Truth, Lies and Fibs
We all want to know the truth because it brings certainty with it. If there was to be an undeniable truth readily available on all matters of interest, all may be well with the world! But that dream is a long way off. Many issues are not resolved and we often cannot say what is a hypothesis, a truth, or a lie. And then, would everyone accept all genuine truths? Probably not.
We humans are dreamers. We welcome the unknown which we garnish with lies or fake explanations to make it palatable. Then again, some erstwhile lies turn out to be true and we discover wise visionaries who foresaw things. But being ahead of one’s time is a dangerous business. At one time it was a dangerous lie to proclaim that the Earth circles the Sun — now we know that it’s true. It was considered to be a dangerous lie in the face of religious postulates and established science. One would be vilified or even executed for such beliefs. Unfortunately, that is not old news, we still have such dangerous passions among us. One can be fined or imprisoned for disobeying a government mandate based on shaky foundations.
To begin, even absolute truth, and there is such a thing, can be denied by those who will persist in building their concept of reality on false premises. Until recently there were groups in the world who believed that the Earth is flat! I don’t know if they have seen pictures from satellites and even the Moon and changed their minds — or not, Others think the Moon landings were simulated and never happened! They are still around. Others believed the Earth or/and the Moon is a hollow sphere! There was a community of such believers in Florida until only a few decades ago. Yet more believe that current forms of democracy are the best and everlasting form of social organization.
So, our truth can be what we chose to believe. Lenin is one of those credited with saying something like “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth” and set up a system to prove it. In some instances, it may be OK to do this but not in dealing with physical reality. There we need not only palpable truth that we sense but also a deeper truth backed by the best science available. But even scientific truth can be willfully denied and the result will distort the fate of society. The continuing aversion to nuclear power generation is an example of damage done by commonly proclaimed falsehoods.
Two kinds of truth can be identified:
1. The truth of what we perceive with our senses.
2. The truth that science presents to us.
These two kinds of truth serve very different purposes and, whatever scientific truth is defined at a given time, it often makes no immediate difference to our lives. Moreover, scientific truth can change as our knowledge progresses without any change of how we perceive the world with our senses. As a result, the first kind of truth is most durable, though it is now known that it can be an illusion. A tree trunk is in fact mostly empty space between subatomic particles which constitute the tree. That is the scientific truth, but does it matter in our lives? Not if you run into a tree while skiing.
On the other hand, science tells us that there are huge reserves of energy contained in certain innocent looking rocks containing uranium. This is the truth. Not to accept this as the truth, despite the evidence of our experience and senses which tell us such rocks do not burn, turns out to be wrong. Even the fact that a tree trunk can produce heat is not evidenced to our senses, but time and experience have allowed us to accept that it is true. So, the truth that stands the test of time is not only that which is obvious to our senses but also that which we believe due to experience. Scientific truth often does not conform with what we sense, nor does it necessarily change our lives, and when it does it can be distorted by ideologically inclined propagators of lies. It is easy to distort scientific truth to a common man’s satisfaction and in this way promote the liar’s ends, because a deeper truth is so intangible.
I hasten to say that scientific truth is “deeper” than that of our senses. There are laws that science has defined which describe the behavior of nature. These I often invoke because they are true whether we like it or not. Sometimes we seem to be able to circumvent a truth of nature by applying technology and other powers we have mastered, but in the end, nature will have its way and we will find ourselves facing its demands. In this essay, and others I have written, you will find such examples.
The truth which we gain from science is often difficult to accept. Quantum Mechanics is full of truths which are hard to accept for those who are inclined to use “perceived reality” as their test of truth. Most people have no idea how scientific truth is revealed. Though science is slowly penetrating the understanding of the common man there is a lot of ignorance regarding how scientific truth is obtained and how it affects reality. The matter is complicated by the fact that in developing fields of science there are differences of opinion among scientists. On occasion these differences enter the public sphere and feed confusion and vociferous but untutored adherents of one view or the other. In order to understand the conclusions of science, one must know some science, and our educational system has not given that subject enough emphasis. That is a serious problem in a world dominated by issues involving an understanding of and sensible application of science and technology.
To the delight of the ignorant, this feeds anti-science conspiracies and discredits scientific pronouncements overall. That is not helpful. The population in general and self-appointed pundits are rarely in a position to comment intelligently on scientific matters, yet they are the main source of readily available opinion on anything the commentators chose to propagate, including the most sophisticated discoveries in science which can be wrapped in error and distortion by talking heads.
The result are muddied waters, such as those in the debates on the Corona Virus. Sheer idiocy is being propagated by people we should be able to trust. Fear and confusion dominate the activities of ignorant or simply partisan officials. Partisan in the sense of putting unmerited but uncompromising trust in one or the other side of what should be a scientific debate and is still under discussion.
Unfortunately, there are also partisans among the scientists. Scientific partisans should be dismissed from their appointments as soon as their misdeeds are noted. What happened to the UN “scientist” who in an official UN document, a decade or two ago, said the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by now due to global warming? Or those hacks in various institutes who doctored global temperature data by removing inconvenient “outliers” from data-sets they reported, thereby sowing fear of imminent destruction of the world by a run-away overheating of our planet? Probably nothing, Idiotic partisans have many vigorous supporters and robust defenses. I wander why? Are scare tactics that attractive? Why are quasi-intellectuals so successful in promoting their “expertise?”
Truth is often hard to accept in its unadorned form. Lies and distortions are more attractive because they can be tailored to please the audience.
The trouble we have with detecting lies is that they can simulate a potential truth so well. Politicians and governments are the best-known liars, though lovers may be competitive. There are many people who invite lies because they confirm ideas they want to believe. If enough people believe a lie, it becomes the truth to them and establishes a community of believers, partisans, protectors and propagators who want everyone to believe the same lie.
Take the question of the national debt. There is a lie being bruited about that says its size does not matter. But size does matter! A national debt that outgrows certain limits will bankrupt a nation. What are these limits? The liars will loudly deny and prevent an honest answer. The plan of politicians is to increase it as needed to stay in power.
The general public may not understand the science of economics but they sense that an overwhelming debt is not good. Politicians keep ignoring it or even braying that there is no problem. They are lying. Reducing government expenditures would cost them votes. When the crisis comes the politicians will be retired with ample pensions and privileges, the taxpayers will be destitute.
How do we distinguish lies from the truth? Simple. Truth can be tested as often and as thoroughly as one may want. If a deeper truth is discovered, so much the better, after all, our truth is what we think we know using our best information and the tests available at the time. Lies are obscured by lack of testing and the suppression of any attempt to seek an evaluation. Lies are usually defended by vilification of the doubters and by distorted “facts” based on false premises or doctored statistics. Vilification is the way lies are defended, there is no science that can defend them on merit. The Corona virus episode is rife with instances of these events.
Are the most common anti-Corona masks effective enough to bother with. Not as effective as some want us to believe, yet the turmoil this question has caused has probably done more harm than the consequences of not wearing most of the available masks. Corona virus is dangerous and can be fatal in certain well-understood cases. Yet the policies regarding masks are applied universally, policies that are silly at best and damaging to a degree not merited by the threat. I wrote a blog on this a year or more ago, just as the inanity began, where I consider a more rational approach to the problem. It’s in a collection of my blogs on Medium. I still believe a well targeted policy is best.
Lies used by the establishment or by elites are the most reprehensible. They mislead their ignorant and susceptible admirers and introduce serious disfunctions in the body public to the benefit of the liars. The guilty parties should be vigorously pursued and harshly dealt with. Their lies affect us all negatively. I cannot at this point think of many instances of beneficial lies, except in the rare cases when chaos can result from telling the truth. Even then, the lies should be abandoned and justified as soon as possible. The communists tried to construct a whole social system based on lies. Eventually the idea came a cropper. It turned out their understanding of reality and human nature were simply wrong.
Liars, when caught, try to explain their story as either a misunderstanding or a harmless fib. Sometimes it is in fact a misunderstanding. People are inclined to see things from their own perspective and using the same evidence give more weight to factors supporting their prejudice. If they are aware of this, they are lying. If they are not, they are still doing harm. The truth is other than they think because an objective view of the evidence is other than their preferred view.
For example, take the question of disparities between races. The liars will vilify those who try to ascertain differences between races. They say there are none and only social prejudices make it look like racial differences exist. This, despite obvious physical differences we can all see. Is it possible that only physical differences exist? Some think it is a fib used by one or another race to point to differences so as to gain a feeling of superiority. Clearly there will be an overlap of characteristics and talents among races but that does not negate the fact that the averages of races may differ. Question is — is that worth knowing? Are there facts which are not worth knowing?
A fib in this sense is no more than an invented position designed to produce a desired untruth. A lie would be to argue that science supports the view that no differences exist. The racial fib is clearly wrong, yet it is attractive to some for ideological reasons. But when ideology departs from reality it will sooner or later have disastrous consequences. That is the truth.
The solution is to admire, tolerate, or take account of all group differences so as to optimize benefits to society in using the talent or some characteristic specific to a select group of individuals, not to ignore them. For instance, research could be focused on the health of a race prone to a specific ailment or hereditary weakness. Or a society might benefit from athletic, or musical, or mathematical, or literary talents thus impressing the international community with the talents of a certain identifiable group. Competition is bound to remain a hallmark of human civilization — of nature as a whole — and we should use talents that we recognize to best effect. Using the talents of a certain group seems to be generally beneficial as long as we do not shun the group with a given talent or shortcoming. Shunning is what we should criticize, not the existence of differences.
Our times are rife with fibs. There are fibs regarding race, there are fibs regarding sex, there are fibs regarding health and so on. These usually do some harm but not enough to call them lies. They simply direct the listener to a non-fact in order to gain some sort of attention, sometimes for a worthy cause. However, they are rarely beneficial and always distort reality. Fibs have been used, for example, to create a number of “human rights” that governments are now obliged to fund. That trend is increasingly harmful.
So, a fib is a small and generally less harmful lie. A familiar example of a real fib may be when a fiancé goes out, comes home later than expected and explains this delay was due to buying gasoline, when he actually went to buy an engagement ring. This is a harmless fib; it would be a lie if he in fact went to say goodbye to a former girlfriend. In polite society fibs are often fine and even necessary, lies are less likely to be necessary. Fibs can even be beneficial if they protect someone from worrying about unwelcome and unavoidable reality. In most of those cases little harm is likely to result. And fibs usually do not make us angry.
How do We Find out What to Believe?
The world is awash with truths, lies, half-truths and fibs. Is there a way to find the truth and form a well-informed point of view? Yes, there is, but in a modern, complicated and intimately connected world we will have to depend on others to find the truth and have it explained to our satisfaction. This is where we have failed completely.
Lying is an acknowledged tool of politics. It is also critical to the NGOs who are bent on attaining their more or less worthy goals. The man-on-the-street has no time or adequate resources to find the truth for himself. And the hoped-for sifters of truth, the press and the media, have failed us completely. They have abandoned their role as believable informers of the public. News media are now opinion-mongers promoting the ideology of their owners, leaving the public bereft of reliable information.
So, what are we to do? Do something that liars have prevented us from doing, because it would make them less safe and successful. The whole social establishment; arts, news media, politicians and NGOs depend on lies, exaggerations, sensations and fibs to prosper. Since that constitutes almost all the accessible information sources, the average person is not just confused but angry at the divergence of opinion on matters which need to be understood and more clearly defined.
We need a mechanism to define how to search for the truth before opinions and lies overwhelm us with disinformation and democracy fails completely. We need to prosecute those who spread lies or opinions before some level of certainty is achieved. Lying and deception are not free speech, they are crimes against society.
I do not want to extinguish all debate. But when it comes to ascertaining facts, most of it should be confined to experts who would then have to defend their conclusions. There should be a required format such as “I think …” for expressing opinions without making it sound as if the commentator knows something to be true. A misstep in such declarations should be an actionable offense brought before a suitable agency. An ombudsman or committee should quickly come to a judgement and impose a penalty on the culprit. For example, a news outlet or acknowledged commentator should be sanctioned publicly or fired and/or decertified in some manner if his public statements conflict with the truth. The same could be applied to politicians, prominent figures and loud voices from any constituency. You want to be heard? make sure you are telling the truth!
Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave, …
The problem is much broader than truth or lies. Western societies have blundered into a trap of their own making. The trap is absolutism/egalitarianism and an overwrought application of well-intended principles. There is no reason to tolerate blatant lies claiming the protection of free speech. It is patently criminal to cry “fire” in a crowded venue. It is actionable to defame any individual, high or low. Why have we tolerated political and news media lies, distortions and defamations?
We tolerate blatant lies in the media because they claim that they have a right to essentially unrestrained free speech. Nonsense! Criminality includes all speech which distorts reality to dangerous ends and is loudly proclaimed in public. There is no reason to tolerate such behavior by public or private figures. The excuse that one thought it to be true at the time is lame. A public figure or anyone using a public forum has no right to publicly express anything as true, or even “reported,” until the issue is firmed up so rational people can accept it. There are dozens of today’s “talking heads” who should be under investigation for misleading the public by lying and/or spreading unverified stories. Political figures should not be allowed to cast aspersions with impunity.
This is not the place to go much further on the subject of “all roads lead to hell.” But to get your thoughts primed for more, think of how much public money is spent on criminals; on apprehension, judgement and incarceration, compared to that spent on victims of crime. Lies based on fake and politically selective compassion are behind this. Then think of all the “rights” politicians invented to pad their voting rolls, all are lies or fibs if they are not in tune with the laws of nature which demands that a perceivable good must result from any action/expenditure if we are to benefit, or ultimately just survive. Think of the cost of government operations meant to improve society — and their burden. Is this all worth what it costs? Who can document the pertinent cost/benefit ratios?
We, the Western Democracies, are trapped in a web of good intentions gone bad due to lies and fibs. Truth would have cost votes in the political arena. As a result, politicians have passed numerous unsustainable policies, many of them, like the debt issue, simply defy nature. To rectify this is now impossible without a major and painful upheaval.
Too much has been distorted to sort it all out without rousing legions of needy and politically well-versed “victims.” These victims will not give up their benefits, they have much to lose and will not give up a struggle for what they now see as their inalienable “rights.” The “common good” of the society has been ignored in order to attract the votes of fragmented minorities of “deserving” individuals.
The minorities have their own agendas and demands and cannot form a harmonious community if their idiosyncratic needs are being satisfied out of common resources. There is something wrong with using community resources to fund minority groups. The “one world” is a sham as long as we officially fractionate communities into competing and ever-needy factions. The unstoppable trend of “solving” ever more idiosyncratic concerns by the actions of a centralized government has damaged the principles of existing democracies beyond repair. Democracy is the future of government, but not the kind of democracy we now espouse. My book on Democracies fills in the picture.