Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"The Triumph Of Perception"

Last one on this subject.  (For now.)

I recall it as a tough and contentious conversation.  It was the first time I was apprised of this concept.  And I did not at all care for it.

My agent was taking me to lunch.  Lunch with your agent can go either way:  If you’re working, it’s a celebration; if you’re not, it could be a wake.

As it turns out, this one was a warning.

The style of “what’s funny” on network television were unmistakably changing, becoming, in my astute if not hyper-literate agent’s description, “meaner, stupider and dirtier.”

This “comedic realignment” was indeed heading in the opposite direction to my natural proclivities.  As the result, reported my agent, the word was getting around that, because of my limitations in that direction, I was becoming a less valuable (and therefore increasingly less marketable) commodity. 

And what I did I have to say in my defense?

“I am still a good writer.”

To which my agent less than diplomatically shot back,

“Nobody cares.  The perception is that you are out of sync with the marketplace.  And…” – and here he brought down the hammer –

“….Perception is Reality.”

We began two posts ago with “the truth may not exist.”  We moved on to “the truth may not matter.”  And now, “there is something that may well matter more than the truth.”

That “something” is “perception.”

I’ve been saving newspaper clippings that exemplify the fact that “perception” has become – and who knows, maybe always was, it’s just more so today – the new truth.  (I am synonymizing “truth” and “reality”, as I cannot conceive of an “untrue reality.”)  As it turns out, I did not need to save anything, because there are fresh examples in the paper every day. 

(Prejudice Alert:  I am aware of the ideological “leaning” of this example, and I acknowledge “perception bias” in both directions.)

This morning’s L.A. Times Business Section includes a column my Michael Hiltzik, which begins,

In a debate almost totally infected with myth, perhaps the most tenacious myth about the Affordable Care Act involves the tsunami of old insurance policies that were supposedly canceled by insurers because they didn’t comply with the ACA.

How many policies?  The figures are all over the place – some say 17 million, some say 4.7 million.  The implication is also murky:  However many cancellations happened, were all these people left without insurance?

Two experts at the Urban Institute have crunched the best numbers we have and their conclusion is that 2.6 million policies were cancelled because of non-compliance with the ACA – but that more than half the policyholders were eligible for subsidized low-cost replacement insurance.

Okay, that’s enough quoting – one more sentence and it’s plagiarism.  The point is, some people, for their own reasons, are promoting the perception that 17 million insurance policies have been cancelled, when “the best numbers we have” reveal that the actual number is less than a tenth of that.

“Wait, Earlo”, you say to me, “you are contradicting your point.”  To which I reply, “How could I?  I haven’t made it yet.”  My point being this:

Rather than facilitating the possibility of discovering the truth with its prodigious availability of information, the Internet, by offering an avalanche of unsubstantiated claims, has instead simply maximized “perception’s” ability to lead the “truth inquirer” astray.

Okay, now about contradicting my point.  (And I knew where Blue Writing Man were heading, because I am, in fact, writing both sides.)

“Yes,” you reply, “but because of the Internet’s multiple outlets, it is possible, as you have demonstrated in you “Hiltzik Example”, to correct those misperceptions with ameliorating evidence.” 

“That is true,” I respond.  “However, as they do with cable news, the majority of people rarely challenge the information they already agree with with conscientious ‘fact checking’ – or, as cynics might call it, “Dueling Perceptions” investigations – the result being that everyone winds up with the “truth” they prefer.

So, is there really a truth?  Or should be we stop looking for the truth, accepting the reality that what we are talking about when we say “the truth” is simply ideological “multiple choice”, slantingly inflamed by self-serving subjectivity?  (I am not certain whether to be proud of that sentence, or not.)

It is here I am reminded of this story I once heard.

Two Belgians are having a conversation at the end of World War I, and one Belgian says to the other,

“I wonder what History will say about this war?”

To which the other Belgian replies,

“I know what History won’t say.  It won’t way that Belgium invaded Germany.”

Okay, so there’s one truth. 

And if there’s one, I gotta believe,

There somehow have to be others.

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