Do We Declare Truth Dead - Or Resurrect It?
Social media invites us to make a clear, historic choice: Declare that Truth is dead — or resurrect it.
In a new talk that TED published today (https://go.ted.com/kutarna), I invite us all to confront that choice. And to embark together on a journey to resurrect truth. In a moment when lies and misinformation are a wildfire that seems to threaten the very foundations of democratic society…
In a moment when we spend so much time down in trenches, fighting over labels like #FakeNews and #MainstreamMedia…
…I invite us to step back from that battlefield and ask: “What if the problem is not the lies? What if instead the problem is our truths — truths that have become so weak and pitiful, that hasty lies now look just as legitimate?”
Social media, for all its destructive potential, is also performing a vital service in our culture and society. It is making plain, and forcing us to confront, what is deeply wrong with public discourse — namely, that we have become addicted to simple truths. Simple truths fill us with certainty. Simple truths empty us of the need to hear other people.
How to break this addiction is also clear. We need to reintroduce a healthy dose of doubt into our sense-making and our discourse. And that, in turn, means restoring our faith in those diverse institutions whose job it is to search for and complicate truth. That faith is failing (for good reasons that I explore). And as it fails, we find it easier and easier to protect our simple certainties behind a wall of cynicism.
Cynicism protects our certainty. Faith can restore our doubt.
It’s counter-intuitive. But the more I reflect upon our present crisis of truth, the more convinced I become that we need to let social media run amok. Not because society magically finds a better way forward when everyone has the power to shout their own truth. (Mark Zuckerberg made this argument at Georgetown University a few weeks ago, and it’s pretty naïve.)
No, we need to let social media run amok precisely because we are addicted to our own truths. And those personal truths need to die, if we are going to search for, and resurrect, stronger truths together.
Do we declare truth dead — or resurrect it? By asking this question, we can shake up the debates that are going on right now between government regulation and laissez-faire. Between censorship and free speech. Those debates are already stale.
Worse, those debates miss the real choice in front of us: What kind of relationship do we want to have with one another? And how can we seize this technological moment to put ourselves into that relationship?
That’s the conversation we should all be having. If you would like to help us all to have it, please do share my talk with everyone you judge should take part. If there’s enough hunger for it, let’s also find a way to convene the conversation in-person in 2020.
Please, please do not watch my talk if you are looking for “the answer”, or “three takeaways”. That’s the addiction we need to break. (TED has clear data-driven guidelines for what makes a talk “successful”. I gleefully broke them. They need breaking.)
Do watch my talk if you want to pause for a moment, step back, and really think about pivotal questions like:
- How can we invite healthy doubt into the truths that we each possess? How can we melt our own certainty?
- How can we break the habit of spreading the truths that we each possess? How can we develop the habit of searching for bigger truths together?
- How can we restore our faith (and melt our cynicism) toward institutions, like journalism, whose job it is to help society search for bigger, deeper truths?
Answers divide us. But questions unite us.
If you want to react and discuss with me in realtime, find me on Twitter @ChrisKutarna. That’s where I’ll be.