Truth is broken

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.

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Image by Ben White || CC0

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The Bible is a million laughs?

In some spots Christian Scripture is a lot more funny than most people give it credit for.

For example, reading it with a mystical lens, I’ve always found the “True Blindness” story the fourth evangelist shares to be done in a funny [haha] way, just in general. However, whenever I step back and think about the frame of the story as a face-off between an inference epistemology (second hand, rational knowledge) and a standpoint epistemology (first hand, experiential knowledge) the story hits me as laugh-out-loud funny. Please read John 9 now (The Message). We’ll come back next week to looking at the important distinction between inference and standpoint epistemology as it relates to post-truth and political technologies.

Truth is broken? 

Well, not completely. Not yet, anyway. Still, we’re far too close to losing truth completely for anything but grave concern followed by thoughtful action. 

In the context of our national public discourse, sadly, truth is pretty damaged. To whatever extent that brokenness finds its way gradually down into more and more local conversation, the truth is also broken. Sadly, the local newspapers who used to counter this national effect are dying.

If people in the same home get their personal news from different news silos, then, to some degree, the truth is even broken within that household.

So, how in the world did we get here? In some ways, a perfect storm. This story reveals that some ‘perfect storms’ are man made.

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Roots of post-truth

The shiny-object MO of political technologies wants us to not notice that truth is broken. Sadly, it is. We can’t turn post-truth back unless we accept the hard fact, truth is broken. We’re missing shared facts.

Last week we peeked at the roots of post-truth, and we saw Left and Right culpability. This week, with the help of Lee McIntyre’s book, Post-Truth, we’ll trace the outline of the path we have trod getting to a time of post-truth so potent as to allow the denial of reality itself. 

Of course embellishment, creative spin, and imaginative enhancements have been a part of democratic politics from the beginning. So that we’re clear, post-truth is another order of political discourse as its function is bringing reality under submission to serve power interests.

McIntyre argues that science denial is the practical root of post-truth. With others, McIntyre describes “the history of how science denial [my emphasis] was born in the debate about smoking.”

Tobacco money

I quote McIntyre at length. It was 1953:

“…newly created Tobacco Industry Research Committee whose mission was to convince the public that there was ‘no proof’ that cigarette smoking caused cancer and that previous work purporting to show such a link was being questioned by ‘numerous scientists.’

And it worked. Capitalizing on the idea that science had shown ‘no conclusive link’ between cigarettes and cancer (for science can never do this for any two variables), the TIRC took out a full-page ad in numerous American newspapers—reaching 43 million people—which had the effect of creating confusion and doubt on a scientific question that was close to settled.”

So, while technically true, in practical terms, in the public health context of cigarettes-causing-cancer, it’s complete disinformation explicitly designed to be used for political manipulation (e.g., political technologies). Taking a grain of truth, twisting it unconscionably (e.g., immorally driven for profit or power), and exploiting it for political purposes is a very common theme and one significant factor in why I suggest that post-truth and political technologies are two strands of a single cord.  

McIntyre continues:

“As Rabin-Havt puts it:

“The Tobacco Industry Research Committee was created to cast doubt on scientific consensus that smoking cigarettes causes cancer, to convince the media that there were two sides to the story about the risks of tobacco and that each side should be considered with equal weight. Finally it sought to steer politicians away from damaging the economic interests of the tobacco companies.”

So, “that each side should be considered with equal weight” is a key. In other words, the TIRC, created the norm of comparing complete falsehood on a level playing field with consensus science. Giving unscientific disinformation equal time, what could possibly go wrong with that? 

I note: for an excellent treatment of the topic, I recommend a little pocket size book, appropriately titled, On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt.

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tl;dr

If you need some comic relief, think about a face-off between an inference epistemology and a standpoint epistemology, and then read John chapter nine. 

Lee McIntyre’s work shows how post-truth helps enable the political subordination of reality.” The political power dimension is still the pragmatic point of post-truth. McIntyre argues that science denial is the practical root of post-truth, and that science denial was born in the fabricated “debate” about smoking.

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Next week: We’ll continue looking at post-truth and epistemology (how we know stuff). Come and see. 

[this post approx. 850 words (3 min. read)]

Your thoughts? 

I never know what I’ve said until I hear the response. What did you hear me say? 

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5 thoughts on “Truth is broken

  1. Some might say, well, sure this is all well and good and makes sense, but so what? If you look at where this is heading in the USA I submit that the country is adopting fascist tendencies. We have somewhere around 45% of the electorate that now believe the last presidential election was stolen because of the false narratives painted in the media and by some Pub politicians using Post-Truth and Political Technology tactics.

    The Trump playbook is out there now and will be used by the next Pub candidate and this time the center will not hold. We have seen the ascension to power at the state levels that will next time refuse to certify the election results if they don’t favor the Pub candidate. This will throw the election to the House where due to the Pub majorities in a majority of states will give the election to the next Pub candidate no matter what the electoral college vote would have been. See 12th Amendment,

    This article uses a definition of fascism that could be called Political Technologies or Post-Truths and while I might quibble with definitions, the possible result is the same. https://eand.co/the-second-coming-of-american-fascism-d24d89e26013

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    1. hey now, shastatour,

      Thanks for reading! I appreciate you!

      I imagine that we could agree that some difficult times likely lay ahead because of what we’ve already baked into the cake. The denial we’re talking about creates problems.

      The urgency of the situation doesn’t change the fact that the work that we can do is not quick, it takes time.

      I admit that it seems like many people are reaching the point of accepting the strong thesis claims, e.g., making ‘revolution’ the only option.

      In most cases, I’m still advocating weak thesis claims, e.g., reconciliation and redemption.

      I just posted a link to this piece on an integral philosophy facebook group that I participate a little bit in. Over the link I wrote:

      “This one purposely works to cut through Blue [DQ] shadows and Green [FS] shadows.”

      It’s difficult, slow work, but, in my humble opinion, exposing shadows is an effective weak thesis approach. Of course, it is work that is best done in person in small groups that operate with high trust.

      Thanks for writing!

      Best regards,
      Michael L. McKee

      Like

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