Three questions to protect facts and freedom amid rising disinformation and propaganda
I find that J.L. Austin's Speech Act theory is very valuable when conversing both with people who may disagree with me and with people who probably agree with me: When a statement is made, locate the "assertions" and "assessments" in it. An assertion is a statement of fact, which can be verified as accurate (true) or inaccurate (false). An assessment is a value judgment (opinion), which requires grounding, i.e., announcing the evidence for one's judgment. This distinction usually defuses the conversation, and makes it nearly impossible for the disinformation to continue.
The coopting of terms like"fake news" and "corporate media" have made #2 a tough conversation to have with those who've gone off the deep end.
Updating Orwell's lists. Number four is entertainment value. If the presenter/presentation by a political candidate is entertaining, especially in avoiding answers to key policy questions, exercise caution. Number 5. Hyperbole, sensationalism and exaggeration are promoted by algorithms today (and some candidates). Exercise caution when using social media.
It's not a question about truths and facts, but about believes. Believe it or not, as pragmatic beings, we use a kind of Baysian Logic in establishing what works in behaviour. It allows one to update one's initial belief (prior) about the probability of an event in light of new evidence to arrive at a new, updated belief (posterior). Truth can be between 0 and 1, not true and fully true.
Your body learned to make "educated guesses", expectations, on what works to deal with situations. You realize "what works". Your brain continuously comes up with beliefs, predictions - fictions - about the (immediate) future, projected against perceived reality - facts. A fact is a fiction that works for you.
A problem can be defined as a difference between belief and perceived reality with a negative emotional charge, a bias to prevent harm to the body. The bias makes sense in dealing with physical reality.
We don't think in language; the metaphor of space is the medium of thought. (Pinker). Language enables us to express our thoughts, our believes. With language we create a mental reality as an extension of our physical reality. Language offers an extension of thinking with other means.
Stories, myths and legends can be seen as a kind of "expectation functions", experiments, from which we can learn to behave without going through the actual emotions. You experience imagined emotions, which are neither false or true and harmless. The word "foma", by Kurt Vonnegut Jr comes to mind.
In the use of language by politicians however, they tend to use an either-or type of logic. Something is true EXCLUSIVE-OR false. It cannot be both, nor neither. The pragmatics behind this use is to in/exclude people. You're either with us or against us. The inherent bias of negative emotions is being used to exclude others.
Wittgenstein showed that logic can only solve logical situations. They don't involve feelings and emotions. You cannot solve illogical - emotional - problems in this way.
In language we can use: "What I say three times is true" (Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark). A fact is a fact because it's a fact. That's why a false message has to be repeated over and over again, because I say so. That's why people also call emotions being "facts".
Questions about convincing people by "facts" are: "Is there a change some facts would convince you of another another opinion?" or "Could their be facts that would make you change your mind?". (I'm not sure about the use of could and would :-)). If the answer is "no", no use in continuing a conversation. (Note the use of "to converse" in conversation).
To quote Voltaire: “The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.”
Thanks for quoting Max Fawcett one of Canada`s finest journalists.
This is an outstanding post, which I will recommend to others. A couple of unrelated comments:
1. The Orwell Test is great, with the caveat that a lot of people really need help applying #3, as they simply don’t know how to recognize if a source is using “professional and accepted techniques of factual reporting without relying on deceptive tactics or logical fallacies”
2. And a piece of trivia - before 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell wrote an obscure novel called “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” about the advertising industry, which included a funny bit about an ad campaign for deodorant that involved placing billboards everywhere with a pair of feet and the initials “PP” for “pedic perspiration” to shame people into buying their product. I mention it because I think it shows that as Orwell was working out his ideas on propaganda, his initial model was big business manipulation of people’s thoughts and feelings to enhance their profits. That’s worth thinking about as we deal with disinformation being promoted by business titans like Elon Musk
Wouldn't Lakoff say that facts have little to do with how people make decisions? Many college-educated folks delude themselves that Enlightenment Reason founded on Truth is enough. We also delude ourselves that Truth = Facts. And then we become hopeless empiricits, constantly pointing to Facts as if they prove something. Facts and Reason only work if you agree to a whole universe of controls, such as within the Legal system--and even then it is hard! I love Orwell, but he was no scientist making arguments of pure reason. He was making arguments out of love and faith and metaphor. Even 2+2=5 is not about facts; it is a metaphor about interpretation and communication.
A significant part of the protagonist's job was simplifying the language of any records, reducing the concepts available to a narrow band of thought: if there was no word for a feeling or condition, it could not exist. ("Double-plus ungood" is one example, to remove the words for "badness.")