Monday, October 20, 2008

The Trickery of Truthiness

If you can’t make a coherent, convincing argument with objective truth, try tricking people with “truthiness.”

According to Wikapedia, "truthiness" is a word that was first coined by Stephen Colbert just moments before taping Comedy Central's premiere episode of The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005, after deciding that the originally scripted word – "truth" – was not absolutely ridiculous enough. "We're not talking about truth, we're talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist," he explained.

"Truthiness is something that is spoken as if true, that one wants others to believe is true, that said often enough with enough voices orchestrated in behind it, might even sound true, but is not true.” Ken Dryden, Canadian MP
A couple years ago in her opinion piece, The Triumph of “Truthiness,” Suzanne Fields made the observation that truthiness is far more powerful than real truth. Truthiness is what “right-thinkers” conclude with their hearts; not their heads. Rhetoric is driven by emotion, not fact.

Truthiness is consensus thinking. A friend of mine reminded me of how that kind of consensus thinking has shaped our beliefs regarding our own U.S. history. What is the general consensus about how this country recovered from the Great Depression? Most would agree that it was the socialistic programs of the New Deal. But the truth is, regardless how warm and fuzzy people might feel about FDR, the New Deal was a disaster and it was really World War II that energized and mobilized this country back to solvency and growth.

Websters Dictionary defines truthiness like this:
Truthiness (noun)
1. “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Centras “The Colbert Report,” Oct. 2005)
2. “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, Jan. 2006)

In her article, Suzanne Fields referenced an academic study that used magnetic resonance imaging to plumb the working of the brain during fierce ideological arguments. When a group of people, equally divided over ideology, discussed their differences, the centers of the brain bearing on the emotions “lit up,” driving each group to opposite conclusions. Drew Westen, the director of clinical psychology at Emory University, who led the study observed, “Opinions were shaped by emotional impact rather than logic or analysis. The circuits for cognitive reasoning were not engaged.”

And therein is the real power. Engaging the emotions rather than the intellect is the key. Politicians and junk scientists have known and employed that for a long time. A great deal of what is passed as fact, is really nothing more than truthiness; not truth. It starts with political manipulation. It derives from people we want to trust; people whom we used to believe were seekers of truth.

For that reason it is easy for spiritual leaders to manipulate truth through consensus thinking. But they cross the line when they employ truthiness in order to manipulate their own desired outcomes. When their followers are convinced that these “seekers of truth;” are being led by God, truth becomes irrelevant and truthiness prevails. The group consensus is that their subjective beliefs about God’s will is more important than truth.

In other words, they can look you straight in the eye and insist that their less-than-accurate statements are not, in fact, real lies because deep down in their heart of hearts, they really want and believe them to be true. They believe that, because what they are saying or doing is “good,” or “right,” or “pragmatic,” it is justifiable to invent their own version of the truth. Facts do not matter. What matters is how they feel and when they have successfully convinced the majority of their followers to buy it, embrace it, and own it, their truthiness becomes the new reality.

Suzanne Fields suggested that if Descartes were alive today, he would have to write, “I feel, therefore I am.”


Stan McCullars said...

The Scientific Gullibility movement is born.

Jayson Finley said...

Over the years I have discovered that, while there are many Godly pastors, there are also pastors who are the greatest practitioners of "truthiness." I have witnessed it at my own church here in Lacos.