Sunday, December 03, 2006

What is Truthiness?

SOCRATES: Glen, Crito and I beg you to join our discussion, and enlighten us on a subject that has puzzled us both. What is “truthiness”?

GLEN: Well, first of all, it’s a fad word with more style than substance. But so far as I can tell, something has “truthiness” if it seems to be true in some way that is intuitive or emotional, but not proven by evidence or reason.

SOCRATES: Hmmm. Then I beg you to excuse me, for I must be dreadfully ignorant …

CRITO: Very true, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Shut your pie hole, you idiot. You’re supposed to say “very true” when I say something that actually is true, not when I’m engaging in self-deprecation for rhetorical effect.

CRITO: When you say something that is true, or something that has “truthiness”?

GLEN: Could we skip the rhetorical effects for once? Just get to the point.

SOCRATES: Very well. This quality of “truthiness” that you describe – it differs from truth in that it is neither a self-evident fact, nor is it deduced by logic?

GLEN: That’s right.

SOCRATES: And yet, if a person perceives “truthiness”, he perceives something that appeals to him in some manner that reason cannot explain?

GLEN: Yes.

SOCRATES: And he judges this to be good, though he cannot prove why?

GLEN: I suppose so.

SOCRATES: Then once again I have confirmed by belief that Americans have no appreciation for beauty. For is it not obvious that this “truthiness” is none other than the quality of being beautiful? All civilized people understand what beauty is, but Americans are so ignorant of beauty that they must invent ugly words to describe its effects, on those rare occasions when beauty penetrates their petrified senses.

CRITO: So truthiness is beauty, and beauty, truthiness? Am I supposed to say “very true” now, or are you still pretending to be stupid?

GLEN: Pretending or not, he’s dead wrong.

SOCRATES: How am I wrong?

GLEN: Because “truthiness” doesn’t appeal just to sensuality. It also appeals to ignorance, bigotry, and malice. People see truthiness in things they want to believe, and lots of people want to believe the worst. People love to believe in conspiracies and immanent disasters, and all kinds of sordid things that are not at all beautiful.

CRITO: Unless they perceive some kind of bizarre beauty in such things. A sort of “beautiness”.

GLEN: Beautiness?

SOCRATES: I think Crito has had one of his occasional rear-end collisions with truth. For if truthiness exists, the analogous quality of beautiness must exist also. In fact, isn’t the entire American aesthetic founded on beautiness? Americans are repelled by any refined expression of beauty, finding all such poetry and music to be nothing but noise and nonsense. They want extravagant spectacles of color and sound, orgies of violence and pornography, and they reject as pretentious anything that rises above the lowest common sentiment. They want counterfeit beauty, to go along with their counterfeit truth.

GLEN: You’re one to talk. If we had any artists in this country, you’d be all for shipping them to Guantanamo.

SOCRATES: All I’ve ever asked of artists is that they serve the civic and ethical purpose of society, which of course they won’t do. But your Republic has done an admirable job of exterminating them. And your bogus artists serve the purpose of your culture very well, since that purpose seems to be sado-masochistic nihilism. They couldn’t be greater patriots.

GLEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I still don’t know what you mean by “beautiness”.

CRITO: It’s like the time that Sappho went to Fort Lauderdale. She hit on this chick in a bar, only it turned out that the chick was a guy wearing a dress.

GLEN: So beautiness is like a guy wearing a dress.

SOCRATES: Not a very elegant analogy, but it has a kind of truthiness to it.