Obituary of Truth
"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act."
– George Orwell
Truth is dead.
It has ceased.
Cause of death: Rhetoric, political subordination, and silence.
Final dose: Infinite dose of complacency.
In this day and age, every lie has a subscriber.
Many centuries ago, Plato warned of dangers of untrue claims to knowledge, while Socrates thought ignorance could be remediated with the exception of us falling into the deep wells of danger when impetuous acts were committed and false claims of knowledge were made. On the other hand, Aristotle thought that "to say of what is that it is not, or what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true."
Truth recently decided to die an inglorious death as it got tired of watching rulers leading their nations with lies.
A while ago, former South African President Thabo Mbeki had declared that antiretroviral drugs were part of a Western conspiracy, and that garlic and lemon juice could treat AIDS. Over 300,000 people died believing in him.
A part of a "reality-based community," Karl Rove, the former White House deputy chief of staff, emphatically declared in the early 2000s, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
Finally, the casket of Truth has been lowered to the ground, with Manipulation claiming to be the final executor, working at the behest of Power and Dominance.
In the 20th century, French Philosopher Michel Foucault believed that in spite of language defining our societies, language itself is manifested through the lenses of power and dominance. This meant that knowledge has always been intrinsically linked to authority and the powerful, and therefore there was a rampant use of language to swing the powerless to accept their opinions and views. This view also meant that a singular version of Truth did not exist, and that while the different discourses of Truth continued, the powerful in their chambers continued to create different versions of Truth only to oppress the masses.
Truth was also sacrificed at the altar of corporate malfeasance.
The story of tobacco started way back in 1953, when tobacco companies in the US met to tackle major scientific research that linked cigarette tar to cancer in lab mice. It was a prominent PR figure, John W Hill, who then proposed that all the tobacco companies collectively commission additional research to "fight the science." Subsequently, the companies "fought" and the newly sponsored research quite predictably revealed zero connection between cancer and cigarettes. Immediately, they reached 43 million people through full-page ads in different newspapers to share their new research findings. However, in 1998, after four decades, the tobacco companies finally settled USD 200 billion of fines through an agreement, part of which shielded them from being sued in the future. Till date, they walk free.
In recent times, when Purdue Pharma's promotion of opioid decreased life expectancy, and Volkswagen's diesel engines fraudulently passed an emission test, causing the loss of 45,000 disability-adjusted life years, Truth decided to strangle itself to death as humans have been siding with Lie for centuries and became its perfect "complicitors."
Truth suffered a humiliating defeat from the internet, which has been flowing freely since the 90s. With the Web having become the echo chamber of what is being mass-generated, editorial controls took an infinite leave of absence with news silos perennially contributing to polarisation. At a specific point, Truth paused and tried identifying when it was that the "Real" had finally become semi-unidentifiable. The response to this query traced its ties to history and proved that Fake was not a new phenomenon, and it would not be atrocious to claim that Fake began the day when Printing Press was invented, way back in 1439.
Truth, in a confrontation with Lies, finally accepted that Lies have existed for centuries and trickled down to our times, while the human race continued to wilfully ignore misrepresentations. In the absence of a verified counter narrative, Opinions were formed, which eventually turned into Facts. Truth, over time, failed to challenge Opinions and was also unable to implement a reality check based on empirical evidence. As a result, Truth accepted that humans would continue to live and act out on full-blown lies, allowing Lies to pull a wool over our eyes.
With Lies at the forefront, a number of fake characters have popped up in the international scene. Some claim to be embellishing their CVs, some claim Effective Altruism, some even claim service for humanity…
Elizabeth Holmes, dressed in black turtlenecks like Steve Jobs, took no holidays.
Her company Theranos claimed that it could run blood tests using proprietary technology, and needed only a finger pinprick and a small amount of blood to detect cancer, high cholesterol and other medical conditions. Once acclaimed as the world's youngest self-made female billionaire with a net worth of around USD 4.5 billion, Holmes was finally investigated by the FDA and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years for her fraudulent medical practices. In a tearful apology and before hearing the sentence, Holmes quoted the poet Rumi, "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." So much for poetry.
Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, maintained that he never "intended to manipulate markets," while being the face of cryptocurrency, he resorted to fraudulent practices, became a major donor to the Democratic Party and soon became known for "Effective Altruism." It was only when last year, Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, sold his stakes to Bankman-Fried, received tokens and expressed concerns about FTX's financial stability. FTX eventually filed for bankruptcy in November 2022, and by mid-December, Bankman-Fried, the inglorious son of two glorious Stanford professors, was arrested for lying to his investors and for committing fraud.
Until very recently, the direction of the saga of the newly elected US Congress member George Santos was uncertain. It was only about two weeks ago when he finally had to recuse himself from his duties. His biography included him being the 34-year-old son of immigrants, from Baruch College, having worked at firms like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. HIs bio also included his claim of being the initiator of an animal rescue charity. Finally, The New York Times unearthed that none of his claims were true and that he was also not a Jew. Santos, after all this, had maintained innocence and had simply said that he had just "embellished" his CV and had put "a little bit of fluff."
After all these international assaults, Truth was no longer able to handle its existential crisis and finally took its own life after having reached South Asia.
With the repeated failures of the financial institutions backed by poor credibility of the creditors, accompanied by bad debts shooting through the roof, crowned with zero accountability from whom society expects the most, Truth decided to leave our zip code forever.
Done, Dumped & Dusted.
Dr Rubana Huq is the current vice-chancellor of Asian University for Women.