Reality Based and Truth Seeking
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 15 Aug 2021 13:15:46 -0700 (PDT)
(It’s a long way down to the relevance of this to cohousing, but stay with me.)

By happy accident I just read two books back to back that helped me understand 
the psychology and power of the truth deniers phenomenon.

_Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power_ by Konrad Heiden
Jonathan Rauch’s _The Constitution of Knowledge: A defense of the truth._

How do you make sense of people who do not correct in the face of overwhelming 
evidence? People who can deny that they said something that they have just been 
shown a video of themselves saying. Who seem to have unlimited energy to spread 
disinformation in every possible corner of the media — including rallies in 
huge sports stadiums.

I wanted to read about Hitler because I realized I knew little about how he 
actually came to power and functioned within his government. The Hitler expert 
on recommended Der Fuehrer as the best first book to read because 
it was written contemporaneously by an historian who actually interviewed 
everyone himself and researched written sources before the “outside” understood 
what was coming. 

This is generally discouraged because contemporaneous history is thought to be 
biased, a part of the story it writes. Not in this case. Heiden's writing ended 
in 1942 and the book was printing and published in 1944. It took a long time 
for books to be published then — a two year process. His interviews and paper 
tracking was done well before the world was forced by the war’s final 
revelations to face reality. What Heiden saw in the 1930’s, the world was still 
refusing to believe in the 1940s.

Hitler’s personal interests and the methods he and his perpetrators used are 
exactly like Trump's and his enablers. Neither Trump nor Hitler could have 
succeeded without other people eliminating the opposition and providing the 
funding. From his first attempts to gain political power, Hitler’s people 
killed opposing politicians and he was given multiple government positions that 
funded his movement. Trump’s opposition was obliterated with payoffs, threats, 
and outrageous lies. He used the illusion of his business prowess to prop up 
the illusion of his finances. Hitler took over the public institutions and 
created his own super-bureaucracies. Trump blew up the public institutions, 
fired hundreds of agency staff, and replaced leaders with people of his 
choosing in empty offices. 

There were times when I had to stop and remind myself that I was reading about 
Hitler and not Trump. In most places, just doing a search on “Hitler" and 
replacing with “Trump" would have produced a text that was just as accurate. 
Heiden gives multiple examples of the deceit of the propagandist: they believed 
not a word of what they say. It just gets them the attention they want. It’s 
questionable whether Hitler had any feelings at all about Jews one way or the 
other. They were just convenient for stirring up hate. Trump had no cares for 
his supporters and routinely legislated against them. And used their ills to 
distract from his own actions in other areas.

Fortunate for me that I did read these two books back to back because watching 
the build up of Hitler at the same time as watching Trump not leave office was 
depressing. All seemed futile. But then Rauch examines the Trump presidency and 
explains how deniers, disrupters, and disinformation spreaders win and how to 
defeat them. They win because the path they take is an easy one when used to 
defeat reality-based truth-seekers. They don’t even have to create a new 
reality or come up with a better solution. They only have to spread doubt and 
discontent and confusion—no answers, no ideas, only emotion. 

The things they do seem like a larger danger because their premise is so 
outrageous, it can’t be refuted. One is struck dumb instead. They know proving 
or refuting a negative is impossible. All they have to do is create and spread 
false, suggestive information—no proofs required. And the digital world has 
made this so easy to do. Free speech goes both ways.

Rauch begins by exploring the nature of knowledge—who decides what it is? What 
is it and how is it constituted? Making a huge leap into simplifying 200 pages 
of wonderful history and analysis, I’ll say it comes down to understanding that:

1. We only have our own senses with which to search for the truth. We are 
inherently limited in what we can know and biased by our limitations.

2. Knowledge is constructed in dialogue with others using their perspectives, 
understanding, and biases to check our own. Reality-based truth-seeking people 
construct knowledge through communities of knowledge. In systems language, the 
dialogue provides the necessary corrective feedback loops. The broader the 
dialogue, the deeper the understanding. Knowledge is socially constructed. 

The importance of transparency and the sharing of information is what has 
speeded up the construction of knowledge since 1600. COVID vaccine was the 
first vaccine developed in this open source environment. That is the reason the 
labs were able to do in 12 days that would have taken 12 years in the 20th 

The sole aim of tyrants is to disrupt that process of reality based inquiry. 
Denying it causes us to question our own senses and to distrust those of 
others. As a result the truth-seekers are flummoxed—their language and all 
their agreements so far are taken away. What do you say when someone says we 
will win because we are basing our campaign on alternate facts? 

Propagandists win by producing outrage on one side and silence on the other. 
Why were so many people silent and ineffective against Hitler and Trump?

Rauch puts the kabash on that in the last 50 pages, however. The defense and 
ultimate defeat of propaganda is in (1) preserving diversity of opinions, (2) 
speaking up, and (3) insisting on speaking the truth. 

To have a measured response it is vital not to treat their absurdities as 
anything at all. Their pronouncements are irritating and dumbfounding, but are 
not cataclysmic. The earth is not flat just because they say it is. Don’t give 
them that much power. Let them die on the vine if that is all their ideas are 

Rauch quotes Lincoln as saying we need to speak up with "reverence and reason.” 
Not give them the outrage that will steer us off course and into meeting their 
objectives for them. They need us to complete what they begin.

The connection to cohousing, finally —I found a purpose for diversity. It isn’t 
just about wearing the badge of civil rights on our left sleeve; it’s about 
preserving and enlarging the reality-based truth-seeking community. The one 
that self corrects and thrives on difference. Where everyone speaks up with 
“reverence and reason.” Silence does neither.

In the ongoing discussions about how to attract minority populations to 
cohousing, this answers my question, “What is skin-color difference going to 
get you?" Why is this important? How would it change the community except to 
make us look less like the homogenous, white, middle-class community we don’t 
want to be?

We need diversity and inclusiveness to continue constructing knowledge.

My next question, which no one has answered either, is do we really understand 
what diversity we have now? How much diversity is living right next door but 
gives in to silence? Rauch discusses the many ways we are all silenced by the 
norm in the room. Every community reports that governance smooths out over 
time. Why? Because silence has smoothed it? Or has knowledge smoothed it out?

Do we know why people have different opinions than ours? And why theirs are as 
valid as ours? And how to form a wholistic world view from including both of 

Homework: What three concerns would you never raise in a meeting because others 
would view doing so as divisive, sympathy seeking, or not the direction anyone 
else wants to go? 

Sharon Villines, Washington DC
"Behavior is determined by the prevailing form of decision making." Gerard 

Before I started writing today, this is the text I sent to the work-day lunch 

Could you save me some taquitos? I’m working on bylaws stuff and writing a 
cohousing article and can’t take the risk of being distracted by cohousing!!!!! 
Can I come down later and pick up a container in the fridge? 

She came up and I exchanged a hunk of sourdough bread I baked last night for a 
plate of taquitos and a slice of watermelon.

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