Archive for September, 2018

In Praise of Irresponsibility, Part II


Our task is to define the praiseworthy aspects of irresponsibility, and to do so we have to first define irresponsibility itself. And here we immediately come upon several possibilities. There is irresponsibility of commission, which is to be irresponsible by committing irresponsible acts. There is also the irresponsibility of omission, which is to be irresponsible by failing to act in a responsible manner. And let us not neglect to mention willful irresponsibility, which is to refuse to accept or acknowledge one’s responsibilities. Finally, there is meta-irresponsibility, which is to consider the question of responsibility in an irresponsible manner, as in “Your discussion of responsibility has grown tiresome, feh!”

But such a compendium of irresponsibility appears to shed little light on the question of what is praiseworthy about any of it. Let us therefore backtrack a bit. First, we will define responsibility. Then we will expose its numerous deplorable, detestable, reprehensible aspects. And then, finally, through the simple trick of negation, we will get at irresponsibility and its laudable, praiseworthy aspects. Let’s get cracking!


When Money Stinks

Bill Mayer

The phrase “pecunia non olet” (money doesn’t stink) is said to have been coined (no pun intended) by the Roman emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69 to 79 AD. It is generally taken to mean that the value of money remains the same regardless of how it was obtained. (Well, tell that to the money-laundering squad!) Vespasian had a point: Roman money was mostly in the form of silver coins which derived their value from their silver content rather than anything else.

But even then Roman money was already starting to stink a little bit: in 64 AD emperor Nero debased the denarii by 25% by mixing in copper. This process ran its course in the 3rd century AD, by which time a typical denarius was over 50% copper. And then emperor Caracalla introduced a two-denarii coin that weighed 1.5 times as much—an additional 25% debasement. No doubt the Roman legionnaires who were charged with protecting Rome’s frontiers from the ever more numerous barbarians, and who were paid in this increasingly worthless money, thought that it did indeed stink, and acted accordingly, as did the barbarians.

Fast-forward to today, and the coin of the realm is the US dollar. Unlike Roman money, which lost 75% of its money over three centuries, the US dollar lost 96% of its value over just one. It was, for a time, tethered to gold, but that was ended in 1970 after a massive run on US gold reserves. Since then it has been tethered to nothing but sustained by several forces. First and foremost of these is sheer inertia—the bulk of international trade is settled in US dollars—followed by the threat of violence against anyone who tries to escape from the US dollar system (as exemplified by Iraq and Libya). But these forces are bound to weaken over time. As the US represents an ever-smaller share of the world economy and other players start to claim an ever-larger share of world trade, the inertia is dissipating. And threatening violence against Russia, China and even Iran is not particularly effective because all of these countries are perfectly capable of threatening the US right back.

The US dollar stinks in a number of other ways. Foremost of these is the terminal financial condition of the US as a whole: it is, by all reasonable estimations, a bankrupt country that can only sustain itself by taking on debt at an ever-accelerating rate. There are no pretenses at all that it will ever be repaid; the only ways forward are through devaluation or default (or a combination of the two). Even just rolling the debt over will become impossible if interest rates return to their historical average. As Putin put it at the recent international conference in Vladivostok, with the leaders of all the major Asian nations in attendance, this is “a problem without a solution.”

Second in line are the increasingly onerous legal and regulatory requirements in transacting in US dollars. Any transaction of any size that uses US dollars automatically comes under US jurisdiction. In turn, the US government has been using this jurisdictional creep to its advantage by punishing economic and geopolitical rivals. The most recent scandal is over the sanctions the US saw it fit to impose on the Chinese for buying weapons systems from previously sanctioned Russian companies. China is banned from buying US-made weapons, so here it isn’t even a matter of hurting competitors; rather, it shows a willingness to hurt everyone in an attempt to prevent Russia from taking first place in weapons sales (it is currently number two after the US). Add to this the ever-present threat of having one’s US dollar funds frozen at any time and for any made-up reason, and there is every reason to stop using the US dollar. But how?

“Dedollarization” is currently a very hot topic of discussion around the world. Quite a few countries, most notably Russia and China, Russia and Turkey and several others, are determined to start trading in their own currencies, circumventing the US dollar. But there are 180 currencies in circulation throughout the world that are recognized by the UN, and this creates a bit of a problem. As long as everyone transacts using the US dollar, what results is a hub-and-spoke system with the US dollar at its center. To trade, everyone converts their currency into dollars, then converts back. Since it is usually more expensive to buy dollars than to sell dollars, there is a sort of built-in “dollar tax” that everyone has to pay, while the US gets to make money simply by making US dollars available. This doesn’t seem all that fair.

On the other hand, there are some benefits to using the US dollar. First, it is very liquid: if you need to come up with a large sum of dollars in a hurry, all it generally takes is a single phone call, whereas with some of the minor currencies it may take considerable time and effort to come up with the needed sum. Second, it has been relatively stable, with relatively low volatility compared to some other currencies, making it less risky to hold dollars than other, more volatile currencies. Lastly, for a company that trades internationally, maintaining just one price list, in dollars, is a lot less effort than maintaining separate price lists in every single national currency.

However, it stands to reason that while the benefits to continuing to use the US dollar in international trade are finite, the potential disadvantages are incalculable: if the US, and the dollar system, were to fail catastrophically, the damage to everyone’s trade relationships would be catastrophic as well. More and more countries are becoming appreciative of this fact, and establishing currency swaps and other means for facilitating international trade in their own currencies. The problem here is the sheer complexity of such a system. With the US dollar out of the picture, the network diagram of world currencies becomes like this, except with 180 nodes instead of just a few.

An alternative is to just let China take over. It is already the world’s second-largest economy after the US, and the world’s largest economy by their purchasing power parity (the Chinese earn less but can afford more than Americans). China’s financial position is almost a mirror opposite of the US: it is the exact opposite of bankrupt, with large surpluses and reserves and an ever-expanding hoard of gold. But China tends to be a cautious player and prefers gradualist approaches, making a sufficiently rapid replacement of the USD with the CNY unlikely.

When it comes to issues that may affect the stability of the entire global financial system, being prudent and cautious does sound good. On the other hand, you may ask, What stability are you talking about? The current intellectually challenged resident of the White House likes to wake up in the morning and start another trade war. He has endowed various other individuals within the US government with the authority to single-handedly impose financial sanctions on countries, companies and individuals anywhere in the world. The US federal budget deficit is zooming toward a trillion dollars a year—and this while the economy is supposedly doing well. But of course it isn’t: there are close to 100 million long-term unemployed; inflation (if you include housing, education and medicine) is running wild; the country is full of insolvent municipalities and states and so on. Wealth inequality in the US is reaching levels at which countries tend to explode politically. Perhaps most importantly, the quality of the governing elites in the US, which was quite high just a few generations ago, has now become absolutely abysmal. It isn’t just Trump who is intellectually subpar; so is just about everyone else. They will do all they can to perpetuate the fiction that the US is still wealthy and powerful—until the lights go out.

Still, it would be unwise to panic, because in a panic everyone gets wiped out in a hurry. The right approach to dedollarization is to work at it dilligently, every day, pursuing a strategy that will minimize your losses. The collapse of the US dollar system is not going to be a money-making opportunity for most people around the world. Instead, the choice is between losing something and losing everything, and I would advise the former. And so here is a handy dedollarization flowchart I have put together. If you follow it faithfully, in the fullness of time you will find yourself fully dedollarized. I leave it up to you to decide how aggressively you should act, based on your own subjective feeling of when the deadline is going to suddenly arrive.

In Praise of Irresponsibility, Part I


There is no shortage of official voices exhorting us to act responsibly. Strenuous attempts are being made to make us feel responsible for the government officials we supposedly elect (by responding to a multiple-choice question which we don’t get to ask). Financial irresponsibility—in taking on too much personal debt—is vilified (while government debt shoots for the stars with no thought to repayment). Responsible parenting is held up as a great virtue forcing us to adhere to inflated safety standards that bring up generation after generation of mollycoddled nincompoops. The authorities threaten us into reporting various minor infractions by our neighbors—spying on behalf of the government, that is—ignoring the fact that legislative bloat has made it so that each person commits an average of three felonies a day. Even insurance companies get in on this moralizing game, conditioning us to think that acting responsibly will lower the insurance premiums on our mandatory insurance—but please don’t tell anyone that if your risk is low enough you are better off insuring yourself using your own savings instead of squandering them on insurance company profits. In short, to be responsible is to not think too much, because upon examination “responsibility” reduces to “do as we say and don’t ask questions.”

What is remarkable about all of these appeals to responsibility is that by and large they are being made by people who themselves range from the blithely short-sighted to outright paragons of irresponsibility, all of them far more interested in bolstering their own power and authority than in pursuing any notion of the common good. What if a case can be made that these attempts at public moralizing are strictly manipulative attempts to steer us into a cul de sac where we can be easily slaughtered or fleeced? And if so, what would constitute a properly responsible response to such hypocritical, cynical, egotistical manipulation?


Quidnon 2.0


This boat design project started out by setting out some very ambitious requirements:

• A houseboat that makes a comfortable tiny house big enough for a family
• A competent, seaworthy sailboat, with masts that can be put up and taken down by a single-hander with the boat in the water
• A motor boat with an outboard motor for an engine that can be installed and removed easily, positioned in an engine well to prevent cavitation, collision damage and other problems with transom-mounted outboards
• Never needs a haulout: copper-surfaced bottom resists marine growth; settles upright and can be dried out and scrubbed at low tide
• Can be beached and relaunched by rolling over logs using anchor winch
• Can be assembled quickly from a kit on a beach or a riverbank by moderately skilled people
• Uses materials that are readily available almost everywhere: plywood, softwood lumber, bolts and screws, fiberglass and epoxy, galvanized mild steel, polypropylene three-strand rope
• Designed for all climates and seasons, from frigid to torrid
• Can be constructed and maintained at minimal expense

Over the past four years since I launched this project several people have made significant contributions to it: modeling, prototyping, contributing ideas and criticisms, helping spread word of it. Taking our sweet time with it has been very helpful in preventing us from building the wrong boat.

But what would be the right boat?


Terrorism of the Absurd


In recent months the governments of Syria and Russia have stood accused by the US and the UK governments of carrying out attacks using chemical weapons and have found themselves in a rather challenging situation. The charges against them nothing short of absurd. It is very difficult, often impossible, to formulate a rational response to an absurd accusation beyond pointing out its obvious absurdity. But that’s usually not at all helpful because the contemporary Western political actors who revel in absurdity eschew the neoclassical principle of verisimilitude and ignore rational, reasoned arguments as uninteresting. This is a calculated choice: most of their audience is too bored, ill-informed and impatient to form opinions based on facts and logic but responds well to various kinds of conditioning.

Officials charged with formulating responses to Western informational warfare have been forced to acquire new skill sets inspired by théâtre de l’absurde, for many of the recently alleged terror plots bear the hallmarks of this genre: “broad comedy, often similar to vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the well-made play” [from Wikipedia]. In processing the recent British allegations, a particular British font of absurdist comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is proving invaluable. Here, the “Chemical Weapons Shop Sketch” and the “Dead Special Agent Sketch” are most apropos. A quick education in absurdist theory is turning out to be most useful in devising counterattacks.


Useless Information is Useless


Over the past week I’ve tried to do my helpful best to steer my readers away from ending up in a certain sad predicament: that of thinking that they know what they most certainly don’t know, or of thinking that they know that something is true whereas they most certainly don’t. And I am not happy with the results: people keep writing me to tell me that they most certainly know this or that, and how on Earth could I possibly think that they don’t? You see, they have read up on whatever it is on the internet, they watched several Youtube videos on the subject, and they discussed it with several complete or incomplete strangers on social media. Based on all of this research, they have formed an opinion, and that opinion is, according to them, the truth.

The word “truth” has a lot of emotional appeal: we don’t fancy being called out as liars, or seen as misguided and misled, or feeling ignorant. We want to be curious and inquisitive. Inquiring minds want to know! Actually, that’s just a pose. We want to have lots of interesting, original stories with which to entertain each other. These stories can be funny or touching, or they can be used to make us look brave or purposeful or erudite and generate a feeling of gravitas: great things are afoot, nothing is really as it seems, and we are among the few who are in the know.

In our youth we tend to be idealistic and rebellious, but the traditional recourse to beating up members of the neighboring tribes is now frowned upon, forcing us to fight imaginary battles. A popular one is attempting to slay the three-headed dragon of government propaganda, mass-media lies and disinformation spread by ignorant educationalists. Amateur sleuths are apt to say that they do it “for the love of truth.”

That sort of truth has almost nothing to do with the abstract and delicate machinery (both logical and physical) that underlies the pursuit of absolute, clinical certainty. Its use is so exacting and demanding (and expensive) that truth has to be carefully rationed. It is mainly used in high-risk endeavors where imprecision can be deadly. Get a number wrong, and the ship runs aground, or the nuclear reactor explodes, or a building collapses. The rest of the time rough approximations and rules of thumb are plenty good enough.

Where extreme precision is required, there is just one overarching emotion: the fear of not knowing the right answer, or of getting it wrong. Once that fear is overcome, there may be a less fraught emotion associated with finding an optimum answer within the solution space (where time and budget allow) but it is still tinged with fear—this time, of being accused of gold-plating or of milking the job or of making a hobby of it. Those who lack this fear are often said to be “out to lunch.” I was in engineering school when the Challenger space shuttle exploded on takeoff, and the dean of engineering assembled us, ordered a minute of silence, and then said: “This is what happens when engineers fuck up: people die.” That’s basically it in a nutshell: the opposite of the exact truth, known to several decimal places, isn’t lies, or ignorance, or distortion; it is death.

If truth (as in, the real, observed and recorded, precisely measured or counted, provable truth) were pursued all the time, just because it feels good to know the truth, the world would run out of money. This, by the way, can be a problem for basic science: since it treats knowledge as a value (meaning, don’t you dare put a price tag on it!) more research is always needed until the grant money runs out.

But knowledge, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; concretely, the product of scientific research is information. Is it useful information, and is information useful generally? That depends on whether we can act on it. If we can’t, we can still simply enjoy it, finding it interesting or aesthetically pleasing, but that’s a useless luxury. There are lots of interesting and aesthetically pleasing things that aren’t true. They are just as good and generally much cheaper.

If we can act on it—use it in making decisions—then how much does it matter whether the information is, strictly speaking, true? What matters to us is the outcome, and a positive outcome achieved through a decision based on an erroneous piece of data is in general just as good. What’s more, although we like to think that our lives result from our conscious decisions, most often they are the result of accidents. If the accidents are happy ones, then we are happy about them.

Would better information help us make better decisions, or to avoid mistakes? Perhaps, but people tend to make changes when they feel that anything at all would be better than more of the same, and that’s not information—that’s a feeling. And people do make mistakes, lots of them, all the time, but usually the same ones over and over again, information be damned. They decide to light yet another cigarette—based on which bit of brilliant research? Or they make the mistake of going to work every day, to a job they don’t like, instead of investing their energies in figuring out how to not have to. How would having better information help them?

Still, inquiring minds want to know, and there is no better bait for idle curiosity than 9/11. It is sufficient to say “Sure, 2 planes knocked down 3 skyscrapers” and instantly lots of inquiring minds demand do know what you think really happened. Obviously, you don’t know; you probably weren\’t even there. But you may have a keen sense of bullshit. There’s archival footage that nobody is challenging, and it shows two instances of what look like local earthquakes, followed by a tall skyscraper disappearing vertically into a hole in the ground at freefall acceleration. Most of its steel is instantly incinerated to a fine iron oxide powder that billowed out in a giant cloud and settled in a thick layer all over lower Manhattan. It shows a third skyscraper destroyed in a textbook example of controlled demolition, with its owner on record saying that he decided to “pull it” (a demolition industry term for detonation). Add to this the ample clinical evidence of those present at the site after the event later succumbing of ailments associated with exposure to ionizing radiation. Add to that Russian satellite images showing two craters full of very hot molten material. That’s some puzzling evidence, wouldn’t you say?

Do I know what really happened? Of course not! But I don’t need to know. There is absolutely nothing I can do to act on such information if I did have it in my possession. What do I know? Well, I feel quite certain that those who think they know what happened that day in fact don’t. This is important for me to know, because it is information I can act on: I can avoid getting dragged into pointless discussions with them—on this topic, or, for that matter, on any other, because, clearly, they are eager to keep making the same mistake over and over again—the mistake of wasting their energies on attempting to obtain information they won’t be able to act on.

Great, Britain!


The Brits have just provided my previous article, The Truthers and The Fakers, with a tidy little case study: the very next day after I published it Theresa May’s government stepped into its role as one of the world’s premier Fakers and unleashed the next installment of fake news on the Skripal poisoning. We can use this as training material in learning how to spot and discard fakes.

The fake story that May has been pushing is that it is “highly likely” that the Kremlin ordered a hit on the former British spy Sergei Skripal (and his daughter) using a “Russian-made” chemical weapon called “Novichok.” In turn, from what we already knew, it is highly likely that this story is a complete and utter fake. As I explained in the previous article, it is not our job to establish what really happened. We would be unable to do so with any degree of certainty without gaining access to state secrets. But we don’t need to; all we need to do is establish with a reasonable degree of certainty that the British government’s story is a foolishly, incompetently concocted fabrication. Doing so will then allow us to properly classify the British press, which repeats this nonsense as fact, and the British public, which accepts it unquestioningly at face value. Then we can drop the erroneous appellation “great”—because great nations don’t act so stupidly.


The Truthers and the Fakers


Can truth be said to exist? Most of us certainly like to think that it does, and, furthermore, that we actually know something about it. We tend to prioritize knowledge over ignorance, and bridle at the idea that some of what we consider to be knowledge may be false rather than true. This seems justified: compared to false knowledge, it is certainly true that ignorance is bliss. But there are few avenues of escape that are open to us when we are confronted with the notion that most of what we know for sure “just ain’t so.”

The most common avenue of escape, and also the least valid, is to indulge in a bit of ad hominem fallacy by claiming that the challenge to your treasured certainties is the wrong kind of challenge because it comes from the wrong sort of person. For example, these days, it doesn’t take much to run afoul of certain people, and to get them to label you as a “fascist racist misogynist homophobe.” Nor does it take much to cause certain other people to label you a “libtard.” And both of these groups would be only too happy to declare you to be “Putin’s troll” the moment you try to say anything vaguely positive about Russia.

And the most valid avenue of escape is some sort of public trial. The least assailable of these are held in academic contexts, in the hard sciences, because natural laws are not amenable to political or social pressure. Courts of law, on the other hand, can be good or bad in battling false knowledge, depending on the political environment in which they operate, but all of them are at least forced to maintain appearances of adhering to the truth by following various rules that exclude hearsay, anecdotal evidence or evidence invalidated by a broken chain of custody. The recent trial in California, which concluded that Monsanto’s Roundup is indeed a carcinogen (no doubt causing Capt. Obvious to do a little happy dance) is a hopeful sign that some sort of justice can be served even in the face of relentless political pressure.

And what’s worse than any court at all, with one exception, is the court of public opinion. How many reputations and careers have been ruined in the course of the recent sexual harassment hysteria, where self-declared victims lobbed accusations unsubstantiated by any evidence? Such “trials” are on par with those held by the Inquisition: if the witch drowns, she wasn’t a witch, sorry, too bad; if she floats, she is obviously a witch and is then burned at the stake. Such “trials” are also similar to lynchings, where an extrajudicial “trial” was held before the execution, except here the trial is itself the execution, albeit a nonlethal one.

The one exception is the category of courts organized with defined political aims in mind. Soviet-era show trials are one example; the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, which was dissolved at the end of 2017, is another. The latter’s main purpose was to punish Serbia; two-thirds of those it put on trial were Serbs. The proceedings held during China’s Cultural Revolution were also in this same vein.

More recently, and in a similar vein the US government has taken to essentially kidnapping foreign nationals around the world, forcibly transporting them to the US and imprisoning them, either after holding an extraterritorial, and therefore illegitimate, trial, or after holding a secret tribunal or, as in the case of most prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, without any trial at all. These are all politically motivated mockeries of justice where facts (should any valid ones play any role) are used not to deliver justice, but as political weapons with which to oppress preselected groups of victims.

Setting aside for the moment such profound deviations from anything that could be considered pursuit of the truth, truth itself, as a philosophical concept, turns out upon close examination to be fantastically intricate and fragile, and its very existence is often uncertain. In epistemic logic, which I studied at Boston University with Prof. Hintikka, the truth value of any given proposition may not be known a priori. Hintikka, along with several other luminaries, had set out to formalize the process by which the truth value can be determined, based on game semantics. His Game-Theoretic Semantics combined epistemic logic with game theory. In GTS, the truth value of a proposition is determined through the interplay of a Verifier and a Falsifier who traded off moves. If there exists a winning strategy for the Verifier, the proposition is true; if for the Falsifier, false.

These are games played on paper using mathematical symbols, but what they formalize has numerous analogues in everyday reality. The interplay between the Verifier and the Falsifier is quite similar in nature to Socratic dialogues and other dialectical systems of thought. Somewhat later, Manichaeism was for a time a popular and widespread religious philosophy that displaced classical paganism and competed with Christianity. In it, the forces of light and darkness wage battle over the world. The forces of light lose out eventually, as perhaps happened when Manichaeism was finally extinguished, somewhere in southern China, and was supplanted by the one true faith—Catholicism in the west and Islam in the east. But the forces of light and of darkness still battle each other in the oppositional system used in courts of law, where in criminal cases the prosecution seeks to prove (verify) the proposition that the defendant is guilty while the defense seeks to disprove (falsify) this proposition.

A key feature is that in all of these games of strategy the Falsifier is under no obligation whatsoever to establish what is true. The Falsifier’s one and only obligation is to establish what is false—to invalidate the proposition under consideration as quickly and efficiently as possible. We will return to this key feature in a moment, but there is a larger context to consider, which is that of late in many instances the pursuit of truth has become rather beside the point. Numerous recent developments have made opinion all-important and actual knowledge of provable facts borderline irrelevant. These include:

• Social and political alienation and polarization, driven by increasing wealth inequality and enforced diversity
• The automatic segregation and voluntary siloing of people in social media, which has made it fashionable for people to avoid being exposed to opinions that differ from theirs, to the point where some have started to take offense whenever this happens
• Plummeting educational standards where independent reasoning abilities are no longer even taught and where the rewards go to those who are able to regurgitate knowledge they have accepted unquestioningly.
• The slow agony of traditional print and broadcast media where rigorous fact-checking was once considered absolutely necessary but no longer is, and where now the overarching concern is to run stories that sell advertising
• The rise of blogging, where a few validated facts are easily drowned in a sea of opinion, where what is accepted as real is determined through a popularity contest, and where a typical response to public disagreement is “go get your own blog.”

The endpoint of this process is now in sight: as a basis of reality, truth matters not at all. Reality still exists, but as an artificial construct, and is fractured, with different versions of reality tightly targeted to specific audiences that are receptive to one set of opinions and narratives while being easily outraged by all others. In such circumstances, appeals to truth-based knowledge start to seem quixotic—or even a matter of casting pearls before swine.

But perhaps we can still influence how the artificial reality is constructed, to steer it away from particularly fraught danger zones. Can anything be salvaged of the previous intellectual rigor of epistemic logic and Socratic dialectic?

Let us assume that the process by which the popularity (not the truth) of any given narrative or set of opinions (not proposition) is established is still a game of strategy between two interlocutors: the Faker and the Truther. The roles are reversed: the Faker’s goal is to produce a steady barrage of distortions and outright falsehoolds (fake news, disinformation, propaganda, etc.) in the hopes of making them popular; the Truther’s role is to knock them out through whatever means possible (pointing out internal contradictions, ridiculous assumptions, evidence to the contrary, conflicts of interest, hidden agendas, corrupt practices, etc.) in the hopes of making them unpopular.

Fakers rely on certain methods that make the Truthers’ job harder. The first is to lie early and often; the best way to make a false version of events stick is to advance it before anyone else, then to simply repeat it forever. The second is to always have a full clip of fake news ready to fire on full auto: as soon as one bit of fake news starts looking shaky, here comes another one! Yet another is to cast aspersions on anyone who disagrees, labeling them as conspiracy theorists.

Fakers generally do better by making their fakes maximally outrageous while minimizing their reliance on facts. For example, a recent bit of fake news broadcast by the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle was that it was Nazi Germany that won at the battle of Kursk—which was, for those of you who don’t know, the largest land battle ever fought, and the one that sealed Nazi Germany’s fate. Deutsche Welle’s fake version of events was easily disproven using archival information, although it did score a point or two by lying early and often. But it could have done even better by circulating an even more outrageous, entirely fact-free fake: “Horrible Russians invaded Europe and drove Hitler to suicide!”

The Truthers have it much harder than the Fakers, but a key point in their favor is that while Fakers are charged with constructing fake realities, the Truthers’ main task is simply to destroy them. A classic example is 9/11: the Fakers say that two skyscrapers were demolished by terrorists who flew one airplane into each. In response, the Truthers may that no, the number of skyscrapers was in fact three, not two (WTC1, WTC2 and WTC7), so that’s 2/3 of an airplane per skyscraper, and then sit back and laugh at whoever still believes the fake story.

This may be disconcerting to some people, because inquiring minds want to know the truth, even if what drives them is idle curiosity. Besides, walking around after realizing that you’ve been lied to by people you were taught to trust, and that you are surrounded by trusting fools who believe such an obviously fake story to be true, is rather disheartening. But you may take heart in this: the only things you really need to know (as in, know to be true) are the things on which you can act, and here truth can still generally be arrived at in the usual manner, be it through (internal) debate or through experimentation and trial and error.

And one of the things you really need to know is that those who base their actions on actual knowledge sometimes win while those who base them on fake, constructed realities always lose in the end. You can simply wait them out. To avoid getting caught in their trap, you just need to know how to sniff out fakes, and then either laugh at them or simply ignore them.