We've discovered that one of our most popular episodes contained numerous fabrications. This week, we detail the errors in Mike Daisey's story about visiting Foxconn, which makes iPads and other products for Apple in China. Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz discovered the fabrications.
Ira also talks with Mike Daisey about why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process. And we end the show separating fact from fiction, when it comes to Apple's manufacturing practices in China.
As with many things, I immediately began to think about this kind of retraction on a bigger scale. And then, of course, on a smaller, pagan-flavored scale.
This is not the first retraction of its kind, nor will it be the last. Fact-checkers miss things all the time. The HBO film Game Change spends time talking about how fact checkers missed a host of rather important information regarding the vetting of Sarah Palin. Oprah Winfrey and her eponymous book club went through nearly an identical controversy to the one currently being experienced by Ira Glass and This American Life when she promoted the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. The book turned out to be mostly fiction yet was sold as fact.
There's a problem when we sell fiction as fact. Part of it is the feeling of the buyer of the information feeling duped, and another part is the person doing the selling is made out to look like a total fraud, a charlatan. If there were ever any fact or lesson to be learned from their book or movie or art installation or whatever, it's utterly drowned by their lie. Frey's A Million Little Pieces might still have worked as a harrowing look at addiction, and it still might have made Oprah's Book Club, and it still might have helped millions of people, but now it's tainted. And all the people that felt helped or bettered by having read his book feel stupid for believing this man.
I recently saw the movie Super Size Me. I know. I'm behind. Mea Culpa and all that. There's a point in the film where Subway's spokesman Jared was talking to a bunch of people about how he got really skinny because he ate a bunch of Subway sandwiches back in the 90's. Then, flash to a scene with an overweight mother/daughter duo, and the daughter is saying she'd love to lose weight but she doesn't have the money to eat Subway every single day. This girl was sold a lie. It's great that Jared ate some Subway sandwiches and went on to exercise and eat right and become a millionaire for telling his story over the past couple of decades, but his story is not typical and it's not what any dietician would tell you is a good way to be healthy.
The term 'truthiness' was first coined by Stephen Colbert on his show The Colbert Report in 2005, though it has appeared in similar forms in the past. The word means "a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts."
As a pagan, I feel doubly duped when it comes to truthiness, alleged facts passed off as unquestioned truth because they strike the right emotional cords. However, I find that inside our community not everyone is upset about Truthiness. Some of my biggest, most controversial topics - both on the blog and on the podcast - regard the idea of truthiness, and I've gotten a wide range of responses from our community.
Most recently, my article A Pagan Excuse for an Article was lauded as wonderful, needed, and a fantastic reminder that we need better research in our community. It was in regards to an article on Witch Vox that was purported to be a factual history of Easter, yet contained nearly no facts at all. It was full of truthiness. Things that sounded like they should be true, because they sound like some of the other truthy facts permeating our community. Things like the "Law" of Attraction, which I took on in my article Where's MY Money Tree?. That article was met with mixed to negative reactions. I got people telling me that I was an utter moron to ever doubt this 'Law', despite every bit of evidence pointing to it being mostly bunk. I've taken on Margaret Murray and her recount of what is known as The Burning Times in my article The Burning of Margaret Murray. I was derided at the time for daring to present numbers and non-pagan scholarship. How dare I take this away from our community? How dare I try and pin down a number or take away the factual historical ancient witch cults - that for some reason nearly replicate modern Wicca - or poke any holes at all in any of these theories? How dare I?
And this is where I find my spot on the wall and begin beating my head against it until the confusion is replaced by blinding pain. Few other communities in the world actively choose truthiness. Yet, in 2012, our community is still embracing a set of information that sounds as though our "ancestors" were involved in a Saturday afternoon witchy spin-off of Xena. Real witches that were hiding their real witchy practice that is exactly like modern Wicca in plain sight so that they could avoid the public burnings of hundreds of thousands of their sister witches. We like to believe that various sites around the world were, indeed, for our ancient witchy ancestors, despite many of them probably not being so. I've heard podcasters in our community say, "I don't care what any historian says, because when I was there I just knew it was an ancient site for witches/pagans/Goddess worshippers/etc."
Believe me, I am the biggest science fiction, comics nerd on the planet. If there is someone on television or in a movie doing magic or using their mutant powers, I'm probably not only watching it, but I probably have all the seasons on DVD or Blu-Ray, and I've memorized them word for word. (Partner will attest to the veracity of these claims.) If anyone out there wishes that we hailed from ancient super people on the isle of Atlantis, it's me. If anyone out there wishes we all came from an ancient lineage of witches that have practices going directly back to neolithic times, it's me. If there's anyone that wants the Great Pagan Story to be real, it's me. But it's not. And, I have to accept that.
Moving from there, however, there's a greater issue of clarity that needs to be addressed when it comes to truthiness in religion. There are a few different kinds of truthiness, and they should be noted:
- Mythology - The truthy accounts of how the world came into being and why things are the way they are. Why do rivers move the way they do? There's a myth for that. Why do we die? There's a myth for that. Mythology, in large part, is accepted as allegory. They are stories that explain the natural world, and they came about in a time that we needed them. We didn't understand that the sun doesn't actually rise, but that the earth revolves around the sun and in doing so it appears that the sun rises. Allegory makes the act of believing exciting, but it doesn't supersede the facts of the matter. One can both believe in science, in the big bang and evolution and gravity and such, and still tell the myths of the great ice licking cow in Norse mythology that helped to create the world. Mythology makes us human, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Why do the seasons change? There's a myth for that, but there's also a science for that, and they can work hand in hand.
- History - Fuzzy accounts of what happened, where it happened, why it happened, when it happened, how it happened, and who it happened to. This is one of the types of truthiness that I spoke about above - at length - and the kind that grinds my gears more than any other. The shades of pagan that we like to paint on top of historical events or individuals that nobody else can see but us. This extends to any time a fact is colored and skewed and changed into a truthy pagan 'fact'.
- Magic/Faeries/Gods/etc. - Does magic exist? Do the fae exist? Do the gods exist? This is where we can make our leaps of faith, like any other religion. Like any other group of worshippers on the planet, we, too, get to make leaps of faith. Does it matter if no fact can prove whether you have a relationship with a divine being called Zeus or Fox or the Morrigan or Kali? As long as you're not hurting anyone, including yourself, no. It doesn't. Now, if your god-in-a-box tells you to burn things or kill someone or pluck out your eyes in the middle of your church service, then you might need help. Otherwise... This is part of being human that is awesome. We get to see beyond the veil. This is part of being pagan that is even more awesome. We get to dance with faeries. We get to sing songs while Apollo plays lyre and Pele dances the hula.
Out of all the times when fact and fiction meet, the only time I have a problem with it is when fiction is said to be fact. Because, being lied to isn't fun. Because, if I have a teacher who is telling me all the secrets of magic and of the universe and of our pagan history, and then I open a history book and find out some of what I was told is a total fabrication.... I distrust that teacher, and then I wonder what else was a total fabrication.
When we sell fiction as fact, we discredit ourselves. When I say that I saw terrible things happen at an Apple factory, just like in the This American Life retraction, and I never saw those things, the story loses all value. Any positive effect that story might have had - bettering working conditions, increasing wages, etc. - is gone, because of my lie.
If I say that I worked my butt off filling out applications and going on interviews in addition to doing a job spell, and then I got a job, it leaves a little magic in our lives. It's beneficial. It's powerful, and it can be good for our psyche. If I pray to the divine to help me with a problem, it can be cathartic. Studies show that prayer and meditation is very good, psychologically speaking. Whether there's someone on the other end of the line doesn't matter factually, because there is a good there.
However, what happens to all that good when it's mixed in with truthiness? When we claim facts that are actually fiction? When we teach the next generation something that we refuse to acknowledge science, history, and modern findings have shown to be untrue?
Does Paganism get a retraction?
Because, a lot of us left our former religions to come to this path because we felt lied to. Because much of what was being taught wasn't actually true. Because historians cannot corroborate the events in the Bible, that was beaten into our brains as undisputed factual truth with all this truthy "science" to back it up. Yet, we find the same thing here.
Beliefs are fine. They're good. They're needed, and they're part of the joy of life. I don't care what science says about whether there is a god. I don't need a textbook telling me about the afterlife. But, I believe that we can be believers and knowers. We can know a thing to be true or untrue and accept that. Knowing the Law of Attraction isn't a law and is mostly crap doesn't mean the Goddess is any less real.
So, when someone like me calls for more facts for more science for more history for more psychology in our Pagan community, know that it doesn't mean we want magic to disappear or for the gods to go into hiding. It means that we want a fully aware community. A community that accepts things as they are and can still see the magic. A community without retractions.
Love and Lyte,