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'Where is truth' in 2023?

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‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate; and stayed not for an answer

A commonplace assertion is that we live in a ‘post-truth’ world, centuries after the Enlightenment supposedly (under the Whig theory of history) set mankind on an irrevocable path towards, at the very least, valuing and seeking after truth.  That’s Truth as it would be understood by a philosophical Realist: existing objectively and independently of anyone’s knowing it, or even having the capacity to know it.

Even within this worldview everyone has long resigned themselves to co-existing with all manner of deflections from the straight and narrow: the dogmas of religious fundamentalists (to be tolerated in a worldly manner, up until the point where they start to impinge on everyone else); an intelligent degree of relativism (provided Realism is not ultimately ditched); acceptance that politicians of all sorts are doomed to deal often in half-truths and evasions; knowledge that science only proceeds from one approximation to another, better approximation; that the capacity of most people for understanding and/or dealing with all the truths that are out there to be understood is distinctly limited, with various strategies being needed to accommodate this fact.  

At the end of the day, there’s the smug intellectually comforting Realist consideration that a truth ignored or denied is still out there, and will potentially break your toe if you kick out against it.

All that said, the advent of Blair and Bush Jnr ushered in an era when even western politicians, supposedly ‘better’ than the Putins of this world, increasingly cared not a fig for truth, but merely and shamelessly called for Alastair Campbell to come up with one of his sophisticated utter-bullshit operations to suit the needs of the hour.

The Common Man has always had an interesting role to play in all this.  Firstly, he’s not very concerned with the truth or otherwise of the dogmas swirling around (which he knows are well above his pay-grade); he just wants to know what he has to repeat solemnly in public, as and when required, in order for the (current) authorities not to be after him for unintended heresy.  If the dogma changes, he just wants to be told what are the new shibboleths.  In times of religious oppression this becomes an acute and worrying business, but fainter, less lethal manifestations are always in the air: as Homer Simpson says, the highest wisdom is – never be the only person in the room that’s laughing.

Secondly, though, the Common Man does know some ‘hard’ truths very well indeed – most significantly, those that impinge on his making a living: these are the truths that will break your toe.  If he’s a blacksmith, he’s never going to ‘believe’ that you can hammer cold metal into a horseshoe, even if some idiot Inquisitioner forces him on pain of death to assert it in the middle of the town square.  Of course the average Inquisition, not wanting to be made mockery of, will stick to things that can confidently be asserted in the certainty that no hard-to-ignore practical disproof will ever be at hand (transubstantiation; virgins on offer for martyrs, etc etc).  Even so, Stalin’s and Mao’s dogmatic embrace of some outright lunacies in the scientific sphere forced any number of Soviet / Chinese engineers etc to endorse them publicly but ignore them without comment in their daily activity:  these ones require active doublethink.  (It has always seemed likely to me that the Stalins of this world don’t much care about this phenomenon, just so long as everyone lines up for the ‘loyalty test’ of repeating faithfully the dogma of the day.  In fact, for loyalty-test purposes alone, the dafter it is, the better.  And the Common Man is generally OK with doublethink.)

*   *   *   *   *

What has caused me to muse on all this in May 2023?  The other day I watched Official Secrets, a rather good, fact-based movie (haha!) about the GCHQ whistle-blower who leaked a document in which the Bush operations sought the UK’s assistance in blackmailing various UN delegations in order to swing a UN vote that would formally legitimise Gulf War 2 – not that neither Bush nor Blair ultimately much cared about that legitimation.  Whistle-blowers, of course, are just that small minority of people that can’t bring themselves to do the doublethink.  It’s a small minority indeed.

But ancient history be blowed: look at what we are faced with right now (- you can pitch in with your own favourites):
  • Starmer systematically and merrily reneging on every one of his “10 pledges”, with such pious outriders as David Lammy and Polly Toynbee all rushing to assert this doesn’t matter a whit
  • the complete absence of any reliable accounts on significant matters of the day such as the blowing-up of the Nord Stream pipeline
  • the complete works of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Megan Markle etc ad nauseam

A particular favourite of mine – the ‘progressive’ line on trans self-identification – is thrown nicely into relief by this story in today’s Graun (a paper which is actually, and to its credit, trying to drag itself painfully away from the progressive line).  This piece is really worth reading – it is absolutely hilarious in its straight-faced delivery of utter nonsense. 

NHS treatment algorithms ‘not taking transgender patients into account’:   Medics say trans people being put at risk by lack of evidence on how to assess them by gender-based metrics
Or to put the matter more simply: as 99.9% of humanity knows very well, “Trans women are, errr, men“  Now that’s the kind of truth that really breaks toes when kicked against – ask Nicola Sturgeon.  

So: God Save The King!  And don’t press me or the Common Man too closely on that Holy Annoniting Oil.



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