Don’t miss Richard Fernandez‘s brilliant reflections on truth, civilization, and perception:
In recent years management literature has talked extensively about the “servitization of the products” The modern economy no longer produces “things”. It produces intangibles called services. Insurance, banking, government, tourism, retail, education, social services, franchising, news media, hospitality, consulting, law, health care, environmental services, real estate and personal services now dominate the activity of the Western world. We produce satisfaction. Perhaps the key difference between an economy based on things relative to that based on services is that the “truth” of things is self-evident while the value of services is often based on perception. Perception is often the proxy for value in a service economy. Indeed it often comprises the value itself, at least in the entertainment industry and possibly in news. It immediately follows that in a huge market for intangibles where “children’s programs”, sporting events, entertainment, academic degrees, derivatives, mortgages, ‘health care’, news and environmental indulgences are traded for vast sums telling the unflattering truth can be extremely costly. Stay away from the truth unless you absolutely positively have to.
There’s a temptation to think that perception is everything; that value is the same as perceptions of value; and that the people who create perceptions are thereby creating value. These propositions are especially attractive to those in advertising, marketing, entertainment, news, politics, and other fields in which perception looms large and objective sources of value are in dispute. Perception is extraordinarily powerful. But it isn’t everything. No ad campaign could convince people that Microsoft Vista was an excellent product.
The problem is that we can never be wholly free of the truth.
The words “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” are often used in a moral sense. But they can be used in the entirely secular meaning of the need to be free of bad information. Bad information destroys. We need to be free of bad information. Perhaps the underlying reason for the large and seemingly growing crisis in the Western World is that its truth reserves — the percentage of its information store that actually corresponds to reality — have fallen below a critical level and its institutions are attempting to cover the deficit by frantically printing more lies. Maybe the reason why finance, politics, news, real estate and environmental services are in dire such straits is that they among the service industries have the biggest portfolio of defective information. And it’s killing them. While there may be a tendency in the service economy to increase the amount of spin for short term gain in the long run survival depends on its minimization. We have to know where we are, if we are to avoid getting lost.
This is what lies behind the collapse of the mainstream media, and it can’t be solved by any marketing campaign. Nor is it an inevitable consequence of technological changes. There’s simply too much bad information. Those who devote much time to the mainstream media—the involved, responsible, “informed” liberals who watch PBS and CNN and read The New York Times—are drowning in a sea of falsehood. Those who don’t are often astounded at how intelligent people can reach conclusions that so plainly violate common sense. But accept the premise that the media communicate the central truths and those conclusions follow. What is surprising is that people apply modus ponens rather than the modus tollens. Faced with the absurd consequences, why not abandon the premise? The divergence from common sense is actually part of the attraction. It’s what lends the air of sophistication; it’s the ground for feelings of superiority.
What drives that sense is the same reason behind the apparent wholesomeness of grassroots political movements and untutored pundits like Joe the Plumber in contrast to the artificiality of the MSM. The outsiders have not yet been firewalled from reality in the way that the mandarins of the BBC and the politicians in Washington have been. The Tea Party world is still that of genuinely funny things — not the sour mordancy of Letterman; it is still one of basic fears and simple joys, of aching feet and a welcome ice-cream soda at the end of the day. Some people spend their whole lives trying to get away from it; to forget the memory of people sitting around a sunny porch eating peanuts, to try with various expensive unguents to wash the smell of new-mown grass and two stroke gasoline fumes from their hair. That is what “success” all too often means in certain circles.
As often happens, Fernandez gets to the heart of the matter in the comments:
I think the key idea behind civilization, and indeed all progress, is that there is something out there that represents the truth. It exists independently of us. We cannot simply make it up. Once that is grasped, all else is detail….
Although I may be stretching meanings, I think the most critical part of political theory lies in acknowledging that human institutions are not the ultimate sources of authority. They live within the world of the unread book.
This is a deep philosophical insight, I think. A proper political theory rests on realism, the thesis that there are truths that are truly “out there,” existing independently of us, no matter what we think or want. Give that up, as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and their postmodern progeny have done, and everything is permitted; all roads lead to tyranny.