When our Quito guide shared at lunch that the Ecuadorian government had used the Galapagos Islands as collateral for a loan from China, my jaw dropped so low I could no longer chew my food. He added, the interest rate was three times what the IMF would have provided. You’re kidding me, right? His blank wistful look told me he wasn’t.
How could this happen? According to our guide, a good deal of that money flows directly to members of the government that made it happen. It’s not a stretch to imagine a corrupt South American government, but this was a bit over the top to think the Galapagos Islands will one day be in the hands of the Chinese.
After doing some intrepid research when I got back home, I discovered that in 2015 a loan with China was reached to lend Ecuador over $7.5 billion to cope with dropping oil prices. Over 80% of Ecuadorian oil goes to China. This loan brought Chinese financing to 25% of Ecuador’s GDP. Reasons to worry, especially since there is a “sovereignty immunity waiver” that allows China to seize many of Ecuador’s assets if the country fails to repay the loans.
While all this is true, this is where some facts get stretched. The assets under potential threat is not the Galapagos, it’s just the Amazon where the oil and mineral resources are! So, rest easy Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago is safe. The Amazon? Maybe not so much.
The Galapagos Islands is a special place on our planet – not so much for the landscape, more for the diverse wildlife. It’s a truly “wild” place, one that illustrates what our planet could look like if we weren’t so busy plundering it. And to the credit of the Ecuadorian government, they want to keep it that way. If you step onto the soil, you need to be with a guide, stay on the designated paths and don’t even try to pull out a snack! It was almost surreal how close you could get to the wildlife, as they see us as no threat. (If only they knew). I also found it fascinating how so much of the wildlife was endemic to not only the archipelago, but to each island. For example, the Charles Mockingbird is found on only one little island, Floreana. Only 60 of them currently exist.
The Charles Mockingbird was of course named after Charles Darwin, the British explorer/scientist whose Theory of Evolution was born here. Or was it? The fact is, evolution was not even a glint in Darwin’s eye when he spent time in the Galapagos. It was only years later that his theory “evolved” into his tome “The Origin of Species”. Also, if truth be known, he was not the only one, or even the first, to explore the idea of evolution. Both Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace worked independently, and when they shared their theories, Darwin was astounded by how similar it was to his. To Darwin’s credit, he gave Wallace full acknowledgement, but you likely never heard of Alfred Wallace. The whole story of Darwin, the Beagle and Fitzroy contains all sorts of myths and mis-placed facts that continue to this day. Some, like many senior members of the U.S. government – including the Vice-President, like to argue that the Theory of Evolution is still, just a theory.
There’s indeed a growing trend of playing loose with the facts to support your belief, whatever that might be. We can all have a little giggle when Shaquille O’Neil proclaims that the Earth is flat. The smile fades when so many are ready to agree with him. I get that the former NBA star’s vantage point is undisputedly higher than ours, but … really? Unfortunately, there are more serious facts that people with “special interests” want to dispute. Global warming comes to mind. It doesn’t matter that consensus has been achieved amongst a community of scientists – you know, those people that spend their lives studying these things with the purpose of finding truth. My (financial) interests become my beliefs, my beliefs become my facts.
In our “post-truth era”, truth is as slippery as a Donald Trump on greased stripper pole (sorry for the visual). He can say whatever he wants, despite clear evidence to the contrary. His spokespeople defend “alternative facts” now. And if the “leader of the free world” (we should stop using that expression now) can get away denying vehemently what he had just said one-hour previously on video, this gives everybody licence to do the same. “Fake news” is now anything that is contrary to my beliefs. It’s made it so easy for us to be self-righteously “victimized” by anyone challenging us.
Everybody is entitled to their own opinions but sorry, you aren’t entitled to have your own facts. The world is round(ish). Global warming is happening, and us plunderers are the cause. Evolution has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen. These are just facts. We might not like them but that does not change the fact that they’re facts.
The great promise of social media was to have more facts more widely accessible. Informed citizens no longer had to yield to propaganda, and could organize quickly. While that has happened, it’s shadow has ‘evolved’ into a war of information that aligns with what serves your own personal interests and views. Facebook has become Fakebook. Through sophisticated algorithms, most of us have no idea that we’ve been drawn into an echo chamber where it’s next to impossible to have your ideas challenged, or be confident what we’re being fed are facts. Critical thinking, remember that concept? Journalism has become not much more than headlines, entertainment, satire and yes, plenty of fake news.
“You can’t believe everything you read on the internet” – Charles Darwin
If your life isn’t consumed by social media, there are a number of other ways we can still participate in the post-truth era. One sure way is to gossip about others, or listen to it. We seem to love talking about other what people have done or said. Don’t bother yourself with the other side of the story, surely the gossiper has got it right. It’s ubiquitous. Spreading juicy “news”, or some iteration of it, is like the conquistadors spreading smallpox throughout South America. It happens fast, and it hurts people who were busy living their lives.
Another way to deflect truth is to cling to misaligned expectations. While expectations and hope are normal and good, it takes a bit more courage to be fully aware of what’s truly going on. It’s not a common ability to adjust expectations as reality is doing jumping jacks in front of your face. It would help those who work hard at being “positive” 24/7 that reminding yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. Those highly evolved humans that manage to align their expectations with reality, rarely get disappointed.
We’ve all met those people whose beliefs become absolute truths. I’ve found it pointless to challenge or debate them as I have no time for people who think they have sovereignty over the truth. A critical thinker is always open to being wrong and to have their beliefs challenged.
Do we really want to know the truth? Can we handle the truth? After all, ignorance is bliss. I wonder about that too. If ignorance were bliss, there would likely be fewer people complaining.
To sort out the confusion, we often look to others to lay it all out for us. The “expert” or guru industry will continue to thrive because their come-on is that they hold the truth (and it usually comes in seven parts). News flash: they don’t. I have discovered that when someone lays claim to “the way” I need to turn around and run the “other way” as quickly as I can.
“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” – Andre Gide
Of course, there are universals truths that cannot be debated, such as:
- One minute after permanently deleting/throwing/burning something, you need it.
- Mornings would be much easier to handle if they just happened later in the day.
- If it wasn’t for a last minute nothing would ever get done.
- The most serious problem is always the one you didn’t anticipate.
- Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright before you hear them speak.
You get the idea.
When I went to Thailand last year I learned about the Noble Truths of Buddhism. The first Noble Truth being – life is suffering. The Quechuan (natives) of Ecuador know that one, as did the Inca when the Conquistadors pillaged their way of life. The Quechuan, represent a full 25% of the population. Our guide felt the the need to let us know that it was 40%. The strong Moari culture in New Zealand is just 15%. First Nations in Canada represent close to 9% of the total population. Not sure why he felt the need to exaggerate, 25% is quite impressive.
It’s clear though, that the Mestizos are the ones calling the shots. When Ruth and I were having our 25th anniversary dinner at El Mercado in Cuenca, someone in a wheelchair
went by our table. He gave me a wink. Um, should I know you? Turns out he was the Vice-President of Ecuador (a few months later he became President). Our guide made it clear to us the next day he would have spat in his soup. According to Rubin, he’s in a wheelchair because the corrupt Vice-President was shot in the back by loan sharks. The official story is he was mugged, robbed and his car taken – after he was shot. Our guide, as you might have guessed by now, was prone to exaggeration and untruths, from corrupt politicians to the percentage of the world’s orchids in Ecuador. According to Rubin, 35%. In fact it’s actually, more like an already impressive 17%.
Some untruths are harmless enough I suppose, others are downright frightening if we want to continue living on this planet. When nobody cares much about either, we start participating in the telling of lies for our own ends. Before you know it, we’ve all become modern-day nihilistic conquistadors. Hopefully, for the sake of our kids, mankind has evolved since the mid-1500s when Pizarro and his marauders washed up on shore.