open to new evidence on all matters, including these, and never claim to have any sort of exclusive lock on truth. I could easily be wrong. In my mind, almost everything I do is actually in the form of a question. It gets tiresome and wordy though when I muddily introduce consciousness-raising thoughts like those above, full of prefaces: “I’ve pondered this for years and wonder if these might not be common untruths. What do you think?” It’s just so wishy-washy, especially if the pile of evidence is substantial. It’s also less provocative and attention-grabbing.
You see, dialogue is how we humans learn. Truth-Driven Thinking has not been about the destination, as if Truth could ever be one; it’s been about the methods of learning—namely how we are often fallible in our emotion-driven thinking, and how we are often better served by taking action based upon evidence, reason, and the naturalistic methods of science. By asserting something and then learning from how it is challenged, I regularly grow and refine my own estimations of truth. The fact is that I can’t do it without you. I need you. So make no mistake, I am open to being wrong, and do not wish to sound arrogant here, in my Facebook posts, or anywhere.
That said, I do like to be provocative at times because a vital step in encouraging others to open their minds and recognize the possibility that they too might be flawed, and might not have 100% perfect knowledge of the how the world really works—is standing up and saying “this just might be wrong.” Sometimes calling “balderdash” when all of the current evidence suggests fundamental misunderstandings of how the world really works—is necessary.
Yes, ultimately it is a question: So, “Do you think these things are balderdash?” So how about it? Will you help educate me, and others around you, by asking provocative questions—or politely calling “balderdash”—when your evidences suggests something is?
(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Still an emotion-driven thinker in recovery, Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth with thousands via his Truth-Driven Thinking podcast, and his Perspectives blog. © 2011, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)