Liar`s Paradox


One of the worst crimes that the media can commit is to create a false consensus. These false consensuses exist, and more often than not, they are not part of any conscious campaign or propaganda, but a result of general insensitivities and inbuilt cultural biases. This is dangerous, because overt assaults evoke resistance, but these soft and slow pushes far too often go unchallenged. These falsities also result because of certain inherent paradoxes embedded in the semantics of human language. We bring up the topic, because we do notice the Northeast has been in many ways at the receiving ends of such false consensuses. But let us first qualify our statement by explaining what we understand by the embedded paradoxes of semantics by quoting logician, Bertrand Russell. The famed mathematician and philosopher who received a Nobel Prize not for the discipline he is trained for, but for literature, came up with the now equally famous `Russell`™s paradox`, more popularly known as the `Liar`™s Paradox`. This was as a follow up to a BBC debate he had with Jesuit priest, Rev Fr. Copplestone on the existence of God. The debate is reproduced in Russell`™s book `Why I am Not a Christian`. Fr Copplestone, at a point in the debate, came up with the argument that nothing that does not exist can have a meaning, or would be within human understanding, and since the concept `God` has a definite meaning well within the grasp of human understanding, this must be a definitive proof that God exists. Russell argues against this insisting not everything that makes sense exists. Much after the debate, he was to back up the argument with his famous semantic paradox. In it he says the statement `I am a liar` at the semantic level makes sense, but at its core is false, for if I am indeed a liar, I am speaking the truth, and if I am speaking the truth then I am a liar, therefore not a liar.

We have no intent of joining issue in the debate on the existence of God. We are only interested in the particular problem of semantics thrown up, for this may also be at the core of the false consensus that the media often is guilty of. After all, the media deals in words and words can be played around until they begin conjuring up realities devoid of, or at the most remotely connected, to reality. Images of endemic backwardness of the Northeast, the lahe lahe stigma that hangs around any portraiture of Assam, matrilineal Khasis, violent Nagas, orthodox Meitei, nomadic Kukis`¦ all these, despite their semantic falsities, have stuck, and often pose as hurdles in the region`™s coming to terms with the modern scientific age. They would have also resulted in biases in policy framing. Take for instance the often repeated assertion that the Centre has been pumping money into the northeast. True, money has been flowing in from the Centre, but can it really be described as pumping in money. The deceptive scale has been to measure in terms of per capita investments or talk in terms of percentages. For sparsely populated northeast, we can imagine what disadvantage such a scale would put it in. At least in infrastructural investments the talk should be of quantum and not percentage. Constructing a bridge in Mumbai would cost the same as a bridge in the Northeast, but if per capita investment were to be the criteria, it is obvious the Northeast would end up with only partial bridges and roads.

This being the case, the challenge before the present generation of media professionals, is to deconstruct or dismantle these falsities and rebuild newer and rejuvenated images that are closer to the reality on the ground. Just as the false consensus came about as a residue accumulating over the years, the challenges must not also be in aggressive haste. Such an approach would rob the campaign`™s legitimacy considerably. This would be how we define journalistic activism in the Northeast context. The role of course must be shared equally by the rest of our by and large silent intelligentsia.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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