Truth And Lies In A Digital Media Era

In Sir Walter Scott’s epic, but mostly forgotten, poem, “Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field,” Scott penned his famous couplet: “Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive.” Those lines resonate today when Americans are submerged in an ideological fog of artificial truth thanks to the American media. In step with them are digital social media platforms. In addition, our universities, political class, and elites are foisting information that is laden with lies and half-truths to promote their social and political agenda -- and they are doing it with some considerable success.

These outlets’ lies and half-truths obscure the beacon of Truth. The American news media (not far removed from the old Soviet Pravda) and the digital social platform providers intentionally deceive their viewers by dishonestly substituting their reality for historical reality. A good allegory to illustrate substituting a fraudulent reality for actual reality can be found in the Allegory of the Cave that the Greek philosopher, Plato, used to illustrate the power of misdirection.

In today’s ever-growing secular, a-historical society, many are coming to replace knowledge of our history with the idea that it is no longer important and has no relevance. What is now truly important is a false truth, not knowledge that is based on Truth.

Marcel Eck, a French existentialist in, Lies and Truth, wrote that we know certain things exist because there is tension toward them. Truth is one of those things that even though we cannot see it, we know exists because of tension toward it. Think of Truth as an obelisk that is lighted from many directions. Certainly, we all stand in a separate shadow of the Truth. We can never know an absolute Truth but we will certainly not come anywhere near it if we allow fake shadows masquerading as Truth to deceive us.

The key questions at this point are: What is a lie in the first place? And what kind of lies are being told?

The answer to the first question is: It’s complicated.

Whether something is a lie or not rises from whether there is an intent to deceive – with “intent to deceive” meaning to act for the purpose of misleading someone. When it comes to the truth, it’s important to think about whether we want people to trust us, so we deal in truth or at least in our understanding of it. The liar knows the truth but deforms and just simulates it.

Here is where it gets complicated. There is no lie if there’s no deep conviction that what we say is contrary to what we know and think. Based on that assumption, we must discern whether those who believe they are speaking the truth nevertheless use falsehoods that they believe to be the truth. If so, by whom and for what purpose are they being misled and, in turn, misleading us?

The answer to that second question takes a bit more explanation.

There are white lies, lies to protect ourselves or others, lies with an intent to deceive, and lies with the intent to damage or destroy.

The white lies we tell most of the time are necessary for any society to ensure smooth interactions were possible. You know what they are.

The lies that we tell to protect ourselves or to protect others are usually relatively harmless (and, in life or death situations, may be moral and necessary) except when they involve legal issues or circumstances where truth is required, and trust is mandatory.

Then there are lies that we tell with an intent to deceive. This is the kind of lie the media, universities, and the elites use. At its best, it is opinion masquerading as truth. At its worst, it is used to convey information of a biased or misleading nature to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Finally, there is a form of lie called calumny. This lie is a malicious misrepresentation intended to harm another’s reputation by denouncing someone using defamatory insinuations or the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm their reputation.

Those in the media who speak to us and desire to control us, but still want to avoid outright lies, do so by shading the truth, offering spin, or using phrases such as, “it’s my opinion”, “as I remember it” and, the chart-topper, “at this point why does it matter?”. They know they operate in an environment where falsehoods and misrepresentations can take root before there is an opportunity to measure the validity of allegations or assertions. Such liars know the truth but deform and simulate it. For them, there’s no lie because they have no deep conviction that what they have said is contrary to what is known to be the truth.

In his early works, Shakespeare used the phrases “truth will out” or “truth will become public.” Perhaps that was true 400 years ago. In this time of 24-hour news and news on call via the digital media, falsehoods, and misrepresentations can take root before there is any opportunity to measure the validity of allegations or assertions.

We live in a time when the bulk of our fellow citizens have been indoctrinated rather than educated. Rather than learning facts – including relatively objective history – they are encouraged to think of themselves in terms of relationships to one another. What is important to them is what is trending in digital social media and who the influencers of the moment are. Status comes from horizontal acclaim.

Digital social networks have replaced real social networks. This leads to a society adrift, with people desperate to have someone to guide them. Mainstream news organizations and digital social media platform providers seek to fill this need. If any journalists and politicians still care about regaining and maintaining the trust of the public, it’s time for them to acknowledge that they write or speak from a set of values, not simply from a disinterested effort at the truth.

There are those of us who are stubbornly challenging the half-truths and outright lies of many of the elites of our political, and academic classes. Our numbers include a growing proportion of our business leaders. One example of one who is leading the fight to untangle the web of half-truths and outright lies is Victor Davis Hanson, a polymath who knows history better than most and uses it as a lens through which to offer the most intelligent conservative commentary.

As you navigate your way through the news media and social media, you can keep sight of the truth if you ask yourselves two questions: Are those who tell us lies actual liars or merely misinformed? And if the latter, by whom have they been misinformed and for what purpose?

Carver Gunlocke is a pseudonym.

IMAGE: Truth by pdpics.