Why Inclusive Language Offends

Bette-MidlerBette Midler recently found herself at the centre of a Twitter firestorm after tweeting out her support for Pamela Paul's New York Times article, "The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don't Count" (text available here without paywall). Midler's tweet read:

WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name! They don’t call us "women" anymore; they call us "birthing people" or "menstruators", and even "people with vaginas"! Don’t let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!

Predictably this did not go down well on Twitter, where 'inclusive language' is beyond de rigueur. Those who do not accept the requisite interpretation of inclusivity are subject to cancellation, harassment, and hatred up to and including death threats. Midler is far from the first woman to have expressed concerns about this new terminology, of course, and she won't be the last. But what is it about this kind of 'inclusive language' that causes offense in so many people...?

To put this together requires us to understand the issue from multiple perspectives. Let's start with the circumstances that led to terms like 'birthing people', 'menstruators', or 'people with vaginas'. As perhaps has become widely known, the idea behind these categories is inclusivity. The logic runs as follows: once you acknowledge the existence of trans men, trans women, and non-binary people, you need terms that will include an acknowledgement of their existence. Since many trans men and certain kinds of non-binary person menstruate, have a vagina, and can give birth, these terms apply to people within these categories as well as women conventionally conceived (now termed 'natal' or 'cis' women, according to your prior political commitments). Hence, inclusive, on the basis that more people are included in the category.

A problem immediately appears, since the campaign to include trans women in the category of 'woman' has its own political slogan - 'trans women are women', about which I have rather cryptically offered my assent by observing likewise that 'dwarf planets are planets' (a claim, I should stress, I passionately support). But can you now spot the problem with 'people with vaginas/menstruators/birthing people'...? To anyone not versed in the small print, it seems as if trans women are women, while natal/cis women are 'people with vaginas'... It is hardly surprising that Bette Midler, Pamela Paul, JK Rowling and - let's not be in denial here - untold numbers of other women are rather annoyed that 'women with penises' are to be called 'women' while they themselves are told they are merely 'people with vaginas'.

It's no good trying to defend this as a matter of medical clarity, since 'people with vaginas' could viably be replaced with 'female' in medical discourse, if this traditional reference to biological sex were not now considered verboten. I do appreciate that someone who has chosen to identify as non-binary does not want to be identified as female or any other classical gender term. Still, it is something of a mystery why, given that circumstance, they would be any happier with being called a 'person with a vagina', since the conventional understanding of that sentence remains logically identical to 'female'. So what we have here is a situation where phrases have been invented not for clarity, but to fulfil a specific interpretation of inclusivity, one in which the assumed political desires of the non-binary and trans communities have been placed above those of women in the classical sense of the term.

The root problem here is that the moral value of diversity, which I spent decades campaigning for in the videogames industry (to absolutely zero impact) has been clumsily supplanted with a rather oddly conceived value of inclusivity. Forget the implied unity of the construction 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion': these are not three complementary moral values at all. Inclusion, at least in the form currently being practiced, is diametrically opposed to diversity. Diversity is about accepting our myriad ways of being in the world, even those we don't understand. This new form of inclusion is about grouping together, and could not be further from the openness to difference that characterises diversity.

Grouping together denies diversity. When you talk about 'people with vaginas' you are grouping trans men, non-binary people, and classical women into a single group regardless of whether any or all of these people want to be grouped in this way. I think it is abundantly clear that there are plenty of women (including Bette Midler) who are offended at being reduced to their biological functions in this manner, and to suggest that they should just shut up and accept it is inevitably and unavoidably offensive. To deny this is to open yourself up to entirely plausible accusations of misogyny, and at this time we are all being offered an absurd choice between transphobia or misogyny - what a dreadful mess!

Perhaps it will help throw some illumination upon this issue to show why attempts to combine diverse groups under a single category always carries a severe risk of offense. We only have to consider in the first case the ludicrous attempt to combine Latinos and Latinas into 'Latinx', purportedly a 'gender-neutral' way of referring to the Hispanic community. But absolutely nobody considers themselves 'Latinx', which is a product of the inclusivity nonsense that once again is manifestly insulting to the people it is attempting to 'include'. To Spanish-speaking community, 'Latino' was already inclusive, being both male and neuter. No clunky new word was required, and certainly not one forced upon them by arrogant English-speakers who were not in any way open to the actual diversity of Latino experiences.

We can take this absurdity further. Imagine combining atheists and theists into a single category called 'God-opinion-holders', or grouping Muslims and Jews as 'pork-avoiders'. For that matter, imagine suggesting we replace 'human' with an alternative description that is dryly factual but blatantly offensive, like 'anus-havers'. Why would anyone want to be called an 'anus-haver'...? Likewise, why would any woman want to be called a 'person with a vagina' when they could instead be called female or a woman? Communities that are demanding the unprecedented social privilege of choosing their own pronouns are in no position to argue that other people ought to accept membership of categories whose names they detest.

This is the not-so-secret secret of the offensiveness of 'inclusive language'. However noble its motivation might be, it plays out as forcing values upon others against their will, and this cultural violence is papered over by claiming that it's 'inclusive' because it focuses attention upon a minority. Yet how inclusive can it be when the assumed political and emotional needs of the few are being used to overrule those of the many...? This entire rhetoric strains the meaning of inclusivity beyond the point of absurdity! If we cannot come together in the peaceful co-existence made possible by a mutual cultural disarmament, we cannot come together at all. No amount of 'inclusive' language is going to do anything but perpetually block the path to peace.

It cannot be avoided any longer: it is implausible to support diversity and also support inclusivity on these kinds of blunt terms. You must choose which of these values matters to you, for you cannot have both. Is it the freedom of the many to express their manifest uniqueness in terms of their own choosing, or the tyranny of the few who would reconfigure language to forcibly include people within offensive categories they do not wish to belong to? Which is it to be: are we humans living in mutual respect of one another's differences? Or are we just oh-so-many anus-havers...?


Tech as Pyramid Scheme

Contains naughty ideas.

Susan Maxwell Schmidt.Pyramid SchemeIs technology a pyramid scheme...? No wait, don't go yet. This crazy thought is worth thinking through.

Pyramid schemes are any system of activity where the greatest benefit accrues to the first to sign up, while those who join last are unlikely to ever see any benefits. They are so named because of their triangular (pyramid) structure - the people who get the most benefit (the earliest to join) are at the apex of the pyramid, while the more numerous later joiners are arranged in tiers of ever-increasing sizes.

We do not think of technology as anything like this, yet only because we do not consider the implications of the global reach of technology coupled with the rather limited number of beneficiaries from the production and sale of technological devices. Instead, we tend to assume that we all benefit - a thought requiring a very special construction of 'we' to avoid being evidently preposterous. To get a proper handle on this, we have to understand that the division between the so-called 'First World' and the 'Third World' corresponds directly to tiers in a pyramid scheme where industrialisation and its by-products are precisely the criteria by which these 'worlds' were originally ranked. As such, the 'First World' is the top of a pyramid scheme it has been working harder and harder to maintain.

Think of this firstly in terms of the escalation of costs of living. Consider motor vehicles: once a nation adopts this form of transportation, it then becomes a requirement for its citizens to purchase motor vehicles for them to live and work - dramatically escalating the cost of living by several orders of magnitude. You can add to this the national costs associated with maintaining a road network, which are far more significant than we are permitted to admit. The car is, in many respects, the biggest step up in cost of living, since no technology thus far has demanded such a vast increase in living expenses as the automobile. (It is not coincidental that this comes first, either). Yet there are many smaller steps to follow: radio, television, telephones, mobile phones, computers, industrialised medicine... We (as in: the top of the pyramid) think we have to have all the new things because they are new. (Why?) They (as in: everyone else) will get the new things later. They are behind us according to this way of thinking. The unstated thought is that these others (whoever they are) are behind us in the pyramid scheme.

Now think of this in terms of the oh-so-magnanimous way in which the top of the pyramid views everyone else. "Those poor people in such-and-such a land... they haven't even got computers. Everyone needs to have computers, they'll be at a disadvantage if they don't have them." But this is ludicrous, because by the time 'everyone' has computers, the software and operating systems these computers require to function will require higher-powered hardware - the computers 'they' needed will have already become obsolete. They will then need new computers... the beneficiaries of our ill-advised charity will be perpetually behind the curve the moment they opt to step onto the technological treadmill behind us. Not that Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg will wait, of course - they will generously invite other nations to join the pyramid schemes they benefit from at their earliest possible convenience.

The fact of the matter is, the so-called 'Third World' cannot catch up the 'First World' because technology as we currently pursue it operates as a pyramid scheme - and any attempt to 'join' this scheme amounts to a commitment to being perpetually out-of-date, or perpetually in debt or, more likely, both. The wealthiest people on the planet (the elite citizens of the US, China, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France etc.) set a standard of living that the non-elites of these nations strive to emulate, and these nations then set standards of living that the other nations strive to emulate, in a grand pyramid scheme of technological lust. The assumption that more technology necessarily means a better life has not been borne out by any research I've seen, and I think it fair to say at this point that this kind of academic validation is not, in fact, ever coming, despite a plenitude of Big Tech apologists at every university. If you want to know what it's like to be at the bottom of the tech pyramid scheme, ask Indian farmers how it feels to be on the receiving end of Bill Gates' 'generosity'.

Escalating technology raises the cost of living by consistently adding new technology to the list of 'must have' items... this is not merely in terms of wants but increasingly now in terms of requirements. It seems that the nations of Europe and elsewhere look with envy upon the degree of social control the Chinese government enjoys overs its populace... They thus increasingly expect their citizens to validate their credentials with a smartphone to gain access to services. The result is that these expensive devices become another item you cannot make a living without. Public transportation compensates for absence of a car (which is probably why so many people associate it with poverty), but nothing these days compensates for failure to own a computing device that renders itself obsolete within a few years, necessitating further purchases. This Sisyphean purchasing scheme is something we have accepted for no reason other than we simply cannot be bothered to think.

What's the alternative to an ever-rising waterline of technological living?

This is a difficult question to ask, because we have adopted a position of resignation with regard to technological development. "It's going to happen, and there's nothing we can do to stop it," we say. This is basically akin to claiming "well, we're going to go extinct, so there's no point fighting it", which is to miss the only vital point: when we go extinct makes a world of difference. I personally would prefer our species lasts at least to the tenth millennium, rather than, say, exhausting the liveable environment in a few mere centuries because we were too stubborn and unforgiving to make viable political compromises in order to learn how to together.

The only way out of this finger-trap is to begin to think differently about technology. We would have to refuse to participate in technology that is framed as an endlessly moving target, because such technology will always operate globally as a pyramid scheme. If we can just manage to see this clearly, we could usurp the technological monopolies built on planned obsolescence like cars and computers (and now too, pharmaceuticals) and replace them with common standards that smaller companies (and countries) can viably create and maintain. There's a lot less money in these kinds of technology, so expect those at the top of the pyramid to do everything in their power to prevent this from happening (they have in fact been blocking this for some time). But such sustainable technology is the only way to give our species a future worth having.

The thing is: you don't want that. You might be perfectly happy to froth over the mouth about 'climate change' but you're not actually willing to change your technological habits if it means reducing our dependence upon mechanised transport or computers. Oh, the bristling anger that comment risks provoking! Am I - perish the thought - a climate change denier...? Well, I accept that human activity produces carbon dioxide that changes the composition of the atmosphere and will, at some threshold, produce a profound change in our planet's climate. That much has been clear since the 1970s. The relevant scientific question remains: what level of carbon dioxide is required...? And on this topic, the research seems to have stalled in an all-too-familiar way. Politics once again usurps the sciences, and frankly Blue Team corporations (e.g. media and Big Tech) just love the idea that all our environmental problems can be blamed solely upon those naughty Red Team corporations (e.g. Big Oil and motor vehicles), as if they were all just innocent bystanders and not in fact the beneficiaries of huge advertising revenues provided by the automotive industries.

Besides, my scepticism about this specific political skirmish seriously doesn't deserve the name 'climate change denial' half as much as the rhetoric itself does. After all, 'climate change' has become our favourite way to utterly avoid thinking about our atrocious environmental impact - to ignore every aspect of our global environment except one single atmospheric gas, carbon dioxide. Could there be any greater denial than this misdirection from the key environmental issues of land usage and material consumption rates...? But land ownership and resource acquisition are how the wealthy elites fuel their empires, so don't expect any changes here. Instead, witness yet another case of passing the blame to our political rivals instead of facing up to the truth of the matter: we're all responsible, but none of us want to change.

What if securing the future of our species means giving up the endless treadmill of computer upgrades...? What if it means going back to cars with parts that anyone can replace...? Or even giving up the illusion of freedom the automobile seductively offers...? What if it means prudent medical policies, rather than endlessly escalating pharmaceutical solutions...? What, in short, if it means dismantling the tech pyramid scheme entirely...? Well, it won't happen, of course. Not just because those with the power and the money do not want to give up either of these precious commodities, but also because you don't want to give up your technological conveniences either. And until we are willing to confront this self-deception, we're all just members of the same pyramid scheme that puts Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and so many others at the pinnacle of wealth, influence, global impoverishment, industrial greed, and endless environmental denial. We'll never be on top of the pyramid but hey, at least we're not at the bottom, right...?

You want to save the world? Escape the tech pyramid scheme. Nothing else has the power to do it.

The opening image is Pyramid Scheme by Susan Maxwell Schmidt, which I found at her website. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.. 


Pity the Googs

Hypnogoog

May contain traces of humour.

The Googs are everywhere now. You will see them, walking down the street, their eyes transfixed by a small glowing screen that tells them where to go. You will find them on the internet, regurgitating claims they have lifted out of search engines. You will find them at the heart of every contemporary political non-movement (for nothing moves in politics any more), despising all the non-Googs who are wrong and evil and must be destroyed... the Googs are the newest form of life to pretend to be human, as we all have done at some point in our lives. The question we might ask is: are Googs good humans...?

When Donna Haraway wrote in 1985 that we were "always already cyborgs", her point was largely ignored, despite the popularity of her famous essay. It is a theme I put right at the heart of my book The Virtuous Cyborg: if we are beings comprised not only of our biological bodies but also of the network of technologies we are embedded within, then we owe it to ourselves to ask the question: what would make us a good cyborg? But 'good' has ceased to do the philosophical work it once did... we are not interested in being good, becoming good, discovering or understanding the good. The Googs have made it all so much simpler: either you are good or you aren't - and if you are good, then you can do anything you like and it's okay, because you are automatically good as long as you're a Goog.

To be a 'good cyborg' is to fulfil our human capabilities within the network of things that we exist within. Today, these networks are vast - you do not get through a day without being interconnected with billions of other cyborgs in the global network we call the internet. But human existence was not always this way. A peasant in Middle Ages Europe subsisted in a situation with just a few dozen objects, most of them farm or domestic equipment... a cooking pot, a flint and steel, a hoe, a plough, a harness. Over the centuries, the networks became more complicated - by the twentieth century, these connectivities were global, and it became almost impossible to be a human without being embedded in a network spanning the planet. Yet it becomes harder and harder to say what is good the greater the reach of the network of things connected to the human being considered.

For me personally, the quintessential 'good cyborg' is represented by the librarians. Not necessarily those who are paid to maintain a library (although almost all the professional librarians I've met have been good cyborgs) but someone who maintains a library in any unspecified medium. I am partial to books, but a library of videos, or of music, or of games, or of visual artworks... everything counts when it comes to libraries. It is the very act of maintaining the library that gives such people a shot at being good cyborgs, at least in the sense that maintaining a library is a means of showing the excellences of being human. And one of the reasons that I can say this is that libraries are a sign of human flourishing, they are in some respects the epitome of human culture.

The library is such a potent symbol of what is good in humanity's relationship with technology, of our biological relationship with the non-biological, because the library has its own excellences. It has its own order that is tailored to its purposes. And if it is truly a library, rather than say a private treasure horde, it is something that is shared with others. Thus the DJs, who I genuinely believe are among the greatest of the good cyborgs, maintain a library of music that they share with others when they perform. True, they are typically paid for this service, but a professional librarian does not cease to be a good cyborg simply because they are paid for their job. And I have never met a DJ who was so miserly with their library that they did not manage to share their music with those around them irrespective of the exchange of money. One way or another, good libraries exist to be shared.

The library cyborg is the antithesis of the Goog, despite the fact the Goog does in fact spend much of their time being led around online libraries and archives. Every time you Google the answer to a question (even if you Google it on Bing, or Yahoo, or even Qwant), you are a Goog and nothing more, for 'Google' is the verb for which 'Goog' is the noun. Google the company is nothing more than the largest profit centre for the network connecting billions of Googs on our planet... You and I are all Googs from time to time, but nobody is a Goog all the time (thankfully). You still have to sleep, after all, and Silicon Valley does not yet know how to monetise our dreams, although I'm sure someone is working on that - and that millions of Googs will sign up for it as soon as it is available.

Alas, the Goog is not a good cyborg, because the Goog is not a good human, and to be a good cyborg is to be a good human despite being a cyborg... Technology is not just a means to an end, it is always also a potential hindrance to human flourishing, a subtle point that we have completely lost sight of today. To be a 'good Goog' is far, far simpler than the immense challenges entailed in being a good cyborg or a good human. All you have to do is to accept the beliefs of all the other Googs, the beliefs that you will be fed whenever you Google a question. Those answers are the true beliefs of all Googs. You either accept whichever answers the machine feeds you, or you think for yourself, and therefore cease to be a Goog.

This is why the library cyborg is the antithesis of the Goog: the library cyborg invariably knows how to think. Maintaining a library requires you to think, although I confess a fear that some librarians might simply be rule-followers, executing the Gospel according to Dewey Decimal, or what have you. Still, all the librarians I have met have been excellent, but perhaps I have merely been fortunate. Perish the thought, but there might already be people employed as librarians who are merely Googs pretending to by library cyborgs....

Pity the Goog, for it cannot think for itself, it requires the internet to tell it what to think. It is in the same sorry state as those people in centuries past who professed their Christianity, or their devoutness to some other creed, or their patronage to the Emperor or what have you, but were really just glad that somebody else was doing the thinking for them. You cannot be a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Jew, a good Rastafari and not think, because any and all of these traditions expect you to pursue your excellences as a human, and that necessarily includes thinking. We associate religion with non-thinking for the same reason we mistake being a Goog for being clever: we are not very good at being human, or at being clever. We wouldn't know most human excellences even if we witnessed them... although perhaps if there was a video of "Top Ten Human Excellences" we might have a slim chance of noticing, but only if it was three minutes or shorter.

The Goog is pitiable because it is intolerable smug with the thought of how clever it is! For it can get the answer to any question, it just types it into that little box - et voila, answers! Look how clever I am, getting answers that anyone can get. But a library cyborg does not produce answers in this way... a library cyborg has to have the knowledge to get the answers - the knowledge of how the answers can be derived, or the knowledge to discern the legitimacy of those who claim to have the answer. Without such knowledge, you cannot be clever in any meaningful sense. You can only be one of those empty vessels that make the most noise - and oh, the noise the Googs make! It is deafening.

Please do not hold it against them. The Googs don't know any better... all their answers come from the search box. It's practically the twenty first century's version of 'only following orders': all the brutality of dogma dressed up as the bliss of ignorance... responsibility, digitally devolved to the newest higher authority. "Forgive them, Google, for they know not what they do." Ah, but Google is the Googiest of all the Googs. It takes smart people to manufacture ignorance on such a grand scale. It takes faith in both blunt technology and blind ideology to choose a path that prevents human flourishing and declare it the only way to be good. And Google is only the most successful of the Goog-making tech companies.

I want to give them a chance, truly I do... I listen to what they have to say. But I can find what they are going to say the same way they do, by typing it into a search box, so what is there to listen to? I want to find the good in what they do... but when all they do is align with the ideology of the search engine, what good is there to find...? We cannot even judge their ability to be a 'good Goog', because it seems readily apparent that a Goog cannot express any excellences of its own. It borrows technological abilities and then spuriously claims these stolen capabilities as its own. That's why Googs have to own all the latest digital toys... it is the only way one Goog can distinguish itself (however briefly) from the identical capabilities of all the other Googs.

We are all Googs now, alas. There's no escaping it. We all feel clever because we can type a question into a search box, or watch a video, or regurgitate dogma. And so we all condemn traditional religions for having got it wrong - they were looking for answers in a book, in a tradition, in virtue, in honour, in family, in a community... but the answers were never there, the Googs assure us. They were in that blank search box, waiting for you to type your question. All the questions are already known to the Googs, and all the answers are already prescribed. There is nothing left to do, but submit to the one true way, the way of the Goog, the path of utter technological dependence.


Fabrication Doctrines

Image of Unknown OriginWhat is the opposite of a 'conspiracy theory'...? If we say it is an antonym of the truth, we are assuming that conspiracy theories are always false, which would be unwise. But we certainly don't want to say that falsehood is the opposite of a conspiracy theory either. In our current usage of this term, we are tacitly assuming something more than we are willing to recognise...

This term, 'conspiracy theory', has steadily gained currency as a means of discrediting certain ways of viewing events. The unstated assumption is that if something is a 'conspiracy theory' it isn't true and can be ignored. "Oh, that's just a conspiracy theory..." But of course, just because someone theorises about a conspiracy, it doesn't necessarily mean that they theorise in error. It was a conspiracy theory that Emily Dickinson could be understood as a lesbian, a view that is now essentially mainstream. Likewise, it was a conspiracy theory that Edith Wilson, the wife of President Woodrow Wilson, was running the country after her husband suffered a stroke. However, this is now accepted as an entirely credible account of what actually happened.

In terms of scientific parlance, 'conspiracy theories' are hypotheses as to what may have happened, which could be validated be the appearance of further evidence. In the lexicon of the sciences, 'theory' is the contrast case with 'hypothesis', but since that word is baked into 'conspiracy theory' we can scarcely use that to construct an alternative term! Besides, 'theory' is a word that is simultaneously too strong and too weak for our purposes... we forget when it comes to scientific theories that these models of events, much like conspiracy theories, can be validated or invalidated by future evidence. We mistake them for truth, something we humans are especially good at doing.

I want to propose as an antonym for 'conspiracy theory' the term 'fabrication doctrine'. It is a fabrication doctrine that Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and a conspiracy theory that this event was faked. It is a fabrication doctrine that the world is a sphere, and a conspiracy theory that it is not. It was also a fabrication doctrine that Emily Dickinson was a lonely poet who didn't show her poems to anyone, and a conspiracy theory that she loved women and shared her poetry with them. In this regards, I note that Dickinson had ten poems published in her lifetime... this fabrication doctrine did not even reflect the available facts at the time it was circulating.

Now the objection that will come in at this point is that the word 'fabrication' implies 'lie'. But frankly, these days, so does 'conspiracy theory', even though neither 'conspiracy' nor 'theory' entail this meaning when used alone. On similar lines, 'fabrication doctrine' can take on whatever inference we need it to. It is strictly true that our majority viewpoints of events are indeed fabricated - just like every other understanding of the logical truth or falsehood of the world. Furthermore, as long as we are intolerant of other ways of understanding any given issue, then these fabricated understandings are also doctrines, which is to say, accepted ways of thinking. And we have always been hostile to alternative points of view.

What appeals to me in contrasting 'fabrication doctrine' to 'conspiracy theory', is that it makes it clearer that both these ways of understanding can be doubted. The increasing tendency to associate 'conspiracy theory' with falsehood obfuscates the vital knowledge that our consensual understandings of the world will be incorrect in ways we are not aware of. We need them to be challenged if we want to be open to the possibility of truth.

Let me provide a simple example. I mentioned above that it is a fabrication doctrine that our planet is a sphere. You might prefer to consider this as absolutely true. But this instinct is driven primarily by the desire to avoid concluding that it is flat (the most popular conspiracy theory offered as contrast). Nonetheless, the Earth is not in fact a sphere in anything other than an approximate sense, and  a more accurate description of the shape of our planet would be 'oblate spheroid'. Furthermore, whether our planet should be understood as a sphere depends entirely upon the frame of perception we are dealing with. If we render our solar system in a four dimensional model of Minkowski spacetime, say, the Earth is no longer anything like a sphere. We could approximate its 'shape' in this context as a cylinder, but even this would be inaccurate. The fact is, humans can only think in four dimensions by analogy, and so our language breaks down in this particular perceptual framework. If we accept that Minkowski spacetime is indeed a more accurate description of reality, then we must also accept that 'the Earth is a sphere' is merely a fabrication doctrine.

The French philosopher Alain Badiou advanced a view of truth that he associated with Plato: the truth exceeds our ability to express it in language or thought. Every time we try to grasp an understanding of any situation - every time we build a fabrication doctrine - the truth exceeds that situation. Truth, therefore, is nothing so dry and dull as a statement... rather truth punctures our experience of reality, it breaks through, as if from the outside. For Badiou, this is a description of scientific revolution - the excess of reality overwhelms the old model; Einstein's understanding replaces Newton's, which replaced Aristotle's physics. Badiou also sees this excess in art, politics, and indeed, in love... the truth punctures our understanding and reveals something hitherto unrecognised.

It is, alas, far easier to live life within the fabrication doctrines we are offered. The less you question, the less resistance you will meet from the world around you. But this is not to suggest there is anything good about this state of affairs. It is merely to claim that life is easier when you become indifferent to lies. That statement is logically true. But that does not make it an expression of the truth, nor ethically desirable. On the contrary, when we become indifferent to lies, we permit terrible things to happen. We have, in fact, all permitted terrible things to happen precisely because we prefer to live inside our fabrication doctrines rather than seek out the truth.

Likewise and conversely, if we try to shut out the conspiracy theories, we do not become closer to truth... on the contrary, we will then find ourselves accepting lies as if they were true because we the enforce our fabrication doctrines as inviolable and deny that they could be in error. All this obsessive commitment to ensuring "harmful disinformation myths are stopped in their tracks", as BBC Director-General pontificated at the foundation of its political power bloc with Google et al, is self-deception. If what is being defended are fabrication doctrines - and this is the only thing they can be - then stopping 'disinformation' necessarily means enforcing dogma. We have seen this error so many times before, and yet still we blame it on religion and not on the inherent fallibility of our nature as humans.

To be open to truth is to be open to error. To attempt to prevent error from being spoken is not just pernicious and unjust censorship, it is to turn our fabrication doctrines into quasi-religious dogma. Regrettably, there is just as vast an appetite for this today as their was in the Middle Ages... we just don't recognise it, because - then as now - our fabrication doctrines are misunderstood as truth. Only when we accept the fallibility of human knowledge can we hope to remain open to that rare possibility of encountering a truth that inevitably exceeds the limits of our understanding.