Would you buy a used car from Fred? He sold 9,862 vehicles, new and used, before retiring after nearly 39 years.
 
And that doesn’t include his years in management, when he wasn’t credited for individual sales.
 
When he retired, his colleagues gave him a T-shirt emblazoned with “Trust me, I’m a used car salesman!”
 
Fred’s secret was honesty and service. When it came time to replace a vehicle, customers would return to Fred.
 
He helped those customers decide, based on their own interests, not his. 
 
He provided clear, truthful information, then let them digest it and reach a decision.
 
That’s why they kept coming back. There was no internet when Fred was selling. Accurate information on cars was hard to find.
 
You asked neighbors, friends; you checked monthly magazines for information that might be out of date.
 
The only up-to-date source was the salesman. You had to trust him.
 
That story is a metaphor for how information drives society.
 
Truth is essential.
 
You need it for all your decisions: what and how to buy, where and when to travel, whom to date, whom to elect.
 
In short, whom to trust. You need truth to make meaningful decisions. Without truthful information, dysfunction sets in; systems begin to fail. George Orwell knew this.
 
The Ministry of Truth, out this month by British author Dorian Lynskey, is subtitled A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984. It commemorates the 70th anniversary of 1984’s original publication in the UK.
 
An excerpt from that book makes some chilling comparisons between the Orwellian dystopia and current events in “the age of fake news.” Sadly, “dystopia” encapsulates much in our society.
 
Some parts of society are damaged by disinformation more than others, but we’re all in this together.
 
When 1984 was first published, “one critic wondered how such a timely book could possibly exert the same power over generations to come.”
 
When our own world in 1984 didn’t fit Orwell’s description, “commentators again predicted that its popularity would wane.”
 
“Another 35 years have elapsed since then,” Lynskey writes, “and Nineteen Eighty-Four remains the book we turn to when truth is mutilated, when language is distorted, when power is abused, when we want to know how bad things can get.”
 
For Orwell, Lynskey says, “Nothing built on a lie, however seductively convenient, could have value.” Orwell “always tried to tell the truth and admired anyone who did likewise.”
 
Consider the value of a government built on “seductively convenient” lies.
 
Lynsky’s contemporary example: a “preposterous lie” by a government official in 2017, was brushed off by another spokesperson as simply “alternative facts.”
 
“Alternative facts” allow governments, corporations, social media, and all manner of spinmeisters to abuse their power.
 
These sources of information vie for our understanding, our beliefs, our support, our dollars, our votes.
 
Nurtured by such lies, the recent rise of populism calls to mind a statement Orwell wrote about fascism in 1936: “If you pretend that it is merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord, you are dreaming a dream from which you will awake when somebody coshes you with a rubber truncheon.”
 
Similarly, we can pretend climate change is “merely an aberration.”
 
The rubber truncheon will be crop failure and rising seas.
 
Widespread disinformation hinders governments, nongovernmental organizations, and people in general from understanding and accepting facts about our warming Earth.
 
Although agreement is building, time will tell whether that consensus is enough and in time.
 
I support efforts to spread truth about climate change, to mitigate and reverse the global threat.
 
I’d also buy a car from Fred. Truth matters.
 
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife before retiring south of Colfax. peterlaoshi@gmail.com

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