Dark Ages

Business Bhutan - - Opinion - Fumbly Play

For most Bhutanese, world his­tory as a school sub­ject is only taught in the 7th and 8th grade. The text­books are old and con­tain myths that have been dis­proven for decades. One of those myths is that of the “Dark Ages” of Europe be­fore Charle­magne, the light in the dark­ness. Some his­to­ri­ans ar­gued that these dark ages in Eng­land lasted till the 14th cen­tury. What they called dark ages re­ferred to a time when knowl­edge was not a pub­lic good – it was for the elite and the rich who could af­ford de­cent ed­u­ca­tions, and books by them­selves, ow­ing to the lack of pa­per and mass pro­duc­tion cost a great deal. So, the dark ages were re­ally about mak­ing knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion ob­scure. Let’s call this the ob­scu­ran­tism fac­tor. Mid­dle Europe might not have un­der­gone the dark ages, but there is a case to be made that our times is en­ter­ing one. Un­like then, ob­scu­ran­tism in our age does not come through a lack of knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion; it comes through echo chambers and too much in­for­ma­tion. The mir­a­cle of the In­ter­net that was sup­posed to al­low access to in­for­ma­tion to ev­ery­one has re­sulted in the cre­ation of huge clouds of in­for­ma­tion that con­tain vir­tu­ally ev­ery ar­gu­ment that can be made. So, users of the In­ter­net are free to choose the in­for­ma­tion they agree with, val­i­date that in­for­ma­tion and ig­nore, or dis­par­age, oth­ers. The truth of the mat­ter is that for most things, there are spe­cific truths – maybe in­com­plete truths but truths none­the­less. But there is al­most a pre­ten­sion that non-truth­ful ar­gu­ments are just as valid, and that in the age of lib­er­al­ism, we must ac­cept all ar­gu­ments to be equal to an­other. There is no place for ac­tual “truths” any­more. The re­sult is the rise in “al­ter­na­tive facts” and “fake news.” Peo­ple with one mind­set be­gin fol­low­ing spe­cific in­for­ma­tion sources and not be­ing ex­posed to oth­ers. This is the phe­nom­e­non of echo chambers. As this phe­nom­e­non grows in pop­u­lar­ity (mean­ing that more mem­bers of a pop­u­la­tion aban­don the mid­dle and self-po­lar­ize), it cre­ates a po­lar­ity in opin­ion in the masses. That is seen in how, ac­cord­ing to so­cial sci­en­tists, the U.S. is more po­lar­ized than any time since the civil war that ended in 1865. The lib­er­als in Amer­ica have their own me­dia agen­cies, as do the con­ser­va­tives, as do the alt-rights, the com­mu­nists, and other rad­i­cal ideas. The golden rule that one should do to an­other what they would have done on to them ap­plies to these groups. So, to main­tain that an in­for­ma­tion in their echo cham­ber is valid, that it does not need vet­ting or out­side ex­po­sure, each group, and the mid­dle, has to pre­tend that all echo chambers pro­vide valid in­for­ma­tion. Thereby come pic­tures like the one below – two peo­ple stand­ing op­po­site each other look­ing at a fig­ure that looks like 6 to one and 9 to the other. We’re all sup­posed to be­lieve that there are two sides to ev­ery story and each side is as valid as the other. But those who want the ac­tual truth, who do not have their de­ci­sions made for them by their ide­olo­gies and news sources, ought to do more re­search. In this case, one could look at who wrote the fig­ure, how they write a 6 or a 9, and us­ing in­for­ma­tion like that, come to de­ci­sion about how the au­thor wrote it to be. Of course, all peo­ple are al­lowed to hold their own opin­ions, but we can’t play fast and lose with facts and truths, as we do with opin­ions. If there are dis­agree­ments about some­thing, con­ver­sa­tions can lead to truths. Keep speak­ing or ar­gu­ing un­til dif­fer­ences in opin­ions boil down to fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences, of which there are few. For ex­am­ple, if someone ar­gues that women’s rights is a stupid move­ment be­cause women are nat­u­rally in­fe­rior to men, and an­other ar­gues that this “in­fe­ri­or­ity” is a so­cial con­struct de­vel­oped by hu­mans. Ar­gu­ments can cut through the BS and get to the ba­sic be­liefs of the in­ter­locu­tors. At that point, science comes in and says, “Re­search in this field ex­ists. In all nat­u­ral as­pects, women and men are equal.” So, we find one ar­gu­ment to be more truth­ful than the other. That is bet­ter than sign­ing a so­cial con­tract agree­ing all of us cor­rect by de­fault, be­cause it’s a mat­ter of “opin­ion. Where we can agree to dis­agree is where we see the world dif­fer­ently. Foe ex­am­ple: ar­gu­ments about Com­mu­nism v Ne­olib­er­al­ism. Those of who see poverty as be­ing a re­sult of in­di­vid­ual flaws might ar­gue that ne­olib­er­al­ism is truth­ful, that if a per­son is poor, it’s be­cause they didn’t work smart enough or hard enough. And that a gov­ern­ment should keep its hands off of equal­ity mea­sures be­cause some peo­ple are, by na­ture, lazy. But those who be­lieve in com­mu­nism ar­gue that it is the so­ci­ety and its in­sti­tu­tions that hand­i­cap cer­tain peo­ples and that no mat­ter how hard these groups work; they will never rise above poverty. At some point in the fu­ture, science might catch up and tell us which be­lief of hu­man­ity is truth­ful; at that point, this ex­am­ple en­ters the realm of the pre­vi­ous ex­am­ple. If ar­gu­ments aren’t pos­si­ble, then re­search and lit­er­acy ex­ist as al­ter­na­tive tools. Of course me­dia groups and sources of in­for­ma­tion are led by their own agenda, but me­dia lit­er­acy can al­low the au­di­ence to know how to sift through in­for­ma­tion – it trains peo­ple to smell BS and re­move ex­cre­ment. Us­ing these tools, one can re­move “fake news” and “al­ter­na­tive facts,” and re­ally un­der­stand the ac­tual truth of it. `

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