Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

Truthiness

by rdf Sat Aug 12th, 2006 at 05:46:36 PM EST

US comic Stephen Colbert has coined the word truthiness as something that people just know is right without needing facts to back it up.

There seems to be a rise in this quality in the US these days. Many have already noted that a large number of people don't believe in Darwinism (about 40% or more). This is much higher than in any other industrialized country. This is strongly correlated with support for the Republican party and strong religious affiliation.

Recently there have been several new outbreaks of truthiness. [Dkos version (with poll)]


One is the surge in the number of people who think that the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 was part of a government conspiracy. A release of a video laying out the case seems to have also helped to increase the number of conspiracy theorists.

Other examples have to do with the war in Iraq. Common beliefs include that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, that some of the hijackers were Iraqi and that Iraq had (has?) WMD's. The last claim was even made by Senator Santorum.

The lack of evidence for these claims is often used as "proof" that they are true; only a conspiracy could explain the lack of evidence.

So what's going on?

I think there are several things at work.

  1. People have seen so many examples of misinformation by the government in the past few years that they are ready to believe the worst. A good example was the spin put on what happened in the Gulf before and after hurricane Katrina. People could see for themselves the gross incompetence and hear the denials of failures by government officials.

  2. There has been a history of questionable events used as an excuse for starting a war. The two most frequently cited are the "Remember the Maine" incident in Cuba which started the Spanish-American war and the Gulf of Tonkin incident used to launch the Vietnamese war. Just recently documents were unclassified which proved that the Gulf of Tonkin incident didn't happen as reported.

  3. There is a need to build a new mythology for those who support or supported the war in Iraq. The prior argument that the US needed to invade in case Iraq had WMD's is no longer emotionally satisfying. It is much better to believe that WMD's existed and that this fact has been suppressed so that the morality of the war is acceptable. If this requires ignoring facts, so be it.

What all this illustrates, in my opinion, is a turning away from the current administration. Rather than believe that they were lied to about the facts people prefer to believe they were lied to as part of a conspiracy. This allows for continued acceptance of the fundamental dependence on the conservative, strong father model, it's just that some in the present administration are untrustworthy. A future group of leaders with the same worldview will arrive and restore faith in their trustworthiness, perhaps they will even release the details of the various conspiracies.

Does this mean that a change in majority party is going to occur? I'm not a political analyst or a fortune teller, but I would say that if it is going to happen it will be without the support of the followers of truthiness. So much of their emotional framework depends upon faith in a hierarchical society that moving to independent evaluation of information is not something that they are likely to undertake. So, if change comes it will have to be because those who haven't been paying attention decide a change is needed. (Opponents to the administration are already for change, so their positions are established.)

From a practical point this means that those on the left who want to see change need to focus on the "undecided" voters who need a clear set of goals or ideals that a Democratic majority government will support. There also need to be promises as to exactly what steps will be undertaken to reach these objectives. Arguing with the followers of truthiness is a waste of time. Concentrate on those who are looking for a new direction instead. The dependence on mass media to reach the undecided means that demeanor and an emotional connection with the voter must also be a quality that candidates possess. There isn't just one type which fits this need, it can be a person with passion like John Edwards, or someone who seems upright and trustworthy like Wesley Clark, but a person who comes across as on top of the issues, but emotionally distant won't appeal to this group. It may be sad, but it seems to be true that voters now want their elected officials to be an "American Idol".

Can the forces of rationality overcome those of truthiness? History shows examples of both outcomes. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy are examples where rationality lost out. Some of the emerging democracies in South America give hope that rationality can also succeed.

 

Display:
Good article. The bigest danger, I fear, is that Americans just give up because they think nothing they do will matter.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 04:01:31 AM EST
What all this illustrates, in my opinion, is a turning away from the current administration. Rather than believe that they were lied to about the facts people prefer to believe they were lied to as part of a conspiracy. This allows for continued acceptance of the fundamental dependence on the conservative, strong father model, it's just that some in the present administration are untrustworthy. A future group of leaders with the same worldview will arrive and restore faith in their trustworthiness, perhaps they will even release the details of the various conspiracies.
This is the old "black apples" meme, except that now the bad apples are in the White House. After (if) things go back to "normal" people will crow about the health of the Republic and how "checks and balances work". Better to blame it all on bad apples than question the system, which would be too uncomfortable.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 07:38:26 AM EST
Better to blame it all on bad apples than question the system, which would be too uncomfortable.

To me, when you say system, it means you are refering to something people undertand, find logical and could explain if asked.

Some have turned to me and nearly asked: do you have checks and balances in you country?

It looks to me as nothing more than a belief system - to avoid saying an ideology.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine

by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 09:36:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"checks and balances" is often nothing more than a catch phrase people pick up in high school civics classes.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 03:49:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
truthiness=religious beliefs

So much of their emotional framework depends upon faith in a hierarchical society that moving to independent evaluation of information is not something that they are likely to undertake.
The longer I consider it, the clearer it becomes to me that we will not be rid of this pattern of thinking until we are rid of these prehensile religions that dominate humanity.

alohapolitics.com
by Keone Michaels on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 12:49:45 PM EST
"truthiness = faith", but in the US you cannot criticise "revelation", "faith" or "religion" without placing yourself outside the mainstream, which is presumably why Colbert invented the word "truthiness". I think it is brilliant.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 03:51:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
@KM:

I've given up on the idea that any of them are capable of critical thought.

You just got to keep trying to beat them in elections.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 03:51:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There has been a lot written about the authoritarian personality of late. This is the type most open to appeals to dogma or ideology. Some has been because of John Dean's new book where he talks about some of the studies of the issue. The research is summarized in this research paper:

PDF

A blogger who combines the psychological aspects with the sociological is Paul Rosenberg at Patterns that Connect. You have to scroll down and read his older series of essays from the bottom up.

It is not clear whether this type of personality is more common in the US, or has just gotten into positions of power or people adopt this mode of thinking in response to social conditions. What is clear is that rationalists have failed to find a way to change their minds and/or their behavior.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 04:39:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The research paper is well worth a look.
For anyone who does not have the time (like many) or patience (like me) to read the whole thing, the nice diagram summarises a lot of it.

I think, from reading the paper, that it's simply a matter of a few people of this kind getting into power and thus being able to scare people. In "fear mode" people are more likely to be "conservative", and so the circle is complete. (The paper has a lot more detail and I may have misunderstood it completely.)

Interestingly the last example I can recall of anyone using "positive" campaigning is Reagan's "Morning in America". Perhaps people who were around for that can enlighten me: was this because he was already unbeatable?

-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 12:22:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great stuff. I wish I'd written that.
(Which is the second highest form of praise, the highest is stealing something for your .sig.)

-----
sapere aude
by Number 6 on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:29:45 AM EST
hey thinking for yourself is hard work!!

shibboleths to bury, juggernauts to dismantle, icons to pulverise, credos to undo...much easier to follow the lemmings off the cognitive cliff...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 06:59:00 AM EST
OK, now you're just channeling Einstein!

-----
sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 12:33:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
one of my great human heroes...

funny you say that, i consider myself an avid student of relativity, and my principle research tool is.....a fender stratocaster!

string theory....been there, doing that...

wtf is your sig about, or are you chanelling some discarnate genius too?

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 10:01:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What, this?

A Scrunt would do anything to kill a Madam Narf - even fight his fear of the Tartutic.

It's apparently an actual line from the latest Shyamalan epic, Lady in the Water (from the Salon review I think). I have not seen it, nor am I likely too, but I did like the silliness of it.
Reading scathing reviews of bad movies is much more fun than watching anything but very good movies. (And Tati is dead I think.)
The reason, of course, is that a movie has at most four writers (at least credited), but with hundreds of critics around there's always someone coming up with a nice quip or turn of phrase.


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Wed Aug 16th, 2006 at 05:45:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries