Friday, January 27, 2006

Culture of Truthiness

"Truthiness" is the word of the year, nominated by the American Dialect Society. Wikipedia defines "truthiness" as "the quality by which someone purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination." Isn't there already a word for that - faith? "A firm belief in something for which there is no proof." And to that I would add, a belief in something for which there is no need or regard for proof. I think I see the reason behind the rapid and immediate acceptance of this new word 'truthiness'. People are too afraid to come out explicitly and say they hold whatever beliefs just on faith. Faith has come to have a rather religious connotation, and outside of the sphere of religious discourse, it is almost always perceived negatively or condescendingly. A journalist cannot put out an article based on faith - but now, he can argue for the 'truthiness' of the work. G.W. Bush might not be too successful in defending his reliance on faulty intelligence because he had faith in it, but he can probably be more convincing if he says he felt some truth in it - it had a quality of truth that he could feel instinctively and emotionally. Contemporary culture now have an expression to convey their desire to evade the hard demands of proof and reality, and express their opinions based on an instinctual, emotional, whimsical foundation. They have typically shyed away from using the word "faith" to justify their convictions, but the word 'truthiness' gives them a good recourse to atleast the semantic similarity with actual and real truth. It helps them control or ignore their cognitive dissonance when they spout something so utterly lacking of any evidence and yet pass it off as kind-of-sort-of-true by classifying it as "truthy", having "truthiness", not necessarily being "true". Is only "morality" meaningless today? "Truth" is also clearly getting to be meaningless. All this talk about "truth" reminds me of Rand's response to the philosopher John Hospers. Hospers challenged Rand's definition of truth as "the recognition of reality". Hospers argued that truth is not recognition because it is not contingent upon anyone to 'recognize' it. He argued that whatever is true, is true regardless of whether one recognizes it, accepts it, or not. Rand replied by clarifying the mistake Hospers was making. She pointed out that "truth" is an epistemic concept to refer to the activity of the mind in relation to reality, not to point at reality itself. The concept that points to reality itself is fact. The difference between fact and truth is that facts exists as they are, regardless of any recognition. Truth, however, needs to be identified, realized, and accepted. One can twist the truth (or call it "truthy") or even refuse to recognize a fact as true, but that does not render the fact as non-existent. Existence exists as is. For example, one can deny that a tree exists, or even evade the need to affirm or deny that a tree exists. This does not mean that the person has blasted the tree out of existence by evading it or denying it. The fact of the tree remains, though the truth of the tree has not been, known, recognized or accepted. The former is a metaphysical issue and the latter is an epistemological issue. So, our culture is ever so eager to deny or evade the truth of the facts, but need a face-saving contruct to hide behind. They are well aware that in matter of facts - metaphysically - there are no gray areas possible. Hence, they create the grayness of "truthiness" in the epistemic realm of what they accept or recognize as truth. Some of them are too secular to honestly concede that their convictions are merely matters of faith.

4 Comments:

Blogger JohnJEnright said...

There does seem to have been a rebellion of sorts against truthiness, at least in the case of that guy who wrote "A Million Little Pieces".

1/28/2006 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger S.R. Deardorff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/29/2006 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

John,

Yes, I very much admire Oprah for stating unequivocally that "truth matters". I am glad that she did not let herself be fooled into shading this whole fiasco under "Public Relations" jargon and trying to save her face. There was no face-saving activity on her part, unless you think (like I do) that stating the whole truth, admitting to your mistakes, and standing by the truth is the proudest, self-redeeming thing one can do.

It was still miserable to see James Frey and his DoubleDay publisher being so squemish and reluctant to flatly admit that the book was a LIE. Frey kept trying to pass it off as a "mistake".

1/30/2006 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Rubicund Y. Logorrhea said...

Truthiness is an ugly, horrible, stupid "word."

2/05/2006 12:28:00 PM  

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