Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Man Discovers Awful Truth, Shames Mass Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. 2017—Gerald Humphrey’s profound discovery began when he realized the American mainstream media’s treatment of Donald Trump’s Republican campaign for the presidency contrasted sharply with reality.

“CNN, the Associated Press, the New York Times, and all the other major news outlets in the United States kept taking Donald Trump much more seriously than I would have thought any curious and sane investigator would have a right to do,” said Gerald. “They kept listening to what Trump said at rallies or on Twitter and then they talked or wrote about it a lot, without ever mentioning the obvious truth. It dawned on me that a vast cover-up was unfolding.”

Gerald surmised that the American press was embarrassed by what Trump inadvertently was revealing about their political establishment. But instead of alerting Americans to the appalling truth or calling for the revolution that was evidently needed, journalists tried to treat Donald Trump as an ordinary candidate.

“Even when the cable news programs featured angry talking heads who were astonished by Trump’s audacity,” said Gerald, “hosts like Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon would always strive to retain decorum or were quick to inject some empty right-wing talking point to balance the proceedings.

“It’s like the emperor who’s strutting in public with no clothes on,” Gerald continued. “Who’s going to be brave enough to be a witness to the shocking truth? Who’s going to overcome the shame of living in a place where the grand emperor could be so vain and gullible that he’d mistake himself to be wearing fine garments that are allegedly visible only to intelligent people who deserve to keep their jobs? Who’s going to yell out, ‘The emperor has no clothes’? Apparently not the 'serious' American media: the absurdity was too much for them, so they turtled up.”

For weeks Gerald retreated to the confines of his basement, refusing to receive any news. “I thought maybe I was going mad,” he recalled. “How could I see the truth that was as different from what was being reported to millions of people, as night is from day? I mean, I wasn’t even in the news business! But even I could tell that Trump had knocked over the applecart and that anarchists should have been rushing up to him to thank him for proving their point: Western civilization is a sham. The most powerful country on earth is run by clowns in a circus and we keep stuffing our face with popcorn.”

Gerald was incredulous that political reporters would bend over backward to avoid denigrating the American political system. “Some anchorperson would be interviewing Trump,” said Gerald, “and I just couldn’t believe the interview always lasted more than five seconds. The minute Trump opened his mouth, any self-respecting journalist would have been obligated to say to Trump’s face—and for the benefit of the viewers—‘No, Trump, what you just said is retarded. Get the fuck off my stage, you psycho clown.’” 

Political scientist Renaldo Blackenpuss, professor at Pseudoscience University in Nowheresville, sympathizes with Gerald’s discomfort with the media’s treatment of the Trump phenomenon. “Corporate media figures are addicted to normality,” said the professor. “They’re not trained to uncover the truth; not anymore, at least. They’re trained to spin facts to sell a product to the beleaguered consumers, a product we call ‘the news.’

“Sometimes that involves distorting the truth to make it seem salacious, to titillate viewers so they’ll keep their eyes glued to the TV. Or it might mean ignoring a complex truth, offering up puff pieces or scandals, because the news producers know that in their spare time consumers mostly just want to vegetate or to act like ghouls. Or it might require throwing a wet blanket on the truth, to protect the enterprises that fund the collapsing journalism industry through advertising or that give journalists access to heavy hitters who have that godsend quality of gravitas.”

“In hindsight,” said the professor, it’s become clear that “journalists only pretended to care about objectivity, because most professionals want to seem scientific.” When asked whether this charade affects political scientists as well, Professor Blackenpuss hemmed and hawed and fiddled with the collar of the lab coat he wore for some reason.

After the fiasco of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Gerald set out to determine whether the American media were engaging in other cover-ups. “If our civic religion had degenerated to this extent,” said Gerald, “where our political pageantry and rituals mean so little we might as well be sacrificing babies on an altar to a sun god, what was our world really like? If the media could perpetrate a pretense of this magnitude, what else could they be hiding?”

What Gerald found shocked the world, earning him the Pulitzer Prize. Recalling his monumental discovery, Gerald said, “I simply looked really hard and then I saw it: the United States isn’t actually part of what we thought of as the North American continent. Instead, for all this time our whole country has been floating somehow, twenty miles above sea level.”

At his Pulitzer acceptance speech, Gerald was ambivalent. “When I first saw the astonishing truth,” he announced, “when I realized that night was day and black was white, the very next thought that came to me was: ‘Those bastards!’ How could journalists have missed such a basic truth that was right under their noses? Scientists could be forgiven, because they’ve made a trillion other discoveries.

“But what were American reporters blathering on about while no one realized the entire American landmass is physically disconnected from the rest of the planet? What video of cuddly kittens were they featuring instead as click bait? And what megaphone were they handing to an obvious narcissistic, sociopathic buffoon and senile conman like Trump?”

Near the end of his speech, Gerald urinated on the Pulitzer gold medal, but wasn’t shocked to see that the illustrious members of the audience ignored his protest. No outcries were heard. According to Gerald Humphrey, “they were fixated on the prize itself and on the system it represents which would lie in ruins were it not for our credulity.”   

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to Fathom the Nature of Truth

What is really happening when a set of symbols, such as a statement or a thought, “gets at the truth,” as we like to think of it? What is it for symbols to be in touch with the facts? The use of symbols to uncover the truth about truth is bound to be fraught with paradoxes, and if a noncognitive experience of oneness with the mapped territory is the answer, this experience may not be as the Buddhist would have it. Instead of feeling at peace as a quieted mind at one with the sea of interconnected events, we might feel obligated to lament our absurdity with a round of horror or embarrassment on our impersonal creator Nature’s behalf.

Three Faulty Theories of Truth

from Lesswrong.com
There are three popular philosophical explanations of truth, none of which is adequate. First, there’s the contention that a true statement is one that corresponds to, or that agrees with, how things are. This view must be a holdover from the ancient theistic worldview which personified nature as God’s handiwork. The idea of agreement is folk-psychological in that agreement occurs between minds, not between a mind and a non-mind. When two people agree, they share the same attitude, experience, or belief. But the non-living majority of nature has no mental properties, so there can be no agreement between it and our statements about it. Early analytic philosophers like G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell pioneered the correspondence theory of truth, writing, “Thus a belief is true when there is a corresponding fact, and is false when there is no corresponding fact.” These pompous philosophers dismissed theistic religion as gauche and not even worth discussing; they thus lacked the Nietzschean fortitude to appreciate that God’s death renders the secular humanistic notion of truth-as-correspondence—as well as all secular liberal vestiges of god-talk—just as obsolete as theism.

At best, this conception of truth appeals to a metaphor, comparing a mind-to-mind relation to a mind-to-non-mind one, but the comparison is weak not just because of the obvious and relevant dissimilarities, but because of the dubious origin of this way of conceiving of our role in the world. If a mind such as God is the ultimate reality, and God created us according to a plan which would have us use natural facts for our benefit or to demonstrate our worthiness to spend eternity with God, then a factual description of something might be one that indirectly puts us in harmony with God. God’s artifact, that is, the world we describe, would be aligned with our artifacts, namely with our utterances and mental representations, and so this conception of truth would be no mere metaphor. Just as mortal minds can agree with each other, so too they could literally agree with the divine mind. But if we assume atheism, as we must when practicing philosophy while being faithful to the spirit of our time, we’re faced with the awkwardness of any attempt to salvage this theistic projection of ourselves onto a horrifically-impersonal world. Assuming theistic religion was perpetrated to further sundry inauspicious agendas, such as early Neolithic warlords’ domestication of large populations, the tainted remnants of that sort of religion are unlikely to augment a pure-hearted pursuit of knowledge.

Next, there’s the coherence theory of truth, which says a statement is true if it coheres with other statements such that the system’s self-consistency rationally justifies us in believing any of the cohering statements. As you can see, this theory merely reduces truth to an epistemic criterion of reasonableness. One sign that a speaker may be onto something is if her statements hang together so that she’s not contradicting herself like a deranged person. For example, if someone’s narrative of what happened the night she witnessed a crime doesn’t change when the police press her for details, a jury would have reason to trust her report. We assume that the world doesn’t contradict itself, that we occupy a natural order bound by some metaphysical logic, not a chaotically-shifting pseudospace, and so we think our belief systems should mirror this rational wholeness of facts.

However, this second conception of truth is abortive for at least two reasons. First, there are plenty of cases in which a coherent worldview, the internal order of which gives us some reason to trust it, turns out nevertheless to be wrong. Monotheism, astrology, Nazism, and the like may all be more or less coherent systems of thought, but none has the merit of being true. At most, coherence is an indicator but not a sufficient condition of truth. Likewise, a statement must be meaningful to have a chance of being factually true, but many meaningful statements are mistaken or even preposterous. Second, coherence in general can’t be the same as truth, because natural systems throughout the universe are coherent with respect to how their components operate, but that doesn’t mean, say, a solar system is a veridical account of anything. Again, the reason epistemic coherence is regarded as meritorious is because natural events in general are assumed to be regular and orderly. This point, though, goes both ways: if a belief system should mirror natural regularities, by being self-consistent, those systems must already be coherent even though they obviously aren’t themselves true with respect to anything. So coherence can’t suffice for truth. And if we say it must be statements or beliefs that cohere for there to be truth, their key distinguishing feature is their semantic meaningfulness but meaning turns out to be just as mysterious, not to mention as originally magical or supernatural as truth. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The American Spectacle

Liberals and globalists (proponents of globalization) are aghast at the Western conservative’s retreat to infantile, care-free farce, as in Brexit and the Republican nomination of Donald Trump, the latter having been preceded by the astroturfed Tea Party diversion from the economic causes of 2008’s American housing market crash. The suspicion is that American and British white male losers in the global marketplace are scapegoating gays, Muslims, or Mexicans because these whites no longer know how to be men enough to recognize the reason why their middle classes have vanished, which is that the postindustrial environment spoils these men and so they can’t compete with the likes of the hyper-pragmatic Chinese. Heretofore the aristocratic winners in the genetic lottery that ruled their segregated societies until the 1960s’ social revolutions, whites in North America and Europe must face the prospect of being marginalized in the global melting pot, as not just Chinese and Indians but also machines come to dominate the workforces. Partly also as an unintended consequence of feminist overreach in liberal societies, Western men have lost touch with their innate sense of honour, and so they’d sooner drug themselves to death than admit that their history—from the medieval Christian atrocities in Europe to Spain’s genocide against Native Americans and the African slave trade—is sordid and wholly unforgivable, and that whites need a spiritual, existential awakening or risk becoming a laughing stock class of deluded crybabies.  

The Debordian Spectacle of Trump and His Minions

Guy Debord’s concept of the society of the spectacle can partly explain the Trump phenomenon. According to Debord’s postmodern (i.e. pretentious and obfuscating) application of Marxist theory, capitalism is a process in which “the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” Social interactions become more and more mediated by mass media images, to which we passively defer, and we live in an infotainment bubble in which past and future are conflated to make capitalistic culture appear eternal and immutable. “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation,” says Debord. “The spectacle is the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence. The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among men and classes: a second nature with its fatal laws seems to dominate our environment.” The spectacle “is a pseudo-sacred entity. It shows what it is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of labor into a parcellization of gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market. All community and all critical sense are dissolved during this movement…”

This concept of the spectacle, of the image or other representation that functions as an oppressive cultural intermediary, needn’t be restricted to a Marxian analysis. There are social spectacles or myth-laden images, and there are individual ones just as there is culture and there’s the stage in each mind in which stereotypes compete for the spotlight of our personal attention. Society flatters its economic structure, defending the power allotments in its dominance hierarchy, and we each spin a private tale, the narrative of our life in which we’re the starring protagonist. Images from our dreams and symbols of the idols to which we dedicate ourselves compel us to trust the judgments issuing from these self-serving thought-worlds, from the mental space we inhabit when we live in our heads with existential inauthenticity. The alternative isn’t to trust in The Force, to walk the heroic path like Neo from the Matrix, without thinking we’re on it. Animals are the relatively thoughtless ones; thoughts—including second-order and objective ones—are weapons in our war against the godless environment. What we need isn’t nirvana, the inner peace from detaching from our thoughts as a result of our personal self-destruction. Instead, we should learn to tell better stories; we need to learn how to be self-respecting artists.
   
In any case, Trump, then, is a phony revolutionary. His supporters believe that he’ll save the white portion of the lower middle class, by protecting the US economy from foreign cheats such as the Chinese (who actually just work a hundred times harder than North Americans and a thousand times harder than Europeans), or that he’ll punish the double-dealing political class by blowing up the whole American government. But those are wishes, not rational predictions, and anyway empirical interpretations of Trump’s intentions are irrelevant, from a Debordian perspective. Mainstream Trump is a symbol and his cultural significance is determined by underlying economic processes. Ever since Nixon brokered a deal with Strom Thurmond, creating the GOP’s Southern Strategy, Republicans have pretended to champion the backward social positions of the antediluvian white southerners, while double-crossing them with free trade deals and other plutocratic economic policies that have hollowed-out the American middle class. Again, instead of taking responsibility for having been duped as gullible, irritable voters, these southerners together with low-information blue collars prefer scapegoats. Now Trump is merely doubling-down on this trusty political strategy. Superficially, Trump has the capacity to fight for this once-dominant social class (again, a class that deserves to languish for having benefited from the atrocities of its forbears). Technically, Trump could repair the American infrastructure by establishing a Democratic-style, protectionist welfare state under the cover of xenophobic bluster. But the profound ironies of social reality are perceived only at a more rarified level. Trump is himself a plutocrat, after all. Instead of controlling the government’s policies from a distance, with lobbyists and Manchurian candidates, a hero of the power elite has decided that pulling the levers directly is more efficient. We get the candidates we deserve, but the question is: Who are “we”?