A time for truth change!

I don't know whether to call this the quote of the day, the quote of the month, or the quote of the year, but I think what Bill Quick says here is brilliant:

A free and healthy democracy cannot function when it has no way to determine reality.
This has been on my mind for a long time.

While Quick's focus is on the "corrupt, degenerate, dangerous mass media" which made it happen, I think that academia -- especially post-Modernist deconstructionism -- has played a large role with their decades-old war on reality. The idea that there is no reality, that instead there are only competing realities, means that whatever version of the truth works for you is true.

Now, some religious people will tend to see a phrase like "the truth" and think in religious terms. Social conservatives often define morality in terms of absolute truths, and many of them define those who disagree as "moral relativists." I think this distorts the process further, because history does show that different societies and cultures -- including those squarely within the Western tradition -- have defined morality differently. Morality has a way of changing over time. I worry that seeing morality as absolute truth makes it more difficult to focus on regular, factual truth -- such as what happened on, say, September 11, 2001.

That there are such people as 9/11 Truthers, and that there is a well organized movement of them, is something I find deeply disturbing. People like that see truth as driven by what they want to be true, and to them, facts play a subordinate role.

Bill Quick's post was about the polls (which was why Glenn linked it), and the polls of course are all over the map -- which means they cannot possibly all be right. What this means is that depending on your preferences, you can seize upon whatever poll you want, or claim quite credibly that because they're so sloppy, none of them can be relied on.

Still, there's an old political saying that "the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day."

Shouldn't that be reassuring? Won't there be, um, "closure" after the results are in, no matter who wins?

In view of the ferocious, conspiracy-driven relativism that seems poised to supersede traditional ways of determining reality, I'm worried that no matter who wins, his victory will not be seen as real by large numbers of highly partisan people. People on both sides who believe that even numerical truth is whatever they and the people they surround themselves with want it to be.

Bush did not win in 2000, nor did he win in 2004. McCain will not win in 2008. Obama will not win in 2008.

According to the new truth, whoever wins will not have won.

What was once a free and healthy democracy will have lost.

If this looks depressing, sorry. I really should be more cheerful. Maybe I should shift to satire mode.

I should always keep in mind that the people who disagree with me have their realities, and I have mine, and what I say here is just a result of my cultural bias. And since someone else's realities are just as valid as my own, then reality is like, you know, a democracy. It's not up to me to determine it. I have to bow to the reality of the majority.

I should acknowledge that if there is no way to determine reality or truth, I can hardly expect to stumble across it in a blog post, or know it if I see it. And certainly I can't be blamed for thinking what I think.

That's right! If I think something is true, it is a product of my cultural conditioning, and absolutely not my fault.

I probably just need to be reeducated.

(Oh hell, they can just buy me off with truth serum....)

MORE: Via an email from M. Simon, I just learned about an interesting ad campaign advising people to vote twice!

They even have a button to go with it:


If there are multiple realities, I see no problem with multiple voting. I mean it's like if I feel twice as strongly as you about something, then shouldn't my vote count twice as much?

To not allow me to vote according to the views of my conscience would be disenfranchisement!

posted by Eric on 10.30.08 at 11:33 AM


As T.S. Eliot famously said: "Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind Cannot bear very much reality."

I've often thought about how much of our economy, especially healthcare, is based upon lies and fiction unhinged from reality. All medical providers charge and list completely fictional prices, all because of government intervention (Medicara/Medicaid) in the system. I have seen bills from a hospital over $100,000 being paid for by the State for five or ten thousand dollars. It happens with private insurers, too. No one knows what the real price of health care should/would be. My stepmother was born in rural MN 60 yrs. ago; she has framed the bill her mother saved for the hospital stay (a week), Doctors charges, food and medicine -- all about $35.00 total. What has gone wrong since then? Unhinged from reality (what a consumer would agree to pay in an arms length transaction), providers charge any price they want, knowing that most of the time they have to accept whatever the insurer or state will pay.

But should we be surprised by this? It is part of the human condition: "Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind Cannot bear very much reality."

RJL   ·  October 30, 2008 11:57 AM

Great post, Eric.

While I think the PoMo influence is important, you have a great insight that moralists on the right, like me sometimes, have also served up the personal reality meme. Maybe that's not a new observation, but the juxtaposition is new to me.

As an aside, I've concluded that morality is universal in the sense that we all think everyone ought to behave certain ways, even if we differ on what those ways are. Even the tolerance first crowd thinks everyone should be tolerant, and calls intolerance immoral (or often, "unethical", because they are afraid of certain words).

Loren Heal   ·  October 30, 2008 12:48 PM

Thank you both. It's nice to get a thoughtful comment -- especially these days.


Eric Scheie   ·  October 30, 2008 1:59 PM

I am always surprised (in a very good way) with what you do with the links I send you.

M. Simon   ·  October 30, 2008 2:09 PM

Human reality is universal only at the border of life and death. The further Americans live from death, the less they understand how to determine the relative importance of deeds and ideas. There is nothing like witnessing a little death to realign one's priorities more realistically.

dr kill   ·  October 30, 2008 2:10 PM

I hope for a landslide in the presidential election, even if the landslide goes against my guy. Another squeaker will further erode our confidence in the process.

Pollsters talk about a margin of error. I want an election result that falls outside the margin of fraud.

notaclue   ·  October 30, 2008 2:38 PM

@ M. Simon a little grim, aren't we?

Overall, though very excellent writing especially "I'm worried that no matter who wins, his victory will not be seen as real by large numbers of highly partisan people."

Can you IMAGINE what this will be like if McCain wins?

Jillian   ·  October 30, 2008 2:42 PM

I think we're going to find out, though. I just got a mailing from the "Republican Party of Pennsylvania", with a big picture of McCain and Hillary Clinton on the front, and a tag line: "WITH INTENSITY AND HARD WORK, SHE LEFT 18 MILLION CRACKS IN THE GLASS CEILING"

Eric Blair   ·  October 30, 2008 4:24 PM

I think we may find out, though.

I just got a mailing from the "Republican Party of Pennsylvania", with a big picture of McCain and Hillary Clinton on the front, and the tag line:

(All in capitals)

and more laudatory comment about Hillary, and promising a 'dramatic increase' in the presence of women in every part of the government' with John McCain's word on it.

It even had Biden's gaffe about her being more qualified to be VP than he is on the back.

Heh. Targeting the PUMAs. I wonder if it will work?

Eric Blair   ·  October 30, 2008 4:29 PM

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