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Truth is Not An Optional Accessory: Truth and Orthodoxy

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[1] 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.

 


[1] Examples include bureaucracies, corporate leaders, ruling political parties, and all those who benefit from the exploitation of others.

Comments   

 
0 # Jakeylove 2014-02-10 23:49
I feel that this article speaks to me in so many ways. I really like when you say that "truth emerges in the course of contention". I also like the point you make about how the truths of our society are not a commodity and cannot be bought. One must be willing to open their eyes and recognize the valuable insight that is being taught to us that is rare to find, and intelligent enough to recognize the epiphany you have about societal beliefs and values that you have been socialized to believe. Everyone may not understand how deep and meaningful these truths are, but if you can get through to just one person, you are making a difference. It is like discovering a rare jewel that so many people don't see. Then I looked in the mirror and thought, Damn! I look marvelous with my new look! Because for once, I am no longer following what society tells me what looks good.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-11 02:13
It's gratifying when someone fully appreciates and understands what one has written as you have done here!
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0 # KG7 2014-02-11 02:39
My classmate and I were discussing capitalism and I told her that I grew up in a household that favors capitalism "b/c it makes u wealthy". My classmate said something to me that profoundly struck a cord w/me as I really never thought about the big picture of capitalism. (Literally, I cant get her comment out of my head. Thanks Jakeylove for your candidness as it allowed me to internalize).
She said, "that is b/c u have been socialized/cond itioned to think that capitalism is a good thing. It's all u know". Her words were very powerful that I literally took a step back and thought..wow... that is so true. I'd like to think of myself as an open minded individual but re-programing my brain isn't something that can be done over night considering what I've been conditioned to believe all my life. However, I am always up for a challenge and am always looking for the truth.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-11 03:34
That's excellent! To add to what Jakeylove said to u: the conditioning by capitalists (who are the ones in charge & therefore have the greatest ability to get their view of things out there constantly) to try to convince everyone that everyone can win this game & get rich is really the same logic used by the gambling industry - "See, you can hit it big like so & so did who won the lottery!" It's true that a few individuals do in fact hit the lottery but what is also true is that for those indivs to strike it rich, hundreds of thousands and millions of others MUST lose $$$ to the casinos and lotto in order for a few lucky ones to get rich on a portion of those millions of losers. The casinos' opulence is proof that the house is the real winner. The winners can only be winners in this set up by there being tons of losers. That is capitalism's dirty little secret. They lure u in & promise u the moon, not revealing the underside of this bait & switch.
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0 # David 2014-02-11 18:22
Very similar to the promises made by a MLM. They portray this grand figure who is making huge amounts of money and focus you on the individual level of achievement, saying that if you put in this amount of work you will get this. All the while, a trick is being pulled over their eyes. The ones making the money and doing the work are the compilation of small individuals at all levels. Sure they make some money in the process but the real person profiting is the figurehead they all aspire to be. The process of which is the transformation into being the person you describe here who seeks what is comfortable to their view. William Clifford in "The Ethics of Belief" states it very clearly also.
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0 # KG7 2014-02-12 13:34
I recently came across some interesting data in one of my text books re: individualism defined as the belief that the individual is more important than the social group (Kerbo). A massive study of people's attitudes in more than 50 nations around the world, have shown that the highest rate of individualism is found in the U.S. (Kerbo).
A study comparing attitudes towards inequality and gov't involvement in the economy to reduce inequality (Kerbo): The gov't should provide everyone w/a guaranteed basic income: Hungary 77.8%, US 17.6%. The gov't should provide a job for everyone who wants one: Hungary 90%, US 44%. It is the responsibility of the gov't to reduce the differences in income between people w/high incomes and those w/low incomes Hungary 76.9%, US 28.3%. People have equal opportunities to get ahead in this country Hungary 18%, US 66%.
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0 # KG7 2014-02-12 16:52
I should have mentioned that the study provided data for other countries. The information I provide was showing the two extremes.
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0 # J. C. Brash 2014-02-19 14:35
Loo wrote: "That is capitalism's dirty little secret. They lure u in & promise u the moon, not revealing the underside of this bait & switch."

Mr. Loo, how are these types of statements (riddled throughout) indicative of an objective search for truth? While I understand the appeal to economic or political primitivism, these types of statements seem to show layers of subjective presupposition.

Perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree here (evident by your non-academic substitution of "u" for "you") but where is the process of student discovery and application of critical thought?

Or, do you surmise that "truth" is only defined by those coming around to your own personal position? I bet that this comment gets censored out of the thread, proving my point.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-19 15:40
What is it that you disagree with regarding the "bait and switch?" Do you think it untrue that capitalism promises everyone can be wealthy when the division of labor under capitalism and its distribution of wealth make that impossible? Actual content is what is appropriate here, not ad hominem attacks. If you actually get into the heart of what is in these articles you can see that I'm arguing against the idea that truth=personal agendas for the sake of it being one's "own." (The use of "u" is simply to keep the characters used down since the comments have a character maximum.)
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-19 22:43
How much was your bet that your comment would not be posted? You should read the comments directions and the articles more carefully. If you did you would see that we and I are happy to and invite opposing perspectives because it's through debate and discussion animated by a desire to find out the truth that we get to the truth. If you haven't seen the high degree of student discovery and applying critical thought than you haven't been paying attention. Or is it your view that truth is something that can't stand up to contention?
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0 # Wolfian 2014-02-11 05:23
I disagree that truth comes out in the course of contention. I am saying this because when you told us about the “kill list” most students didn’t believe, although u presented the evidence. After the class I spoke to some students about this and they still don’t believe the evidence. Once what we believe to be truth is challenged, there is an internal fight, it’s as if their mind is blindfolded. Not everyone wants to hear the truth, and those who hear it don’t believe it. I feel that this reaction is based out of fear.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-11 18:10
Actually, your encounter with these other students about the "kill list" and their unwillingness to acknowledge it as true is a perfect example of the fact that truth has to contend against those who don't want to recognize it or who have different ideas about what's true. Truth has to fight for itself always to be recognized. It's not easy or straightforward .
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-11 18:18
Two days ago this was in the news as the Obama Admin is contemplating using a drone to kill another American citizen. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/10/drone-attack-controversy_n_4758546.html
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0 # Jeff 2014-02-12 09:32
"observing the basic rules of social etiquette so that they’re not being obnoxious" The problem is that this charge of being obnoxious is not a self evident condition, it's an assessment made in order to humiliate, often when we don't like what we hear. The "basic rules of social etiquette" also serve as social controls to restrict the expression of truth. Worse, this generates frustration in a truth teller, which others use as a signal to begin ignoring the person and their underlying message.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-12 09:46
You're raising a real problem. I was attempting to make a distinction here about better and worse ways of bringing something up with other people. It's not a black and white question but one of approach and trying to be as strategic as possible in how one does this. Inevitably at least sometimes feathers will get ruffled. I would disagree with you in that I don't think it's ALWAYS "an assessment made to humiliate" the bearer of unpleasant news. There are instances where someone might be saying something important but doing so in a socially obnoxious way and said observation is coming from someone who actually agrees with the person's message and sees the importance of the message being delivered but would have handled the presentation of it differently.
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0 # Denisse Adue 2014-02-13 07:14
As we learned at the beginning of the quarter, what is true is not always obvious and "all sociologists attempt to tear the veil from the surface to reveal the truth beneath." However, since not every sociologist's views are the same, they often have a different interpretation of what may be true. The same goes with all human beings, especially when it comes to ethics and social norms. This is where arguments come into play. As McIntosh noted, we enjoy the company of those that think as we do, but "we seek it immediately after discussions where our common beliefs have been directly attacked." Some of us may not argue for the sake of arguing, but if we truly believe in something then we stand behind it and feel the need to state our case when our beliefs and "truths" are questioned. The key here is not to believe everything we hear, especially when it comes to the government and politicians. If we really want to form a solid argument, we must thoroughly research the topic at hand.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-13 17:59
When you cite McIntosh here about common beliefs being directly attacked you're actually citing Durkheim's words I assume? Agreed about the need to not accept everything we hear but subject it to analysis and investigation.. .
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0 # Denisse Adue 2014-02-14 06:55
Yes that is correct. And I also happen to agree that our individual opinions are not really our "individual" opinions. The majority of our opinions are derived from social influence. Sometimes we are scared to truly say what we think for fear of going against the beliefs of others and possibly hurting their feeling or causing an argument. We often say what we think others want to hear, even if it is not entirely true. This is especially true when it comes to authorities. They are seen as being more powerful than us so we wouldn't dare say something that may upset them or get us into trouble. We are constantly being told what to think, making it very difficult for us to really from individual beliefs. Even the very news that we see on TV is only a fragment of what is true. Especially when watching the News on political stations like channel 11. They have this way of installing fear in people because they know society thinks that if it was reported on the news than it must be true.
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0 # Rod24 2014-02-15 22:08
I absolutely agree, if we really want to know something for our own good we must go out and seek the truth. No one or nothing is ever going to tell us 100 percent truth. We can choose to be ignorant and continue to buy into the lies we have been fed thus far. Or, we can actually educate ourselves and in some form begin to educated those who want to listen.
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0 # KG7 2014-02-13 17:06
I just finished reading The Communist Manifesto (McIntosh)and wow'za...Marx argument pertaining to the bourgeois and proletarians is almost verbatim (if not verbatim) to how it is now in modern times. He nailed it! Crazy that it was written in the 1800's. If Karl Marx was alive today...would he be thoroughly disgusted with the world in which we live in today?
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-13 17:57
The Manifesto read today is startlingly accurate about the contemporary world. And the reason why Marx and Engels' analysis and description could be so on the mark is because they were describing the fundamental nature of capitalism which is what is dominant still today (interrupted for a time by socialist revolutions and socialist rule that was after several decades overthrown). But as M and E argue, the revolutionary dialectic goes on and the back and forth btw the forces of rev and counter-rev continue.
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0 # Wolfian 2014-02-14 04:37
Help me understand this a little better, in the communist manifesto. M&A, although they are right about a revolution is needed for change, feels as if they are manipulative on how the people should view history (I don’t agree with it is just an observation). I feel that there is an accurate portrayal of the future almost as if they were prophesying. Different groups tend to clash, as we can see this through Europe’s history. So what is the manifesto trying to do? I feel as if they were trying to unite the people against the oppressor, or better known as the bourgeoisie. At first it seems as if it’s dividing, but at the end it’s about the union of the proletariat. Correct me if I am wrong. I hope I make sense.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-14 05:39
Yes, they are explicitly calling for the proletariat to unite. But uniting means uniting FOR something and specifically AGAINST something, wh in this case is their oppressors & those who are holding back society's further advance beyond the narrow horizons of self-interest & money making based upon the exploitation of other humans & destruction of the earth that the bourgeois order represents. That's part of the dialectic, that you cannot bring people together without also calling attention to an adversary. In this case, the adversary isn't an invented one or exaggerated one (e.g., the Cold War during the McCarthy period found a communist under every bed and the current War on Terror finds terrorists everywhere, including every single American treated as a suspect). The adversary in the Manifesto is in fact a real adversary who becomes enriched only on the blood and suffering of the earth and people. This might sound to some like rhetoric but it's absolutely the facts.
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0 # J. C. Brash 2014-02-19 14:31
Loo wrote: "The adversary in the Manifesto is in fact a real adversary who becomes enriched only on the blood and suffering of the earth and people. This might sound to some like rhetoric but it's absolutely the facts."

How ironic then that most experts credit over one-hundred-mil lion deaths to the tactics of communist regimes last century.

Doubly ironic too, that every country in the modern world sees infant mortality go exponentially down and life-span go up as countries gain access to the free markets of OECD counties.

UN data compiled by Hans Rosling: http://youtu.be/hVimVzgtD6w
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-19 15:49
100 million deaths? That's even larger than I've heard claimed. Scary. I remember when I was an undergrad and some prof came to guest lecture to my class and he claimed that Stalin had killed millions. I forget what the number was, but it was really big. I raised my hand when he was done and asked him what his source for that total was. He shuffled through his papers for a while and then admitted that he didn't have a source for that claim. Let's see, 20 plus million died in the USSR as a result of the Nazi invasion in WWII. How is that the responsibility of the USSR?
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0 # Rod24 2014-02-15 22:18
The capitalistic society in which we live in definitely disregards all honesty in which ever way it possibly can. I agree with your idea that if we believe something that the majority of people believe we must reexamine our beliefs. It is ultimately on us to dig deeper and attempt to discover what the truth is, the facts are there it is just a matter of how we interpret things. We seek to feel part of the larger group, to feel accepted and this primarily is what blinds us to the greater details that help unveil the truth.
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0 # Bland 2014-02-16 05:21
I found this article to be very interesting.   We live within a society that often takes what we hear or read as face value believing that if the source is somewhat reliable, they must be telling us all we need to know.  However, as I have learned sitting in Dr.  Loo's class is that we are given all the facts and information and it is up to us to take it upon ourselves to seek the truth and be willing to set aside our previous conceptions in order to accept the newly obtained information.  I agree that we, myself included, often fall victims to simply to knowing what we do not know.  Then when presented with information, such as "the Kill List", we, at least I, am not in denial but have a difficult time processing that our government is capable of such an act.  
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0 # Bland 2014-02-16 05:22
Throughout our study of sociology we have learned that the sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies.  We must be willing to open our minds, break away from what may be beneficial to us and seek the truth rather  than following the majority rule. 
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0 # debdawg91 2014-02-16 05:49
I agree w/ ur statement that the truths never fully told. Yes truth can b partial, truth can b deceiving.
Knowing the truth & telling the truth may not always b the best thing 2 know. Sometimes telling people what the want 2 hear is not the truth from who is saying it, but precieved as the truth by the 1 hearing it. Ex, in the commercial where "Honest Abe" is asked by his wife if her dress she is wearing makes her backside look big & he responds w/ something like "of course not dear." This made her happy, this made her feel good about herself. This in return kept him from going 2 the dog house. By this not so true truth, no 1 was hurt.
Politicians, when they speak they may be telling the truth about a topic, but only the truth about part of the topic, usually the things that look favorable to them. This is why it is important in life 2 listen 2 all sides of a topic.
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0 # debdawg91 2014-02-16 05:50
continued….Ther e is 2 sides to every story, but I say there r many sides of a story b/c people come from all walks of though.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-16 06:49
The sense in which I'm using the term "Truth" in this article is not in the sense that you're using it. It's not about whether people should tell friends or family the brutal honest truth about whether a dress makes you look fat or not. It's about an overall orientation in the society as a whole about whether the truth matters. The media and gov't are concealing under pretty & soothing words (at times) and at other times behind words meant to scare the public, what they're really doing.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-02-16 06:55
In addition there's a strong trend towards the degradation of the very meaning of truth and objective reality coming from different influential segments such as religious fundamentalists (who deny objective reality) and postmodernists who also deny objective reality. This takes the form among people around you who think that reality is whatever someone thinks it is rather than that reality is something that is independent from any particular observers. The consequences of all of this are immense to the whole world. These are hotly debated, deeply consequential questions in the world today.
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0 # sintricity08 2014-02-16 18:19
I feel that a lot of the U.S. government officials that try to run our nation are plagues by this religious fundamentalism. They want to deny global warming and they even more so want to deny a change from capitalism because they would lose out from all the wealth and power they possess with it. I also think a bit of ignorance comes into play with being so high up on the social ladder with capitalism. Just as Loo stated in class, "you don't know what you don't know." And I feel that a lot of the government officials who have the power to direct things are ignorant to their actions as a whole due to their high class ideology of always being right or always doing what is best.
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0 # google plus account 2014-03-18 12:34
Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It's on a completely
different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design.
Great choice of colors!
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12