Wednesday, 25 January 2017
What’s the alternative?
The latest variant in the fake news phenomenon is the ‘alternative fact’ farrago. Both of course, are intended to deceive but as Groucho said “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others” Over the years many news organisations have been accused of distortion and even gross deception in order to serve a narrative, but in recent years the whole business of lying to the world has been legitimised by spin doctors who are now so bold they can repeat a barefaced lie to camera a hundred times without batting an eyelid.
We used to need an outlandish figure like Robert Maxwell to carry off such astonishing effrontery but now it seems as if it is the carefree, everyday normality of organs which should stand for truth and justice. Ah but, whose truth and what do you mean by justice? Is it just to let people starve while others grow fat, or is it kind to let people grow fat and ill while others stay fit and thrive? Is welfare really a human right? And what is the real truth behind climatological carbon? A good rule of thumb used to be ‘follow the money’, but the democratisation of lying muddies the audit trail.
We seem, many seem, to need a backing track to our lives, a tune to sing along to, a theme to tie it all together, but why do we think, or why do some of us think, there has to be such meaning? It used to be religion but what if – and here’s a shock to the system – there is no order to our universe and things just happen? Some things are true and others are not, but every now and then, quite often if we’re honest, what we expect to be the truth turns out not to be. A nutter kills Saint Joe Cox, which somehow proves that all who voted to leave the EU are vexatious simpletons with Nazi sympathies. Yet looters who plunder businesses and try to harm the police are excused because they’re upset about the outcome of a vote.
These things aren’t really part of an organised whole, but the extent to which some parts of the whole are organised can be telling. It’s hard enough to distinguish truth from tittle-tattle from the vantage point of a distant observer, but how do you do it when you are a throbbing part of the enraged mob? Is it an ideology, or just a fun day out in town? The flimsy rationale for some allegiances often hangs by a single thread; the left is good, therefore the right is bad and there’s an end to it. Once you have decided which side you’re on that side can do no wrong, but how do you break free from groupthink?
To be able to tell fact from fiction you need to do more than accept face-value, bias-confirming soundbites. You need to be educated but not indoctrinated, widely read but not too fickle, informed but also incisive. Oh and you need to be impartial, the hardest thing of all. It is said that critical thinking skills are thin on the ground but even possessing all of the above humans are notorious for making poor choices: ‘I can’t afford the thing, I can’t afford the thing... Honey, I bought the even more expensive version of the thing!’
The expensive thing many seem to want to buy right now is that life can be made wonderful by the application of government. Dream on. You want a good life, you have to work for it. It really is as simple as that... you just have to break free of the chains you have meticulously wrapped around your thinking. It is nobody else’s job to make you wealthy, healthy or happy... or wise. This, undeniably, is true, but it’s also hard. What’s the alternative? There isn’t one, but sometimes it is just easier to accept the truth you want to hear.