Too True To Be Good

Posted on February 8, 2017

Ecologist experts lied before the world summit on global warming in Paris in 2016. They had replaced reliable data from buoys with less reliable data from ships in order to make their findings more dramatic. The more reliable data indicated a slow or slower than expected speed of ocean water warming. True rendering of the measurement results would have added fuel to the arguments of sceptical critics of the new green religion of sustainable growth. By massaging the data, throwing out the ideologically unpleasant ones and shopping for more pleasing records, researchers tried to harmonize the truth with their idea of goodness. By making their findings more dramatic they hoped to make politicians afraid to stall. The prophets of the new religion of the environmentally friendly progress of mankind towards a balanced salvation could not be stopped by mere facts or even the old fashioned evidence-based truth. They have seen the future and it worked. Less coal burning, less fossil fuels, more wind, water, sun and vegetarians. The future paradise is green, comrades.

This is not an isolated case of lying. The Greenpeace activists had also lied in their conflict with the Shell management, which wanted to sink the Brent Spar oil platform in the North Sea. Slowly but surely the unpleasant truth emerged. The greedy capitalists who profit from Shell oil business had commissioned experts who turned out to be closer to truth than the ones hired by the planetary angels of Greenpeace. Small donations to Greenpeace Foundation may have more sentimental value than expert fees paid from high profits of the Royal Dutch Shell, but the truth is the truth is the truth. It would have been better for everyone to sink the platform in the North Sea than to tow it away to a Norwegian fjord. The broader social problem is not with the truth but with its dissemination just in time to make a better informed local decision. The media hysteria made it possible to set Shell gas stations on fire in Germany and made it impossible to have the expert discussion reported fairly in the mass media. The more recent media hysteria about Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections of 2016 is another case in point. Media frames let an inconvenient, politically incorrect truth go down, because the media owners and the media professionals label some facts as too true to be good.

This raises the question: is it not time for the civil society to mobilize? Perhaps retool the social media? To counter the large multimedia conglomerates and the custodians of political correctness directly? To take on the Springers, but also the Soroses? To dare Fox, but also Avaaz? The Google but also Chinese government?  Info space is “ours”, not “theirs”, but they are also us, only further and estranged. Perhaps we could repair western democracy if we could learn? Learning involves daring. Do we dare to learn from creative Africans, even if they are poorer than we? Do we dare to learn from Nigerians, Kenyans, Egyptians, South Africans and others - whose mobile phones changed the banking systems, the policing of the streets, the allocation of resources and political mobilization? If we only dared to learn from them instead of telling them that bridging the gaps East-West and South-North is too dangerous… To whom can anything be too true to be good? 

February 8, 2017