What is True?

Dear Islanders;

People like stories. Stories help us understand our lives. And stories can even help us be better people. It’s a big part of why we watch sports. And it’s definitely why we go to the movies, and binge watch series television. Jesus taught with stories. And you probably teach your children with stories when you read to them at night. 

We hear lots of stories nowadays—accusations and strokes—in the news and from our friends. But sometimes you don’t need a story. You need the truth. When you are bombarded with constant information, discerning between what is real and what is fake is hard to do. Is a news story fake just because you don’t like what it says? Is something true just because someone you trust sent it to you? Should you believe what a man or woman says just because they hold an important post? 

Controlling reality lets you control people

In some places (China, North Korea, Russia), it’s even harder to tell what is real and what is fake. “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible” is the name of a book by Peter Pomerantsev. He’s a journalist who focuses on Russia. He says in today’s Russia the Kremlin runs everything like a scripted reality television show. It’s all a story.  

But how does a very literate, very sophisticated, and even cynical Russian populace fall for that? The Kremlin plays off their cynicism and their biases. It uses it against them. It says, “All politicians are corrupt. No one is pure. Nothing is real. Enjoy the show.” 

Should we follow suit America and enjoy an unexamined ride on a torrent of endless information? No. We should not. 

You need a test

For centuries mankind used a simple process to determine if something is true or false. When they had a question, they guessed at an answer. And then they tested the answer to see if it was correct. It’s called the scientific method. We humans have thrived when we’ve relied upon these steps to understand the world. But since we moved away from these steps, we’ve declined. 

Almost all ancient knowledge was lost in the Dark Ages circa A.D. 500 to 100. The great scientific discoveries only endured in fragments. Governments controlled what people thought and believed. We accepted the stories given to us without questions. It wasn’t until the Renaissance—when European scholars became reacquainted with the likes of Aristotle, Euclid, and Islamic scholar Ibn al-Haytham—did we return to the use of logic and reason and not emotion and instinct. And in the few hundred years since, we have gone from tribal warfare to smartphones. 

I would argue that you today could rely on a process similar to the one used by the great minds of the Renaissance, like Copernicus, Bacon, and Galileo, to understand your world. If you want to know something, don’t just rely on what others say. And definitely don’t choose an answer you like and cherry pick information to support it. Do the opposite. Do what good scientists do. Test your beliefs. In other words, try to prove they are wrong. And then you can really see what is true. Watch a different news broadcast once in a while. Read a different newspaper. Spend time with people who see the world differently than you do, 

Stories still have their place

Are you into science-fiction? I am. I don’t geek out every night on Star Trek, but I’m definitely a fan. Issac Asmiov is one of the greatest science fiction writers ever. He wrote a novel called “Nightfall.” It takes place in a different world where there are six suns, so the world is continually bathed in sunlight; there is no darkness. Archaeologists discover evidence that society on this world collapses every 2,000 years. The reason is because the world’s six suns are blotted out by a massive eclipse that only occurs every 2000 years. The eclipse plunges the always sunny world into darkness and chaos. 

The scientists theorize that the darkness drives people mad and they destroy each other in flames by searching for light. But the reality is much more troubling. When the eclipse occurs in the novel, instead of going mad from the lack of sun, they go mad because they see a night sky illuminated by billions of stars. This new information challenges their understanding of the world, as they heretofore imagined that their world was the entirety of the universe.  Mankind destroys itself, not in their effort to uncover light, but because of their inability to process the light before them. 

This story had a profound impact on me it. It’s not because I believe the world it describes is real. The story is of course fiction, not true, but directs us toward truth like all good stories do. Accepting new ideas and reality as it is (rather than how we want it to be) is not easy. But confronting, analyzing, and accepting truth is the only way to avoid chaos. That’s what America should be about. And that’s what will really make America great again. 

Update on the Boulevard

As your Supervisor, I have tried various efforts to help revitalize Grand Island Boulevard. Recently I wrote letters to a number of property owners asking them to meet with me to discuss ways to improve their property. We, as a Town Board, also stopped a used car dealership from being permanently established on a stretch of the Boulevard. And then last week, I negotiated with the owners of the gas station on the corner of Whitehaven to remove the tanks from the ground, which several Islanders had told me they were afraid were emitting fumes. They also agreed to tear down the sign and paint the place.

We improved the roundabout a bit, had Whitehaven paved, and took some other steps, but all of this is just a start. It will take time to really change the Boulevard. But my goal is to get that building torn down and turned it into something that is not such an eyesore. My broader goal remains the same: pedestrian access on the Boulevard, a cleaned-up gateway, center, and exit near Long Road.  This will lead, over time, to increased property values and a better Island. More on this coming soon.

Salamanders

I have to say thank you to all those who attended the “Night of the Salamanders” event hosted by the Western New York Land Conservancy. There were over a 100 people there—who knew so many of you loved Salamanders! It was a great event. Let’s continue to protect the green space on Grand Island (and the salamanders in it) from leaky pipelines (see my letter online) or whatever else might destroy this special place. 

With warmest regards,

Nate