Even more fake news

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me you ears;
I come to bury fake news, not to praise it.

Whenever you have war, whenever you have conflict, whenever you have disagreement the first casualty is the truth. This has been the case since the start of civilization but we are now more conscious of the issue since the American president started using the term “fake news”. Not only has he become a master of using it but he also claims others use it against him. He is not the first to distort the truth but he may be more blatant than his predecessors. His success is sickening.

It may be the challenge of fake news is to use the truth to overcome emotions.

police-clip-art-1194984609285255522police_man_ganson.svg.medA lot of us dislike being lied to and a lot of us dislike hearing the truth, especially if it is not what we want it to be. This provides opportunities for those people whose desire for power over people is stronger than their ethics.

Most politicians quickly learn to use distortions of the truth to avoid upsetting people. My experience is that municipal politicians are less likely to say untrue things than those who stand a chance of being elected at a provincial or national level. As a journalist I frequently voted for the candidate with the least chance of winning because they were the most honest.

When a politician is as blatant with distortions of the truth as is the current occupant of the White House it is tempting to hold him responsible. But there is a more serious problem in that a lot of people are believing his distortions. He is saying what a lot of people want to hear. When so many people want to hear and believe things which some of us believe are not true there must be a serious problem facing our society. Rather than criticizing the messenger we should be trying to identify and correct the problem.

In my days as a reporter I tried hard to be accurate and was sometimes in trouble for being too accurate. They mayor did not like being quoted as referring to the Queen of England as “Liz”. Most of my reporting was for small town newspapers.

An issue for me was the accuracy of what people said. A British Columbia cabinet minister said the gypsies from Quebec were sent to B.C. to encourage separatism. I did not believe it but I reported it and the editors wrote an editorial criticizing the minister who later went onto become the premier. I still feel guilty for my very small part in helping him become premier. I would not want to be covering the White House.

In our society court cases are the ultimate situations of conflict. Most witnesses in court cases take an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I never heard a lawyer take a similar oath. Frequently they try to hide the truth. In Hereford, England, the prosecutor in the magistrates court was a police inspector and was much admired for ensuring the magistrates knew anything in favor of the defendants. He once told us he kept quiet until he became an inspector. After that there were no more promotions.

Distorting the truth is an ancient activity. We know that because we have the word sophistry. On a day-to-day basis I hear lots of arguments which are good examples of the art, often from the female of the species. I figure most of the arguments presented by feminists are highly sophisticated. Google logical fallacies.

The Economist points out that some publications reflect the beliefs of their readers rather than their owners. This is because some owners are more interested in profits rather than the truth.

Maybe there is a market for fake news because we are all emotional people and we do not like things that will cause us suffering. With the economy on a down trend it is likely a lot of people are going to experience unemployment and suffering and maybe even hunger, There will be fertile ground for politicians who promise things they cannot deliver.

It is our responsibility to evaluate the truth of what other people tell us. A part of the evaluation should be asking what are the special interests of that person. Will they benefit by distorting what they say?

Most of us feel betrayed if we discover somebody has lied to us. Probably the best defense is a commitment to tell the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Economic growth, sustainability and degrowth

A lot of people realize there are problems with the economy but few if any understand what is happening. Therefore we have varied reactions. Many people cling to faith in economic growth, some are exploring the concept of sustainability and a few are looking at “degrowth”. This blogger thinks of the three approaches as points on the ray of a matrix.

Predicting the future is difficult although the shorter the term the easier it is. Economists are little help because most are paid directly by business people or indirectly through government. Very few people get away with telling the whole truth to the people who pay them. Most economists find it expedient to say what their employers want to hear and that is mostly that the economy will continue to grow and that there will be continuing profits.

Nor can we expect the truth from political leaders as their positions depend on maintaining the support of the people. It is hard to think of any government leader telling us we will have to tighten our belts and remaining in power. Are citizens mature enough to listen to that? It would be interesting to see a political leader try.

trafficOur recent economic memory is based on a tremendous use of energy and mineral resources. Not only have we fought two world wars we have also had the resources for an incredible standard a living in which the rich have grown richer and the rest of us have done okay. The result is we have a strong committment to economic growth and a belief that it will continue forever.

Many economists are fond of regression analysis because it assumes constant economic growth. It is a mathematical formula which takes a series of data points and calculates the best fitting straight line through them. It is generally assumed this line will angle up.

This guy thinks we would get a more truthful picture of what happens in the economy if we were to use fractal analysis. Fractals are series of ups and downs each with a subseries of ups and downs within them. The sea coasts are often used as examples. The mathematics of fractals is not as clear as regression analysis but there are some useful concepts. I am fairly certain those people who do “black box” analysis of stock markets are using fractal analysis. They are apparently having some success. The concept of fractal dimension can be calculated (two minus the Hurst exponent) and changes indicate a change in direction.

If we were to apply fractal analysis to economics it would be easier to see and accept ups and downs in the economy and easier to develop mechanisms to deal with them.

The word “sustainable” as applied to economic growth is a buzzword in some circles but I find it challenging as its meaning is not clear. I suspect it is mostly a cover for continued economic growth.

To the extent that some people use fewer energy and mineral resources it is good but I suspect that sustainable development maintains a committment to economic growth. Sustainable to me means going on forever and that is what a lot of people believe about economic growth.

The reality is that the quantity of goods and services we can produce and exchange depends upon the quantity of energy and mineral  resources we have and can retrieve with a reasonable expenditure of energy. The concept of sustainable development is probably 100 years too late.

Our committment to economic growth is so strong I am not aware of any career economist having thought about what happens when the economy goes into decline. This is unfortunate as the economy regularly goes into recession and this time it may be extended.

This blogger figures current economic problems are because we have used up the most accessible energy and mineral resources. Sure, there are lots left but they require massive amounts of energy to retrieve them. Solar may help but not yet. I fear that we will be forced into degrowth.

If so the challenge will be to figure out how do distribute fairly the goods and services we have, how to cope with leisure, how to create money that will not disappear during a crisis and how to not fight over the available resources.

Money will be a special problem as fractional reserve banking works only in times of economic growth. When growth stops and banks stop making loans  the money supply goes down and because it is fractional reserve the money supply goes down with a multiplier effect. Ouch. A super big ouch.

There are lots of anecdotal evidence from around the world that we are going into a down economy. This could easily be an explanation for a lot of the negative news, both economic and non-economic, to which we are becoming accustomed.

If we could get away from our committment to economic growth we could focus instead on happiness. This concept is impossible to measure although there is some evidence that people do not need a lot of material things to be happy.

What ever happens and wherever humanity ends up it looks as if we will experience a lot of human suffering. I would like for us to minimize the suffering and maximize the happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth: An impossible request

Dear Santa Clause,  For Christmas this year I ask you to give all the people around the world a sense of truthfulness to themselves and all others including young children.

There are two problems in this request: People believe in different versions of the truth and many people have an interest in distorting the truth.

There are many things about ourselves and this world that we do not and can not know from rational observation.  A lot of people fill in the gaps with differing religious knowledge but it is difficult for an observer to say which version is the truth.  A person who claims to speak or write only the truth is playing god with his/her religion and values.  Who is to say there is no Santa Clause?  A philosopher could define Santa Clause as a concept and maybe make the case that he is real.

Deliberate distortions of the truth go back to the dawn of civilisation.  I have read that ancient story tellers quickly learned to make their stories show their patrons in favourable lights.

There are a lot of distortions of the truth in our own civilization including war reporting, the courts and most politically correct issues.

Distortions of the truth in war reporting were documented in 1975 by Phillip Knightly in his book The First Casualty.  War correspondents are called upon to distort the truth for the sake of their part in their country’s war effort. The first casualty of war is he truth

I would suggest this happens where ever there is conflict.

Courts put some emphasis on  “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.  But how much injustice has resulted from prosecutors with holding  evidence which shows a person to be innocent.  The adversarial process is a strong incentive to avoid the truth.

There are also distortions in most politically correct issues.  Feminists are mistresses of the ancient art of sophistry, North American natives are a conquered people and police do not care about the color of the people they shoot.

Politicians and business people often have a vested interest in hiding the truth.  Political leaders who say the economy is on a long-term down trend are unlikely to get many votes, or at least they think that.  Every banker in the world would lie to avoid a run on his bank.

Donald Trump challenged the media with his untruths and won.  As a former journalist I was very happy not to be working the election.  If the press had not reported his distortions he probably would not even have got the nomination.  Mostly I worked on small town newspapers where most of the politicians were basically honest.

News people like good stories and when famous people say stupid or ridiculous things, it is usually a good story.   I once quoted a school trustee because I wanted to show how stupid he was.  The next day some lady phoned the local radio talk show and said,  “Did you see what Dr. P….. said at school board.  Wasn’t that great?”

What about the responsibility of the media to report the truth?  Publishers have the right to decide what goes into their publication and some specialize in fiction. There are ethical issues in claiming fiction as fact.  It is also hard for a reporter or editor to ignore a statement because he knows it is not true. Most reporters, editors and publishers do not want to upset their friends.  In general advertisers to not much  care about the editorial content so long as their advertising brings in customers.

How do we as consumers of news know if something is true?  We have to evaluate if an item makes sense and that depends upon our values, religion and knowledge base.

As I have worked on this post I have wondered a little if untruthfulness is an essential part of surviving human relationships.  That might be best left for another reincarnation.

 

Please help promote this weblog

Please send the link to this post to your friends and social media.  Promoting a weblog can be difficult.  I get some referrals from LinkedIn.  I used to get quite a few from Reddit but I have been “shadow  banned” for linking to my own weblog.  Self promotion (and free speech?) are serious offenses on Reddit. I figure my strength is in the thinking that goes into the posts and I thank you for helping.  (r/economics   r/libertarian   r/economiccolapse  r/Degrowth )

The French election and politicians telling the truth

The cover story in this week’s Economist is about the French election and the reluctance of politicians and the electorate to deal with a serious economic situation.

The truth is that it can be very difficult for a politician to tell people the truth especially if the politician thinks people don’t want to hear the truth or if he thinks people will vote against him if he does tell them the truth.

The truth is that probably we are going into a period of economic decline.  In the long-term we would be better off if the political debate were to be about how to cope with that with a minimum of human suffering.

However, most of us. most of the time, think and act in our own short-term interests as opposed to the long-term interests of ourselves let alone the whole community.  It would take a brave politician to put this to the test.

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