On Language, Politics and Reality


“Language has always been important in politics, but language is incredibly important to the present political struggle. Because if you can establish an atmosphere in which information doesn’t mean anything, then there is no objective reality.

– Stephen Colbert

Post-truth Politics


The combination of populist movements with social media is often held responsible for post-truth politics. Individuals have growing opportunities to shape their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices, and populist leaders are ready to encourage them.

How can we still be speaking of “facts” when they no longer provide us with a reality that we all agree on?

The problem is the oversupply of facts in the 21st century: There are too many sources, too many methods, with varying levels of credibility, depending on who funded a given study and how the eye-catching number was selected.

It is possible to live in a world of data but no facts.

We are in the middle of a transition from a society of facts to a society of data. During this interim, confusion abounds surrounding the exact status of knowledge and numbers in public life, exacerbating the sense that truth itself is being abandoned.

– Courtesy of: The New York Times

On Freedom from Pain


Chorus of Theban Elders: ‘Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no one happy who is of mortal race, until he hath crossed life’s border, free from pain.’

– Sophocles, Oedipus Rex


Taken from Oedipus the King, lines 1529-1530; as published in The Tragedies of Sophocles (1917), translated by Richard Claverhouse Jebb.

Conversations: Civilization


Helena
It is important to realize that the distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and spiritual experiences from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being honest about what we can reasonably conclude on their basis.

Xanthippe
However, there are good reasons to believe that people like Jesus and the Buddha weren’t talking nonsense when they spoke about our capacity as human beings to transform our lives in rare and beautiful ways.

Sappho
But any genuine exploration of ethics or the contemplative life demands the same standards of reasonableness and self-criticism that animate all intellectual discourse. Continue reading

Why Facts do not Matter


Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgements despite strong contrary evidence. In fact, studies conducted over the past 30 years show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.

A 2015 behavioural science article examined the puzzle of why nearly one-third of U.S. parents believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, despite overwhelming medical evidence that there’s no such link. In such cases, the study noted, “arguing the facts doesn’t help — in fact, it makes the situation worse.” The reason is that people tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe.[1] Continue reading

Conversations: The Preposterous


Helena
Clearly, it is time we all learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity—birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.

Galene
What does that mean in practice?

Sappho
I feel we should recognise that, for instance, the practice of raising children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should be recognised as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.

Galene
That’s all very well and good, but I have no doubt that the acceptance—so to speak—of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in some people’s lives. Perhaps they now love other people in a way that they never imagined possible. They may even experience feelings of bliss while praying—say. Continue reading