As a parent, you gaze into the future and think: In what direction should I encourage my child? Where will she find job security and contentment and meaning? Many of us are hoping our children will find a foothold in the STEM professions, or the blackjack tables.
But there's another growth industry out there, and that's in fact checking and lie debunking. In a fine column in the Guardian recently, Jonathan Freedland asserted that we live, politically, in a "post-truth" world, pointing to the unabashed mendacity of campaigners such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
That was even before Mr. Johnson, London's former mayor and current Brexit champion, told a porky about how the European Union restricts the sale of bananas to bunches of twos and threes. Members of BBC's Reality Check team went out and bought five bananas in a bunch, thus humiliating Mr. Johnson and joining Woodward and Bernstein in the pantheon of heroic journalists.
Will it make a difference to the Brexit campaign? Probably not, no. Pubs from Liverpool to Land's End will be filled with drinkers shaking their heads over Brussels's bananas decision-making. An equal number will tell them to shut their stupid gobs, and all will turn to their cellphones for wisdom.
This is where hope lies: In the past several years, there has been a vast sprouting of impartial political fact-checking outfits, which flourish in these dark times like mushrooms in a bed of … well, you know where mushrooms grow. These groups, including FullFact, PolitiFact, FactCheck, FactsCan and many more, take politicians' statements and attempt to sort the authentic claims from the stuff that your Aunt Cindy posts on Facebook.
I'm sure that many of the people who work as political fact miners spend much of their time in despair, and wonder why they didn't do something easy, such as become bushfire pilots. Consider the singular case of Donald Trump, declared "King of the Whoppers" by FactCheck.Org. "In the 12 years of FactCheck.org's existence," the Annenberg Public Policy Center team wrote, "we've never seen his match."
Over at the Washington Post's Fact Checker, about 70 per cent of Mr. Trump's claims are found to merit "four Pinocchios," the worst rating. As Fact Checker's Glenn Kessler writes, "Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts."
Imagine, a man who appears to have impersonated his own publicist, then lied about it, having trouble with the facts. I don't have room to get into all of Mr. Trump's whoppers, because I don't have Tolstoy's page count, but they include, in no particular order of egregiousness or absurdity, lies about: President Barack Obama's birthplace; crimes committed by immigrants; celebrations of 9/11 committed by Muslims; his position on the Iraq war; his net worth; the role of Ted Cruz's father in the Kennedy assassination; the U.S. unemployment rate; and hairspray.
Despite this Fuji of fibs, Mr. Trump's popularity continues to grow among his base. He could tell them, at this point, "God gave me these four hands so I could better run the White House," and his supporters would say, "Yep, he's got four hands and they're all yuge." A national Fox News poll this week found that Mr. Trump actually outscored Hillary Clinton in terms of trustworthiness: 66 per cent of respondents didn't find Ms. Clinton honest, but only 57 per cent said the same thing about Mr. Trump.
But wait, you might say: What about Hillary's trustworthiness? Have I not seen this week's viral masterpiece, "Hillary Clinton Lying for 13 Minutes Straight," which is a clip of the former secretary of state's policy shifts over the years? I have, in fact, and I discounted most of it as the usual slipperiness of the career politician. There were policy backtracks, but not blatant lies. Although, when I analyzed my own biases (which lean strongly toward Ms. Clinton and away from Mr. Trump), I admit that I'm as guilty as Mr. Trump's supporters of an insidious psychological trap called motivated reasoning.
Motivated reasoning, social scientists will tell you, is one of the ways people have difficulty separating fact from belief, and it's deadly dangerous at election time. It's the idea that when you have an emotional stake in the outcome of a particular event, you tend to believe information, however spurious, that supports that outcome.
For example, season ticket holders for the Toronto Maple Leafs will discount the evidence of history, statistics and their own eyes to believe that this is the year the Stanley Cup will be delivered from on high. Instead of doing something more useful with their money, like throwing it into a fiery pit of lava, they'll buy the same seats again.
By the same token, if you already believe that immigrants are stealing your jobs and your money, you are more likely to nod when Donald Trump says the same thing, even if his face is obscured by the cloud of smoke coming from his flaming pants.
In the immortal words of David Byrne, "Facts all come with points of view /Facts don't do what I want them to." In a post-truth world, impartial evidence will be as precious as platinum, as rare as a Vancouver bungalow selling for less than a million. Mamas, let your babies grow up to be fact checkers. It's a public service.