Once, a long long time ago, when the world was still pristine and a few good men and women treaded lightly on the earth, the water in the lakes and streams was crystal clear and quenched our collective thirst. Then we grew to be many. Someone found that there was also water under the ground and they built their wells to ladle up the clear fresh water to their cracked lips and parched throats, and it also quenched their thirst. The people grew around these wells. We found we could live almost anywhere as long as we could somehow stay connected to these wells and lakes and streams.
Soon there were too many of us, so we divided ourselves into us and them. We were good and true, of course, and they were bad and false. We found that we could put salt into their wells, so that they would not be able to drink and would become so weak that they would die or we could kill them. Just to make sure we had enough energy to kill them, we put sugar in our wells. Of course, they did the same to us because, for them, they were us and we were them. All the wells and lakes and streams came to be poisoned with the sugar and salt we put into them, not to speak of the constant spills from oil pipes, chemical and nuclear waste dumps, and acid rains.
Although this is really happening all around us, I intended it as an allegory about facts and factoids, fake news, spin, and such. The wells are our sources of information, be they books, newspapers, TV, radio, or Internet, the crystal clear waters are the facts and truths, and the salted, sugared, and otherwise polluted waters are the manufactured factoids, fake news, spin, and such.
A little about the alternate title of this post: we find ourselves in a house of mirrors. The mirrors don’t let us see where to go or who’s behind them. All we can see is what the mirrors reflect. All they reflect is us, whether distorted or “true”. The fake news sources are just mirrors that reflect our own beliefs, desires, and prejudices. In a house of mirrors there are no windows through which to see what’s going on in the real world outside, just mirrors that reflect your image, fat or skinny, elongated or short and squat.
After the people have quenched their thirst, filled their bellies, and satisfied their other needs for survival, they will look around for facts and truths because they can’t survive on sugar and salt alone and they can’t survive without truth and facts. A person without the capability to sense the truth in order to interact with the world will not survive.
You can go on a long time without having access to the truth, nobody knows quite how long, but eventually you’ll collide with a reality you didn’t prepare for and die.
I’m an optimist of sorts. I tend to believe people will eventually begin to thirst for “real” news and truths, not just the fake news that confirms what they already think they know or want to believe.
A healthy skepticism is in order; not the Doubting Thomas kind or the perennial Devil’s Advocate kind. It’s more like the “I’m from Missouri, show me” kind:
- Don’t automatically trust the snake oil salesman, or anyone else for that matter, who’s telling you something you’d like or need to be true;
- Check the source of the information: does it come from just one source or several? Does one of those sources include what’s been considered a reliable source for a long time, like since before the Internet?
- Does the source’s domain of expertise include the subject of the information? Don’t trust a scientist’s opinion on morality or ethics as being better than your own, but do trust his or her opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as better than yours. Don’t trust a priest’s, minister’s, rabbi’s, imam’s, or guru’s opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as being better than yours, but you may trust their opinions on religious commandments, rituals, and lore as better than yours.
- Ask yourself whether the information really makes sense to you, is it consistent with everything you know (when you are being honest with yourself), or is it something you really have to act on (or is it something you can wait on until you get more facts)? If you have to act now, then go with what you’ve got; if not, then wait until you have more facts or have to act.