There are no facts, only interpretations.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
If you haven’t figured it out by now I’m what Americans call a liberal, or more properly a progressive. In Europe I’d be a centrist. In some parts of the USA they’d call me a communist because they don’t have the slightest idea of what communism is. The United States has always had an anti-intellectual strain that has reasserted itself with vigor. Ironically, the information age has helped to pave the way for this. The key is that we no longer know what the truth is. No one does either the left or the right of the spectrum.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
― Isaac Asimov
Like most Americans I speak primarily with people who are like me. In my case it those educated in a scientific or technical field, working at a Lab or University, doing research. I don’t have a lot of contact with people of a different background. I do have a handful of conservative friends, and the difference in their Worldview is both understandable as it is stunning. What is really breathtaking is the difference in what we think is true. This is attributable to where our information comes from.
In large part the Internet has allowed everyone to draw from sources of information that suits their preconceptions. To a large extent we are fed information that drives us
further to one side or another. The news media is now slanted toward particular point of view. In other words everyone left and right chooses to be bombarded by propaganda that not simply fits, but reinforces and strengthens his or her starting point. Of course, this change is only true for those choosing to be informed at all. As the rancor and vitriol has increased with the polarization, many people have simply tuned out. They use their access to information differently, to simply escape from “reality” whatever the hell that is. This is reflected in the horrible voting habits of the public.
The traditional news media is dominated by corporate interests with Fox News leading the way, but the old three ABC, CBS and NBC being no different. MSNBC is viewed as the liberal vanguard, but again it’s no different either. Once this dynamic was primarily associated with Newspapers, but as they die, it has been replaced by TV and as they begin to die by the Internet. Big money is running the show I every case, and finding a niche that provides them profit and power.
When we change the way we communicate, we change society
― Clay Shirky
As such big money’s interests are being represented in the media’s message. Sometimes it’s semi-innocuous such as advertising for a TV show or movie. The dangerous aspect is the continuous avoidance of issues that the big moneyed interests don’t want portrayed, discussed or explored. This lack of coverage for a class of issues associated with money and class is poisoning democracy, tilting the discussion, and ultimately serving only the short-term needs of the businesses themselves.
Tragedy of the Commons: while each person can agree that all would benefit from common restraint, the incentives of the individuals are arrayed against that outcome.
― Clay Shirky
A more innocuous aspect is the slanting of the political dynamic, which is happening pervasively via Fox News and its use of a message firmly associated with a single political agenda. In the UK it’s Sky that does the same thing. Across the board the impact has been to turn up the heat on partisan bickering and diminish the ability of the democratic process to function. Part of the problem is that it becomes clear if you make the mistake of talking about such things, people no longer operate with the same facts. Each side of the debate simply cherry-picks facts to suit their aims and avoids facts that undermine their chosen message. As a result no one really gets the full story, and the truth is always slanted one way or another. As a result the ability to compromise and move forward on vexing problems has become impossible.
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
Ultimately the situation today favors those who have power, and today power stems from wealth. Money is paying for information, and this information is paving the way toward an even greater accumulation of power. The Internet is not providing the democratization of knowledge, but rather giving those already in power access to unparalleled capability to issue effective propaganda. Those in power are assisted by a relatively weak government whose ability to counter their stranglehold on society is stymied by inaction.
Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.
― Spencer Johnson
Where the ideal of the libertarian political is the empowering of the individual, the reality of today is an Orwellian vision. The weakness of our governance is simply the fuel to maintain and enhance the power structure of inequality. The only individuals who are empowered are the wealthy and powerful; the rank and file of the public is under their thrall. The Internet has joined religion as the opiate of the masses. Conflict and disagreement are the lifeblood of this stasis and the domination of partisan propaganda is its soulless center.
It’s not clear that even Orwell could have foreseen such a screwed up situation.
Truth is life’s most precious commodity.
— Edwin Louis Cole