Truth

July 2005

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What is Objective Reality? Common or garden variety reality is just the current set of things we've chosen to believe in at the moment. How does one differentiate between the possibly true, probably true, and the incontrovertibly true?

We are assailed today by many versions of the truth. Competing ideologies present very different views of reality. Is there such a thing as objective reality? Are there some things that are just true -- not because I say they are, but because they are just so? How can you tell the difference between subjective belief and objective proof?

The smaller and more inconsequential something is, the more likely it is to be real. This pad of post-it notes is really on the desk next to my keyboard. HL Mencken wrote, "We are here, and this is now, but beyond that, all human knowledge is bunk." And there is something to be said for this view. Certainly it is not possible to ascertain the truth about a war, abortion, what should constitute the inalienable rights of individuals, or which are or are not the responsibilities of the state to the body of its citizens.

There is quite a bit of science that is just plain true: gravity is a good example. But even science is not incontrovertible, else Darwin would not still be so hotly debated in some state legislatures. Global warming is an excellent example of that which is certainly true, and just as firmly disbelieved in by whole tracts of people. It is certainly true that something may remain true, regardless of what proportion or number of people disbelieve in it, else the world would still be flat.

Some things can seem entirely obvious to one person, but entirely specious to another. By any quantitative analysis, the more Capitalist the world has become, the poorer the mass of the general population has become. Some people say that this is the inevitable consequence of Capitalism, which exists to concentrate capital into the hands of the few from the hands of the many. Others say that Capitalism has nothing to do with the number or condition of poor people, but has everything to do with the number and condition of people enjoying the prosperity of their own devising -- while it is a shame that so many have so little, never in human history have so many had so much.

Enter an environmentalist who chimes in to say that the current state of human affairs on this planet is manifestly unsustainable. Simple arithmetic demonstrates this is true. Capitalism's principle allure is the promise for more to have more, so there is every disincentive to produce a state of affairs in which all have the least amount that is enough. And then a scientist responds by saying that big innovations in human technology have never been made except in response to big problems, which the world certainly has. Things will get worse before technology presents the escape route and we progress to solve the next level of our impossible/impractical future.

So what's true in all this and what is the point of it all?

The point is that we've been lied to. We have been lied to for a reason and for a very long time. It is in the interests of the liars to keep us guessing at what the truth is and to make us even wonder if there is such a thing as truth. But the liars like to play both sides of the fence, so they're on the side of the people who argue that truth is what your great-grandfather said it was, too. It's really easy to lie, if you're good at it. It's much harder to be honest because honesty is unflattering: like white light with no makeup, it's really hard to look good. But as a species, we're really in need of truth -- real truth -- and right now, or our very existence may slip through our fingers. If that happens, maybe Mother Nature is wiser than we give her credit for.

And that's a fact.

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