TRUTH, LIES AND AN INDIAN HOLIDAY
(part of an occasional essay series)
"They've got 4 people doing what one person would do back home. That's why they'll always be third world..."
I should tell them off, I think to myself, as I eavesdrop on my neighbours at breakfast. Annoying bunch of self-important English gits that they are with their fake-leather briefcases and polyester ties. But I do not, because a rational voice in my head recalls a similar conversation I had with Keith two nights previously. In truth, their only crime is to state the obvious, and to confuse effect with cause. And its not like I have the answers. How does one increase labour productivity and allay poverty? does anyone know? Show me an economist who says she does and I'll show you a person badly in need of Electro-shock therapy immediately followed by a partial lobotomy. Lithium too, may be in order.
So Why this foolish illogical pride? I remember telling off that stuck-up English girl all those years ago at the staff swimming pool about negritude and leopold sedar senghor. But that was simply me being mean because she wouldn't talk to me (it worked: she animatedly exuded a sea of words every time we met after that). But I'm older now: I know the facts and I have less need to pick up attractive women at pools. I now write at length about economic development and I am quite familiar with the symptoms that catalysed their remarks. I have lectured many a hapless individual who has spoken glowingly of India's economic future about the fallacy of such an idea. Phrases like, 'a wounded civilisation' (a la VS Naipaul) have sprung to my lips. Contempt has been expressed for the inadequacies of pop-Hinduism as the basis for anything but stagnation. I have even proposed (half seriously) a Mao-style cultural revolution as a first step for India's redemption. Some more standard economic misconceptions about productivity are expressed by my unsuspecting breakfast companions, and eventually I am inclined to correct them.
But their conversation is that of individuals ill at ease with each other, and flits quickly between topics. Silence is to be avoided and before I can interrupt they switch. "where do you buy your eggs back home?", and the banter now is of free range eggs and tesco's wares.
Ignorance really is the first globalised product, as old as the earth itself. All these books, all that knowledge, and it seems as if I have come across an important scientific law.
The total amount of stupidity on the planet earth will always remain constant (and may even increase), and is independent of pressure, temperature, population and the average level of knowledge in any given society, culture or nation.
A little like enthalpy, for those scientific types out there. For the sake of modesty I am assuming that this law only applies to the third rock from the sun, but there is no reason to suppose that it is not a universal one. Aliens with 3 legs and a proboscis are not exempt from stupidity, I am sure. (Although this may explain the lack of contact with alien civilisations: what if they are free of the stupidity gene and are afraid of contracting it, and have been isolating this solar system as a form of active quarantine?)
Such a law, of course, requires a basic (assumption no 1): that stupidity is incurable, but ignorance is not. However, large scale ignorance may lead to idiocy, which is easily mistaken for stupidity, given the similarity in symptoms, and which can then be transmitted to one's offspring and other close associates, just as stupidity seems to be. To the untrained eye, this presents a problem, and only with years of training and the necessary manuals and lab equipment (the subject of a forthcoming essay) can one identify the irredeemable from the redeemable.
But I digress. This is about lies, lying and revisionism, and my Indian holiday.
But seriously folks, what is a lie exactly? Any clear definition requires us to accept the fact that its exact opposite is the truth. So to know what a lie is to know what the truth is, which is a pretty dangerous thing to say if you aren't an evangelist, or some other form of a fundamentalist. He who cannot lie (a la Abraham Lincoln:' I cannot tell a lie..') must by definition be saying some form of truth. And the conditional is what I'd like to draw your attention to - there are clearly several forms of truth -witness Bill Clinton's denials: 'I did not have sex with that woman', which as it turns out was true in one interpretation.
However, what bothers me is not the continuum of truth, but that such a continuum implies an equal but opposite continuum of untruths. In other words, a continuum running from pure lies to pure truth (neither of which exists in any real sense that we can measure, much like absolute zero) presents itself to us. The problem with such a continuum, as any scale does, is that it is relative to something. The physical sciences take some sort of a universal event or phenomenon, but what is there to guide us in the matter of lies? What is the world's most absolute lie? If I were to say, 'I am al pacino' this would clearly be a lie, but would this be worse of a lie than, 'Jesus' was Chinese'?
The difference, I feel, is one of entropy. Not in the chemical sense of the word, but adapted from information theory. entropy is the amount of information being imparted. My identity as a non-al pacino person can be checked and confirmed quite easily. Its value and usefulness is close to zero to most if not all of my fellow human beings. Whereas Jesus' nationality is matter of some value and imparts knowledge that might not be acquired otherwise. The world has been altered in some way, and Shannon (who invented information theory) would have labelled this as a high entropy event, as opposed to my appearance which is a low entropy event. Note that it does not matter a jot whether these events have any truth content to them or not.
So the significance or absoluteness of a lie is based on its information content, regardless of its actual truth content. Reality has little or no place in this. Where does India come into all this, I hear you plead Because India is in the middle of a period of historical revisionism, or a refabrication of truth to fit the facts as certain people have reinterpreted them. We were told by an otherwise intelligent guide that all the great monuments of India attributed to the Muslim rulers over an entire millennium were in actual fact made much earlier by Hindu rulers (such as the Taj mahal). All the Muslims did was add some Arabic calligraphy, change the name and tell their scribes to rewrite the facts.
You can see, can you not, patient reader, that this to-ing and fro-ing with truth to lies to truth with the same physical object over a millennium does severe damage to any sense of understanding the facts, and the absoluteness of events which could only have occurred in one way and no more. But there is no way of fixing this, because all of history has been distorted by the process of interpretation, indeed, all of reality. so here is a proposition: if enough people say something often enough it becomes true. Something out of the wizard of oz, and I think perhaps the yellow brick road led to hind not oz. Note another assumption (assumption no 2) required here: that there is only one reality in any given dimension.
So here is my second law for the day:
the truth is subjective, reality more so.
It is a small step, then, to say that lies can be made into truth which defines reality. By extension, reality can be made into truth and then into lies. Because there is a symbiotic relationship between reality and truth, or so we think.
I shall therefore venture to suggest that perhaps a change in truth alters reality. After all, as the creationists argue, if no one was there to see the big bang, how do we know it happened? Answer: because a lot of us believe it did, ergo, its a fact. But, I hear the meek voice in my audience ask, doesn't that mean creation is reality too? darn right. But how? It simply means there are two subspecies of human beings, and it seems to me quite clear how the stupid ones came about.
How this has got into the distillation of my Indian holiday, I do not know. But I do now know this: stupidity is a fact, and stupidity drives reality, and since the gross level of stupidity is a global constant then the amount of reality must be one too.
In other words, despite the growth in knowledge, there will be no consequent decrease in ignorance. On the contrary, as the population grows the absolute number of stupid people will continue to increase (although the percentage may stay constant). In any other species this would have led to a process of natural selection, but the danger is that natural selection may deselect the wrong group, leaving the world to be run by the ignorant. What a thought. Come to think of it, this seems to have already happened, if the quality of politicians is any measure. The creationists have it: they are going to win because their reality is by far the more valuable (high entropy) one, for which they are willing to be irrational and the evolutionist not. Since by definition only one reality can exist in any one universe, by force of will, Adam and Eve and all the others are historically accurate. Faith, it is said, is everything, and how right they are.
The only way to get round this is to relax assumption no 2, and accept that there is more than one reality, and that multiple realities can exist simultaneously. In which case both creation and evolution are truths, and the two groups will continue to live in isolation from each other. This doesn't affect any of my laws incidentally. It is clear that the number of stupid people will continue to grow because clearly they have more sex than the rest of us (switch the TV on any night of the week for proof). Our only hope is to prevent any interbreeding of the two sub-species if the world is to continue to be a safe place for knowledge.
Morale of this story: thinking is futile. It only puts you on the fast track for extinction. Stupidity rules. reality sucks.