Even more fake news

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me you ears;
I come to bury fake news, not to praise it.

Whenever you have war, whenever you have conflict, whenever you have disagreement the first casualty is the truth. This has been the case since the start of civilization but we are now more conscious of the issue since the American president started using the term “fake news”. Not only has he become a master of using it but he also claims others use it against him. He is not the first to distort the truth but he may be more blatant than his predecessors. His success is sickening.

It may be the challenge of fake news is to use the truth to overcome emotions.

police-clip-art-1194984609285255522police_man_ganson.svg.medA lot of us dislike being lied to and a lot of us dislike hearing the truth, especially if it is not what we want it to be. This provides opportunities for those people whose desire for power over people is stronger than their ethics.

Most politicians quickly learn to use distortions of the truth to avoid upsetting people. My experience is that municipal politicians are less likely to say untrue things than those who stand a chance of being elected at a provincial or national level. As a journalist I frequently voted for the candidate with the least chance of winning because they were the most honest.

When a politician is as blatant with distortions of the truth as is the current occupant of the White House it is tempting to hold him responsible. But there is a more serious problem in that a lot of people are believing his distortions. He is saying what a lot of people want to hear. When so many people want to hear and believe things which some of us believe are not true there must be a serious problem facing our society. Rather than criticizing the messenger we should be trying to identify and correct the problem.

In my days as a reporter I tried hard to be accurate and was sometimes in trouble for being too accurate. They mayor did not like being quoted as referring to the Queen of England as “Liz”. Most of my reporting was for small town newspapers.

An issue for me was the accuracy of what people said. A British Columbia cabinet minister said the gypsies from Quebec were sent to B.C. to encourage separatism. I did not believe it but I reported it and the editors wrote an editorial criticizing the minister who later went onto become the premier. I still feel guilty for my very small part in helping him become premier. I would not want to be covering the White House.

In our society court cases are the ultimate situations of conflict. Most witnesses in court cases take an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I never heard a lawyer take a similar oath. Frequently they try to hide the truth. In Hereford, England, the prosecutor in the magistrates court was a police inspector and was much admired for ensuring the magistrates knew anything in favor of the defendants. He once told us he kept quiet until he became an inspector. After that there were no more promotions.

Distorting the truth is an ancient activity. We know that because we have the word sophistry. On a day-to-day basis I hear lots of arguments which are good examples of the art, often from the female of the species. I figure most of the arguments presented by feminists are highly sophisticated. Google logical fallacies.

The Economist points out that some publications reflect the beliefs of their readers rather than their owners. This is because some owners are more interested in profits rather than the truth.

Maybe there is a market for fake news because we are all emotional people and we do not like things that will cause us suffering. With the economy on a down trend it is likely a lot of people are going to experience unemployment and suffering and maybe even hunger, There will be fertile ground for politicians who promise things they cannot deliver.

It is our responsibility to evaluate the truth of what other people tell us. A part of the evaluation should be asking what are the special interests of that person. Will they benefit by distorting what they say?

Most of us feel betrayed if we discover somebody has lied to us. Probably the best defense is a commitment to tell the truth.









The French election and politicians telling the truth

The cover story in this week’s Economist is about the French election and the reluctance of politicians and the electorate to deal with a serious economic situation.

The truth is that it can be very difficult for a politician to tell people the truth especially if the politician thinks people don’t want to hear the truth or if he thinks people will vote against him if he does tell them the truth.

The truth is that probably we are going into a period of economic decline.  In the long-term we would be better off if the political debate were to be about how to cope with that with a minimum of human suffering.

However, most of us. most of the time, think and act in our own short-term interests as opposed to the long-term interests of ourselves let alone the whole community.  It would take a brave politician to put this to the test.

Pig-headed politicians playing poker or are we really cooked?

In the lead editorial of the June 18, 2011 issue, .The Economist holds pig-headed politicians playing poker responsible for our economic future. (Thanks to a mail strike I just received my copy)

There is a real risk that the politicians’ pig-headedness could lead to disaster. The odds of a catastrophe—harsh fiscal tightening in America, or a crash in the euro zone—may not be high, but neither are they negligible. Though economic logic suggests that the world economy is just going through a sticky patch, squabbling politicians could all too easily turn it into a meltdown.

Politicians like to take credit for a growing economy and voters like to blame them when things are going badly. And, current leaders may be pig-headed, but are they any more pig-headed than their predecessors? I figure the economy happens due to factors other than politicians. A more likely explanation for current economic problems is that we are depleting our resources. See an earlier post on The Living Planet Report.

The following quote is from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. (Chapter XXl).

 He said we are all cooked but we were all right as long as we did now know it. We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it.

Hemingway was talking about the Italians during the first world war but this comment could apply to our current economy. If we are “all cooked” and we knew it, then we might be able to manage the crisis so as to minimize suffering. As that is an impossible dream, we might be better off not to know it. Let’s join The Economist in blaming everything on pig-headed politicians.


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