I first heard the word a couple of years back. Its utterer seemed to be in possession of some unique verity. Profound.
I was on my annual, solo pilgrimage to Cape Cod, where I’d spend January in splendid isolation.
A friend—Jeff—called and said he had a video he wanted me to see. I invited him to a rare dinner and regaled him with a T-bone steak; instant mashed potatoes; a salad; toasted bagels; dessert and coffee. And he’d started with a single malt Scotch.
My recompense was a video of the Twin Towers’ downing on 9/11/01 that lasted over two hours and which contained a lot of images of molten metal flowing from the flames. And then a covey of glib charlatans with ersatz degrees, white coats and less credibility, pontificated on how it was scientifically impossible for the heat of those flames to produce this result.
Ergo, someone was suppressing the truth. And the pundits fed the raw meat of conspiracy to their credulous acolytes. Now they were privy to things the rest of us would be too naïve to know.
And the progenitors of this suppression?
No one but our beloved federal government.
Conspirationalists presume to know things the rest of us can only dream of.
Anyhow, at video’s end Jeff eagerly awaited my response.
I wanted to be kind and couched my reaction in as much generosity as I could muster.
Rubbish, I’m afraid, was my conclusion.
Jeff now moved hastily to recover his dishes, thrust his arms through his coat violently and stormed out into the cold night.
I thought long and hard about this and, whatever Jeff’s reaction, concluded this was a deal-breaker—equivalent to a racist or anti-semitic outburst. As e. e. cummings so wisely put it, there is some shit I will not eat.
Jeff later made a feeble attempt at reconciliation and we met for coffee. Yes, he was still a Truther, so, no, I could not accept it.
A year or so later we were at a bar in Minneapolis where a guy blurted out, “Are you a Truther?” to me. Erica gave him such a blast that the guy’s wife hastily wrapped their fries and left. Not so nice Minnesota, on all sides.
I agonized over the meaning of it.
In the fullness of time I came to realize how dependent we are on shared truths. As the saw has it, you’re entitled to your opinion but we have to share the same set of facts.
Truthers subvert faith. Grotesquely they cast doubt on the murder of 20 babies and six adults in Newton, Conn., on 12/14/12. They undermine human trust in communication. “Fake News” plays into this notion.
And therein lies the danger of Russian interference in our lives. Our enemies feed on this naïve instinct to be the sole repositories of arcane wisdom. In the end those who harbor this inside knowledge become superior to those of us who, despite some healthy skepticism, continue to rely on such institutions as the New York Times and government agencies and scientists to furnish us with accurate information.
Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
A bunch of Islamic militants plunged planes into American buildings.
Evolution is a scientific fact that makes it hard to reconcile with Genesis.
The rising waters enveloping your dog and the poisoned air in New Delhi are evidence that our actions are shaping our climate.
The Truthers poison the wells of discourse, sow discord and weaken our abilities to function cooperatively. These summer soldiers and sunshine patriots show up at Charlottesville, brandishing swastikas and Confederate flags.
Let’s call it what it is—treason.