I HAVE NO HESITATION AT ALL in admitting that I always applaud what I like. I suppose this is the case with most of us and it should not be embarrassing. However a pithy comment by John Kay in The Financial Times of April 22, 2015 set me biting my nails and scratching my head. “We are all subject to confirmation bias,” Kay wrote, ” – a tendency to find or interpret facts to support our opinions we already hold.” Kay was expounding on the term “truthiness” – term coined by the American political commentator Stephen Colbert. “Truthiness takes us further. There is a profound egoism about truthiness. These are beliefs we hold not because they look true to me, but because they look true to me. A statement is truthy if it is held valid independently of any evidence. Truthiness is the belief that comes when conviction is prized over information.” Although Kay was writing in the context of the behaviour of British politicians against the background of the imminent general elections, his piece set me thinking for hours and several of my biases and beliefs floated across my mind – to say that I was embarrassed would have been an understatement!
I KEPT WONDERING IF THE ABOVE THOUGHT PROCESS associated with truthiness forms the key ingredient of all propaganda – be it in politics, art, or advertising. Indeed when truthiness is repeated often, it jostles alongside competitively at the level of the plain truth itself ! There is therefore a lot of substance in the statement which says that “sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.” Equally, one must learn to see things how they are instead of how one hoped, wished, or expected them to be.
KAY MAKES THIS IMPORTANT POINT – the sincerity of a false belief does not justify unfounded allegations against others and he paraphrases an interesting quote from P. J. Rourke: ” In modern times, truthiness – a truth asserted from the gut or “because it feels right” without regard to evidence or logic – is also a big part of political discourse.” I wondered for a moment if Rourke was trying to summarise the India of today in one sentence !
WHEN WE BUY A NEW BOOK WRITTEN BY OUR favourite writer or spend time at a matinee show watching a film made by our favourite director, truthiness can sometimes raise its head unknowingly. Even if the book or film was indeed mediocre most of us would have difficulty in admitting that we wasted our time in reading the book or watching that film. Coming to think of it, although it is easier said than done, we would be able to see life more clearly (and therefore find it less disappointing) if we make earnest efforts to rid ourselves of confirmation bias and truthiness – the real enemies of reason.
A FRIEND WITH WHOM I DISCUSSED THE ABOVE THOUGHTS warned me that one would make more enemies by trying to reason things out with others as the ground reality is quite simple : birds of the same feather flock together. The existential choice is either to embrace the truth all alone or wrap around ourselves with the spurious comfort induced by our faith in truthiness.