An update was recently pushed to ubuntu that updates fontconfig, one of the programs involved in rendering text on the desktop.
DOWNLOAD THIS UPDATE!
I’m not sure what they did, but my fonts look noticably clearer, better defined, and sharp. It’s really quite beautiful. Also, the various options in the font dialog (specifically the hinting levels) finally work, so I can see the difference. I don’t know who is responsible for finally getting this right, but thank you!