The death of truth

Just thought I’d drop this into the current discussion about the condition of media and journalism in Scotland and elsewhere. It’s an extract from an article titled The death of truth which first appeared in the March 2017 issue of iScot Magazine.

Isn’t there an irony – delicious or distasteful according to personal taste – in the fact that the propagators of fake news are elevating themselves to the status of noble heroes defending their right to propagate fake news against a politically-motivated onslaught that deploys fake news as one of its principal weapons?

For all this, there remains a sense that there is something different about the present morass, as compared with previous morasses. This, it seems to me, is not adequately captured by anything in the currently fashionable journalistic lexicon. Not ‘fake news’. Not ‘post-truth’. Not even ‘anti-truth’ – which, I confess, was the term for which I first reached when seeking to pin down a concept that I found rather elusive.

While researching the term, I encountered some interesting comments from an Indian blogger going by the name, Factorator. Interesting, not least for the fact that they were writing about Indian politics – demonstrating that the phenomena under discussion are by no means exclusive to the West. I am taking the liberty of quoting at length.

Can deliberate and selective subversion of facts, irrespective of the frequency of their occurrence or the severity of their impact, lead to establishing a narrative contrary to reality? Is post-truth actually ‘forced-truth’?

But here’s the real deal. Picture a situation where lies about one side are ceaselessly repeated and inconvenient facts about the other are diligently suppressed. Can this be the potential force-multiplier that opens up a vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception? Can it create an artificial, alternate version of contemporary events suited to the interests of a cartel?

As an observer of Scottish politics and, in particular, the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence, these two paragraphs resonated like some planet-sized bell. I have never read a better description of the British state’s anti-independence propaganda campaign. It could be the mission statement for Better Together/Project Fear.

It also serves as a very adequate summary of a situation that goes well beyond Scotland’s politics and Scotland’s borders. At minimum, it captions US and UK politics with disturbing accuracy.

And yet, I’m still left with this nagging feeling that there is something more. It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.

Neither ‘post-truth’ nor ‘anti-truth’ do justice to what is going on. We need a new word to refer to the destruction of truth. A word that conveys the uncreation of reality. A word that speaks of the death of truth. The killing of truth. The murder of truth.


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21 thoughts on “The death of truth

  1. Orwell saw this phenomena vividly in the work of the Ministry of Truth in 1984. Unfortunately he didn’t coin a perfect word or phrase to describe it as he did with ‘doublethink’ and ‘newspeak’.

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  2. I remember “A few good men”
    Jack Nicholson ” you can’t handle the truth.
    Just before he’s arrested.
    Slightly different context, perhaps.
    They know only to well how they manufacture the non truth.
    Luckily we have folks like yourself out there unravelling and dissecting their fakery.
    🐼🐼

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  3. A case in point, people lamenting the death of ITV2.
    Em! I’m not sorry.
    BBC and STV out of Scotland.
    They do not represent Scotland
    End of.
    🐼🐼

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      1. How about a slightly shorter version which is easier to say “Veracicide”.

        Acknowledgement to Wendy B for the idea.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more with the overall sentiment. In the spirit of this piece, what is your take on GERS?

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    1. We know that GERS was contrived specifically to be used as a weapon against Scotland. The then Secretary of State for Scotland stated that GERS was part of the propaganda war against devolution. The figures are manipulated for that purpose.
      GERS does not offer an honest and accurate picture if Scotland’s finances. And it says absolutely nothing about the finances of independent Scotland.
      Perhaps the mire pertinent question is why GERS us all we have. Why did the British government stop producing a proper accounting of Scotland’s finances a hundred years ago? What are they hiding?

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      1. Thank you.

        My understanding of what GERS indicates forms a large part of my opposition to Scottish independence (although it is not the only part). I hope you will accept that I feel that I have come to that opinion not by prejudice, but by basing my opinion on a number of factors, not all of which lean the same way. I do not doubt the ability of Scottish people to govern themselves if it came to it.

        However I think GERS is presented clearly and credibly, and its negative implications for an independent Scotland are reasonably clear. If GERS were shown to be materially incorrect, that would alter my perception of the (crucial) financial feasibility of Scottish independence.

        I do think that there is a whiff of ‘inconvenient truth’ in saying that GERS is “dishonest”, and says “absolutely nothing about the finances of an independent Scotland”, and I am yet to see a credible rebuttal of its implications.

        In my mind the GERS argument has come down to either: a) there’s a big fiscal transfer into Scotland each year which would disappear under independence, or; b) no, the money goes in the opposite direction. Both cannot be true.

        I believe that GERS is materially correct, and therefore to me an assertion that it isn’t, has to be backed up, or runs the risk of being a ‘subversion of facts’, which you rightly decry.

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      2. I am not going to waste my time trying to argue against what is essentially a faith position. You choose to believe GERS, against clear and verifiable evidence, in the same way that religionists choose to believe their scripture.
        If GERS does nothing else it at least provides a convenient rationalisation for those whose opposition to normalising Scotland’s constitutional status is anything but rational.

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    1. Iain Maclaren re GERS

      It’s quite difficult to contest GERS when it is presented on its own. Even though it contains some obviously questionable items, such as Trident and Interest on money Scotland does not borrow and has not borrowed ever. Leaving that aside for the moment though, examine the bigger picture.

      In a “fiat currency” environment such as the GBP scenario then the following is true

      Change in Private Wealth(CPW) = Net Public Sector Spend + Balance of Trade
      = (Government Spend – Tax) + (Exports – Imports)

      So inserting the latest figures into the above, you get

      CPW = 13.2Bn + 4.6Bn ref: https://www.uktradeinfo.com/Statistics/RTS/Pages/default.aspx
      = 17.8Bn

      Now this is a Per Annum figure. So we are led to believe that Scots are better off by 17.8Bn/5.5m
      or GBP 3,326 for every man woman and child, AND this has been the case for a very long time. So we should be one of the richest countries in the world and the streets should be paved with Gold. Not so, we have lots of poor people and we have rising foodbank use. This is not commensuate with the figures we are given, so something is obviously wrong.

      I should add that the english Balance of Trade is Negative 128.2Bn. So ask yourself the very simple question “How come a Country with a massive BOT deficit is supposedy subsidising a country with a BOT surplus?

      I will leave it to you Iain to take it from there, though the conclusion is obvious.

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  5. How about a ‘ truth holocaust ‘, to much maybe. I think people know they are being lied to, but turn their face to wall, very much like 1930/40 Germany.

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  6. Thank you for your reply.

    OK, what I think you are saying is the following: there is (as per 2016-17 GERS) a “difference between total revenue and total public sector expenditure including capital investment” of £13.2bn (GERS says £13.3bn). Add to that the Balance of Trade surplus of £4.6bn from your link and you get £17.8bn. OK.

    Then you say that we are led to believe that we are “better off” by that amount (presumably the context is: led to believe we’re better off by *being part of the UK*). OK.

    Where you and I part company is the next bit – about “we should be one of the richest countries in the world” etc. I suggest that it doesn’t mean that at all. It means that the current level of expenditure on public services requires a subsidy of £13.2bn to cover the shortfall in fiscal take.
    Which, in turn, means that we can get better services than we could afford on our own.

    Every region of the UK, bar London and the South-East, is in that position, to a greater or lesser extent. I am not saying that that is ideal, far from it. (And I am making no assumptions post-Brexit). But I am saying that that is how it is currently. See this graph (Section 3 – Net Fiscal Balance).

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/publicsectorfinance/articles/countryandregionalpublicsectorfinances/2015to2016#net-fiscal-balance

    If you decouple one of these countries or regions from the tax revenues of London and the South-East, and you wish current level of public serves to be maintained, then you have a funding shortfall to make up.

    The question is how to do it, and whether it is feasible. Not to deny it.

    Turning to the historical debt, I’d say two things. I note that the info excludes 1921 – 1978. Let’s assume that period is “neutral”, in the absence of any information to the contrary. I’d say that historical debt doesn’t really help matters, unless the intention is to have it “repaid” in some way.

    I appreciate your points and engagement. I hope it’s mutual.

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    1. Iain
      What I was endeavouring to show was that the GERS figures were ridiculous because they are obviously far too big. 13.3Bn is absurd. As GERS figures are a plethora of estimates they are unreliable. I was trying to show that without getting to the minutae.

      Let me try it slightly differently.
      UK Deficit for 2017 was 46.9Bn GERS suggests Scotland’s share is 13.3Bn that is 28.3% of the total when we only have 8.5% of the population. An 8.5% share would be 3.98Bn.

      Clearly there is something amiss, and I am suggesting GERS is not correct by a Country Mile.

      *******
      Apparently the reason that the 1921 – 1978 figures are missing is because the UK Gov stopped publishing them.
      *******
      I will draw your attention again to my last point, the large difference in the Balance of Trade. This is more anecdotal evidence that there is something wrong with the figures somewhere. I merely gave you two figures that I know of to be invalid Trident and interest, there must be others as the figures are so blatantly skewed they can’t be believed.

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      1. Kangaroo

        Your point on the disproportionate-to-population share of the UK deficit would be valid (obviously) if the deficit was spread evenly across the UK. But it’s not. The ‘not-Scotland’ bit of it contains the only areas which are in surplus (i.e. London & the South-East), and significant surplus at that. It follows that any area excluding those areas, taken on its own, will yield the same, apparently disproportionate, result.

        Otherwise we are at a bit of a stalemate, you and I, perhaps both victims of our own respective confirmation bias.

        I would say, though, that the Chief Statistician of the Scottish Government is responsible for producing GERS, and therefore, if it yielded ‘absurd’ or unbelievable results as you say (or was simply a ‘faith position’ as Peter Bell writes) I’d expect to read a substantial and meaningful disclaimer from that individual.

        In the absence of such a disclaimer, I’m minded to take what GERS says at face-value.

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  7. OK Iain Stalemate it is on this one. I see where you are coming from. It’s difficult to debate when we only have a set of single entry books so we cant get to the real numbers.

    Here’s a little video that I came across just a few minutes ago that might….just might nudge you in favour of indy. Nothing to do with GERS though.

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    1. Thanks for the link – he makes some interesting points, although a bit over-dramatic for my blood. I would guess that you and I wouldn’t particularly disagree on Brexit itself, although my view (as you might expect, and I don’t say this to open up another line of argument after we’ve agreed to disagree) is that independence post-Brexit would make a bad situation worse…

      Cheers

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