Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fifty Shades of Yellow? Post-Truth Then and Now

Simon Wren-Lewis can’t take it anymore.  I’ve just read his fulminations on the blatant dishonesty of right wing media outlets in the US and the UK, untethered to any residual professional attachment to standards of evidence and nakedly in the service of political ideologues.  He’ll get no argument from me about that.

But I think his distinction between post-truth outlets and the other kind (pre-truth?) is much too clean.  We won’t understand the new frontier of news/fiction unless we see what connects it to the rest of the media world.

A first hint appears in his discussion of the difference between UK and German media on the issue of immigration.  The nativist tabloids in the UK bombarded its readership with several stories per day that dehumanized immigrants and presented them as threats to jobs, services and civil order, while their counterparts in Germany (e.g. Bild) had heartwarming portrayals of immigrants overcoming great odds to save themselves and their families.  This is true; I saw it myself when I was in Germany during the runup to Merkel’s adoption of a Welcome Culture policy.

But this was also the period during which Greece, led by Syriza, faced off against Schäuble and his EU Wall of Nein.  Here the ruling interests in Germany showed their other side, and the popular press was filled with made-up atrocities about the lazy, dishonest crew in Greece whose main purpose in life was to fleece the German taxpayer.  (I posted here at the time about the false news, widely reported in Germany, that Syriza, financed by EU funds, had made rail travel free as a ploy to buy votes.)  Obviously the probity of German journalism was selective.

And similar post-truth spasms have characterized media outlets in the English-speaking world ever since the advent of the printing press.  These were in the service of fomenting war fever (the Spanish-American War, World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, to mention examples from US history), demonizing labor organizers and civil rights activists or whatever cause needed a bit of extra buttressing.

If there is anything new, I think it might be on one of these fronts: (1) The doctrine that deceit and manipulation are virtuous in the service of the Cause, an element of fascism and Leninism alike, has now found a home in somewhat more mainstream ideologies on the right.  A self-conscious defense of making stuff up increases its effectiveness, because embarrassment at being caught out is no longer a risk.  (2) Post-truth is being deployed, to some extent, against the interests of the capitalist class, particularly as it attacks globalization.  It is “out of control”, the figurative loose cannon on the deck of the battleship, rolling around and capable of firing in any direction.  It needs to be domesticated again.

The reality is that the elevated devotion to truth has always had moments—particular issues or political exigencies—during which it was expected to look the other way.  We won’t understand what’s new and different about today’s propaganda unless we recognize the continuities as well.


AXEC / E.K-H said...

Pre-truth and post-truth in economics
Comment on Peter Dorman on ‘Fifty Shades of Yellow? Post-Truth Then and Now’

The economist Peter Dorman complains about post-truth spasms that “have characterized media outlets in the English-speaking world ever since the advent of the printing press.” This critique is correct but misplaced. The business of the press has always been storytelling, opinion, entertainment, propaganda, and providing a suitable environment for advertising but NOT truth. Truth is the mission of science. For the economist this means: “In order to tell the politicians and practitioners something about causes and best means, the economist needs the true theory or else he has not much more to offer than educated common sense or his personal opinion.” (Stigum)

Peter Dorman’s critique of the press distracts from the fact that economics lacks the true theory. Scientific truth is well-defined as material and formal consistency since the ancient Greeks introduced the distinction between opinion (= doxa) and knowledge (= episteme).

Economics claims since Adam Smith/Karl Marx to be a science. Yet, it is pretty obvious ― except to economists ― that the four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent, and all got the pivotal concept of the subject matter, i.e. profit, wrong.

As a cargo cult science economics is since 200+ years at the pre-truth stage but economists tell the general public the post-truth that what they are doing is science. The truth is that the representative economist is a political agenda pusher just like the representative journalist.*

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

* See also ‘When fake scientists call out on fake politicians’

Bruce Wilder said...

I wonder how many Americans old enough to remember the original, now know that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a fabrication? Do people over 30 remember WMD as a lie? Do people think Colin Powell shamed his country by lying to the Security Council? Do Americans think the CIA shamed their country by torturing people? How many realize that most of those once imprisoned at Guantanamo were basically innocent -- most of the "worst of the worst" were just unlucky and misidentified.

Truth requires an investment in discrimination and that investment -- to be made -- must pay off, the truth must matter to someone. There is, in short, an economics to this: how to make an investment in lies pay more than an investment in truth or vice-versa.

I do not have a complete answer, but I can offer a clue that you might add to your analysis: secrets.

Secrets are the lever of lies. Give me a place to stand and announce my suspicions and I can move the world with that lever of lies, the secret.

Secrets offer the drama of revealed truth, knowledge that cannot be had by merely observing or the use of critical intelligence. Secrets are privileges; truth is just mundane reality.

Truth must have the resources for confirmation, must weather dispute; secrets are pure dispute, inherently immune to confirmation. Every lie wraps the truth in a secret, where it becomes mere suspicion on a par with any other product of imagination.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Please get lost and stop posting here. You just repeat your same enpty and worthless drivel over and over. You have the secret truth of the meaning of profit. Except that your truth is a totally vacuous and meaningless identity. You are just a drooling crackpot.

As it is, indeed many economists are pushing political agendas, with many here on this blog having strong political views. But, much as you wish to deny it, there really are technocratic empirical economists who are attempting to measure or determine facts without any political agenda whatsoever. I would give as an example people working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the six measures of unemployment that are out there. Now you may want to say that their measures are not very good or are flawed, and maybe they are. But these people are doing their best to gather and estimate the best available data on the topic, most of them without doing so to push any political agenda, even if some politicians think that they are when the estimates they make do not fit what the politicians want to hear. But that is the politicians showing that they have political agendas, not that the professionals working on these estimated do.

So, please just go away and leave us alone. You simply repeat yourself over and over whenever you show up here, with only minor variations to your tired and silly points.

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Peter Dorman, Barkley Rosser

“A satisfactory theory of profits is still elusive.” (Palgrave Dictionary, Desai, 2008)

From this incontrovertible fact follows:
(i) Economists lack the true theory. Because the foundational economic concept profit is not properly defined and understood the whole analytical superstructure of economics falls apart.

(ii) Neither Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism satisfies the scientific criteria of material and formal consistency.

(iii) Neither the defense nor the critique of the market economy ever had sound scientific foundations.

(iv) No economic policy advice ever had sound scientific foundations.

(v) Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman, Krugman, Lucas, Dorman, Rosser and almost everybody in-between falls into the category of fake scientist.

(vi) Economics is NOT part of science but of the entertainment industry. The iconic sitcom economist is Krugman who has not realized that IS-LM is false in every methodological dimension but has an opinion on any topic between unemployment, pop music, Jo Stalin and Donald Trump.

(vii) Economics is what Feynman called cargo cult science or what we call today fake science. In order that economics finally becomes a science, political clowns have to be thrown out.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke