On the Restoration of Truth in Societies
On the Restoration of Truth in SocietiesWhat do radical political figures such as Trump, Putin or Farage have in common? For all of them, the truth seems to be a threat. And in order to combat that threat, they distort it. And they are not alone: more and more politicians across western democracies result to such practices. The concept of truth is slowly transforming from impeccable to alterable. The truth is altered and twisted to accommodate the standpoints and to verify ideological concepts of political candidates and power figures. Truth is slowly replaced for ‘truthiness’: the expression of gut feelings or opinions as valid statements of fact (Rabin, 2006). The danger of truthiness lies in the fact that it does not allow any critique. Believers of this twisted and unalterable truth see it as the one and only truth, and thus lose the incentive to continue the quest for the full understanding of the truth. However, truth is an endless quest (Dioguardi, 2010). And as soon as the progression stops, believers and followers of that single truth lose their ability to think critically. They effectively become mindless sheep, ready to believe anything the prophet of the single truth tells them to believe. These conditions offer the perfect breeding ground for autocracies and tyrannies.
However, the danger of truth morphing into truthiness can be prevented. According to the critical-rationalist way of thinking, the epistemological process of trial-and-error is critical in the quest for truth. Just as trial-and-error methods are used in natural sciences research, these methods may also be used to solve mistakes in our societies. Through the concept of ‘piecemeal social engineering’, new institutions are created and existing ones redesigned continuously. These new or reconfigured institutions are then tested through implementation and altered accordingly and continually in light of their effects (Popper, 1945). And by continuously improving institutions, the quest for truth may proceed. According to Popper (1945), ‘the whole secret of scientific method is a readiness to learn from mistakes.’ It is thus essential that critique is allowed and people are free to express their opinion on all matters. Societal institutions that criticize the developments and theories of the government must be allowed, as they provide the government with the incentive to keep altering and improving the institutions whenever flaws are discovered. In order to halt the degradation from truth into truthiness and false truths, it is important that political figures today increase their willingness to accept their mistakes. Especially at the far edges of the political spectrum, politicians are often bound to blindly believe in their ideas and theories and unwilling to accept any critique. To restore the concept of truth in our democratic societies, the will to give intelligent critique, accept critique, and work together to continue the development of truth must be restored first.