Truth is being shattered, and there could be no greater danger for society

Apr 11, 2019
Truth under threat: Society faces unprecedented danger as reality is shattered, leading to chaos and the erosion of societal foundations.
Since the beginning of civilization, certain key points have dominated human concerns. These include wars and economic development, but none surpass the quest for understanding our own origins and purpose. Truth, a monolithic, indivisible, and undeniable concept, was the supreme goal underpinning all others. Never before in history has truth been challenged by so many. We are at the cornerstone of a potentially destructive era. Without truth, mankind spirals into chaos, which is what we are experiencing right now.
In the last three years, the "word of the year" (a selection by the most prestigious dictionaries as the term that defined the preceding period) has often challenged the concept of an indivisible reality. "Post-truth", "fake news", and "misinformation" have become widely accepted concepts, revealing that society itself cannot agree on the foundations of any possible debate. This is not a completely new symptom. In the past, societies have been thrown into turmoil due to a lack of references to believe in. Uncertainty is the mother of all evils.
So, truth, as an indivisible or unquestionable concept, was retained by all thinkers as some kind of elevated goal to be reached and one that could not be contested. This is why we live in extraordinary times (not opinion). But it has changed. People are going into the debate with the freedom to state as facts things that find no correspondence in reality (the “alternate facts” as formatted by the Trump Reality Platoon). This is a tectonic rearrangement: everything can be questioned or discarded, so the simple concept of debate is no longer certain. So here comes the question: how can you dispute with someone that is willing to use any resource to prove you wrong, even if these resources are phony, distorted or simply plain lies with no relationship with a representation in the physical (or conceptual) world?
Technology enabled an environment where ideas and other intellectual products have been reshaped and fundamentally changed. The way society debates is completely different from what it was 20 years ago. Once we emerged from the amplified agora which democratic societies evolved into, clusters of smaller society samples became possible. Instead of searching for physical reality, people look for confirmation of their own beliefs, which is far easier to cope with than the everyday life of the vast majority. All our failures can have a more comfortable explanation. We can relinquish any responsibility and throw it into the lap of someone else. The detachment we create from those we don’t agree with separates "us" from "them", and the massive communities and social arrangements we had for a very long time stopped binding us by resemblance and now characterize us by our differences.
The generations who have not experienced the insanities of war don't have such references in mind, so they irresponsibly shake the foundations of everything we know. "And the call is answered from the caves to the cities come the dealers of Salvation on Earth, we’ve seen the restless children at the head of the columns, come to purify the future with the arrogance of youth. Nothing is as cruel as the righteousness of innocents with automatic weapons and a gospel of the truth”, as Justin Sullivan puts it.
History shows us that this kind of decline in the social fabric is not mended without a taste of chaos. However, as we've mentioned, we live in extraordinary times. The same technological advances that have brought us closer to the abyss also present unprecedented possibilities. People can organize themselves and seek answers, examine and re-examine the foundations of societal agreements. This is not something we can leave for politicians to sort out. Politicians are driven by priorities not compatible with those of society. One may question how this can be if they are chosen by vote, but that is a separate discussion.
As a whole, all societies in the world must resume the conversation under the safety of preserving references that are no longer disputed in general. We have never lived in a completely truth-based society, and great injustices have been made. However, imperfect as it is, the agreement on reality we had kept mankind moving forward. We need to return to the stage where we can debate. There is no need for everyone to have the same opinions, but it is critical to restore the premises of the discussion so that whoever sits at the table agrees to admit that the conversation is legitimate.
In technical terms, we urgently need to regain the ability to detect misinformation, or "fake news," within our information environment. This can only be achieved if we can encourage as many people as possible to view certain information sources without dispute. When individuals can debunk false stories and populist complaints on their own, regardless of their political or social leanings, we will be on the right track. It's not our differences, but our similarities, that define us. Correcting this is the first step on our journey.

© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024