The Quest For Truth — or Who Are You Gonna Believe? – A Blast From The Past From July 2014
*Sorry. I was going to write a post and then I realized how dropping-dead tired I was. As is trying to find a post exhausted me. So bear with me. I’m going to take a nap, so maybe I can work. Interestingly now the press lies on the other side, or keeps silent on the good economic news or even more farcically tries to find reasons why prosperity is bad. Plus que ca change.- SAH*
“What is truth?” a man of the world asked, and washed his hands.
And now in what was once the land of the free, we’re reading newspapers that sound like echo chambers and we’re asking ourselves, “What is truth?”
I don’t now, and you don’t either.
In some cases, like when “the truth” refers to who created the world, or the date set for the heat death of the universe, this is not exactly a problem. At any rate, I suspect the answer to the first doesn’t filter well through time/place bound minds, and so, the best we can do is an approximation. And, as Heinlein put it, one of these days you will know. Until then, you and everyone else just do the best you can.
In other cases, though, not knowing the truth is a real problem.
I am the sort of person who is always suspicious when too coherent an image is presented — or as my mom puts it, I can’t see a freshly painted wall without making a little scratch to see what’s beneath — which means I never precisely fell for the glossy images the Soviet Union presented in the seventies. Does anyone but me remember it? The glowing production numbers, the assurance that there were no poor and no unemployment? Why in the eighties I read a poor idiotic journalist who’d visited the USSR enthuse in the Charlotte paper about how the very simple cartoon she’d seen on Russian TV represented their embrace of simple living and sophisticated aesthetics. When in fact it represented their penury, their old equipment and, yes, the fact that their audience had no other choice.
In Europe this sort of self-delusion was almost universal particularly among the intellectuals. You see, they had bet their future, after WWII on a Marxist-lite mess of pottage. To suddenly find out that neither socialism nor its big, bad cousin communism worked, would have shattered their view of the world and revealed that they’d in fact been taken for patsies and wrenched the more or less functional core of their country’s economy, and engaged in massive redistribution… for nothing.
So they couldn’t believe that, and instead chose to believe USSR was a finely tuned, humming machine of success.
They managed to believe this despite the fact that visitors to the Soviet Union inevitably caught a feeling for just how deprived these people were. But of course, they could tell themselves that they were just rich in non-material things. (Someone tried to make a similar point when I echoed a post by Charlie, on Facebook, in which he pointed out how astonishingly well the Free Market has done in the last fifty years, in making us massively more wealthy. All of us.)
They managed to believe this despite the fact that escapes occurred overwhelmingly in one direction: from the USSR to the free world.
Humans can believe just about anything if it’s printed in glossy magazines and nice (wholly made up) figures. Particularly if it tells them what they very much want to believe.
So… You’ve probably by now got the glad tidings, that our unemployment is way down, and we’re roaring…
Do you believe it? Or does it seem like a repeat of the “roaring recovery through the summer of 12 which continued through the elections, so that smart people said that “the economic policies of the Obama administration are working. We must give them more time” even as they made fun of us skeptics who said “uh… isn’t this awfully convenient timing? And lookit the innards of these figures?”
Amazingly when the real news trickled out they were not only bad, but appalling, kind of like the squalor beneath the facade of the USSR.
Is he right? Or are the people right who say “see, cutting off unemployment insurance works?” (Of course it does. Drops people off the books like a rock.)
Look, I know I have my haunch. Yeah, yeah, the plural of anecdote isn’t data. Bah. Do you see the job market superheated, right now? Are your friends spoiled for a choice of jobs after years of unemployment? Do you see the restaurants with a wait after work, as they had even ten years ago? Do you see new shops opening? Do you feel the economy taking off?
Or are you sitting there figuring out how to make your car limp another year, and are your friends in pretty much the same situation? Are you tempted to cry while grocery shopping, because everything costs three times more? Is your family all out of luxuries to cut, and is now cutting into what you used to consider necessities?
I’ll confess my situation and those of my friends resemble the second more than the first. I confess after summer of recovery 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and… I don’t believe the economy is roaring back. I confess I think this is a case of lies, damn lies and government reports.
But the the truth is as unknowable as the truth about who created the universe. While I doubt the fact sand figures of our sad situation are transcendant and unknowable by the human mind, when you are dependent on a government for all your information, and when that government visibly puts ideology over information, you end up not knowing.
Look, it’s entirely possible that people who were dead broke in their town in the USSR, and who knew all their neighbors were broke, yet thought that maybe, possibly, in other towns the economy was roaring. They had no way of knowing.
By making itself an uncritical lapdog, our media has made itself even more partisan, more unreliable, than the old Pravda and the glossy Soviet Life.
Which means the books are cooked, but we don’t know how far. We don’t know if some books aren’t cooked. We don’t know which books are cooked.
The problem is not just that absent information on what’s really happening, we can slide slowly into the abyss, as others before us — Zimbabwe, Argentina, Greece — have. The problem the information on what is going on with the economy is vital for a hundred different decisions: which job to take; what property to buy; whether to invest in this or that.
Of course, the administration that couldn’t run a lemonade stand doesn’t know that. They’re academics and ideologues for whom the essential ingredient for success has been fanatical adherence to progressive ideology, not rational analysis of reality.
And so they spin their numbers and they think if they click their heels three times and wish really hard, this time when they stop telling us lies after securing the election, it will really be true. The economy will be roaring, you see, roaring.
It might very well be true, too. Being from Colorado I’m used to massive fires, and they do roar as they consume anything of value in their path and leave only ashes and destruction behind.
Which is what I expect to be plain once this last effort of obfuscation evaporates.
But until then even sensible people are believing those glossy pictures. Because none of us wants to see the real squalor. It must be that we love simplicity! Yes, and we’re really aesthetically advanced. And besides, this is a wonderful day until we get buried in the corn field.
And we don’t know the truth. Knowing you’re being lied to is not the same as knowing the truth.
They say the truth will set you free. Perhaps that’s why the administration is so carefully making sure no one (not even the various departments who make up one or the other set of numbers, but assume all others are right) has it.
And meanwhile we drown in a welter of made up figures and pretend facts.
“What is the truth?” a man of the world asked.
At least he had the decency to wash his hands.