The Loss of Truth

The loss of truth

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It is part of life experience that information is not always reliable. A rumor is, first of all, a rumor. A newspaper article can be biased, a text can contain untruths. Images have greater persuasive power in our perception, but of course images can also lie. If all of these means are combined – for example in a video in which something is said, shown and made audible – our ability to be manipulated increases dramatically.

It is therefore not surprising that so many people fall for untruths on the Internet, which keeps us glued to our screens with ever-increasing sensory overload. Conspiracy tellers have become sophisticated at adding images and film snippets to their videos that suggest “authenticity.” Methods are deliberately used that distort the truth – politicians‘ speeches are edited in such a way that a completely different content is created than that originally intended, music and emotional „storytelling“ are used to suggest credibility. Topics are artificially inflated through presentation to give them a false importance. The notorious Austrian conspiracy channel “Auf1” , for example, uses a presentation copied from the public media to spread its content – the moderator Stefan Magnet appears as if he were on “Tagesthemen” (a German news show he would probably like to be on) and the souped-up studio backdrop ( seen here, for example, in a “special broadcast” on the “Peasants’ Revolt”) can now be tinkered with on the computer without much effort, even by people with little talent.

An acquaintance of mine recently fell for a report that said that those involved in an alleged “vaccine conspiracy” were now officially being brought to justice in America – but in reality it was just a few crazy Republican senators who demanded this in front of a cell phone camera. In the video it was presented as if it were a political decision from the very top.

So we don’t trust all the pictures anymore, but we still fall for them again and again. This can even work the other way around – for example, I was firmly convinced that Greta Thunberg’s misguided support for Palestine was a Russian fake, precisely because so many people “fell for it”. But that of all things was true.

Add satire to the mix and things get even more complicated, especially because it is becoming less and less understood in an environment of increasingly digitalized human interactions. The Bad Blog recently published a barely coded parody of a “gendered Magic Flute ,” which was immediately pounced on by right-wing influencers who didn’t understand the satire as such and believed it to be truth. But now – and this is no joke – there will actually be a new version of “The Magic Flute” that will no longer provoke people with lines like “Because a black man is ugly.”

A lot is being written about AI at the moment – after the initial enthusiasm or excessive fear, disillusionment gradually sets in, as Johannes Kreidler vividly describes in his Kulturtechno blog . But what AI can now do more and more uncannily and better is the manipulation of images, including moving ones. Vladimir Putin may still recognize his own copy as untrue (as he did recently with this propaganda show) , but basically anyone with computer skills can now make such copies. Even scarier are the possibilities of language cloning, in which a person’s tone and manner of speaking are perfectly imitated, but different content is put into their mouth. Criminals are already using this technology to impersonate relatives and friends over the phone. This may all seem wooden and unconvincing in individual cases, but technology is advancing rapidly. Dubbing actors fear for their jobs, as it is already theoretically possible to have Leonardo di Caprio speak German with his own voice and the original tone. It is only a matter of time before this technology is used everywhere for live translation. In the excellent “Black Mirror” episode “Joan is Awful,” which is based on existing technology, Hollywood stars lend their entire computer-cloned personalities to a Netflix-like company, which then uses them to produce series and films. The “uncanny valley” with this technology will no longer be “uncanny”, but completely “ordinary”. It is already being used by laypeople for TikTok videos, in which the boundaries between reality and virtuality are becoming increasingly difficult to separate.

The outcome of all these developments is not yet foreseeable, but will certainly contribute to a further erosion of what was previously perceived as factual truth. Perhaps it is even the case that our era will go down in history as the one in which post-truth finally triumphed.

Now one can speculate endlessly about whether there is such a thing as objective “truth” in the philosophical sense. But we know very well the harmful effects of an increasing loss of reality, where you no longer trust any source and concoct your own truth.

An opinion is no longer the product of an analytical thought process, but is already present before you even think about something. This is how the egg becomes the chicken: I first have an opinion (usually more of a “feeling” or a “hunch”), and only then do I allow this opinion to be confirmed by media that are hastily compiled for me by algorithms in order to have me tied up the computer as long as possible. Opinion has become a lifestyle that citizens of a democracy feel obliged to adopt; that is the fatal attraction of communication channels available everywhere. In every Google review, users assure themselves of their own importance every day – previously they only told their personal friends how they found restaurant X, now the whole world finds out whether they like it or not. It is also the triumph of the individual over reason – like little children, Flatearthers, for example, ignore all clearly demonstrable scientific arguments, instead constructing their own fantasies with completely absurd theories that they confirm with each other. The untruth is becoming a kind of cult, and an increasing number of people believe that what we experience as reality has long been a computer simulation anyway. There are even scientific arguments for this, for example the existence of the speed of light.

This denial of the truth takes on obscene traits when real, terrible events are reinterpreted for staging, such as the storming of the Capitol or the attacks on Israel or Ukraine. The step to Holocaust denial is not far away. Many people have long since stopped believing that we have ever been to space, or that space and stars even exist.

The decline of truth creates a new superstition that is more fatal than any false belief that we attribute to the Middle Ages from today’s perspective. And it attacks the foundations of a society that requires a common ethical “truth” in order to function at all, a truth that must be agreed upon collectively in some form.

Anyone who thinks even a little should understand that a state needs tax money to provide for the well-being of its citizens. In the confused imagination of the “Reichsbuerger” (sovereign citizens in Germany) this is reinterpreted as a kind of robber baronism that is supposed to “root” the population. The citizens of the „Reich“ live in an “alternative truth” in which the laws of our country have no validity whatsoever. The citizens of the Reich do not know how education, schooling and basic medical care can be guaranteed in a taxless and lawless state and how the security of citizens can be guaranteed without laws, but they are still planning the overthrow.

There is also a kind of “loss of truth” in music. Until the late 80s, for example, there was a certain consensus about what “new music” was, there were certain guiding principles and very specific ideas about it. From today’s perspective, this former consensus is seen as dogmatic.

Coincidentally, at the same time as the emergence of CGI in films (also the beginning of a distortion of the truth, even if the first attempts seem banal from today’s perspective), a fundamental change in the „scene“ began, which today presents itself as a split landscape of individual views and styles that can hardly be brought to a common denominator. Even if certain concepts such as spectral music or new complexity have developed a certain appeal through their protagonists, none of these styles can be said to be perceived as being as universal as serialism once was, with which one was forced to deal with in some form or other. There are hundreds, thousands of ways to compose today, and each one is somehow sufficient for itself.

Today, when composers give a master class for students, it is less and less the case that a general aesthetic discussion is attempted, the results of which are applicable to contemporary music in general. Instead, there is more of a specific communication of the ideas of these teaching composers, who offer their own perspective like a kind of product on the market. The result of this development is great freedom for the young generation, who have a huge range of aesthetic enclaves at their disposal. The big disadvantage, however, is that each of these enclaves cooks a bit of its own soup.

Now it was certainly the case in the past that a kind of group formation emerged around certain compositional trends. But there was always a struggle for a generally valid “truth”, which also gave rise to decided opposing positions. For every Stockhausen there was a Britten or Shostakovich. Nowadays it is more the case that people no longer pretend that there is such a thing as a unified discussion; you either compose in a certain way or you don’t, and if you don’t, the teacher shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t feel responsible for it. More like you had called the wrong handyman to the appointment.

In this development towards ever smaller groups with their own “truth”, parallels can be found to the development of filter bubbles on the Internet. These filter bubbles are completely interchangeable because they are self-sufficient in their own interpretation of the world.

It can be felt that the loss of shared values ​​triggers massive fears. Our society is becoming more and more consumed by heated and mostly completely unnecessary debates about all sorts of topics because everyone thinks they are experts on these topics and claims sovereignty over interpretation. However, the joint search for a social and artistic consensus is only possible if we are prepared to accept an interpretation that is not just tailored to us personally.

But to make this possible, we must believe again in the importance of a common interpretation. And perhaps learn again that the search for truth is not an adaptable individual lifestyle, but requires effort and can involve insecurity and the shattering of former beliefs. When you are lost in the maelstrom of lies, the truth becomes a shocking event. There are facts (such as man-made climate change or the spherical shape of the earth) that cannot be ignored even in post-factual terms.

Or to put it another way: the many small “truths” can be challenged, but the big and final ones cannot.

 

Moritz Eggert, January 12, 2024

 

 

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