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Issue B: Truths – An investigation on navigating individual and collective realities

a lie

is

simply a lie.

it draws its strength from belief.

stop believing

in

what hurts you.

— power

Nayyirah Waheed

 

 

Today, everyone seems to be an expert in any given field, as they have “read it on the internet”. You will get answers to literally any question you ask, no matter how unanswerable. Unable to move and see in the slabby swamp of information all around, this leaves me in a state of general doubt towards everything. Rather than seeking 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 suits me.

Truth doesn’t seem to matter so much, it can be overcome with rhetoric that speak to people’s values and reassure them in what they choose to believe, however they decide to construct their reality. This is known as confirmation bias. Even when people understand that what they hear is not true, oftentimes they still continue to support arguments that resonate with them, and the author of the lie continues to lie, as the support they receive suits their agenda. To get heard, you are not only competing with the best or most powerful actors, but even untruth and misinformation itself. As Harry Frankfurt describes in his essay ‘On Bullshit’, bullshit is an indifference to how things really are, and such indifference is quite accepted in our current reality.

How did we get here?

With the advent of the postmodern worldview, a reaction to the positivism of scientific or ‘objective’ efforts to explain reality, truth 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 and fiction come close to being equally accepted as everything is believed to be a construction anyway, or that there are several ways of attaining knowledge, and that realities are plural. And so are the 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 turn informs reality. But the system is coming under increasing scrutiny lately, as wicked global challenges are growing in scale and unpredictable events are happening more frequently. We need to change direction and adapt new strategies, develop new sensibilities for producing and consuming 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, in order to make it generate the most ‘likes’ and clicks, and in turn increase their audience. Trending content or hashtags and influencers have the power to make almost anything 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 an author themselves and 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. This leads to a paradoxical desire to constantly consume the newest lifestyles and revisit one’s own identity over and over again, yet perceiving this as personal freedom.

By focusing so much on individualism and the construction of our own reality, based on the stories that corporations present to us and we adopt as truth, while consuming more of them and subscribing to their agenda, we are losing the ability to engage in actions towards a greater good, rather than simply focusing on ourselves.

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 and ‘liking’ their fake information, creating a reality for us that holds no ground, and in the end, is out of our hands. It’s like hot air.

Technological development has led to a deeply intertwined and complex, but at the same time highly fragmented world. Every action leads to so many different, unexpected reactions that it is difficult to predict an outcome. We seem to be 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. Social constructivism is a sociological theory that states that we create knowledge through social interactions, and that one cannot think of development without looking at the social sphere. It is the source for us to strive for the new, pushes us towards imagining better futures for everyone and is an underlying force for innovation. It is useful for organisations to be able to tap into that potential and address latent or visible needs and desires. It ultimately gives us the potential to liberate ourselves from social and cultural constructs that lead to segregation, discrimination and so many of the 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 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 other people’s eyes in order to adjust and extend our perception of truth. Empathy is key for creating possible better futures together.

 

References

Edgar, A., Sedgwick, P. (2008). Cultural Theory. The Key Concepts (2nd edition), Routledge: London.

Frankfurt, H. (2005). On Bullshit, Princeton University Press.

Haffner, P. (2015). ‘Zygmund Bauman’ in 032c Magazine (Berlin: 29th Issue Nest), pp.132-145.

Kirby, A. (2006). ‘The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond’ in Philosophy Now (Issue 58). Accessed on: 10-08-2017. Available at: https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond

Marwick, A. & Lewis, R. (2017). ‘Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online’ from Data & Society Research Institute. Accessed on: 10-08-2017. Available at: DataAndSociety_MediaManipulationAndDisinformationOnline.pdf

McCombs, M. (2002). ‘The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Media in Shaping Public Opinion’ from the Mass Media Economics Conference, London School of Economics: London. Accessed on: 10-08-2017. Available at: http://www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/mccombs01.pdf

Waheed, N. (2013). salt., Createspace Independent Publishing.

 

 

 


We are excited to have recently published our second issue of THECUBE‘s magazine, with contributions from both members and friends. For this issue we have been looking at the thematic of ‘TRUTH’. This article by Anna Nagele, is just one of the many that can be found in the magazine. If you would like to read the entire magazine please click here. We hope you will enjoy it, and feel free to get in touch if you are interested in contributing to our next issue for more details.