On Truth, Connection, and Disconnection

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

In an age of propaganda and post-truth politics, we face people believing outlandish falsehoods and obvious propaganda and acting upon it.  How do people become so disconnected from reality?  Disconnection is the appropriate term, because some people seek to cut the strands of knowledge that helps us find truths – and some cut their own strands deliberately.

I’ve heard it said that we’re in a post-truth era in 2016, where the idea of truth is irrelevant to many.  It’s clear that enough people believe falsehoods, and many are happy to believe blatant lies and fantasies if it fits their agendas. Many propagandists and opportunists are glad to provide these lies to their audience. This is feared rightly by sane and rational people because this disconnection is enough to get people killed – and in modern times, technology allows that to be a great number of people.

We wish to oppose this “celebration of falsehood” for the as we’d rather not die or have other people die because of other someone’s chosen foolishness and those providing that foolishness.  To deal with this we need to deal with the nature of Truth.

The best way I have found to define Truth – which will always have a subjective component – is connection.  Something is True (or at least “truer” than other things) because it can be explained in multiple ways, because its validity is confirmed multiple ways, and the “true thing” relates to other data, concepts, and experiences.  One may look at the effect of a drug, find studies done by reliable researchers who in turn base their work on other validated research, talk to their doctor, evaluate their own experiences and have  a decent idea of the truth of that drugs effectiveness.

Truth is a web of connections. Truth does not exist outside of context.

In understanding the Truth of something, there will be flaws in data, mistakes, errors, even outright falsehoods.  The whole of the Truth stands together despite flaws in parts of it.  It is at worst, “true enough” to work with – connected enough to sources of information and validity that it’ll do the job.  At best, the Truth even incorporates its own flaws, with margins of error, exceptions, or contingencies.

In a connected age, which we live in at least at the time of this writing, one would think we would have more truth, and not be battling falsehoods.  I’d say we actually have both more truth and more falsehood – more useful and valid knowledge, but also more post-truth lies and propaganda.  Why is this?

This is because there are people who profit from untruth, motivated by everything from money to self-esteem.  These people can use our modern media and technology for their own gain with relative ease.  With this technology they do what dictators and liars always do – they attack the connections that form the truth.  They attack the knowledgeable, the advocates, the educators, and the informed – breaking the social and cultural connections needed for some kind of truth and common ground.

The attacks made by the propagandists break both social and personal connections, sowing mistrust and disregard not to increase truth by questioning, but to decrease it destroying credibility of ideas, institutions, and people.  These attacks don’t always offer a replacement truth outright.  Instead these attacks are passive-aggressive ways to say “believe me” by focusing on saying others are not trustworthy.  When someone believes the attacks on people, they will more easily believe the attacker.

No this is not sane, not rational, and is very dangerous.

Our modern times gives us people gladly following and sharing falsehoods and placing themselves in narrow social bubbles with modern technology.  These two experiences, of falsehoods and of echo chambers, are really two sides of the same phenomena.  Media companies cut the ties of truth with their lies, and out of them form echo chambers.  Others obsessed with believing untruths make online communities build echo chambers and then cut ties to a larger shared Truth.  The results are the same – and overlapping.

People are cut off from the “larger picture” of what is true, believe only certain things, and then reinforce these beliefs with each other. They may feel connected  but ultimately are not, their only connections are to someone feeding them lies, to a closed community, or both.

This is cult like behavior; separating people from community, convention, and connection.  We have people acting as cult leaders who are news figures and media figures, severing the ties that maintain our truth with lies.  We have people willing to act as their own cult leaders, isolating themselves deliberately among specific communities that share their views and untruths. Either way we end up with people separated from the rest of the world – yet trying to influence it because of the falsehoods they believe.

It’s disturbing to think in this modern world there are people so disconnected from reality that they deny large parts of how the world runs and works.  These people cannot keep a functioning society running at best; at worst they part of dysfunctions in society.

It is the duty of any citizen to maintain and increase the connections that we rely on for Truth. We should actively introduce people to knowledge.  We should support and expand knowledge systems such as schools, publishers, and magazines.  Perhaps maintaining these truths was once unconscious or assumed; today it must be a conscious and committed effort.

The more we maintain and improve the social and informational connections that give us some Truth, the less we have to deal with the pathologies.  We must create and maintain a healthy social and cultural system that can resist propaganda, lies, and delusion.  Our survival depends on it.

– Steve

Terry Pratchet, My Stepfather, And All The Stories We are

I’m getting tired of writing these “a great influence on geek” has passed articles.  I’m tired of writing about people lost.

We lost Terry Pratchett last week. The man behind Discworld, a person who took satire into that realm of homage and exploration, a great writer, and a great person. It’s hard to explain or honor everything he meant to people.

Me I’ve got a Pratchett story that really illustrates what he did.

I discovered the Discworld books back in the 80’s, in college. I had experienced fantasy parody before, with Myth Adventures and the Ebenezum “trilogy”, but Discworld was it’s own thing. More a parody than Myth Adventures, more respectful than a simple joke, it was something different. If anything is similar to it today, it’s The Venture Brothers and Galaxy Quest.

So of course it was funy, but it was also insightful and extremely well written. Pratchett’s books were little bundles of writing lessons on to of being damned good reads. His ability to make you laugh and think with just a few words was amazing. Such enlightening twists of language, such wit, was an influence on my own writing

(The other influences, if you must know, were Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Dave Barry.)

Pratchett was there with me for decades. Always amusing, always insightful, always amazing.

Now that he’s gone, we have stories.

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Why The System Fails

There are people who build The System.

There are people who maintain The System.

There are people who operate The System.

The people who operate The System rarely know how it’s built or how it’s maintained, or even what it’s for.  They may not care.

It is easy for those who operate The System to use it for great gain and benefit.  It does not mean they understand it.

In time, maintenance is not thought of because it appears to be running well.  Those who maintain must adjust and it is hard.

In time, building is not thought of as new wonders appear all the time and problems beyond the moment are not imagined.  Those who build must strive mightily or merely repeat themselves to survive.

In time, The System breaks down.

Those who run The System are startled.

Those who maintained The System are angry.

Those who built The System curse everyone’s stupidities.

Everyone grabs for what they can as the walls crash down.  History gets another chapter where we point at people’s ignorance and feel superior to them.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.