Truth is Not An Optional Accessory: Truth and Orthodoxy
By Dennis Loo (2/10/14)
Before getting to the heart of this question, a preface: not everyone is interested in the truth because first, some people benefit from the truth being withheld and second, some people regard truth as whatever makes them feel comfortable and whatever doesn’t interfere with their privileges.
For both of these groups, debating with them about what’s true is usually a waste of time. But in instances where others are listening in on your debate with them, it can be a tremendous learning opportunity for observers since drawing out smug people’s arguments and evidence in contrast to someone who really treasures the truth is revealing. One of the reasons it’s a learning opportunity is because truth emerges in the course of contention. People in general don’t know what they don’t know and when what they hear so much is actually subjected to close examination, they have the opportunity to have their eyes opened. Debate and discussion between those parties who both want the truth is the most productive and exciting, but both kinds of debates are useful.
Truth is not an optional accessory, something that we adorn ourselves with to show off in the way that some people preen with their fancy clothes, cars, trophy partners, or houses. It is not a commodity, something that you can buy the way McDonald’s hands you a burger and fries when you pay for them. It is not being materially rich and being materially rich isn’t proof that you have any knowledge about what really matters. Truth is more important than anything and cannot be measured in common ways.
In a society that is overshadowed by capitalist values and relations the way the alien ship from the film Independence Day casts a gigantic shadow over New York City, discerning what matters from bourgeois society’s hucksterism is hard. Those in charge not only want to sell us the latest technical marvel but even more, they need and want to convince us that capitalism’s way of organizing society is the best and only way to be: placing profit and material things over everything, including through sacrificing literally millions of people’s lives and dignities, rendering extinct whole species of flora and fauna, imperiling the planet’s viability itself, and only getting away with it by shamelessly lying constantly about what they’re doing and why.
To those who think that capitalism is merely a reflection of human greed: if what the majority of people want is simply more stuff, then how come corporations have to fill our visual and audio landscapes with ads, ads, and more ads? If what people want is more commodities and this is what makes people happy, then why do the companies have to advertise their goods to us constantly? Why don’t they just make pretty displays in their stores and on their websites and we will come in droves? Why do they have to urge us to buy the latest model of the BMW or computer, spending millions and millions of dollars on their advertising budget, if all we avaricious consumers need is access and we will gobble it all up greedily? If we so love ads because ads whet our voracious appetites, then why do people zap through commercials on their DVRs? Why do people usually find ads annoying if they love buying stuff so much? If what people need and want is to have their land and resources taken from them and their water and air polluted to the point of making the water undrinkable and the air cancer-causing, then why do transnational corporations do this all over the world to residents who try to stop them from doing this?
If what you’re interested in is the truth, then you need have no fear of anyone’s disagreements with you because if you’re right then their disagreements with what’s right will only strengthen what’s true through the process of deepening why it’s true. If you’re wrong, then others showing you what’s wrong will help you base yourself more firmly on what’s true and their showing you this through a debate or discussion with them will be doing you a favor. Being right isn’t, in other words, about ego. It’s not about proving that one person or group is superior to another. It’s about finding out what’s really true.
A clue then as to the true motives of those who try to suppress dissent and discussion under the guise of protecting the truth: they are not to be trusted. If religious or secular authorities are right about their views, then they should welcome rather than seek to suppress those who differ with them since a fully aired and thorough debate and discussion with your critics will only demonstrate more fully what is right. If your interest is truly in the truth, then the more debate the better because it will broaden the ranks of those who will be exposed to what’s true through the rigors of a full and fair debate.
Orthodoxy – that which is considered right by authorities – and truth are frequently not in the same place. They are sometimes not even in the same zip code with each other. Because authorities largely determine what mainstream views, especially about politics and economics, are – the most popular and most common views - what is true and what is popular are frequently at odds with each other. When people give their opinion, their individual opinion is usually not their "individual" opinion at all but some version of what they have heard authorities say. If what you believe to be true is what most others around you think, this should cause you pause to re-examine what you think is true because “what everyone knows” to be true is going to more often than not be wrong. Social truths are not the same thing as objective truths.
Those who bemoan human weakness and blame the troubled state of our society on human frailty need to take note of this: social animals are called social animals because the majority of social animals will do what is socially right, not what is actually right when the two differ.
How often do the two differ?
Quite a bit. Not in areas where social behavior is key but in matters where the correct answer has nothing to do with how many people see it that way.
Truth is something that we need to base ourselves on in order to advance and truth is something that we constantly need to pursue because what was true before or what is true today is not necessarily and in many instances will not be true tomorrow. This isn’t to say that there aren’t principles that persist, because correct principles do persist and if you don’t operate based on them then you have no more chance of following the right path than someone who blindly puts their money down on the roulette wheel in Vegas has of leaving the casino ahead of the house.
Thus, in the rough and tumble of the real world, being smug about what is true because you hear a lot of other people saying that it’s true and because political authorities say it’s true ought to make your BS detectors go on high alert. More often than not what passes for the truth in such a way is as far from the truth as it is possible to be. Any society in which the authorities try to instill fear in the people that certain ideas or certain groups are dire threats to the wellbeing of the society is a society in which authority seeks to repress the truth. Blind allegiance is just that, it’s blind. If you don’t learn to critically assess information and you don’t learn that simply relying on authority to tell you what to think is an exceedingly bad idea if you want to really know what’s true, then you haven’t really grown up.
As I have previously noted, because we are social beings, our brains are wired in ways that reflect that. When people have been tested using MRIs of their brain and they have been asked to answer questions with a group of others but the others in the group have all given the same clearly wrong answer, the subject’s brain shows emotions being triggered when the subject answers the question correctly because they know that their answer differs from the others’ answer. When the subject gives the same wrong answer as the group, however, no emotions are triggered in their brains, even though the subject knows without a doubt that the answer they’ve given is wrong. Furthermore, subjects tend to start to retroactively see the obviously wrong group answer as “right,” apparently because group opinion affects the subject’s own perceptions, more evidence that we are hardwired as social beings.
But the progress of humanity depends upon those who are able to resist the strong pressures to conform to social norms when we are seeking objective truth such as in the physical and social sciences. The mainstream and mainstream views are not those that embark into uncharted waters and advance humanity’s knowledge. Those who are brave enough to go into the unknown and who are courageous enough to challenge “what everyone knows” are the ones that humanity owes an enormous debt to for leading others to overcome the tyranny of blind orthodoxy.
I am not talking here of disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. I’m talking about disagreeing and being willing to entertain other ways of looking at things when the motive is to find out what’s true, not what’s convenient or what’s personally comforting. Those who disagree just for the sake of disagreeing are annoying to be around. But those who truly want to know what’s true, and who know the difference between observing the basic rules of social etiquette so that they’re not being obnoxious and when finding out what’s true in consequential ways is important, are welcome because they are relatively rare and especially precious.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you will like it.
There, see yourself in that mirror, trying on those new clothes: you look marvelous.
 Examples include bureaucracies, corporate leaders, ruling political parties, and all those who benefit from the exploitation of others.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)