In The Marketplace of Ideas…..

….there is no monopoly on the truth….   

 ….money talks…..    

Well, take your pick or make up your own ending, but with free markets of all types under attack, perhaps we might consider the very real risks posed by our willingness (or lack thereof) to seek out, even to embrace, the truth in what may be the most important marketplace of all.  And, while I might generally contend that no political party or church has an absolute “monopoly on the truth”, we must, I believe, accept that some are probably more right than others.  And, it should go without saying, it is our job to figure out which those are.    

We stand today in a deluge of ideas and opinions, often disguised as facts.  We hear that Al Gore “invented” the internet, that Tea Party members are racists, that Christians hate homosexuals, that Obama is a muslim, that FDR saved us from the Great Depression.  Are any of these true?  And, if you actually cared to investigate them, how would you know, really, which were true?   

Reasonably enough, my default response is to “check the source”.  Some, it seems, are better than others.    

I like the Bible itself, for instance, when it comes to matters relating to religion, notably the Christian one, ha, ha.   Again, it seems a reasonable starting place, given the nature of the subject.  Every subsequent opinion, presumably, must conform to or be reconciled there.  Yet, it often surprises me how few, purportedly Christian religions are really comfortable with the Bible.   

As for politics, well, now you’re talking about a very human realm and, frankly, it might be somewhat unreasonable to expect deliverance from the profligate and unprincipled exchanges that take place regularly in this particular market.  Still, we must try and, I would hope, reasonably expect that any source in which we might – however tentatively – place our trust, consistently and verifiably hold to the truth.  Catch them in a deliberate lie?  Move on, find something better.  Really.   

In Economics, a “science” we are to understand, we might hope for more readily verifiable  strain of “the truth”.  Lest we become too optimistic, we might remember that some place Politics in the “science” category too.  Alas, one man’s facts are another’s “poorly conceived and executed” study or model.   Sadly, even the supposed “hard” sciences, appear often enough to be fraught with bias.  Of course, that happens largely when combined with the aforementioned human realms.    

Truthfully, (he says with a weary and troubled sigh), I’ve got no clear answers to offer here.  What ever I might present, you can be assured, will generally be thoughtfully considered and researched.  Nonetheless, these are simply yet another man’s offering in the marketplace of ideas.  While it seems impossible to fully reconcile humility with conviction, truth itself is not altered by our hubris, only placed somewhere out of sight.      

  • “Truth is so obscured nowadays and lies so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it.” — Blaise Pascal (1623–62), French scientist, philosopher. Pensées, (1670).
  • “Speak the truth and shame the devil.” – Francois Rabelais, Works. “
  • Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; […] there must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it.  – John Stuart Mills (On Liberty, 1859)
  • “The truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the marketplace of ideas—complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemmas, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse.” –  George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950. 1951.
  • “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition…But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundation of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas.”  – Oliver Wendall Holmes (Abram v. United States)
  • Someone offering commodities in a market — far from being “not bound by anything” — is governed by enforceable law relating to fraud, credit, contract and such like. The analogy does have limits, but of a different sort: in the marketplace of ideas, fraud, plagiarism, theft, false advertising (including false claims to expertise and the whole mystique of expertise), “conspiracies of silence,” casual slander and libel, breach of contract, deceit of all sorts are more common than in business — simply because there are few readily enforceable penalties against offenders, whereas “whistle-blowers” are severely punished.”  – W.W. Bartley, III (Unfathomable Knowledge) (HT to Peter Klein at Organizations and Markets)
  • “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  – John 8:44

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