Reality and Truth

This clip from “The Newsroom” has been widely circulated as “The Most Honest Three Minutes In Television History.” Which is dumb because the scene runs about eight minutes…

Reality and truth can be confusing and elusive sometimes, yet we must understand them if we’re to have any hope of long-term survival. Yet as human beings we spend incredible amounts of time avoiding them. Why is that, why is it important, and how can we learn to understand them and thereby ensure we’re doing our best to create the best possible world we can?

Reality in Fiction

In the summer of 2012, one of the most widely-circulated media clips online was the opening scene of then-new HBO/Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom.

(Note: clips of this scene are often removed from YouTube or embedding is disabled. If the clip above doesn’t display properly you can watch the clip here as of this writing. If that doesn’t work, shoot a comment or message to the Facebook page and I’ll find another and fix it.)

I’ve chosen a long version of this clip. I think it’s important to have the context of the scene – which is really a great characterization of how most internet discussions of politics work, although given Sorkin’s disdain for the ‘net it’s unlikely that’s intentional – so that you get the full effect of how the response given by Daniels’ Will MacAvoy character throws an emergency brake on what has become the “normal” (and entirely pointless) way we discuss politics and social issues in this country.

Instead of partaking in or mimicking the banal, cliche, “my team your team” facade of debate, McAvoy drops a nuke on everything with a clear, concise, heartfelt, factually accurate, unflinching, and unflattering response to the question, “What makes America the greatest country on Earth?”

It’s highly unlikely that anyone reading this blog hasn’t already seen this clip at some point, but if you haven’t, go watch.  You won’t regret it.  Heck, go watch it if you have, it’s well worth a repeat.

Anyway, that’s the setup.  Back in 2015 I was volunteering for Coffee Party USA and in discussing media with colleagues there, the question was asked:

“Why are we [human beings] so afraid of reality and truth ?”

And this was my response:

Because we’re afraid to face the consequences of our mistakes and lies. Human nature.

Which is a meaningful and accurate response, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough in terms of answering the above question in a complete and honest way that induces serious thought about how we human beings do our thing and why the way we do it has created such a confused muddle in our social and political processes, dialogues, and policies.

Going Farther

One way to approach this understanding is by examining the mechanisms we all engage in to protect our self-esteem and personal interests as reflected in our popular culture. In this case, the clip from “The Newsroom” provides an excellent example of how we fool ourselves, and what happens when we stop.

First, it’s relevant to point out that Sorkin’s a recovering addict. I, too, am a recovering addict. I’ve never shied away from admitting that I spent the years between 1987 and 1999 stuffing the Colombian national economy up my nose.  

Like any addictive, destructive behavior, it was fun at first, then it became a habit, then it changed my personality and turned me into a paranoid, angry, coke-fueled dick. Eventually the day came when events conspired to turn a light bulb on over my head, I looked around and realized that everyone I was hanging out and doing drugs with was an asshole and a felon, and that I was already the former and would quickly be the latter if I didn’t make some immediate changes.

I went home and never touched hard drugs again. Never will, either.  Not because I’m so great and strong, but because I like being alive and if I ever do cocaine (or any other hard drug) again it will kill me.  Maybe not the first time or the second, but I’d bet against lasting six months.

It’s may seem strange to call such a thing good fortune, but fortunately my dad is a recovered alcoholic (yes, twelve-steppers, I mean recovered – he passed away in August of 2015, having never drank again after getting sober in the 80’s) who went through an inpatient treatment program in 1986 and has now been sober for nearly thirty years.  

During that process, of course, the family was subject to psychological therapy and co-dependent twelve-step groups and so forth. Even though it didn’t quite keep me from making the obvious and predictable mistake of following in his footsteps (albeit with a different substance), it did give me the tools early on to both leave some vestige of sanity available to step on the brakes when my racecar was about to slide off the track, and to find and maintain recovery and sanity when I finally decided to admit to myself that my life wasn’t working anymore, I was sick, and I needed to make changes to get healthy.

So what does this have to do with anything?  Let’s find out…