Part 2 of 2: What is truth?

In order to control society Plato recommended the use of the Noble Lie, so people under the state wouldn’t question their place in life. The Noble Lie was meant to benefit the community. The Noble Lie is a strong mechanism in solving the tragedy of the commons (The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.) because when people are in balance internally and externally, they are able to make rational decisions that benefits the community. A good reason for the lie is that “in addition to learning the habits of basic civic virtue as a way to encourage people to contribute to the common good, a citizen must be made to believe a falsehood about the reason that justice is a worthy value.”1

David Hume dismissed standard accounts of causality and argued that our conceptions of cause-effect relations are grounded in habits of thinking, rather than in the perception of causal forces in the external world itself. The first step is to keep in mind what Hume called the ‘strange infirmities’ of human understanding, and the “universal perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature”. Armed with this knowledge – for our ignorance is the one thing of which we can be certain – we should be sure to exercise the “degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner”.2

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies,” claimed Nietzsche. According to Paul F. Glenn, Nietzsche argues “concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.” Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’ and do correspond to reality. Thus Nietzsche argues that ‘truth’ is actually involved in a changing aspect of reality. According to Nietzsche, everything is in flux, and there is no such thing as fixed being. Matter is always moving and changing, as are ideas, knowledge, truth, and everything else.3

In the 1970s supply side economics, the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free, (incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was promoted by neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol. Supply side economics was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Later it was rebranded as an ideology under the trickle-down economic theory. This is an example of fabrications explained by the principle of Plato’s Noble Lie.

The fabrication of trickle down economics provided the opportunity to dismantle the gains of the New Deal. It justified slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro growth agenda as centralized planning of big government doesn’t work – it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. Promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security the neocon backers support bills attacking prevailing wage, minimum wage and living wage laws (that support a wage suppression agenda). Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, supports ALEC, as well as pushes other anti-worker, pro-business agenda by supporting union-busting activities such as concession bargaining.

Contract for America was a coalition of conservatives dedicated to the principles of shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes. Contract for America supporters never campaigned on economic policy, rather they promoted family values and exploited fears in the community to win elections, thus influenced elections by using wedge issues. Following defeats in the 2008 elections, conservative groups provided the resources to set up support for ‘citizen groups’ such as the Tea Party. The two main planks of the Tea Party are small government and less money being put into social welfare programs, which includes the expanded healthcare reform. In the 2010 mid term elections in the US the Tea Party movement provided the wedge issue and by their activities encouraged angry voters (who tend to vote Republican) stirred up by fear and panic, to show up at the ballot booth.

Another method used to distort information is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when two unrelated facts are paired. A person desires to minimize their cognitive dissonance. Right wing news outlets mention Iraq and Sept 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds even when the reality is different. From insinuation people unconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. Through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based upon misinformation. That is why over 50% of Americans today believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, during the 2014 midterm elections the buy adds supporting Republican candidates mentioned President Obama along with the Democratic candidate in the same sentence. The President’s unpopularity transferred to the candidate of the same party through the repetitive attack adds, while the truth is the inefficiency in government process of the previous two years was engineered by a small group of Republican supporters.

The fabrication that trickle-down economics provides equal benefits for all supports the growth of global corporations. Global corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This includes cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused.

The progressive movement focuses on many issues including environment and social justice. These movements tend to be silos. Progressives must tap into the energy of the progressives from 100 years ago and bring back convictions that governments have a role to solve social problems and the challenge of the oligarchies. This involves freeing government of special interests, and protecting the rights of consumers, workers, immigrants and the poor. To achieve this it is not politically possible to focus on a myriad of goals. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. Inequality and inequity are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. It is necessary to focus on the economy with its multifaceted connections to social issues.

Progressives need to control ideas in order to challenge the political philosophy of the neoconservatives that drives the political debate in Washington to the right. The reality of the neocons is to control the debate in Washington by deception through their planned assault on truth, reliance on religion for moral values, and the use of aggressive foreign policies to unite the masses. The World Health Organization declared “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live work and age, including the health system.” Now people realize that the health care sector cannot act alone, and are exploring an inter-sectorial approach that links health to relevant economic, educational, social, environmental and employment interventions. Income and social status was identified as the most important determinant of health. Whoever controls the language controls the debate. By making inequality a central part of their vocabulary progressives can take control of the debate in Washington.

How you label things is more important than how you debate them. Success for progressives can be achieved by effectively explaining to the people the following four policies: (1) promote economic and environmental activities through the lens of the social determinants of health, (2) support an accessible health-care system, (3) promote inter-sectorial processes to address the inequities in social and health issues and (4) develop measurements of inequity to measure the impact of new policies. Once the middle class understands the economics of the social determinants of health – reduction in those suffering chronic diseases, extra individuals entering the workforce, savings in welfare payments, fewer hospital admissions and fewer prescriptions for medications4 – it is possible for them to determine what is truth so they can participate in creating change when they visit the voting booth.

1“Plato vs Aristotle.” (25 Oct 2011)

2“The Best Philosophy Is Hume’s Scepticism.” Intelligent Life Magazine, May/June 2013

3“On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.”

4“The Cost Of Inaction On The Social Determinants Of Health.” (12 June 2012), from The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), a research centre at the University of Canberra.

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1 Response to Part 2 of 2: What is truth?

  1. Normally I don’t read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, quite nice post.

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