The death of truth

The Pilot - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com; Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

For a cou­ple of years, I reg­u­larly and qui­etly fol­lowed a right-wing Face­book page in On­tario that, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, posted ei­ther about the need to ban all im­mi­grants from Canada — even if it meant let­ting them die by drown­ing in the Mediter­ranean — or, con­versely, about the need to help small dogs that had been saved by an­i­mal res­cue groups.

(The qual­ity of mercy may drop as a gen­tle rain from heaven, but it ap­par­ently can also be tidily seg­mented into those who de­serve plenty, and those who de­serve none.)

Of­ten, the jux­ta­po­si­tion was jar­ring: at one mo­ment, some­one rail­ing about the need for peo­ple in this coun­try to keep ev­ery­thing for our­selves, while, the next mo­ment, the same per­son rail­ing against any­one who would mis­treat or fail to prop­erly care for a Pomera­nian, a toy poo­dle or a Shih Tzu.

It was eye-open­ing to re­al­ize that, some­times, it’s not a mat­ter of some­one lack­ing com­pas­sion, it’s just how tightly fo­cused that com­pas­sion can be.

Whether on Twit­ter or Face­book, I try to do a fair amount of lis­ten­ing: I try to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open, and try to fol­low both sides of the ar­gu­ment, even when I can’t stand some po­si­tions di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to my own. ( Some­times, though, I give up, shaken to the core by how bluntly peo­ple can hate some­one they have never even met.)

But there’s one thing that’s be­come clear no mat­ter where you stand in the left-right spec­trum.

Facts have be­come mal­leable.

Peo­ple “sam­ple” the news and se­lect the sto­ries they need to sup­port their own be­liefs, and then be­lieve the facts they choose to ac­cept, and dis­card the rest.

Some would say that is a kind of free­dom: in­stead of be­ing im­pris­oned by, say, the main­stream me­dia’s choice of what’s prov­able and de­fen­si­ble, we get to quest out into the world wide web for the facts we think are more com­fort­able for our own world views.

Hate im­mi­grants? There are sites to give you “ev­i­dence” of con­stant im­mi­grant crimes. Favour im­mi­gra­tion? There are sites to com­fort that af­flic­tion as well.

And so­cial me­dia is in no way help­ing.

Lost amongst our own si­los of the like-minded on Face­book and Twit­ter, we com­fort­ably get more of what we al­ready seem to like de­liv­ered to our doors, like an al­go­rith­mi­cally de­rived meal brought right to our prison-cell door. Then, af­ter we’ve eaten our fill, we of­fer it up to the choir of our like-minded friends, and we all sing in tune.

Is it the death of truth? Yes, I think it is.

If you’re un­com­fort­able with some­thing some­one’s say­ing about gov­er­nance or for­eign pol­icy or tax­a­tion, you sim­ply change the chan­nel to be­liefs you find to be more palat­able, and ig­nore that trou­ble­some noise.

No need to trou­ble your di­ges­tion with the thought that you could ac­tu­ally be wrong. It is re­ally not all that much dif­fer­ent from North Korea, where the en­tire world ex­ists only as the dear leader sees it. The only real dif­fer­ence is that you get to cast your­self as your own dear leader ev­ery time.

I do think truth will rise again from its own ashes — even­tu­ally, peo­ple will re­al­ize there’s more to ac­cu­racy than their own opin­ions and be­liefs, and there is a need for proof that is testable by more than its mere ex­is­tence on your computer mon­i­tor.

I hope it comes soon. Al­ready in this world, we have up­ris­ings and ri­ots and po­si­tions taken based on com­plete lies — lies meant to drive par­tic­u­lar sec­u­lar, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious ends. A world with­out truth? It’s not sus­tain­able — with the weapons and tools we have, it’s a clear recipe for world war.

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