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Truthiness

A flood of urine, the sound of which is masked by manic hysterical laughter.[1]

That's my reaction to the news that Jimmy Wales of Wiki fame is setting up a "Wikitribune" online wiki-paper in order to try to combat the rise in so-called "fake news". Yup. You read that right. The man leading Wikipædia, that bastion of integrity, is setting up a journal of truth to combat alternative truths and truthiness.

I'll give you a moment to fetch some kitchen roll to clear up the mess.

...

Let's start with truthiness. A word coined on The Colbert Report, it basically describes facts that one wishes to believe are true, as opposed to ones that actually are true. This is nothing new to humanity, various forms of religion have amassed plenty of money by providing truthiness. And we, a modern sophisticated species, somehow manage to have huge swathes of the population believing in God, in Allah, in whatever the Big Guy Pulling The Strings happens to be called.

Politicians, also, engage in truthiness. Such a wish-it-was-true concept is what lead to the invasion of Iraq, which lead to a shit-storm across the Middle East, which led to the Arab Spring, which lead to a Caliphate, which lead to an influx of refugees and numerous acts of terror. That's quite an impressive show for a little bit of truthiness. Just wonder what sort of mess the world might end up if a brain-dead American asshat tries to pick a fight with a nuclear armed country over a bit of truthiness........oh, wait...... <facepalm>

The thing is, idiotic lies have existed for as long as we have had language. Back when I was younger, a joke that did the rounds was "Brooke Shields raped by space monsters". She wasn't, for reasons that ought to be blindingly obvious. I think it was a fake headline mocking the British newspaper "Sunday Sport" that tries hard to come up with the most ridiculous rubbish to headline. A recent one, an actual story (Google it) was "ISIS TRAIN GIANT DEATH WASPS TO BOMB BRIT PICNICS".
Now, of course, nobody is supposed to take that publication seriously. The thing is, though, that more mainstream publications - The Daily Express and The Daily Mail to name two big offenders, are just as prone to making stuff up. Both are extremely pro-Brexit and both have been seen to print some amazing rubbish. However, since they are "proper papers", people will believe what is written within. It is perhaps more insidious in the case of the Mail as there are more and more "opinion" pieces, which neatly gets around having to accept responsibility for what is published. It's not a fact, it's just an opinion, right?

Where this leads us is to wonder if the problem isn't actually the media but the consumers. Basically, the huge numbers of people that are badly educated. I will refrain from saying "stupid" because there is a difference. People who were never taught to be discriminating. To understand that one should never accept just one source of information as absolute truth, and better yet, to seek out information on the opposite of what you think in order to better understand the argument. How many people, during the EU referendum last year, listened to Farage, listened to Boris, and read the Daily Mail and never once bothered to go and find out for themselves what the EU actually is? How many complain about the "unelected" Jean-Claude Juncker, without realising that Mr. Juncker is appointed, not elected... rather like Mr. Andrew Rhodes who is the Director General (Operations) of the Department of Work and Pensions. Mr. Rhodes is not an MP, he was never elected. He is a civil servant who was appointed in 2016. But the hate for Mr. Juncker persists. Two days ago The Telegraph pointed out that his response to the French presidential election "shows exactly what is wrong with the EU", which says - and I quote - "Since there is another round of voting to go, it astonishing that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels have taken it upon themselves to endorse Emmanuel Macron" (sic - source). Actually, Mr. Juncker (note the "unelected" part keeps cropping up) congratulated Mr. Macron on his success and wished him luck in the final presidential election. It is slightly out of protocol, but I'm sure by now we are used to Mr. Juncker voicing his opinion. He does so frequently, which no doubt makes him a target for the likes of the Telegraph. Besides, Macron is very pro-EU. Of course Juncker would be pleased. I mean, what, do you think he'd congratulate the National Front?

The story continues with "Although close to 50 per cent of French voters supported anti-EU candidates". If you look at a positional chart of the candidates, you will see that Mélenchon is not anti-EU, he is anti-capitalist and Communist of the hammer and sickle variety. His dislike of the EU revolves around the aspects of capitalism. His proposed withdrawal from EU treaties is actually the Plan B if it was not possible to have a "democratic re-founding" of the existing policies. So really, he's neither specifically pro nor anti, he just sees it as an oft-used tool of capitalism. He would also throw out TTIP, CETA, and quit NATO so French troops don't get suckered into America's wars.
We will count everybody below Mélenchon on the chart as anti-EU. From left to right, this is Philippe Poutou (1.09%), Jean Lassalle (1.21%), Nicholas Dupont-Aignan (4.7%) for the moderately anti-EU and Jacques Cheminade (0.18%), Marine Le Pen (21.3%), and François Asselineau (0.92%) for the burn-in-hell-scum approach to the EU.
Add up the results, that gives us 29.4% clearly anti-EU. If we then add in Mélenchon's 19.58%, this brings us to 48.98% which is the "close to 50 per cent" mentioned, but doing so is greatly simplifying things and making assumptions.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that 51.02% of the votes went to candidates that were more clearly pro-EU. Wait, hang on, 48-point-something versus 51-point-something? It's the exact same criteria that gave the UK Brexit, and yet the British press are whinging about it? Shut up Telegraph, it's democracy, bitch.

The above paragraph is intended to demonstrate that the truthiness obtained from any specific set of data depends a lot on how it is interpreted. There's a great example here.
This is not a surprise either. Advertising does it frequently. This gunk will reduce the visible signs of aging. This hair dye will make attractive women like older men, especially if they're put up to it by two cute tweeny daughters. Eight out of ten cats prefer it. The deodorant will make hot chicks throw themselves at you. Well, either that or drinking coke while standing on a girder... We want to look younger. We want to be attractive. Some of us want to feed our cats nice stuff, rather than the usual "4% actual what-it-says-on-the-pack but don't ask about the other 96%" products.

The final problem of all is in the arbitration. It's the very biggest problem. George Orwell's 1984 said it well:

He who controls the past controls the future.
He who controls the present controls the past.

To put this into a clear example, consider World War Two. Every country on Earth that was involved did bad things.
America was busy sending plentiful supplies to Nazi Germany - Standard Oil's second largest stockholder was I.G.Farben (first was John D. Rockefeller Jr), through which the firm sold an estimated $20,000,000 of American fuel to Germany; Henry Ford shipped around 30% of the tires produced in his factories to the German Wehrmacht. Of course actual truth is hard to ascertain as these details are classed as trade secrets and need to be pieced together from other sources by historians. Instead, Americans are more likely to learn about how they came over and won the Battle Of Britain, all eight of them (the air battle happened before America entered the war). Japan? Don't talk about the "Comfort Women", hey're still in active denial over that. Britain? Minor things really, like troops befriending locals in the countries they pass through and then raping their children, wiping out 25,000 people in Dresden, intentionally sinking non-combatant ships (including hospital ships), gunning down shipwrecked crew (violation of the Hague Convention)... France? Turning in Jews which were then transported by train to the concentration camps in Germany. Most people laid blame on the Vichy regime, however this activity continued for two months after the D-Day landings, and the national rail carrier was being paid per person per kilometre (despite stuffing people into cattle wagons) and they continued to reclaim payment after the liberation of France.
Of course, while you may learn some of these things in your school history lessons, you may not have been told the details (or the full details)...unless you are German. They have been a lot more up-front about accepting their past (and, believe me, there's no story in the entire history of WW2 that can top the activities of the Nazis) and trying to ensure that everybody is scarred for life by the realisation that their grand parents did that aware that war is a very bad thing and collective activities such as the EU can help countries interact with each other in beneficial peaceful ways.

Maybe this is why there is less love for Europe now? Those who lived through the war are mostly dead or senile, those born right after the war are getting on... there are fewer people around who directly remember what happened and why co-operation is better. Instead we have people of my age group and our parents - the ones who grew up in the eighties and the ones who started their careers then, the eighties, when greed and selfishness were the order of the day. The Thatcher era. The glorious war to liberate the Falklands.

Back on topic, you can see that everybody is going to have an angle. Everybody is going to have an agenda. Everybody who can massage the truth will. From Trump's alternative facts to pretty much everything said in support of Brexit. Or, the classic "Terrorist or Freedom Fighter?", the definition of which depends upon who is talking. To back this up, pick the online mapping service of your choice and go to the Middle East. You'll see Israel, you'll see Jordan, you'll see Lebanon. On Google Maps you will see the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line, which interestingly is in two different places around Modi'in Makabim-Re'ut (northwest of Jerusalem). What you won't find is any mention of Palestine. This isn't because the likes of Google have removed it, in a rather more political mess the "state" of Palestine is disputed, complicated, and is simply not present. Despite it actually existing, half of it being called Israel now, and much of the other half being occupied by Israelis.
As George Orwell (again) said in 1984 (again):

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny
and oliterate their own understanding of their history.

With all of this in mind, it is not the truth that needs to be checked. It is not the truthiness that needs to be curbed. It is us. We need to be better educated to be more discerning and less liable to fall for cheap gimmicks and lies.
What we don't need are people and organisations deciding what we should and should not believe. What is the difference between an sanctioned and appointed truth, and any other truthiness?

 

1 - Best opening line in a blog post ever?

 

 

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Rob, 28th April 2017, 10:01
+1
David Pilling, 30th April 2017, 15:48
People do tend to criticise all officials who wield power over them for being "unelected" - local council chief executives for example.

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