I wrote the first four parts of this series a year ago, but something I recently read in How to Think brought the subject to mind again so here is another way to separate the internet’s wheat from its chaff:
Rule #5 – Does the website engage with the best arguments of its opposition?
In a chapter of How to Think titled Repulsions, Alan Jacobs warns that animus toward our opposition “disables our ethical and our practical judgment.” We have such an emotional investment in believing that they are wrong that we harp on their weakest arguments and ridicule their most loony representatives.
James Hamblin of The Atlantic is one of my favorite columnists. He’s a 35-year-old medical doctor who looks like a teenager and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. For example, he wrote a piece this summer called The Eclipse Conspiracy:
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
…Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
That is, of course, unless we wear glasses that are on a list issued by these very same scientists. Meanwhile, corporations like Amazon are profiting from the sale of these eclipse glasses. Is anyone asking how many of these astronomers also, conveniently, belong to Amazon Prime?
Let’s follow the money a little further. Hotels along the “path of totality” — a region drawn up by Obama-era NASA scientists — have been sold out for months. Some of those hotels are owned and operated by large multinational corporations. Where else do these hotels have locations? You guessed it: Washington, D.C.
Section 377 of India’s Constitution was in the news this week. It states, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for [a] term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Although Section 377 does not spell out what is “against the order of nature,” conservatives have interpreted it to bar homosexual activity, among other things.
So it was big news this week when India’s Supreme Court ruled that “In a democratic Constitution founded on the rule of law, rights (of minorities) are as sacred as those conferred on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties. Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy.”
How is it possible that after more than two months of continuous lies 77% of Republicans believe President Trump is an honest man? Just as perplexing is the contrast with Democrats. Living in the same country and with the same information available, 90% of them have concluded that Trump is not honest.
An article I read recently (sorry I can’t remember where) gave an answer that made sense to me. People who want to believe something look for reasons they may believe it; those on the other side want to know if they must believe because the evidence is overwhelming.
If there is a silver lining in the current political cloud of scandal, chaos, and lies, it is that the more responsible American media outlets are making unprecedented efforts to educate the American public in how to distinguish truth from falsehood.
It started with the first moments of Trump’s presidency. He grumped that the press had deliberately misled the public about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The New York Times reported Trump’s attack under the headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout Size and Intelligence Rift. When have the media ever begun a headline about a president’s first day with the words “With False Claims”!? This is a new focus on truth.
In the last two posts, I’ve suggested that within 10 years, reliable, affordable, unobtrusive lie-detectors will be as much a part of life as smartphones are now. This could take our society in either of two directions: openness as we all learn to stop hiding from each other, or paranoia as we try harder and harder to keep our secrets. As with all the incredible technology coming at us faster than we can imagine, it’s impossible for us, in our relatively primitive world, to predict the social outcome.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to try. This time I’d like to consider the following dystopian question:
Will there be a guild of professional liars?
A certain percentage of today’s population is able to lie so convincingly that they seem absolutely convinced by their own lies. You’ve probably known such people. Even when caught dead to rights, they look you square in the face and tell you it isn’t so. One can imagine that people who can apparently evade their own conscience will be able to fool the external lie detectors of the future.
If you’re the sort of person who can spend several minutes at a time staring at unbelievably large numbers being incremented at an unbelievable rate, check this out: Internet Live Stats.
As I write this at 9:30 am, the counter of blog posts written today is at roughly 1.8 million. It is incrementing at roughly 3,000 per minute. This in the same neighborhood as the rate at which an A-10 Warthog’s very impressive Avenger gun fires its rounds, except that according to Wikipedia, “In practice, the [Avenger] cannon is limited to one and two-second bursts to avoid overheating and conserve ammunition; barrel life is also a factor…” By the way, each of those roughly 3,000 rounds per minute weighs nearly a pound. Can you imagine!?
And that’s just the blog posts. It does not count all the stories at news sites, propaganda at campaign websites, YouTube videos, and on and on.
With all that ammunition being fired at us, how can we tell which are the good guys (the truth-lovers) and which are the bad (the liars and BS artists)?