simply a lie.
it draws its strength from belief.
what hurts you.
Truths: An investigation on navigating individual and collective realities
Today, everyone seems to be an expert in any, or every, field, as they had “read it on the internet”. You will get answers to literally any question you ask, no matter how unanswerable. Unable to properly move and see in the slabby swamp of information all around that leaves me in a state of general doubt towards everything, rather than seeking for advice I’m now finding myself retreating to some kind of new witchy spiritualism, reading my horoscope, celebrating moon rituals or picking tarot cards, which I consider as much as truth as anything. Or not. Also as anything. I pick and mix information as I please and thus create a reality that perfectly works for myself.
Truth doesn’t seem to matter so much, it can be overcome with rhetorics that speak to people’s values and reassure them in what they choose to believe, however they decide to construct their reality. Even if people understand that what they hear is not true, they still continue to support arguments that resonate with them, and the author of the lie keeps on lying as the support they receive suits their agenda. To get heard you are not only competing with the best, most powerful or strongest actors but even untruth itself. As Harry Frankfurt in his essay “On Bullshit” describes, bullshit is an indifference to how things really are, and such indifference is quite accepted in our current reality.
How did we get here?
In the advent of the postmodernist worldview, a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality, truth and objectivity came under question. Facts are not simply accepted as truth, but understood as the product of the interaction of individual and group subjectivities. Reality is constructed through those interactive experiences, expressed through language and culture and eventually becomes adopted by society. Reality or fiction come close to being equally accepted as everything is believed to be a construction anyway, that there are many ways of knowing and that realities are plural, and thus are truths.
We can construct our realities however we want them to be. Real and digital merge and connections become so complex that right or wrong are not on the ends of the spectrum, but information just exists within the network. Everyone, individual or organisational, can simply tell the one truth that they believe in or that helps them reach their goal. The digital space allows everything to exist, which in return informs reality. But the system is coming under scrutiny recently, as wicked global challenges are growing in scale and unpredictable events are happening ever faster. We need to change direction and adapt new strategies or develop new sensibilities for consuming and producing information.
Since the beginning of the information revolution, information has become increasingly commodified. People as well as businesses are constantly competing to make information, be it textual or visual, trend, make it generate the most likes and clicks or grow their audience. Trending content or hashtags and influencers have the power to make almost everything become true as the content reaches a vast amount of people which form a community around any belief and manifest it in their reality.
Through the internet and social media platforms it is rather simple today for the audience to become the author themselves, to actively participate in the creation of reality. Everyone has the ability to decide who they want to be and construct and represent their reality in a way to become this person and shape their identity. These developments resulted in an ironic, nihilistic and sarcastic state of postmodernism, as the cultural critic Alan Kirby puts it. Reality is highly individual and narrowed intellectually, where a globalised market regulates all social activity, leading to a paradox desire to constantly consume the newest lifestyles, revisiting ones own identity over and over again, and perceiving it as personal freedom.
By focusing so much on individualism and the construction of our own reality, based on the stories companies, brands or organisations present to us and we adopt as truth, while consuming more of them and subscribing to their agenda, we are loosing the ability to do things for a greater good rather than just for ourselves.
And as machine learning and artificial intelligence are improving, bots are increasingly engaging in our conversations. They are not necessarily telling the truth but through algorithms identify arguments that will receive the most engagement. They will go ahead spreading information which might be untrue but generates the most visibility for their owner. In the end we might end up having bots talking to bots liking bots and their fake information, creating a reality for us that is not real at all and not in our hands either. It’s like hot air.
Technological development has led to a deeply intertwined, complex but at the same time highly individualised and fragmented world. Every action leads to so many different, unexpected reactions that it is difficult to predict an outcome. We seem to start realising that we need some new forms of truth, some grand narratives that unite us over our individual truths, that we can trust in, or that at least that guides us towards a greater sensibility and acceptance towards the construction of reality and the beliefs of others. We all need to develop new skills to search for the truth, accepting that they might not ever be found but at least striving to find it.
Empathy as truth
While social constructivism has so far led to chaos, the endless possibilities and acceptance of self expression that come with it give immense power to each of us. It is the source for us to strive for the new, pushes us towards imagining better futures for ourselves and for everyone around us and is an underlying force for innovation. It is useful for organisations to be able to not only cater to latent needs but invent and create markets, needs and desires that were not there before. It eventually gives us the potential to completely liberate ourselves from all cultural constructs that lead to segregation, discrimination and many problems we face in the world.
We need to readjust to this networked age and adapt and develop new sensibilities of how to use the constant construction and reconstruction of truth to our collective advantage. Your own belief changes you, collective beliefs change the world - but if you believe something strong enough this belief can become a tool to create change.
Truth might not be objectively found, but the communication of individual or organisational truths can be designed to inspire change towards a greater good or create social or cultural value to make living on the earth bearable for all of us. We have to be aware of there being an unlimited variety of perspectives and truths as there are people on this planet. We need to learn to look through others peoples eyes in order to adjust and extend our perception of truth. Empathy is key for creating possible better futures together.
Edgar A. & Sedgwick P. (2008) Cultural Theory. The Key Concepts, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
Frankfurt H. (2005) On Bullshit. Princeton University. [Internet] Available from: https://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf
Haffner P. (2015) ‘Zygmund Bauman’, 032c (Berlin Winter 29th Issue “Nest”), pp.132-145.
Kirby, A. (2006) The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond. Philosophy Now (Issue 58). [Internet] Available from: https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond
Marwick A. & Lewis R. (2017) Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online. Data & Society Research Institute. [Internet] Available from: https://datasociety.net/pubs/oh/DataAndSociety_MediaManipulationAndDisinformationOnline.pdf
McCombs M. (2002) The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Media in Shaping Public Opinion. Mass Media Economics 2002 Conference. London: London School of Economics. [Internet] Available from: https://www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/mccombs01.pdf
Waheed N. (2013) Salt. Createspace Independent Publishing.
© 2017 THECUBE London