This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The use of discourse

It is a modern dogma that ‘the free exchange of ideas’ leads automatically to truth, hence the emphasis in modern regimes on ‘free speech’ and our high esteem for ‘public discourse’. This belief is so obviously false that nothing short of a lifelong indoctrination in bad philosophy could get humanity to believe it for as long as they have.

I’ve never seen any reason at all to believe that on the social level truth prevails over falsehood, or good over evil. The ‘good guys’, guardians of truth and justice, do not just win automatically by some sort of natural law. That is fiction. The facts, on the contrary, tell us in gruesome detail that things work in the opposite manner, and the lie tends to get the upper hand. We should recall that Christ was crucified by popular demand, which is to say, he was murdered democratically, and his Apostles martyred after him. Socrates was sentenced to death by a jury of his peers.[1] In other words, the objective pursuit of justice and truth are not instincts embedded in human collectivities, particularly in democracies where passions and tribalism rule supreme. In fact, we could say that it was Pilate, the representative of royalty and empire, who tried to save Christ by way of ‘public discourse’, but the crowd would not have it, even to the point of releasing a known criminal just to make sure their scapegoat was executed. Things have not changed much in two thousand years.

To act according to justice is to act against one’s inclinations and even against one’s own interests, and that is why it is so rare on the individual level, and virtually non-existent when it comes to crowds. Yes, according to Christian doctrine, we are told that in the long run justice will have the last word—Christ will return—but that only proves the point, since that moment of justice comes after the end of the world. Justice is not found within the timeline of the worldly narrative—it is an ‘afterword’, a divine intervention that restores a world in shambles.

Every election season I am given more proof, as if I needed it, that lies, given the light of day, have the strategic and tactical advantage over truth. The truth can be a hard and unpleasant thing to swallow. It also imposes restraints on those who possess it—and sometimes those restraints are severe. Modern societies worship freedom first and foremost, and nothing places limits on one’s freedom like strict fidelity to the truth. Who would accept such a burden when it is much easier to just pull a set of ready-made opinions from the internet or the television? We can add to this problem the very real asymmetry between the statement of a lie and the effort required to correct the lie. It is easy for one person to make a mistake, but very difficult for another person to decisively correct it. Anyone can make a false claim, or a dozen of them, in just a few minutes, but it might take another person hundreds of pages of research and reasoning in order to truly demonstrate that those claims were false. The adherents of truth are quickly overtaken by the deluge.

This is similar to what was written by George Horne in his Letters on Infidelity:

“Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject…people in general, for one reason or another, like short objections better than long answers.”

Finally, there is the problem of emotional well-being. Solomon was stating a universal truth when he said: “With great knowledge comes great suffering.” Ignorance is always more more comfortable. The truth is very hard to obtain–lies are easy. They require zero work, and they can be as flattering as we want them to be. Especially in hard times, who can blame people for preferring the fiction when the facts are so awful?

What is today called ‘dialogue’ is just an exchange of lies to see which lie will prevail, a competition to see which configuration of errors will get to be in charge of the country for a time. Political debate is just a sentencing of each man to his own darkness. ‘The free exchange of ideas.’ Nonsense. We watch the debates, we cringe at the childishness of it, we turn red in the face with the screaming pundits, but the pursuit of truth really has nothing to do with it. It is just a gladiatorial match. The people watch as the proponents of terrible ideas fight for the right to implement their idiocy as law. We might pick a side, claim that one of them is right and the other wrong—but we really do not care in the end who was right—we care that our man won and that theirs did not. The Romans would pick a man to root for, but it was not about the man, it was about the gore. It is about tribalism. It is about finding a scapegoat for the violent anguish of a frustrated people. The modern world is inherently violent—it displays this on every level. Thus, in the realm of ideas it is the combat that matters, and we’ll see truth itself dead in the dust before we’ll close the Coliseum.

[1] Although in the case of Socrates, he certainly appeared to be egging everyone on, as if martyrdom was his goal all along and he’d accept nothing less. That does not excuse the crowd, however.

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