A tale of two worlds: social media and truth - Part I
Wednesday, 29 December 2021 3:13 pm
[Part I of IV]
Who’s ready for a cold war of the mind? Well it may be too late to ponder. Perhaps it’s already here. I’ve tried to be an observer of cultural life and thought, particularly over the past 3 decades. I’ve detected significant changes in the culture of public discourse over that time, some positive or at least harmless, others quite alarming. I’m particularly concerned about standards for discerning truth and falsehood, in some sub-cultures especially, and the practical consequences in polarisation and loss of trust.
I’ve come to the view that much of both the good and the scary owes to the revolutionary changes brought by the internet. I believe our failure to keep up with where the online world has taken us is close to the root of the greater portion of what now divides our communities. This is not to say that failure has been wilful or wanton on anyone’s part. Rather I think we’ve all been blindsided by the sheer pace of it all. But either way we must address it as a culture, and quickly, if we’re to avoid some kind of protracted cold war of the mind or potentially even worse.
The distrust I’m speaking of has reached a new level in this present coronavirus pandemic season. I believe it’s built on a set of premises, presumed by some to be established fact. Even among my own valued friends, nearly all of whom are very sincere and principled people, whether Christian believers or not, there are some who have accepted one or two of these premises, and some others who have adopted all of them. Here below I attempt to address each of them. I’ve listed them in a deliberate order, because I believe there’s a certain cumulative thread of logic linking them in a building block kind of fashion. But this doesn’t mean everyone who adopts any of them, will adopt them in that order.
So now to my “five premises” …
Premise #1: It’s a practical possibility and reality that the world is being
controlled by a powerful “elite” (or elites) with sinister and dictatorial intent.²
If accepted, many (all?) of the other dissenting views on currently contested matters scientific or political, become possible and believable. ‘Possible and believable’ is not the same as ‘true’ or ‘proven by independent evidence’. But once a person has accepted the premise, ‘possible and believable’ are commonly enough to engender certainty.
Social commentators have identified many reasons to dismiss this premise. Chief among them in my opinion is the unimaginable complexity of sustaining and coordinating so massive a deception between thousands of perpetrators or compliant partisans, on a global scale, and over decades, with never so much as a leak or slip-up. Charles Colson’s reflections on the Nixon-Watergate saga seem instructive here. Commenting on the historicity of Christ’s physical resurrection (not my subject here) he said, “ … Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world - and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” The alleged conspiracy of “the elite” for world domination requires the sustaining of multiple lies by undefinable orders of magnitude beyond that.
So the salient question is: Is the premise likely or believable in itself? Can I believe this is in fact the character of the world we live in and that I’ve grown up in?
Impasse #1: The logistics of so big a conspiracy.
Premise #2: It’s a practical possibility and reality that the very great
majority of the human population, including the millions of highly skilled and
seasoned professionals, are blind to “what’s really going on”
politically in the world, whilst a few thousand unskilled online
activists with little independent evidence are in command of the truth.
Is this possible? Well in pure theory, maybe? But for centuries at least our culture has evolved thanks to the particular skills of the brightest. They aren’t ‘better’ than anyone else. But their particular contributions have seen to most of the technological advances that have improved not only the lot of first world peoples but also of such advances as there have been in bettering the lives of the poor. Similarly in our economic and legal systems, in health, medicine and engineering. Advances have too commonly benefitted rich more than poor. The record of justice and morality has been chequered to say the least. Yet for all that, these are they who in the main have led us forward.
Is it possible that right across the board the current generations of these our most skilled, informed and able, are just the ones least aware of the grandest schemes? ‘Possible’ it surely must be, since there have been times when the least have done the greatest and proven wisest, and since we live in an ordered yet fallen world where plans can be laid for the best or the worst. Possible certainly. But is it likely? What are the odds? And again, can I believe this is in fact the character of the world we live in and that I’ve grown up in?
Impasse #2: Blind ignorance among nearly all the brightest and best on a global scale.
¹ Although I’ve included a handful of supportive cross-references, the analysis I present here is primarily anecdotal. It represents a distillation of many years of observation and reading of trends in pubic life and media over the past several decades, as well as today. I make no claim to it being authoritative. Indeed quite a bit of the content lies well outside my areas of expertise.
² If one is among that small subset of Christian believers who are persuaded of a certain set of political interpretations of apocalyptic biblical texts, then this concept is readily framed in terms such as “one world government” or “new world order”.