Subjective vs. Objective Truth
Bullshit may cause us to lose respect for the truth, but what is truth anyway?
On reducing bullshit:
In contemporary society, we put more emphasis on argument than truth. Companies sell products through misrepresentation rather than through accurate description. The argument they make for the product matters less than the product’s actual value. In politics, it does not matter if a candidate has smarter policies than their opponent if their opponent sells themselves better. We vote for whoever runs the best campaign. Even the American legal system relies on the ability of lawyers to argue for their clients more than it does on truth. Bullshitting has become reflexive, not only on a corporate or governing level, but also on a personal level. When we greet someone and ask how they are, we do not seek truth, but merely words. It has become easy for us to speak non-truths because of this lack of emphasis on truth. We do not care if what we are saying and hearing is real, because we were conditioned to believe that bullshit has no consequences.
Perhaps a way to force us to recognize these consequences is to be exposed to another culture where truth is respected. However, as Appiah points out, Western cultures have an “adversarial” view of beliefs that are different from theirs, so we probably would not recognize the benefits of another culture’s perspective. Ultimately, the only way to convince an ethnocentric culture to change its approach to truth is to make it feel threatened by its own habits. If those who are privileged and in positions of power can see how they are being negatively impacted by their own bullshit, their own self-interest will compel them to reduce it. (Unfortunately, seeing its impact on others is not enough.) Therefore, the only way out of the toilet is through yet another argument, but one that highlights fact rather than appearance.
On objective truth:
In our discussion on William James’s “Pragmatism,” I remembered the old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If the truths we all experience are subjective to us, is there an objective truth that exists independently or do humans, in James’s words, “engender” it? For example, if the red I see is different from the red you see, is there a “real,” objective red that neither of us can see? We spend so much time examining how we only see the world through our own conceptual schemes that I am beginning to wonder if there is a reality that exists outside of our own perception (basically, a brain-in-a-vat dilemma.) Obviously, this is not a question that can be answered in all certainty, but considering it can bring about a new way of viewing the world that pulls us away from our self-centered perspectives. However, we must also consider whether or not the answer matters. What harm is there blissful ignorance when it is impossible to overcome that ignorance?