Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Bother With the Truth?

Original Posting

My last blog was all about what I perceive to be a bias in favor of pessimistic assertions as opposed to optimistic ones. It ends by asking you to evaluate your own thinking and determine whether or not you accept weak pessimistic assertions more easily than weak optimistic assertions. There's a presupposition here, though, which is that you should believe things because they are true.

And why should we?

I have always tried to value truth, I've always tried to say that believing an ugly truth is better than believing a lovely lie. Part of clinging to the truth, however, is recognizing that the value of truth is not an absolute fact. We implicitly believe that you should try to believe the truth, but it's not hard to imagine situations where you would rather believe a lie. Our films are full of such situations because believing a lie is counter-intuitive, and therefore, dramatic, but still understandable and believable, and therefore, realistic.

So, here's the point. Why do you care whether or not something is true? Certainly it's not always for the value of the truth itself, sometimes the truth is only valuable as a means to something else (for example, having accurate beliefs about which pedal is the brake is valuable for the sake of safety, were it not for the fact that you need to know this information to remain safe, would the truth about the matter still be valuable?). So, remove all examples wherein the truth is valuable for the sake of something else, and ask yourself how valuable the truth is to you, and why.

Truth, for truth's own sake; believing twice two equals four simply because twice two equals four. How much do we really care about it? We demand that people think rationally (particularly when they disagree with us), but why not think irrationally? More specifically, why not base our thinking on something else? Why not base it upon pleasure instead? Whatever leads to us feeling good is what we believe, and we will cling to the truth only whenever it leads to more pleasure than an untruth (i.e. in the case of our brake pedal). Or what about power, whatever thoughts lead to us being more powerful and capable are what we believe (ignore the fact that you're not qualified to lead a family of four to table three; you're a natural, take-charge leader and a beautiful man!), whatever furthers your ambition is what you hold to be true.

Hell, let's give religion it's nod, why not something like fideism? Why not say faith is more important than reason or sound thinking? Perhaps it is a true sign of our devotion to God to sacrifice our pursuit of truth to focus on our pursuit of Him?

Clearly, there are alternative standards that we can judge our beliefs by. So, again, why use truth as the standard? This is a question that I believe, like all questions of value, comes down to a question of the individual's preference.

Assume one life, no reincarnation, no afterlife, just one, approximately 67 year ride. Would you be happy to know, as you approach the end of your life, that you lost pleasure for the sake of believing the truth? Would you be happy to know that you did not accomplish as much as you could have because you let the truth get in the way of being ambitious?

I, for one, believe I would.

Would you?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Original Posting

Optimists are wrong, this is my conviction. The idea that life is a good ride that's just going to keep getting better seems to be based on excluding a lot of available information. Of course, not every optimist exists at the blissfully ignorant extreme of the gradient, but, in my experience, the more optimism in a worldview, the more wishful thinking and less realism.

But that's not what this Bullshit is about.

This one is about the other extreme, which I've come to find we're just as likely to compromise realism for. Pessimism. There is a part of us that wants to believe we live in a world of shit, surrounded by monsters wearing human skin, and believing that wherever you turn something malicious is waiting to consume you. This too, it seems, is not the case.

What's the point here, apart from the fact that I need to bullshit something in the next 80 minutes or this blog will fail before it gets started?

It seems, however, that we tend to give pessimism a pass; someone who says something cynical is more likely to have their statement accepted at face value whereas someone who says something optimistic is more likely to meet skepticism and accusations of naiveté. Perhaps this is because we don't imagine people wanting a bad situation, so we presume that someone who sees the world as poorly sculpted shit is not basing his worldview on his biased desires. Is this really the case, though? Don't we really want to believe that the world is a terrible place, perhaps even just for the fact that we've managed to thrive in the world regardless of it's difficulties?

Single cells that turn into men in a terrible world are more glorious than cells that turn into men in a world made for our happiness.

Now, I haven't included any arguments for or against an optimistic or pessimistic view of the world, I leave that for you, dear reader, to examine for yourself. My only concern here, is with the fact that we seem to consistently hold pessimism to an lighter standard than optimism. This matter can only be solved, it seems to me, with a little internal reflection. Do you find anything within you that would prefer an ugly world? Do you find yourself tending to agree with pessimistic assertions based on the same evidence as optimistic assertions you would disregard?

So ask yourself, when you sit back and talk about how corporations are raping the world, no one cares about anyone else, humanity is going to bomb itself out of existence, and/or politicians are all self-serving crooks, are you describing the world as it is, or have you let your thinking succumb to a pessimistic bias?