To Tell the Truth

“Post-truth.” “Post-fact.” “Fake news.”

These are terms I hear flying around lately, and I feel obligated to step in.

Talk to this guy about formal and objective reality.

Talk to this guy about formal and objective reality.

There are and have been philosophical debates on truth and reality for centuries.[1] Is truth only what is verifiable? Is it correspondence? Is it coherence? Is reality only the material reality through which the natural sciences are practiced? Is reality always already filtered through a subjective, phenomenological perspective?

Truth and reality are messy concepts, because truth and reality are created, defined, and evaluated by human-made standards.

Truth isn’t one thing. The truth of an event isn’t “what actually happened,” because when anything happens to a person that particular experience is happening to someone with a perspective. And with any perspective comes bias. Bias from actual limitations of human sensing, pattern recognition, and comprehension, but also bias from socialized beliefs and bias from a personal agenda, all of it.

You are biased.

Continue reading

People Kill People

Names have been cropped.

Much as it pains me to admit because I think the woman is the exact opposite of what is truly needed in a government official, I don’t think Sarah Palin really had much to do with the shooting in Tuscon this weekend. Even with the awful map that she promptly took down from her website.

There’s nothing the news media loves more than a tragedy. It’s a time when anchorpeople can try out their “solemn voices” and they can interview people who went to elementary school with the cousin of a victim and pretend that they have anything to say other than what is obvious: when people die from the gunfire of a mentally unstable person, it’s awful.

And it shouldn’t happen.

The worst part of the media coverage is all the speculation about “why?” and “how?”.

It’s times like these that I want to start passing out Hume tracts. Let me sum up: According to Scottish philosopher and empiricist David Hume, there is no such thing as causation. It’s not real. We don’t experience it. There is only constant conjunction, and we human beings try to explain things by causation because it’s easier for us than to admit that there’s really no infallible way of understanding or predicting any of this.

The alleged gunman (Jared Loughner, 22) in this weekend’s attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was known for having bizarre, nonsensical outbursts in classes at his community college. He smoked marijuana and salvia. He was a stickler for grammar. He found skulls aesthetically pleasing. He liked conspiracy theories. He was known to be mentally unstable and possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic.[1] He had access to guns.

The media likes to lump all of these things together as causes, playing into the stereotype that being a little morbid or skeptical of reality makes you a violent lunatic capable of murder. That he had access to guns I would say we can reasonably call a cause, even with the Humean stipulation, because any idiot will tell you that getting shot can kill you. That he was prone to crazy outbursts and threatened to kill people I think we can reasonably consider a warning sign, though having schizophrenia (or whatever label you want to stamp on him) does not necessarily entail violence. That he smoked marijuana has a lot less bearing on the matter, unless a) he was smoking something that was a bit more potent than marijuana, or b) that he had smoked enough marijuana in his short lifespan that he suffered severe brain damage.

But the media doesn’t distinguish and stamps a big “cause” sign on all of these things.

It doesn’t work that way.

We’ll never know all the contributing factors. We can never really identify a true series of causes because we aren’t omniscient, but it worries me that we don’t even separate between reasonable conjunctions and completely contingent correlations. The fact that the obvious contributing factor – access to a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and extended clips[2] – is being lumped with a fondness for conspiracy theories really troubles me.

If we were truly interested in preventing things like this from happening, we’d at least be logical about this. Nearly 12 years ago Marilyn Manson’s name got unfairly lumped in with the Columbine High School massacre, when the fact that the highly constant conjunction that gunfire kills people is never dealt with in legislation. I can only conclude that lawmakers don’t actually want to prevent people, including children, from being shot to death.

You tell me why.


[1]I don’t know how accurate that bit of speculation is, and I think perhaps the discourse of “mental illness” needs to be re-examined.

[2]I should probably note that I’m not opposed to gun ownership for hunting, but I live in a city where errant gunfire is a legitimate risk, and I don’t think civilians need to own handguns. I find it troubling that people who cling to the 2nd Amendment refuse to treat the Constitution as a living document, thus missing the original point of it entirely. (I’m looking at you Justice Scalia.)

Up, Up and Away…

I used to be more on the pulse of what’s going on in the world. I still watch the news, read news websites, and even sometimes read the newspaper, but I don’t really feel informed.

The problem is that when I turn to any of these outlets, I cannot shake the feeling that I’m being brainwashed. I’m being told what is important. I’m being given the soundbite version of events. From what little I know about journalism, I know that traditionally in the first paragraph of a news article, you need to get across the who, what, when, where and why. Yet, when I read news stories anymore, I am almost always acutely aware that I’m getting information filtered through someone’s viewpoint.

Some news outlets are better than others, but it seems that all of the major news outlets cover the exact same stories, and they are willing to do anything to have their version of the story stand out. The result is bad reporting, and me having to uncomfortably watch microphones being shoved in people’s faces while they grieve, for example. I wonder if the competition to be on the scene first and to have the most viewers or readers is what really drives the information I’m receiving.
$$$$$$$$$$$
Take the “balloon boy” story, for instance. I was not sitting around my TV watching and waiting for the balloon to land, but I do admit when I first heard that the boy was safe, I felt relieved.

As the hoax has unfolded and the parents have plead guilty, I realized that I’m not angry or outraged at the Heene family’s behavior. Yes, I think it’s sick that one would exploit their children to gain fame. (Though, parents of pop stars and child actors have been doing this for years.) But, the Heene’s are just a product of the environment created by our constant need for “news,” to be connected and in the know, and our obsession with celebrity.

Being bombarded with information, and often mindless information, it’s no wonder everyone thinks they can get on TV. It’s also no wonder that people go to drastic measures to do it. I hope the Heene’s case sets a precedent, but it’s more likely that people will just get more creative with their hoaxes.

What I’m struggling to understand in all of this is “why?”

Is it weird that I have no desire to be on television?

Or that I have no want for people to recognize me, or know who I am without me knowing them?

Does my desire for anonymity make me a freak?

The Clinton Effect

I feel like I should say something about this.

You’ve all seen the video of Hillary Clinton telling a student in Kinshasa, Congo that she doesn’t know what former President Bill Clinton’s view is on a Chinese loan offer to the government of Congo.  (See the video on Mark Riley’s site.)

People are criticizing Secretary of State Clinton for snapping, not being poised, even for having a “meltdown.”[1] People are also defending Secretary Clinton by claiming that she was jet-lagged, tired from traveling, etc.

Neither of these responses is very helpful.

First of all, so what if her tone was a little rude by uber-sensitive American standards? Claiming that she was tired might be understandable, but it trivializes the real issue.

Second of all, ignore the fact that the question was translated incorrectly and the student was actually asking about President Obama and that it was sorted out later, because Secretary Clinton didn’t know that at the time. She didn’t say this exactly, but she’s right: Former President Clinton’s view on this issue is completely irrelevant. She is the Secretary of State. She represents our nation on these matters. To ask her for the opinion of the President (or a former President) is to not recognize her as a diplomat.

Continue reading

When All Else Fails, Profit from Death

[1]Do you realize that Michael Jackson died nearly seven weeks ago?  Seven weeks!  And for the past seven weeks I have been unable to go to a single news source without hearing some speculation about custody, autopsies, paternity, burial, Demerol, and a Jackson 5 reunion tribute concert.[2]

Or about how Ryan O’Neal was (supposedly) only interested in Farrah Fawcett’s fortune this whole time.

And now I just found out that Billy Mays was (allegedly) a coke user.

I do understand why the death of a famous person makes the news. I even kind of get why people want to leave flowers at Strawberry Fields.  But I don’t want to hear about any of the rest of this supposed news!

Continue reading