Heresy or Truth?

RANCHO SANTANA, NICARAGUA – In the fifth century, Christian scholars counted 88 different heresies. Arianism. Eutychianism. Nestorianism. If there was a way to “offend” God, they had a name for it. One group of “heretics” argued that there was no such thing as “original sin.” Another denied the trinity. And another claimed Jesus was not divine. Which one had the truth?

 

Depiction of the first Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, convened by Emperor Theodosius II. It was the third ecumenical council (after the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and the Council of Constantinople in AD 381). The patriarchs Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople clashed over church doctrine at Ephesus. The synod ended with Nestorius and Caelestius and their supporters being condemned as heretics. The council precipitated the first major church schism (called the Nestorian schism), which led to churches in the Sassanid Empire separating from the rest of the church. The Roman Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East finally laid their dispute to rest in a common Christological declaration issued in 1994 – a full 1563 years after the first Council of Ephesus.

Photo credit: Philippe Alès

 

Not waiting for divine revelation, they fought it out in the streets… in wars and mass murders. Heretics were persecuted, tortured, and burned at the stake. Our subject this week is the elusive nature of truth. And today, we toy with it. We try to tease it out of public life.

“The seething resentment and unhinged attacks of what is rightly called ‘fake news’ have reached unprecedented levels of irresponsibility and dishonesty,” says Newt Gingrich, a man with more than a passing acquaintance with fakery.

But wait. He goes on to say that this unprecedented attack on fake news has been directed “against President Trump – because he is determined to pursue an agenda which benefits the American people instead of the establishment elite.”

Heresy or truth? We don’t know. Sometimes, there is no truth to tease out. Remarkably, Mr. Gingrich claims insight worthy of the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, reaching beyond the physical world into the president’s “determination,” not just his words and acts.

Even more remarkable, he claims to know that Trump’s policies would “benefit” Americans. How does he know that? Harvard economist Peter Navarro says they would. Walk into the economics department in Cambridge and you will find a dozen others who say they won’t. They might as well be arguing about the Virgin Birth.

Mr. Gingrich has jumped in with both feet. He is not merely commenting on the vast pool of fake news.  He is splashing around in it.

 

Newt Gingrich… evidently he did have truck with that space alien.

Photo credit: Joe Marquette / AP Photo

 

The mainstream media, commentators, politicians, do-gooders – left and right – all frolic in the same swamp. And heck, we’ll jump in, too.  As near as we can tell, the Trump administration poses no threat to the establishment elite.

It’s promised $54 billion more to the military… almost as much as Russia’s entire defense budget. As for the Obamacare reform of which Trump is so “proud,” one analysis shows it adding a trillion in extra costs to the existing system.  But what is the “truth?”

The jesting Pilate did not even bother to stay for an answer. But we are more curious. In preview, what we will discover is that “truth” has little to do with this kind of chatter; in public affairs, it barely exists.

 

A Simpleton’s Universe

Meanwhile, news comes that Maryland has slipped in Bloomberg’s ranking of the states based on “gender equality.” Bloomberg adds a companion report that the Trump administration is hiring “three men for every woman.” Already, we can feel the greasy water dripping from our skin.

“Gender equality?” We all know the two sexes are different. If they weren’t, we’d only have one sex… and about a million fewer jokes. Half our libraries would be empty and the internet porn industry would be left as limp and flaccid as a joint session of Congress. What shallow and depressing lives these people must live!

Such a simpleton’s universe, with no art, no irony, no genuine sentiment, no real emotion or authentic beauty. All they have are numbers, measuring quantity…  and leaving out the important parts.

Imagine one of these poor dumbbells when he tells you he has fallen in love. Why? “She is 5’4”, weighs 112 pounds, and has an IQ of 125,” he says. “Is that all?” you ask. “No – her body temperature is 98.6.” Hmmm…

A human being can recognize thousands of different faces – each with its own story of heartbreak, betrayal, love, and joy etched on it. A competent chef can whip up an infinite variety of dishes, each with its unique flavor, from hundreds of different ingredients

But a world improver has only 10 digits to work with, which he piles up like lumps of Limburger cheese, adding one to another, in a bigger and bigger heap, and not noticing that the whole thing stinks.

“How many women are on corporate boards?” he asks. How much does the average woman earn? How many women has Trump hired? Why not ask: How much joy does a woman get from doing what no man can – having a child?

She also lives, on average, six years longer than a man; how much is that worth to her? Tiresias, the blind Greek prophet who was transformed into a woman for seven years, said he even got more pleasure from sex as a woman than when he was a man. How could the world improvers equalize that?

 

Odysseus encounters the ghost of the blind seer Tiresias, who promptly lets loose with dire pronouncements about the former’s future.

Painting by Johann Heirich Füssli

 

You Can’t Measure “Better”

Bloomberg goes on, with no trace of self-awareness or hint of much-needed sarcasm:

 

Diversity “leads to better problem solving, better outcomes and in some cases better financial performance,” said Brande Stellings, vice president of corporate-board services at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes women in the workplace.

 

Ms. Stellings doesn’t fall into the swamp of false knowledge. Like Gingrich, she jumps in, confident that her prejudices will buoy her up. And she sinks.  Is she saying that if the Wehrmacht had had more women field marshals, it might have won WWII?

If there had been women priests aiding Torquemada during the Inquisition, would the heretics have been exterminated faster? “Better problem-solving?” “Better outcomes?” Are you kidding? How would anyone know? “Better” is qualitative; it can’t be measured with numbers alone.

Besides, how can you promote diversity and equality at the same time? Wouldn’t a diverse society be one where, well, the sexes were not equal? Equality suggests a lack of diversity, not more of it.

Again, it is not that the drive for equality is untruthful. It’s just that there is no truth in it. It is public information, where all the facts are alternative and all the news is fake. We have a friend who has managed to mock the whole business…

In Europe – perhaps in the U.S., too – the push for gender equality and “transgender” rights led governments to allow citizens to choose their own gender. The mischief in this fantasy went unnoticed by almost everyone, but not by our friend.

 

Way ahead of his time: pioneer J. Edgar Hoover.

Cartoon by

 

One of the legislative diktats designed to encourage gender equality required that corporate boards have at least one token woman on them. So our friend declared himself a woman. No operations or drugs were necessary; he was a woman simply because the law gave him the right to be one.

And now his business has a “woman” on its board. Problem solved. The legislature, in its wisdom, passed the law. The law now says he is a woman. So there can be no doubt. He is a woman.

Women are equal to men, said a further law. So now he is equal to a man in every way. Even the essential ones.

 

Image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared as “Searching for Truth in the Trump Era” at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 


 

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One Response to “Searching for Truth”

  • wmbean:

    Ah yes, that course taken at the university many years ago called Tests And Measurements. Does a test have validity and reliability. That is, does the test purport to measure what it measures and will one obtain the same or similar results every time. That along with Experimental Design And Methods (three semesters worth) and one begins to form an opinion as to the validity of the research efforts of a good many individuals, much of it unfavorable. Take a couple of courses in Physics and one begins to see the problems in taking measurements. How much does the individual interfere with the measure by the very act of measurement? Of course in the real world of human behaviors and emotions we must abandon any effort at measurement accuracy, self report is always suspect even from the most honest of individuals. It says something of psychology when William James found the German school of psychology too reliant on self report and turned inward towards that American philosophy, transcendentalism, the quintessential magic eight ball.

    So it should come as no surprise that Political Science, Political Economy, and Social Science are no sciences at all. The mere need to quantify anything does not produce a science. And since lawyers like to argue both sides of the law it no longer surprises me that they are the first to disregard science, logic, or common sense to “win” their case. In the old days Perry Mason may have subverted the truth for a time but it did will out in the end. Sadly the old days of fiction have long since died and the new decades of distortion and outright lies have come to prominence. The end of days for humans may be within our grasp.

    Measuring “better” is like Fechner’s theory of discernable differences. Place an object in one hand of a known weight and then place an object with a different known weight in the other hand. At what point do the weights between the objects become non discernable? Ah, but we also have individual differences to add to our equations. I have my own theory about discernable differences and individual differences when it comes to idiots, nincompoops, and dolts. My problem is a sense of proper measurement. We must have numbers even if the data are qualitative. We must allow for the use of descriptive statistics to settle arguments. The charge that a “Man is six feet tall” should be proper evidence that is must be non inclusive of those who measure less in stature. Up is down, in is out, what does it matter, let it all hang out. I think this shows my age. God, and to think that was all thirty five years ago. Can’t say much has changed.

    So doing one’s own thing was merely a pretense at diversity, being different and being celebrated as not being under the thumb of the Man. Yeah, let it all hang out. Insanity was groovy and being logical was being square and not where it’s at. Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last now. Kicking at cobble stones looking for fun and feeling groovy. So what else is new in the world?

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