The irrelevance of truth

History has shown that power owes less to knowledge and the defence of truth than to the actual possibility of shaping and imposing a discourse. The real problem of our time is that we have allowed the neoliberal and neocon desideratum to become an unquestioned dogma falsely endorsed by science, and to conquer not only politics and ethics, but the very realm of truth itself.

In recent times, anyone who has had their eyes open will have witnessed the alarming growth of one of the worst threats to the survival of any human order worthy of being called civilisation: the lack of interest in the truth. This may seem like an outrageous claim, but, should there be any doubt, the narrative and management of the latest “crises” – related to finance, migration, health and war – are making it very clear, in the eyes of reason and honesty, that – more than the economy, security, health or peace – what is really in jeopardy in our civilisation is the truth.

Perhaps, on reading this, someone might – hastily – assume that I am referring to fake news, to the hoaxes circulating on social networks, to so-called conspiracy theories or other forms of poisoning the truth introduced into the social imaginary from the margins of the system, but I am not. Although all these manifestations can be taken as a possible sign of the growing lack of respect for the objective correlation between claims and facts, I shall refer to what is most worrying if a civilisation worthy of its name is to exist: the widespread presence of this very phenomenon in the very bowels of the system, the widespread disconnection of the official narrative to facts and evidence, a structural and continuous fallacy growing by the day and threatening to continue growing until it completely encroaches on the realm of truth. I shall refer to a finding which, although not that surprising to us, should be terrifying: that, in order to uphold the credibility of the official discourse, truth also proves irrelevant.

However, let’s not be naïve: this is nothing strictly new. History has shown, on many occasions, that power owes less to the knowledge and defence of truth than to the actual possibility of shaping and imposing a discourse; and precisely for this reason, since all power systems are usually based on self-serving and misleading discourses, the search for the truth has always been a subversive act.

Power today, then, is no exception to this rule: it is, as might sadly be expected, the product of a version, possibly more sophisticated and more hypocritical, of the aforementioned age-old practice of shaping and imposing a discourse regardless of the truth. An example of this sophistication is that even a term such as post-truth, coined to euphemistically condemn certain fallacies in the official narrative of the Bush administration, has already been adopted by the system itself to discredit the discourse of those it may consider to be its ideological opponents. And the same could be said of the self-serving resemanticisation of other terms such as demagoguery and populism.

But let’s not miss the point. The reality – and this is the serious matter – is that, at this point, the system’s very narrative is nothing more than a painstaking achievement of the same demagogic and populist practice that it claims to censure: that of post-truth, that of granting the status of truth to the beliefs upheld, regardless of the objective facts, and using them to shape a self-serving and false narrative with which to fuel public opinion until such a narrative replaces reality itself in the collective consciousness. As harmful and destructive – albeit of worse moral standing – as a malicious hoax, an unfounded opinion on Twitter or an uncontrolled selection of content generated by an algorithm can be, in the official sense, the falsification of data and the distorted analysis of statistics, statements contrary to the facts, the silencing of what should be newsworthy, the demonisation of people or political ideas, the declaration of “taboo subjects”, the imposition of editorial positions to create a permanent favourable state of opinion, or the designation of a media agenda serving the established power to generate support or aversion to certain people, ideas or projects, regardless of any honest and critical analysis, that is to say, regardless of the truth. These are all practices to which we are sadly accustomed and of which there are ample daily examples in national and international politics.

Despite our reluctance to believe it, we trust a system more concerned with promoting a narrative of its convenience than in acting in accordance with the truth. To ensure this categorical statement is not taken as a mere ideological claim (despite the blatant daily examples), we should ask ourselves for what strange reasons the eternal aspiration to set the prevailing discourse apart from the truth is reaching unprecedented heights today.

Let us make a brief historical observation. Since ancient times, power may have been considered a prerogative of the divinity and exercised vicariously by people supposedly connected to it or by its representatives in the earthly world; but, as soon as there has been a group of individuals with economic power, they have striven as much as possible to turn it into political power: that is, to ensure that decisions could be taken by them, not so much with the noble intention of reorganising the system in favour of justice – although, on occasions, this may have been the case –, but with the less noble intention of orienting it towards the safeguarding of their own interests. It was precisely to combat this dynamic that democracy came into being, one day long ago: an idealistic and radical system designed to offset economic and class inequality with political equality; but that’s another story. The fact is that the pursuit of the eternal desire to convert wealth into power could be used to reconstruct the history of the world.

In the present times, when the unbridled growth of the globalised financial economy has already generated an unprecedented concentration of wealth, we see that the few hands that have amassed such enormous economic power are, of course, still interested in the old alchemy of turning it into enormous – and new – political power. Their main financial tool for this purpose has so far been the control of money and debt. By means of this tool – or weapon of mass destruction – they have been taking over, at breakneck speed, natural resources, energy sources, land ownership, security and arms markets, the mass media, the pharmaceutical sector... and have managed to ensure that where the idealists saw a right – food, health, housing – there is today a private playground for speculation and enrichment.

Debt control has been the material weapon, no doubt, but the psychological weapon has been and continues to be the permanent generation of post-truth. If in former times, when truth was represented by the dogmas of faith, the prevailing system had religion on its side (not that this beneficial symbiosis has ceased to exist), now, when the only universal and unquestionable guarantee of truth seems to come from science, the system seeks to make people believe that it has its permanent endorsement, applying the perverse strategy of presenting the tenets of its ideology as postulates of science to prevent them from being challenged.

Il·lustració. © Susana Blasco / Descalza Illustration. © Susana Blasco / Descalza

To this end, numerous think tanks and “academic institutions” are currently operating around the world, devoted to building and promoting, with obscure methods and vast material and human resources, the theoretical framework that “scientifically” endorses the dominant system’s self-serving narrative. From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Fauci Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on mRNA vaccines and Covid-19, to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in promoting the US strategy in Ukraine. They are responsible for us believing one thing, although reality proves otherwise. That we believe, for example, that “health comes first”, even though ten thousand people die every day because they cannot afford health care or do not have access to health systems, even though the tendency of governments all over the world – with numerous explicit requests from the European Commission to the Member States – is to make cuts to health and pensions and privatise public systems, and even though health has already become one of the most prosperous areas of corporate enrichment and financial speculation today. That we believe, for example, that “we support peace”, even though 11% of humanity is currently living in a state of war, embroiled in conflicts for which we are largely responsible, and about which we have hardly any news. Or that we also believe, for example, that, thanks to the Troika’s austerity measures, Greece is now “a strong and viable economy” – as the Eurogroup declared when it decided to allow it market access – even though, since it was put into the “bailout” programme, its debt has risen from 129% then to 230% today, it has lost 25% of its GDP and one in four people live below the poverty line.

Thanks to this widespread strategy, during the final decades of the last century and so far this one, the tenets of neoliberalism, the aspirations of Anglo-Saxon neoconservatism and the ambitions of the globalised financial economy have achieved a real “quantum leap”: surreptitiously rising from the category of questionable economic and geopolitical theories to that of unquestionable scientific dogmas, thus sparking a strange, almost universal consensus that has catapulted the de facto power of the global economic elite to unprecedented heights and that has allowed it to even promote the creation of supranational structures to turn it into a de jure power over traditional states, constitutions, national governments and other possible “obstacles” to its particular interests, such as the secular conquests of the rule of law or democracy itself. The result of this successful “leap” is, for example, the creation of plutocratic groups (G8, G12, Triad) that act shamelessly and brazenly outside the – already battered – United Nations, the semi-secret negotiation of controversial free trade agreements (TTIP), the resurgence of NATO as a supposed guarantee of peace and freedom in the world and, in general, the suspicious behaviour of institutions such as the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank: the notorious Troika of austerity policies, which put creditors’ ambition before debtors’ survival and have undermined with unquestionable deeds the credibility of the European Union itself as a progressive and solidarity-based project.

It must be acknowledged, as a self-criticism of society itself, that all those who understand politics as a public relations game to safeguard private interests and all those who, out of complacency or cowardice, decide to uncritically support the official discourse, have generously contributed to the pernicious objective of the dominant narrative being perceived as truth backed by science. Because, until recently, a critical and inquiring spirit was valued, but today there is a strong collective tendency to frivolously demote anyone who challenges the official narrative to the status of “flat-earther”, “conspiracist” and “asocial” – regardless of the soundness of the objections and arguments –, since opposing the official narrative is perceived as a foolish opposition to science. We have opted to return to the principle of auctoritas, exercised today by “institutions”, the “media” and the “self-righteous”, and it is no longer the case that the orthodox have a recognised right to be wrong and the heterodox do not (which is, in itself, a flagrant injustice), but that the orthodox, even if they are wrong, know that they will never be questioned or reprimanded, while the heterodox will be, even if the facts end up proving that they were right.

At the rate we are going, soon – very soon – our actions to tackle the “crises” will no longer be governed by critical reason or science, but by faith in the prevailing discourse. The real problem of our time, in my opinion, is precisely that: having allowed – with the self-serving collusion of the elites, intellectual and academic “favouritism”, the lack of rigour of the press and the passive credulity of society as a whole – the neoliberal and neocon desideratum to become an unquestioned dogma falsely endorsed by science, and to conquer not only politics and ethics, but the very realm of truth. This is the real problem; the rest – everything else we are experiencing today – are just consequences.

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