Saturday, 4 September 2010

The primacy of truthfulness in Western civilization

I am not sure, but I suspect, that above all, Western civilization became powerful because of its ethic of truthfulness.

This was probably even more important a factor than intelligence and creativity (although they are needed - just that they are not sufficient and maybe not distinctive to the West).

English people have been, on average, very truthful (by world historic standards) - and this may account for their having triggered modernity - and may have been more important than their intelligence and creativity (after all, the English seem quite dull to many other nations). On the whole the English could believe each other, which is very useful.

Something similar could apply to several other of the European and Anglosphere nations which have been influential in the post-industrial revolution era.

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There is no doubt that a truthful society has great advantages in efficiency and effectiveness - as is becoming clear in England now that standards of truthfulness have declined so far and so fast.

When communication systems contain more noise (lies and errors) than signal (truth) then there comes a point where no communication of information, no understanding of information, is possible.

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One cause of decline is bureaucracy. Individuals may or may not be truthful in the spirit of truth; but bureaucracies cannot be truthful.

At most, bureaucracies can stick to the letter of the law - follow regulations. Bureaucracy is intrinsically 'managerial' - it deals with perceptions not truths.

Another cause is social specialization, so that different and highly selective standards of 'truth' apply in different social systems - legal truth is different from truth in science which differs from truth in electoral politics, civil administration, the media, the military etc.

In a secular society, nothing holds-together these different 'truths' and they each become amoral and instrumental.

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The distortion of important information in the public sphere is now so gross as to be stunning - whole categories of vital and obvious reality are excluded.

And reality is defined in terms of the public sphere: direct personal observation and experience carry zero validity when they contradict the public sphere.

The only similarly stunning aspect is that this is unnoticed by the intellectual class - or, when noticed, dishonestly denied - or when denials are ineffective, mocked - or when mocking is ineffective, vilified and suppressed.

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The process is very widespread - and the elite have developed communications media where reality is defined by diktat: validity is defined by grants, prizes, coverage - or simply asserted.

Now that our intellectual elite has discarded truthfulness (even as an ideal) everything is unravelling pretty rapidly. Yet this unravelling is unrecorded.

Future historians will be amazed and perplexed to discover that among the unimaginably large output of the public communications media; major causes of civilizational collapse were unrecorded and unremarked. They will wonder how this was possible.

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The reason is that truth is (part of) reality: if you do not believe in truth you do not believe in reality.

As a civilization we do not any longer believe in truth and therefore we do not believe in reality.

To us moderns, achievements are not real, and threats are not real.

Therefore, instead of observing threats, trying to understand threats, trying to deal with threats - we *manage* threats.

Meanwhile, in real-reality the managed-threats are destroying us.

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And everyone knows it, at the individual level - except the ruling elites who embody and engineer the social ethos, because for them nothing is really real.