Subjective Thoughts on Objectivity
8 January 2021
Every so often we run into an interesting phenomenon that plays itself out on the internet. Most recently I can recall at least two of these phenomena that I would imagine you can recall as well. The first is the yanny/laurel noise, where people would hear a noise as one of the two. The other is the dress that appears either black and blue or white and gold to viewers. What these phenomena show is that people can look at something that should seemingly be objective and come away with different perceptions of that objective item or event. Though I am not specifically concerned with why phenomena of this nature occur (which I am sure there is a good reason for) what it has done is gotten me to think about the concept of objective truth.
The question is straightforward, yet the answer not so much. Is there an objective truth that exists in our reality? When it comes to the concept of an objective truth existing, 2020 was a tough year in proving its existence. Just about every major event that occurred had people that couldn’t agree on even the most baseline of elements of the incident. The biggest events of 2020 were by my count Covid-19 and the US Presential Election. Both events though show exactly how easy it is for whatever objective truth there may have been to become fractured. The question that looms in my mind then becomes why was this the case? To understand and answer this question though, I think it first takes a detailed examination of what has formulated our understanding of objective truth in the past.
When we look back at an event in history, we must ask what dictates the objective truth of the event. When something occurs, especially something monumental or historic, the way that we try to capture the objective truth of the event is through media. One thing I must note is that I am not referring to the institutions and organizations that make up what we would call the mainstream media, although they do play a part in this, it is not limited to just those type of players. When I use the term media, I am referring of course to ways in which someone is sharing information both from the official media institutions as well as anyone who is capturing an event through, text, words, pictures, videos, or any other way of capturing information and presenting it. These documentations of events through media are what writes the narrative of an event, which in turn becomes solidified as the objective truth of the said event.
This has and of course (as far as I can tell for now at least) will continue to be the way our objective truths are captured and presented. The question is what has changed from the past to the present regarding how our objective truths are formulated and solidified. To answer this question we should focus on the who, in terms of who gets to write the narrative that becomes our objective truth of an event.
In the past, there were higher barriers to entry than there is now to be part of this process. There was a time in human history where the ability to read and write was a strict specialty assigned to only so many within a society. Eventually, we realized the need for all humans to be literate and spread the ability for more and more people to not only read the narratives themselves but to make serious attempts of dictating the narrative from their perspective. Even this though left many out of the loop. Sure, many could read and write to some degree, but not everyone could publish a book, pamphlet, or even article, which meant that the seats at the table of objective truth setting were still limited to a controllable number of sources.
This though has changed since the advent of the Internet, smartphones, and Social media. With these new tools and resources available for essentially anyone the barriers to formulating a narrative that could become part of the objective truth is at anyone’s disposal. Hence what sets the stage for the collapse of objective truth in 2020 and who knows how much longer into the future of humanity it will persist.
It does make me wonder though if an objective truth has ever existed or had the narratives of a few from eras long gone become accepted as the truth since there was no way for other active participants of that era to speak otherwise. So, I'll leave you with this lasting thought, could this fracturing of the objective truth be a natural consequence of allowing more and more voices to have a platform in society?
For myself, I am not 100% convinced. But like i said earlier, asking the question is easy, finding the answers are not so easy.