THINKING EAST AND WEST說東道西

Has the rise of fake news shaken our trust in objective fact?假新聞愈來愈多,會搖否動 我們對客觀事信實的 任?

Discovery - - CONTENTS 目錄 -

Are we living in a post-truth world? The Discovery philosophers discuss 《Discovery》兩位哲學家討論我們是否活於後真相的世界內

Since Donald Trump started accusing the media of publishing ‘fake news’ in 2016, the concept has become ubiquitous. At the time of writing, the president of the United States had used the phrase 164 times in his tweets alone.

At the same time that real news is being dismissed as fake, a lot of fake news is being taken as real. One recent study estimated that during one five-week period, one in four Americans visited a website that peddled fake news. It might be reassuring to learn that most visits to such sites are made by the 10 per cent of the population we might call fake news junkies. Less comforting, however, is the conclusion that Facebook is ‘the most important mechanism facilitating the spread of fake news’.

What, we might wonder, ever happened to truth? The pursuit of truth has been at the heart of Western thinking for millennia, so much so that Westerners have generally taken its importance for granted. However, in other cultures truth may be valued, but it is not the highest value. Philosophers Roger Ames and David Hall, for example, have argued that classical Chinese philosophy is much more concerned with finding the right way to live than it is with accurately describing how the world objectively is. China has a way-seeking culture, the West a truth-seeking one.

The central importance of truth in the West is also reflected in the valuing of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, aside from all other religious or ethical commitments. This desire and willingness to dig for truth no matter what could in part explain the West’s eventual dominance in science and technology,

especially given that at previous times it lagged behind both China and the Islamic world.

The success of secular science fuelled Western self-confidence that it was possible to obtain objective knowledge about every corner of reality. Nothing was sacred except for the truth. If science clashed with religion or conventional belief, science had to win.

With this history, it seems astonishing that the fake news phenomenon has taken such a hold. It would seem truth has been toppled from its pedestal and now lies in fragments. How could this have happened?

The key is to understand that people have not given up on truth, but on the sources of truth. In everyday life, people know very well the difference between truth and lies and are angered by deception. Some of the fiercest anger in politics has been generated by the belief that the public has been lied to. In Britain, for example, many believe they have been deceived about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, about the costs or benefits of leaving the European Union and about the role of big businesses in the 2007 financial crash.

It is because they care so much that they have become so disillusioned with the people and institutions they have traditionally trusted to tell them the truth. An annual survey of people in 28 countries that has been conducted for 17 years by public relations firm Edelman shows trust in government, media, business and NGOs is at, or near to, all-time lows. This infects everything. For example, public trust in scientists appears to have remained quite stable. But given that most scientific information is mediated by the press and government, in practice people are more suspicious of scientific claims.

However, I also suspect there is another reason why truth is taking a hammering. It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war, although the truth about who first said it is disputed. Could it be that truth is also a casualty of a new cultural war? Social scientists have repeatedly argued that Western societies are more polarised than ever. Liberal, internationalist, multicultural, highly educated urbanites see the world very differently from lesseducated, nationalist, suburban and rural conservatives. Contests between the two have become bitter zero-sum games, from the EU referendum in the UK to the US presidential election. When two sides are competing so fiercely for the souls of their countries, subjective partisanship becomes more important than objective impartiality.

My hope is that a culture’s deep roots can survive a few storms; and in the long sweep of history, recent upheavals are but passing tempests. Truth is too central to the Western intellectual imagination to be abandoned. Is that a rational assessment or just wishful thinking?

自從特朗普於2016年開始指控傳媒發佈「假新聞」,這個概念現已廣為流傳。我執筆撰寫本文時,美國總統已在他本人的Twitter貼文中使用過這個詞語164次。

與此同時,真實的新聞卻被人視為假新聞,而大量假新聞則被當作真實。根據近日一項研究顯示,在一段為期五周的時間內四,每 名國美 人中就有一人曾經瀏覽散播假聞網新 的 站。不過令人稍安感 慰的是,瀏覽這些網站的人,大部分來自那些嗜假新聞成癮,的人 而類這 人只佔人口的一成然。而,研究的結卻論 令人不安,它指全有出 球四分一人口使用的Facebook,「是促進虛假聞新 傳播的重要工具」。

以上種種,令我們不禁疑惑,到底人們現在如何看待事實與真相?千年以來,求真一直是西方思想的中心,地位之高,西方人甚至已經視之為理所當然是。,可 其他文化也可能視重 真相,但卻並不一定將之視為最高的價。值哲學如家 Roger Ames與David Hall就曾指出,中國古典哲學思想更重視如何正確地生活,而非以準確無誤的方式來描述客觀世界國。中 文化是尋求處世之道,而西方則是求。真

西將方 求真視為無比重要,除映了反於宗教與道德的承擔以外,更會純粹為了 追求知識而追求。知這識 種願意不惜一切代價求為 發掘真的相 欲望,可以解釋為何昔日在科學與技術上落後於中國與伊斯蘭世界西的 方,最終後來居上,成為這兩個領域導的主 者。

在俗學世 科 上大放異彩西,令 方充滿自信,認為可將現實世界內每個角落裡的客觀知識發掘殆盡。唯有真實的事物才是神聖的,因此如果科學與宗或統仰教傳 信有衝突,科學一定是利勝 的一方。

基於這個歷史背,景 而虛假新竟聞能如此盛行,實在令人感到驚訝。求似乎真的態度已從至高無上的地位被倒推 ,在地上跌得粉身碎骨。究竟為何會出現這種情況?

要了解這日事的關在鍵, 於明白人們其實有沒 放棄求真,而是放棄了尋求相真的來源。日常活生 中,人們十分清楚真實與謊言之間的分野,並會於發現受騙時感到忿怒政。 治上,最猛烈的怒火來自人們認為公眾曾經被欺瞞。例如在英,國 很多人相信政府對公眾隱瞞在了 伊拉克使用大殺傷力武器實的事 ,也隱瞞了脫歐後的利與弊,以及2007年金融風暴中大企業所扮演的角色。

正因為這些人對真相十分在乎,因此才感到幻滅,相不再 信一向為他們提供真相的人或機構。根據公關公司Edelman一個在28個家國 進行了17年的年度調顯查示,公眾對政府、傳媒、企業和非政府組織的信任度,已接近或達到史上新低。這個現象波及一切事情如,例 公眾對學科 家的信任度看似保持平穩,但由於絕大部分科學資訊是都 經傳媒和政發府 放,大眾實際上對各種科學主抱張 持更懷的疑 態度。

然而,我懷疑尚有另一個原因導,致真相備受打壓。人們經常說,在戰爭中真相往往首當其衝──雖然誰人首先說出這句話至今亦是說眾 紛紜。相真 是否亦成為一場新文化戰爭中的犧牲品?科社會 學家重複指出,現今的西方社會出現空前的兩極化。接受過高等教育的都市一族,擁護國際化和多元文化,持自由開放的態度,世觀界 與教育水平較低、居於近郊和鄉村的民族主義保守派迥不然 同。英從 國脫歐公投,以至國美 總統大選,都足見兩派間鬥之 的 爭已淪為痛苦的零和遊戲。當雙方為了爭取國內民心而拼個你死我活時,主觀的朋黨偏見就,變得偏比不 不倚的客觀真相更為重要。

我但願文化的深厚基根 並不會因歷經幾場風波而動搖,而在源遠流長的歷史當中,近年的盪動 局勢亦只不過是短暫的暴風雨。相真 深植西睿於 方 智想方領域的核心,絕不會被棄敝如 屣──這是否理性的評估,抑或只是我一廂情願的想法?

CHINA HAS A WAY- SEEKING CULTURE, THE WEST A TRUTH- SEEKING ONE中國文化是尋求處世之道,西方則是求真

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