To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.
Design implies intent. However, when we are missing the holistic perspective, intentional solutions at a micro-level create unintentional consequences to the larger system. A shadow Design emerges, circumventing the Design process at the system-level and leaving us with a systemic solution that only vaguely touches on the fundamental problems that the system must solve.
Issue 8. May 2017
design & truth
In this age, abuzz with calls for transparency and a seeming proliferation of fake news, we yearn for Truth. Truth is thrust as an ideal to which, in our goodness, we all strive. It is the foundation for our judicial system and reinforced by our myths, our teachers, and our parents. On the streets, we zealously comfort each other that “the Truth will come out in the end” and dedicate our lives to the notion that “the Truth is out there”. But is it? And would we even know Truth if it were unveiled to us?
Unintimidated, we look for Truth through debate, through rigorous scientific method, through legal proceedings, and through our social encounters with one another. We task our technologies as arbiters of Truth, as an algorithmic first line of defense against untruths such as “fake news”. Truth underpins our most cherished notions of fairness and purpose. But what do we mean by “truth”? Is it the Ideal Truth of Plato or the subjective truth of Kierkegaard? Which do we need; which should we be designing for?
Or, is Truth even what we are after? To consider this, we must contemplate the inverse. What if what we need, what we should be searching for, are lies?
“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I'm afraid the pompous word for that is ‘art’.” Orson Welles, F is for Fake
In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language", 1946
- “There's something heroic in the idea of objective knowledge; the farther away knowledge takes you from your own individual point of view, the more heroic it is.”
Rebecca Goldstein discusses Godel and the Nature of Mathematical Truth, 2005
- “Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.”
Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, National Geographic, 2017
- “For me, the trouble with truth is that not only is the notion of eternal, universal truth highly questionable, but simple, local truths are subject to refinement as well. Up is up and down is down, of course. Except under special circumstances. Is the North Pole up and the South Pole down? Is someone standing at one of the poles right-side up or upside-down? Kind of depends on your perspective.”
Alan Alda answers the question "What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?", 2014
- “The most common misunderstanding about science is that scientists seek and find truth. They don't — they make and test models.”
Neil Gershenfeld, Truth is a Model, 2011
Companies can’t innovate, respond to changing stakeholder needs, or function efficiently unless people have access to relevant, timely, and valid information. It’s thus the leader’s job to create systems and norms that lead to a culture of candor.
A Culture of Candor by James O’Toole and Warren Bennis, HBR, 2009
- “Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.”
Jonathan Haidt summarizing The Argumentative Theory, 2011
- “What makes falsehoods so necessary is our proclivity for making unfortunate associations. It is, in theory, of course entirely possible to love someone deeply and at the same time believe they are terrible at baking. But in our own minds, the rejection of our cakes tends to feel synonymous with the rejection of our being.”
Can Lying ever be Kind? [video], Alain de Botton's School of Life, 2017
- “Lying is an attempt to connect our wishes and our fantasies about who we wish we were, how we wish we could be, with what we’re really like.”
Pamela Meyer on Why We Lie, NPR’s TED Radio Hour, 2014
Truth! Truth! Everybody keeps hollerin' about the truth. Well, the truth is as dirty as lies.
Maggie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (film), 1958
Our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous.
Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2017
- “This is what police brutality looks like. It's not just people having their rights violated and the sh*t kicked out of them. It's an innocent 17yo black kid trying to be a good human being and not running over a cat getting thrown headlong into our court system. It's having to come up with money you don't have, to defend yourself against charges that shouldn't have been filed and recognizing that — but for photographs that someone had the foresight to take immediately — you'd have been convicted based solely on the word of a law enforcement officer who swore an oath to serve and protect who then lied to the court with impunity.”
T. Greg Doucette’s Twitter rant on the the banality of police brutality.
- “Since news organizations tended to consider almost anything a President said or did to be news, and since they were nowhere near as stingy about letting a President make his case as they were about correcting him... over time the public tended to get far more exposure to the President’s than to competing versions of reality. … During the first six years of his presidency Mr. Reagan time and again shifted the framework of debate simply by repeating the same dubious assertions over and over until they became accepted as political facts of life.”
Mark Hertsgaard, "A Palace Court Press" collected in the essential Our Unfree Press (p.428), 1988
- “How do you find the truth on the Internet? You use a search engine. Search engines evidently have very complicated ways to determine which pages will be most relevant to your personal quest for the truth. But in a nutshell, a page's relevance is determined by how many other relevant pages link to it. Repetition, not truth.”
Daniel Haun responds to the question “How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?”, 2010
The reason that email I think is more honest - and again we're not talking about spam or any of that - but in our conversations with family, friends, coworkers we leave a record. We provide the recipient of the lie with the a record of the lie and that is not good for deception.
Does Technology Make Us More Honest?, Jeff Hancock on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, 2014
- “In its method and subject matter, history is uniquely suited to explaining our recurring fascination for fake news. Sure, Twitter and the internet are recent platforms for deceit, news cycles today run faster than ever, and some teachers lack the training or ability to lead students to critical perspectives. But, getting to the bottom of why we continuously fall for fake news requires a deep understanding of our past.”
Fake News Isn't New, Education Week, 2017
- “In the collection of the news of the world, of our own city and nation and of foreign lands, facts are often omitted, distorted or actually invented. Opinions are regularly suppressed or misrepresented. And this, we must remember, is not simply by mistake. It is often done deliberately and scientifically… If we supinely or negligently submit to this kind of literature and information, we are not simply deceived but are courting disaster. We may easily be led unprotesting into misunderstanding, hate & war. We may ruin civilization because we did not know the truth and were willing slaves…
To overturn this system what the individual has to do is a simple thing. He must buy and adequately pay for honest collection of facts and their interpretation by experts and scholars. This is not as costly as it sounds. Huge sums are certainly spent on news collection now because men are not trying to collect facts, and lies are costly.”
W.E.B. Du Bois, On the Collection of Honest News, National Guardian, 1953
Our world is designed through our actions and inactions, ignorance and enlightenment. With this newsletter, we strive to provide some of the context necessary to understand the largest problems facing the world today. We are all implicit in this mess.
There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage