Friday, March 18, 2016

Truthiness, facts, and the asshole

I am, yet again, reminded of my grandmother's caution that while we might laugh making fun of something, we will cry when that something becomes real.

Back when the Bush/Cheney/Faux News collaborative venture called the Republican administration created their own reality and assured themselves that they were creating heaven on earth, Stephen Colbert made us laugh our way out by the news that he reconstructed in his show.  In this reconstruction, Colbert invented a word that has also entered popular culture: truthiness.
American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning[2] as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd" during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse
So, where from did Colbert get the word?
 Colbert explained the origin of his word as: "Truthiness is a word I pulled right out of my keister".
We all laughed.  It was funny.

Except that now even Faux News is now apparently stunned by the reality that Donald Drumpf has created.  The Republicans who used Faux News as their propaganda machine have now been outslimed.  In this rapid descent facts no longer matter.

Jill Lepore writes about facts in her latest essay in the New Yorker.  How does she manage to be so productive?  I hate such people ;)  Speaking of Lepore, finally I could take it no more and I emailed her an appreciatory note a few weeks ago.  Guess what?  She wrote back an email that was even longer than my lengthy email.  I suppose it is true that the really busy people have time for everything.  Which makes me hate her even more ;)

Anyway, Lepore writes in her latest essay:
Michael P. Lynch is a philosopher of truth. His fascinating new book, “The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data,” begins with a thought experiment: “Imagine a society where smartphones are miniaturized and hooked directly into a person’s brain.” As thought experiments go, this one isn’t much of a stretch. (“Eventually, you’ll have an implant,” Google’s Larry Page has promised, “where if you think about a fact it will just tell you the answer.”) Now imagine that, after living with these implants for generations, people grow to rely on them, to know what they know and forget how people used to learn—by observation, inquiry, and reason. Then picture this: overnight, an environmental disaster destroys so much of the planet’s electronic-communications grid that everyone’s implant crashes. It would be, Lynch says, as if the whole world had suddenly gone blind. There would be no immediate basis on which to establish the truth of a fact. No one would really know anything anymore, because no one would know how to know. 
So, what comes next?
People who care about civil society have two choices: find some epistemic principles other than empiricism on which everyone can agree or else find some method other than reason with which to defend empiricism. Lynch suspects that doing the first of these things is not possible, but that the second might be. He thinks the best defense of reason is a common practical and ethical commitment. I believe he means popular sovereignty. That, anyway, is what Alexander Hamilton meant in the Federalist Papers, when he explained that the United States is an act of empirical inquiry: “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” The evidence is not yet in.
Well, the evidence comes right from your butt, notes Nicholas Carr, whose writings on technology and the internet have been sharply critical--which means, of course, I have quoted him in plenty in this blog.  Carr writes about a latest gadget, which is "a rectal thermometer with a Bluetooth transmitter":
Along with a speedy network connection, the Vicks SmartTemp Wireless Thermometer comes with a smartphone app that allows you to track your or your child’s body-temperature stream, share the data with Apple Health and other commercial services, and upload the readings to the cloud for safekeeping and corporate scanning.
I suppose that will be a fact from an asshole that you can trust! ;)


Anne in Salem said...

Where did the word Drumpf come from?

Truthiness and 'feeling' something is right sounds like new math. The final answer doesn't matter, only that you tried and thought the process was right. Applying the same 'logic' to the world at large is scary.

And no rectal thermometer should ever be inserted long enough to transmit anything to anyone. Gross.

Sriram Khé said...

Drumpf is the original family name. John Oliver had a scathingly satirical piece a couple of weeks ago, where he made this Drumpf thing hilarious as well and introduced a hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain ;)

Ramesh said...

Good Lord - A ""a rectal thermometer with a Bluetooth transmitter"" ? What has the world come to ?

How come you watch John Oliver. He is a Brit and still follows the Queen's English :)

Sriram Khé said...

"What has the world come to ?"
I don't think we truly understand the implications of such, ahem, baby steps that we are taking towards a sci-fi future of something like implanting a chip into the newborn ... oh well, the good thing is that I will be long gone before somebody inserts a rectal thermometer with a Bluetooth transmitter into me ;)

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