Given Tuesday, September 12th, 2023 for The UCLA Barbra Streisand Center inaugural public lecture
on the topic of Truth in the Public Sphere.
Thank you all for coming. I am so excited to be here at the initiation of my first center at UCLA, which focuses on Truth in the Public Sphere. Tonight, we’ll spotlight a distinguished group of experts to speak on this subject. This center will eventually grow into an Institute with three additional centers to study vital issues that affect us all: the Impact of Climate Change; the Dynamics of Intimacy & Power between Women & Men, and the Impact of Art on the Culture.
I am honored to carry my father’s name and see it perpetuated here. Emanuel Streisand revered scholarship and studied at Hunter College, Cornell University and Columbia’s Teachers College for his PhD. He dedicated his life to teaching until he died at just 35 years old when I was still a baby. But I am my father’s daughter and seem to have inherited his thirst for knowledge and his passion for learning. He was an educator, which makes establishing this Center and future Institute even more meaningful to me.
First, I want to acknowledge the people who helped make this Center possible: A big thank you to Dr. Eric Esrailian, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt, Chancellor Gene Block, Interim Dean Abel Valenzula, Professor Grace Hong, Megan Kissinger, Lisa Mohan and all those who have worked so diligently on this important project. There is no better place than this prestigious university to house The Streisand Center for Truth in the Public Sphere.
As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan stated, “You are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Alternative facts and outright lies have unfortunately become part of everyday political discourse. But if we can’t agree on fundamental truths, then the bonds that hold our society together are broken. We are seeing politicians exploit lies, fear, and hatred that promote violence. Books are being banned and teachers are forbidden to teach the facts of our history. But we onlylearn from facts.
While it’s easy to reflect on the past, I can’t stop thinking about the future and what it holds for our society, ourplanet, our children... The concerns of our time are urgent for those who will inherit what we leave behind, particularly the challenge facing our representativedemocracy.
It’s alarming to see how many Americans believe “the Big Lie” about the results of the 2020 election. Donald Trump couldn’t handle the truth, so he invented a lie despite losing the election by 7 million votes, and losing the Electoral College with only 232 votes to Biden’s 306. He is good at messaging though. “Stop the Steal” was his popular slogan, but quite ironic since he was the one trying to steal the election from Biden and the American people.
I’ve always been interested in psychology, and I believe in the power of therapy. I even made a movie about it. Through all this research, I heard about a syndrome called “the disowned self,” in which a person who doesn’t confront their own flaws, subsequently projects those flaws onto others. And I think Trump is a perfect example of that.
He calls Hillary Clinton and President Biden “crooked,” when he himself is demonstrably crooked with four indictments this year and 91 criminal counts to date. Hecalls Jack Smith “deranged” maybe because he himself is deranged. As a number of psychiatrists have suggested, there is something profoundly wrong with this man. And I think the media should discuss this more because the psychological stability of our leaders is important, especially when they can’t or won’t differentiate facts from lies.
We must be willing to robustly confront disinformation if our democracy is going to survive. The media has to do a much better job at this despite the backlash from those who believe in alternate realities.
Disinformation has spread in our society like black mold. And what grows in the dark is incompatible with the light of truth. Now we also have the very real threat of disinformation promoted by artificial intelligence.
In my life and work I’ve always relied on the truth, because truth is so powerful. That’s why it’s painful to see people fall under the spell of lies. Why is the Fourth Estate not more vigorous in policing disinformation? What is the role of social media companies and cable news in stopping lies instead of spreading them? And what about guilt… I wonder, are some people missing thatgene?
The shameless denial of reality leaves me both sad and confused. And I hope that this Center, studying Truth in the Public Sphere, will shed light on these importantissues so we can do something about it.
In closing, I am really happy to be here tonight, and so proud of this inaugural lecture and the chance to listen to people who are much more knowledgeable than I am.
Thank you so much for joining me. I now turn the microphone over to Abel Valenzuela, the interim dean of social sciences, who will introduce our extraordinary panel. (END)