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?


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