Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Morals Blog: Truth , Lies & Nietzsche

I may be crediting Nietzsche with too much.

Back in 1990 I was taking a sabbatical studying philosophy. One moral philosopher’s criticism of his contemporaries stuck: “They claim to be 'Fearless Moral Thinkers' challenging the old morality – but they are really only men of their time spouting the mores of their own social group” Nietzsche's philosophy may not be the cause – his notions may be just a co-effect of more widespread human foibles! This would be ironic justice since he famously rejected scientific tools such as 'cause & effect'!

So although Nietzsche has been hailed as a source of inspiration by such mutually incompatible groups as Fascists, Nazi's, Anarchists and Zionists it may just be that they resonate with some of his ramblings. And although some modern philosophies have popularized his ideas, the same perverse ideas may also spring quite independently into human minds.

With that caution, I will look at two modern problems under quotations from Nietzsche.

1. “There are no facts, only interpretations” (Nietzsche)

a) Climate change is a contentious issue. Lets not go there! However the debate has raised this concern about modern scientific method: Truth as paramount over ideology.

Novelists – and I think C. P. Snow wrote a classic novel on this – have depicted the primacy of truth in scientific research. The researcher who discovers a fact that contradicts the findings they are about to publish as the culmination of years of research is tempted to bury this fact. The one who succumbs to this very real temptation is – at least in fiction! - found out, pilloried and driven from the scientific community as one who has betrayed the very essence of scientific method.

Sadly the climate debate is replete with revelations of scientists who have done just this but still hold their heads up high – and hold their positions. They justify themselves, and are justified by other scientists on the grounds that the end of “saving the world” justifies the means – falsifying their results.

Recently in Australia a newspaper took our government Bureau of Meteorology to task for this. Apparently they had been caught out changing historic temperature records. Their mantra was: We believe there has been continuous temperature rise over recorded history, so old records of high temperatures must be wrong. In one instance the highest recorded temperature on record at one recording station was simply deleted on the grounds that it occurred on a Sunday, and records were not generally taken on Sundays. The son of the postmaster who manned that station reported via the newspaper: “Yes it was a Sunday but it was a heatwave and so my father went in and checked the temperature and recorded it.”

I am not here arguing either side of the debate. I am saying that fully considering the facts not just even if but especially when they contradict our theory is of the essence of scientific method. If we lose that we are in danger of losing “science” as the tool for human advancement it has been in the past few centuries.

b) I passed a sign in the window of a Naturopath's shop-front: “We practice evidence based medicine”. “No,” I thought, “you really don't” The rise in popularity of these so called “alternative” or even more misleading “complementary” therapies shows how tenuous is our hold on real science. OK I have a reason for bias, my wife is a real doctor, but I am still right!

Many medical doctors are hopeless as “spin-doctors” so their patients go away unconvinced of their treatments or with unresolved issues. That is most unfortunate. But they are still using scientific methods of treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies possibly do many of the things they are accused of. But they still do scientific trials (and we are rightly outraged if they fake their results or hide bad side effects!). They sell some of the same compounds as “alternative practitioners” - but – and this is a huge BUT – the pharmaceutical companies get rid of potentially harmful impurities and produce doses of a known and consistent strength. OK (once again) my late father was a pharmacist – does that make me biased? - maybe – but I remember him saying how much safer it was when instead of using medicinal herbs of unknown potency he could get the active ingredient purified and in standardized doses from the drug companies.

Just remember that in many of the parts of the world where “natural remedies” were all they had people died like flies until Western scientific medicine came to their rescue. Don't let's throw that away!

Losing scientific method and scientific thinking puts us on the road to a new and terrible dark age!

2. “Truths are illusions about which we have forgotten that that is what they are” (Nietzsche)

Years ago listening to a radio program I heard the late Baroness Thatcher – then Prime Minister of Britain – make comment that has stuck with me. I can't remember her exact words – which is a pity since she undoubtedly said it better than I can – the gist was this: When she was Minister for Education she had to deal with a Communist dominated teachers union. She came to realize that they, and Communists in general were blatant liars. They had no respect for any sort of objective truth: If a statement would suit their current purpose then that alone made it “The Truth”.

Communism is in a bad way around the world but in the West, Progressive Socialism, or “Progressives” are in the ascendant. The Communist's attitude to truth is part and parcel of Progressive ideology

However this is not a blog on politics. I have introduced progressives because they are proliferating and they have  the Communists' idea of truth: there is but one criterion: if a statement serves their cause then it is thereby “The Truth” conversely if it hinders their cause it is thereby a “Lie”.

I suspect that the common link here, and indeed a link with tyrants and dictators around the world is that they want to control people. Communists, tyrants, and sadly so called “progressives” in the free world want to control people. They are not necessarily averse to using force to control people – yet they use lies if they can by preference.

Lies become internalized and make the subject doubly subjugated: they obey their masters and also believe it is just that they obey their masters. Take a simple example lie: “you're just a girl, you can't do anything” if women accept that lie they are not only made second class citizens, but they come to believe it is right that they are treated as second class citizens. Becoming free involves first throwing off the lie and holding the truth: “A woman can … “

Progressives may be more subtle but their agenda is the same – to reduce the populace (apart from themselves who alone know what is best for everyone) to servile obedience. Lies and propaganda serve that purpose admirably.

Jesus said “the Truth will set you free”. He was of course talking about himself and the freedom he promised was from sin and death. However truth is a marvelous thing and it is also the case that in a more general sense knowing the truth rather than being befuddled by lies is a really good start.

So firstly, no matter how expedient it may seem to lie, we must ourselves tell the real objective truth.

Then we must reject the lies of those who want to use them to control us. We must search for the truth and not accept their clever lies – remembering the old adage that the most effective lie is the one that is true except at the vital point. I think the term is “a shaft of truth with an arrowhead of a lie”. Finding the lie in the propaganda may not be easy.

We must accept that truth may cost us. Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth”. Jesus answered, not in words but in deeds – suffering and dying (and rising from the dead) to save the human race. Truth can be a costly affair, but it is worth it.

When lies are being used as the method of choice to control people, exposing those lies may cause the propagandists to use the next method of control: force. Force may hurt, but at least when they have to use force we are only singly subjugated rather than the double subjugation of believing their lies. And that is a step towards freedom.

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