Truth

I’ve spent the last two weeks engaged in a wrestling match with the fluidity of truth, as advocated by postmodernists. Specifically this involved the field of historiography. This is a subject which has stimulated thinkers from Plato to Descartes to Marx to Popper. It takes in, in some form or another, every evolution in philosophy. Even in science, authors like Kuhn have not let the matter rest.

Yet it is truth of a different type which I wish to mention. I was today pulled from the sophistic clouds on which I was sitting by the accidental appearance of a particular book on a Google search. This book is called “The Marketing of Evil” and it is by an editor of WorldNetDaily, David Kupelian. Allow me to quote at length from what the book’s cover says about itself.

“Americans have come to tolerate, embrace and even champion many things that would have horrified their parents’ generation—from easy divorce and unrestricted abortion-on-demand to extreme body piercing and teaching homosexuality to grade-schoolers…

The Marketing of Evil reveals how much of what Americans once almost universally abhorred has been packaged, perfumed, gift-wrapped and sold to them as though it had great value. Highly skilled marketers, playing on our deeply felt national values of fairness, generosity and tolerance, have persuaded us to embrace as enlightened and noble that which all previous generations since America’s founding regarded as grossly self-destructive—in a word, evil.”

The book apparently ‘debunks’ the gay rights debate as a movement created by a liberal elite, rather than a grassroots movement resultant from years of oppression. It dismisses Alfred Kinsey as a psychopath who advocated paedophilia. It discusses how abortion was ‘sold’ to the American public by PR campaigns which relied on ‘lies and fabrications.’

When you search this book on Amazon, all the usual titles come up – plenty of books by Ann Coulter, a book entitled “The ACLU vs America” and so on.

Where the story gets even better is when one looks up WorldNetDaily online. There is an article entitled “Good news about nuclear destruction” which claims that post-apocalyptic nuclear war scenario, survival is possible. Well, NASA disagrees. In a 1983 report on the atmospheric consequences of several scenarios of nuclear exchange, the West-vs-Soviets (10,000 megaton) model predicted that the decrease in sunlight would go beyond the point of photosynthesis – not to mention drop the average temperatures by some 50 Kelvin. This is further reinforced by a recent report of the American Geophysicists Union.

Further down the list of ‘news,’ a book recommended by the site is “Islam Rising” which apparently demonstrates that over the last 1300 years, Islam has sought control of the world much ‘like Nazism and communism.’ I imagine any meaningful contribution on how Christianity has sought to control the world much like capitalism will be lacking.

This is all, of course, the tip of the iceberg. In short, if one read these books and these blogs, one could very well end up believing that American liberals aren’t interested in intellectual freedom, that the world is controlled by corporations who want your children to grow up, consume their pre-constructed diet of adolescent MTV culture, have abortions and become homosexuals.

It is genuinely worrying that these blogs are permitted to continue spewing this bile without any reference to the truth. Inevitably, this begs the question, “What is truth?”

I don’t wish to entertain an epistemological debate at this moment. My views are pretty plain; as regards to objective facts, the achievement of truth is not an impossibility. If you accept the correspondence theory of truth, you believe that ‘truth’ increases and decreases relative to how a statement corresponds to the actual state of affairs. My problem with a lot of the media, particularly the tabloids, is that their reportings can all too often be demonstrated as utterly unfounded in the actual state of affairs.

The book “Marketing Evil” and the website from which it is spawned fall into this trap. In fact they are hypocrites. They accuse other sections of society, the political elite and the media of exactly this crime. The aforementioned nuclear war debate is one such example. They attack CND and like groups for lying to the public about the survivability of a nuclear war, and say that CND et al do this because it increases the pressure to disarm.

I have covered other examples at length, including the “Wayne Rooney” phenomenon in The Sun newspaper, wherein over successive days the newspaper declared definitively that Rooney would and would not play in the 2006 World Cup. More recently, the Madeleine McCann debacle has brought this tendency to the fore in almost every British tabloid in respect to the guilt or innocence of the parents.

This type of reporting has huge repercussions for politics; if people are permitted to formulate theories and propose solutions without reference to the actual state of affairs, without even an attempt at such a reference, then implicitly we are justifying the existence of anti-semitism, racism, homophobia and other similar sentiments as valid.

Why not ascribe national ills to a minority? Why not bring back the death penalty? Why not remove the genitals of paedophiles? If we do not have to make reference to the actual state of affairs, then my view that the death penalty deters crime is no less worthy than your view that it brutalizes society and does not deter crime. It doesn’t matter if you have evidence to support your argument because I can shout louder than you.

The pessimist inside me worries that this is what truth boils down to in our society.

An obvious and somewhat disingenuous answer is for the other person to shout louder still – but this is not merely a battle between individuals. This is a subject which sweeps up the whole of society and concerns every institutional and structural aspect of that society. From the government, political parties, the media and organised religions right down to golf clubs and academic journals, a lie repeated often enough does seem to become truth.

Education is probably the answer; if people understand what the actual state of affairs is then they are less likely to be swayed by populist campaigns about the purported abolition of Christmas or criminalisation of Christianity. Yet this is not a definitive escape; more money can be invested in newspapers by the powerful and rich than by people seeking to combat convenient lies on the part of that elite. Newspapers these days are loss making, by and large.

On the internet, there are thousands of websites owned by individuals who, in their own way seek to explore the opinions of others, to discuss and dispute, to arrive at a more robust understanding of the truth. Yet above these the professionally-run websites tower, with their fancy coding, slick advertising, their book revenues and such like. Both have the potential to be equally immune from ‘truth’ but at least with the website of individuals, there is some degree of accountability.

Even with the more advanced, more popular blogs, from Dave’s Part to Conservative Home, argument across the comments section is frequent. With sites like WorldNetDaily and so forth, there is no balance. It is simply bilge pouring into the ocean of the internet – and though it is small when compared to that ocean, if it converts even one person with its unmitigated tripe, then that is one person too many.

Similarly on television, programmes such as Bill O’Reilly on Fox News are totally unbalanced, inviting ‘weak’ proponents of other arguments on to the show in order to be steamrollered. This is something to which former staff of the Fox News corporation have openly attested.

I do not herein attempt to draw a distinction between right and left, though with the right it is all the more evident because they, for obvious reasons, have the support of the capitalist establishment and no few religions, to name just two structural features of our current system. On the left, I am sure that there are equally people who would prefer that inconvenient facts could simply be ignored.

If this is a democracy, wherein the people have the power to decide, shouldn’t we have some ability not to control or even regulate opinion but to control the flagrant flouting of journalistic duty? Every single person carries with them a stock of bias; my major problem is when any person ceases to measure their opinions and thus their bias against the ‘actual state of affairs.’ That is what I see all too often and it pains me.

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  1. November 10, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    This is a good post, Dave. The wheels are turning. I’ll try to post a response soon. I’m thinking along the lines of: “How do we fight this?”

  2. November 10, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    I don’t know how we fight it. I think that all opinion must be constrained by the evidence available. I don’t really care what opinions people have so long as they are open to challenge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met Cabinet ministers who simply dismiss facts as incorrect in debate when those facts are widely acknowledged as correct – but at least if people are listening to the debate, they’ll hear someone call them on it. If there is no facility for such hubris to be challenged, then the format shouldn’t exist.

    For any Brits reading this page, compare the letters page in the Sun and in Private Eye. Over the letters page of Private Eye, correspondents argue with each other and with the publication itself. In the Sun, the letters are chosen to reflect the editorial byline of the paper. It is preposterous!

  1. November 10, 2007 at 3:14 pm
  2. November 10, 2007 at 3:22 pm
  3. November 10, 2007 at 11:10 pm

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