Welcome to another edition of Friday’s Philosophical Foray beyond Healthcare. Today’s foray comes to us via a thoughtful article by Jon Miltimore, managing editor at Foundation for Economic Education.
“Truth, we see, does not exist in Oceania, the totalitarian nation-state that serves as the setting of 1984. The absence of truth is shown at various times in various ways, but it most famously is depicted when Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist, reflects that it’s only a matter of time before the Party would insist that two plus two makes five.
“It was inevitable that they should make the claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it,” Smith tells us. “Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.”
It’s not just that Big Brother is hostile to truth, logic, or facts (though it is). It’s that truth, logic, and facts will at certain times inevitably conflict with its sole goal: control.
This brings us to a second observation about Oceania. It’s a land steeped in politics. It’s force-fed to people. They consume it, whether they wish to or not. It is pumped out of telescreens day and night. It comes from indoctrinated children and neighbors. Some of the people reciting the Party’s cliches believe it, others may not. But there is no escaping the Party’s dogmas.
Politics, few today would deny, saturates most aspects of our lives. It’s in our school systems and colleges. Football games, blockbuster films, and America’s churches. This was not always the case, and the development is not a healthy one.
And then there is the matter of truth. Last year the Rand Corporation published a report. It essentially said our civilization is suffering from a strange condition: Truth Decay.
Truth Decay is defined as a set of four related trends: increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.
Truth decay might help explain why many people—even intelligent sensible, grounded ones—seem to feel like Alice after she tumbled down the rabbit hole.
“We are living in an era when sanity is controversial and insanity is just another viewpoint,” the economist Thomas Sowell recently stated.
Few Americans today would deny, I think, that truth is under assault. It’s one of the few ideas on which Left and Right can agree. The disagreement arises over who are the greater transgressors of truth.
This is not a trivial matter. As FEE president Lawrence Reed recently observed, truth and freedom are inseparable.
“The first casualty on the slippery slope to tyranny is the truth,” wrote Reed. “If you wish to live in freedom, you must first commit yourself to truth in all things.”
Freedom of Speech
Our future need not be as bleak as that of 1984. The first step to making sure it is not is to reclaim the cherished principle of free speech, and not strictly in a legal sense. Rather, we must remember that the free expression of ideas is essential to and inseparable from the search for truth.
The great American writer Walter Lippmann once explained why freedom of discussion is essential to not just freedom, but truth itself.
“…if we truly wish to understand why freedom is necessary in a civilized society, we must begin by realizing that, because freedom of discussion improves our own opinions, the liberties of other men are our own vital necessity,” wrote Lippman, one of the founding editors of The New Republic. “This is the creative principle of freedom of speech, not that it is a system for the tolerating of error, but that it is a system for finding the truth.”
The truth will not prevail in a world that prevents the conflict of ideas by suppressing speech.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four,” Winston Smith tells us. “If this is granted, all else follows.”
When I read this line 25 years ago I didn’t understand what Orwell was saying. Now I do.