Peer Review by amaryllis (United States)

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On American Values

By: Yellow Sweater

One of my grandma's first memories is of huddling under a bomb shelter in London during the Blitz. Surprisingly, it wasn't a traumatic experience. Being an innocent, bright-eyed, three-year-old caught up in the horrors of humanity’s mechanized abstractions, she garnered a lot of sympathy. When the loud noises started, the adults would give her candy, sing her songs, tell her stories. It’s amazing how under the right circumstances bombs can become associated with bon-bons.

I don’t mean to trivialize the Second World War. It’s true my grandma was very fortunate, leaving England on one of the last boats to arrive in America unscathed. But this story has stuck with me. I've always found it sweet, funny even, but recently I've realized that it hints at something deeper: reality is malleable. By prioritizing beauty, joy, community, or even just a collective illusion over the impossible ideals of absolute truth and freedom, we are able to preserve our humanity in even the most inhumane of circumstances. Of course, collective illusions are not always a good thing. They are easily corrupted. Take World War II for an example. Nationalism, a perversion of patriotism, led to the murder of millions of people. And our blind, hedonistic denial of climate change could end up being our ultimate destruction. But it's our incredible ability to believe in subjective, rather than just objective reality, that has allowed us to build mythologies and civilizations.

My political convictions have gone through several radical shifts over the last year. I went from thinking that America was inherently corrupt and irredeemable to believing that, despite the horrors haunting our past and the revolting face of Trump's right-wing populism, our system was fundamentally a good one. But recently I have started to wonder if our founding ideology is actually flawed. Influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, our country worships freedom, truth, and individuality. We have romanticized the flamboyant ideologues of the past: Rousseau, Paine, Jefferson… People who sought to minimize the constraints of the social contract. We declared our independence, but doesn’t a country exist to promote interdependence, to shelter our children from harsh realities?

I have come to believe that when it comes to holding a civilization together trust is more important than truth. A country is a construct built on faith. For it to function we have to be willing to surrender, to occasionally let others carry our burdens and do some of our thinking for us. If we questioned everything, we would live in constant fear of bombs (both literal and metaphorical). We might even build the bombs ourselves. But trust allows us to enjoy our candy. It gives us the freedom to build a beautiful life, rather than the freedom to just be free.

The epidemic of fake news and conspiracy theories isn’t plaguing our country because we are too trusting, but rather because we are trusting the wrong sources. In effort to delineate ourselves, to free ourselves from tyranny, to create our own version of a perfect utopia, to pursue the American Dream, we gravitate towards fringe perspectives. We fracture ourselves. But It’s a country's job, a democracy’s job, through both well researched facts and imaginary constructs—religion, money, morality— ,to provide a unifying perspective.  We have to trust that the truth that is being presented by the experts is the truth that works on a practical level. Newtonian physics for an example, is not a complete representation of the laws of our universe, but it works. It has allowed us to literally touch the moon. (unless of course you believe that was also a hoax)    

The internet has made it startlingly clear how easy it is to manipulate the facts. Conspiracies that have been able to gain a ridiculous amount of influence online, such as Q-Anon, anti-vaccination, and climate change denial, have serious, real-world consequences. In an age where we have access to absurd amounts of information, the idolized American values of freedom, truth, and individuality have become dangerous. They threaten society. A single person can not be expected to sort through all the false information, all the possible consequences of an action or idea, and come to a responsible conclusion. There is just so much we don’t know. Therefore, we have to delegate, we have to trust that the millions of qualified people doing the research, working behind the scenes, have our best interest at heart. And if occasionally they lie, stretch the truth for the greater good, is that really all that bad? I am not saying that it isn’t important to think for yourself. Our government, and even our scientists, are far from perfect. But there are some instances when, because truth is dependent on trust, trust must transcend truth. If you are dogmatic about your disbelief, you harm not only the truth you are so ardently in pursuit of, but you also threaten to destroy the social contract, the collective faith, on which civilization, reality even, is built.

The idea that "nationalism is a perversion of patriotism" Comes from the TV show Madam Secretary. 

The idea that imagined realities, like religion, money, morality... are what have allowed us to build civilizations comes from the book Sapiens, by Yuval Harari.  

Message to Readers

Well, yikes, this is literally the 15th version.

And yet, I am still sure I have a thesis.

Help me please!!!

I know this is a controversial perspective. And I am not even sure i agree with myself. But I welcome debate!

Peer Review

I adore the first paragraph with your grandmother, and the reference back to the bombs and bon bons later on. Since the first draft I think this has developed wonderfully and is such an awesome and unique anecdote to share. Brilliant hook.

Trust governs our perceived truth, and thus sometimes trust should transcend truth in order to live a happy life.

I think the logic of each paragraph is really sound, and you flow from anecdote to your assertion beautifully.

Just two points!

First, I find the "truth is subjective, objective truth is impossible, thus most things we call realities are collective illusions" vs your use of the concrete word "facts" later on contradictory. How do we determine what is fact or truth?

I think you also should try to address the counter argument that questioning of the status quo is imperative for reform and change to happen... you do throw in a few sentences here and there to allude to your acknowledgement of this, but I think further elaboration of when to choose trust vs truth is needed.

You are really, really close I think. This piece is already very persuasive in terms of its structure, and I think once you add a stronger counter argument in it'll be even more so. It really made me consider a lot of philosophical (if that's what this is, I don't even know) questions and was particularly interesting for me because I have just studied the world wars in APUSH. You take examples from both the past and present, which makes your argument really well backed up. Very eloquent, and I can only marvel with how you condensed all that into an actually coherent piece. Your ability to be so succinct never ceases to amaze me.

Reviewer Comments

I just want to note that all of this is entirely my thoughts and opinions and my own view on this is likely underdeveloped probably has all sorts of flaws, so take this all with a mountain of salt. The most important point takeaway from this should be the development of a stronger counterargument-- it'll make your piece a lot stronger if you define you position with more specificity and acknowledge the gray. Best of luck! :)