The Truth

I’m honestly not sure anymore. Is there such a thing as The Truth? If so, is it important?

This was a post a friend of mine put up on Facebook that really got me thinking:

A new poll reveals Americans have a wildly overstated view of COVID-19’s impact with respect to total infections and total deaths as percentage of the population.

Poll Question: How many people in your country have had COVID-19
Americans Answered: 20% (66M)Reality: 1% (3.3M)

Poll Question: How many people in your country have died from COVID-19
Americans Answered: 9% (29.5M)Reality: 0.04% (131K)Americans overstated the death number by 225 times.

So, here’s my question: is this a bug or a feature? Is mis-informing people, maybe to the point of fear, a good thing if it produces the result you want (more caution, more mask-wearing, etc)? Do the ends justify the means?

The second question: if it is fair game… is it fair game for everyone? Is it fair game for the people you disagree with to exaggerate, say, the damage of protestors? Maybe to characterize them as rioters so that you fear them?

Let’s zoom out even further, with respect to the election:

Is this ok? I’m personally comfortable saying these were misleading, after reading them.

But if so, is this ok? I think this is misleading too. Am I wrong? This was not blocked as misleading.

I think a lot of truth is black and white, but not all of it. Even the parts that are black-and-white are subject to uncertainty, mistakes, and new learnings as time progresses. Moreover, if you trust gatekeepers to be truth-evaluators, you’re probably asking the impossible. At best you’re asking them to be editors for a narrative that reflects their worldview. They can’t do any better.

Here are a few big questions:

  1. Should truth be policed? If so, who do you trust to police it?
  2. Is it ever the case that things that are untrue/misleading are still net-positive to spread?

I’d argue (1) no, I don’t trust anyone, I want transparency on the source and would not trust every downstream gatekeeper. And (2) that it’s possibly true, but I still want people to be free to speak ‘truth’ against those arguments.

What do you think?