Friday, November 09, 2012

"What is truth," said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

Francis Bacon is responsible for that provocative line. It's a good one.

Lemme start with a story from my days in gymnastics. It begins with a report from the sports pages of Pravda.

Today there was an international gymnastics meet in Moscow. The USSR came in second. The USA came in second to last. Congratulations to our Russian gymnasts!

This story was completely factual. It was completely true.

It was also a lie and, in actuality, untrue.

How is that possible?, you ask.

I'm glad you asked. (wink) Lemme parse that for you and examine the nature of truth. Every sentence in that report is factually accurate. True, in the usual usage of that word. It is a lie and untrue because of the unstated facts behind these true facts.

The meet was a dual meet, not a multi-team meet which is implied by the wording. The only teams competing were the USA and the USSR. The USA won. The USSR lost. Nonetheless, it is technically factually accurate to say that the USSR came in second (of two teams, which means they lost) and the USA came in second to last (of two teams, which means they won). Thus, the report can be defended as being factual and true, while remaining, ultimately, a lie.

Augustine is known, among other things, for his hierarchy of lies. It goes:

  • Lies in religious teaching
  • Lies that harm others and help no one
  • Lies that harm others and help someone
  • Lies told for the pleasure of lying
  • Lies told to "please others in smooth discourse"
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone materially
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone spiritually
  • Lies that harm no one and that protect someone from "bodily defilement"

  • Obviously, I am not interested in talking about religious or spiritual lying because, really, all of that is one big lie and that's all I have to say about that. But as for the rest...

    Interestingly, Augustine believed that lies told as a joke were not actually lies. Ok, I can see that. Mostly. Even more interestingly, he said that a lie told by someone who believes the lie to be true is not, per se, telling a lie. Of course, the original lie is still actually a lie. And what can we say about the poor bastards who then accept the lie as truth because it was retold by someone who believed it? What of the person who passed along the lie, albeit unknowingly. What can be said about them?

    Augustine was, of course, writing in the context of church epistemology more than 1500 years ago. My response to this conundrum in the modern world is the metaphor of checking snopes before you say or post something which doesn't pass the smell test, or even if it seems like there might be a possibility that it might not be smell-worthy. IMO, the person who regurgitates a lie, even if they do it unknowingly, is responsible for their part in spreading the lie to others, even if they're not responsible for the original lie. Check your facts, and underlying facts, before you share questionable material.

    And for those who create lies a la Augustine's #2 (my #1), well, to reference another figure from our intellectual past, I figure there's a special circle in Dante's inferno for those bastards. Let's talk about them.

    There's a huge divide between journalism and punditry or, worse, demagoguery. Let's consider that for a bit.

    Journalism is an ancient and honorable profession with a long tradition. Journalists comprise the Fourth Estate, not that we free, democratic Americans subscribe to the value of the original Three Estates, but we do, or we used to, respect the Fourth Estate and its immense value to our body politic. Lately, sadly, there's been a concerted effort to poison the Fourth Estate by ideological demagogues who've been trying to dilute and pervert the meaning of journalism into something base and meaningless with no standards and no ethics.

    Journalists have a strong code of ethics in their professional lives. They are human beings so they naturally have personal preferences and biases but their primary guideline is to seek the truth and report it. Within that context, most journalists, especially the good ones, allow their biases to be known in their reporting; but that's just a little coloring on the basic truthful, accurate recitation of the factual reality under discussion. 

    Ideologues have no such connection to reality. Their "truth" is the story they want to tell. If reality is not congruent with their belief(s), they blithely discard reality in favor of what they're selling. They justify their lies with the false equivalency of journalistic bias. "All journalists tell their own version of things," they claim. That's another lie which should weigh down their soul when it goes on Ma'at's scale against her feather. Poor feather is gonna hafta hold on for dear life to not get launched into fucking orbit when they drop these folks' souls onto that helpless scale.

    As I said in the paragraph above, all journalists are human and have their own point of view; but journalists seek to tell the actual truth with maybe a soup├žon of opinion. Ideologues seek first to tell their story and they'll use truth if they can but only if it fits their narrative; if not, they'll twist it, or warp it, spin is a popular word nowadays, and if that's insufficient, they'll simply make up lies to suit their position.

    This is NOT an equivalency. The two are not even in the same universe. But this is another lie they're selling to the gullible public. A syllogism of lies supporting lies.

    The "mainstream media," which these monsters have tried to smear as lamestream media, is the demesne of journalism. It is a bastion against the darkness of lies and belief-masquerading-as-reality which has been vomited up from the lunatic fringe.

    Nate Silver is a conservative-hating liberal commie pinko faggot and he's just making shit up to try to discredit conservatives and help his commie faggot Muslim friends. Nothing he says is true.

    No, sorry. I don't know Nate Silver's political or sexual orientation but he's a number-cruncher who is reporting factual information. Numbers don't hate. Numbers don't try to make conservatives look bad. Numbers don't care about your sociopolitical orientation. Numbers don't care about your sexual orientation. Numbers don't care about your religion. Numbers simply are.

    And they are also correct and accurate. When your beliefs are in conflict with reality, it's your beliefs which are WRONG, not reality.

    But true believers refuse to go that route. For them, that's the road never travelled, rather than Frost's less-travelled road. They choose belief over reality. Sure, ultimately they will wind up in the kitchen midden of some future archaeologist's dig; but in the here and now, they are causing great damage to our current universe. Could we please try to put them back in the shadows whence they came and live in a civilization of reality rather than one based on false beliefs?

    Friday, November 02, 2012

    NaNoWriMo2012 sample

    When I did Nano in 2010, I posted chapters for public reading as I finished them because I felt that I needed to do that to keep myself honest about not editing. This time, I don't have the same need and my "new novel" is more a beard (#6 here) than an actual attempt. I really wanna go back to work on "The Lost Century." However, in the spirit of sharing, here's is a sample of aproximately a thousand words. Altough it's autobiographical in inspiration, it's very novelized and the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

    Title: The Last Katrina Fridge.
    Scene: Middle of the Gulf of Mexico, middle of the night, on Gort, a cruising catamaran, three years after Katrina.

    It was sometime after midnight and I was on watch. This night had been as uneventful as the others on this passage and my routine was to do a careful scan of the horizon every fifteen minutes, confirm our course and position on the GPS, confirm that the autopilot was keeping us on course, and make certain that our sail trim was good. Otherwise, most of the time I let my head loll back in the helm chair and let my mind drift. No lights out there to relieve the darkness and, possibly, threaten us with collision. Steady wind. Steady seas. Gort slicing along, eating up the miles, heading for his new home. Peaceful. Hypnotic.


    The booming, hollow sound of a fiberglass hull taking a significant hit sounded a tocsin in the quiet night.

    I came fully and sharply alert, my heart thumping.

    “What the fuck was that?” I asked myself.

    Chuck sat up, clawing his way up from the depths of sleep.

    “What was that?” he inquired, still half drowsing.

    “Something hit the hull,” I replied. “Pretty sure it was starboard side, aft of mid-hull, maybe all the way back here by us. Let’s check for water belowdecks first.”

    I did a quick visual sweep of the horizon for lights of potential traffic and then stepped down from the helm seat. Chuck put on his headlamp and stood up from his cushion bed. We went into the cabin and went down the stairs into the starboard hull. Chuck hit the light switch and headed into his cabin in the stern to check there. I stepped forward toward the head to check it for leaks and/or damage.

    The first thing I did was pop the access hatch in the sole to check the bilge for flooding. Dry. Ok, that’s good. Very good. I then opened all cabinets and access panels to check for hull integrity or failure of one of the thru-hulls which bring ocean water into the boat and are a potential source of flooding danger, but they all looked fine. Everything in the head and surrounding area looked fine. Phew! Good. That’s good. That’s very good. I stood and turned to see how Chuck was doing.

    He was finishing up in his stern cabin and shook his head.

    “No water. No visible damage,” he reported.

    “OK,” I said and reached down to open the hatch in the sole of the passageway to check the bilge there. Dry as a bone. Sweet. Good, good. Good! We were looking good.

    “Let’s go look at the hull and see what we can see,” I said.

    Chuck nodded and gave an elaborate sort of shrug, “So whaddya think?”

    “Hell, I dunno,” I proclaimed as we started up toward the main cabin and from there to the cockpit. “Junk in the water, sleeping turtle, clumsy dolphin… I dunno. Lotsa junk in the ocean these days. Important thing is that we’re intact. Hull looks good. Looks like full integrity from the inside. Let’s see if we can see anything on the exterior.”

    We stepped into the cockpit and I again did a scan of the horizon. I was more on edge than I’d been during the day’s squall. Things that go bump in the night! Ick. That shit just ain’t fun. Especially when the only thing keeping you for going to visit Davy Jones’ locker was a half-inch of fiberglass. Half an inch. Of fiberglass. Less in some places or even in the important places if the workmen were drunk or pissed off or just plain lazy on any particular fabrication day.

    We stepped to the edge of the deck and leaned over the lifelines, turning our headlights to full power. As we swept our gaze along the length of the hull, we saw numerous dolphins still with us, some very close to the hull. As for the hull itself, neither of us could see any visible dents or deformations. There were certainly no visible cracks. I began to breathe more comfortably and steadily.

    “I’m thinking one of these guys just misjudged and gave us a little bump,” I told Chuck. “You know how loud fiberglass is for even a small hit against it. In the dark, in the middle of the ocean, well, that’s probably all it was.”

    “Man, I hope so!” he replied. “That scared the shit out of me. I was deep asleep and I came up thinking we were already half sunk. It was pretty damned scary.”

    “Yeah, I hear that!” I agreed. “Scared the crap out of me, too, and I was on watch, looking out for problems.”

    “It was so loud,” Chuck added. “Sounded like part of the hull exploded or something.”

    I nodded, my head bobbing. “Yep. Scary loud but… pfffft! Nothing important.”

    I hoped.

    Chuck blew out a long breath. “Well, it’s about time for my watch so I guess I’ll just stay up and take over. You should go get some sleep.”

    “I think I will,” I replied. “Think I’ll go down to my cabin and stretch out on a real mattress and get some genuine deep sleep. We’re on course and trimmed just fine, making steady progress.”

    “Cool,” Chuck replied. “See ya in two.”

    “Back in two,” I responded.

    As I headed through the slider into the main cabin, I stopped and turned. “Cap’n Blacktoes, you have the conn,” I declared in my best Hollywood captain-leaving-the-bridge voice. Cap’n Blacktoes was an amusing pirate-esque moniker we’d hatched at some point in our intemperate past. It seemed appropriate now.

    Chuck smiled and replied, “Aye-aye, sir! I have the conn.”