Just about every day I wake up and wonder how it is that the world seems so broken. Maybe it’s just that I’m paying more attention and it’s always been broken. I know that’s true to a certain extent but it’s hard to look at current events and dismiss all the craziness as business as usual. But what to do about it? Do I just try shutter myself away from any news of whats going on outside the little patch of earth I inhabit? It’s hard for me to see a problem and try to keep myself from trying to find a solution. Though “fixing the world” seems like it might be a lot of work so I’ve tried my best to stop thinking about it.
It’s not really working.
Inevitably when I’m unable to stop myself wondering how we got here and how to make it better I next ask myself, okay, what exactly is broken? Can’t very well fix something until you know what the problem is. There are many but the one that really gnaws at me is our inability to agree on what is fact and what is fiction. There is seemingly no source that all can agree is an unbiased repository of truth.
When the internet was shiny and new, the naive among us, had high hopes that it would bring the world closer together. Here for everyone was the sum total of all human knowledge at our fingertips. With a snap of our fingers we could summon forth a wealth of expertise on any topic one could conceive of. The sad truth is that the internet is not just the sum total of all human knowledge but rather the sum total of all human thought. And humans have had some pretty bizarre thoughts. For every almost “fact” you can find someone on the internet willing to refute it. Once upon a time I thought sites like Snopes or PolitiFact would save us. Whenever I’d see someone suggesting things like Mark Zuckerberg was going to charging for Facebook unless you made some nonsense post, I’d try to gently nudge the misguided to a Snopes article refuting these claims. That generally worked though they might not be thrilled to discover they’ve been dupped. With more serious matters this doesn’t work so well. I personally believe that the people that run these sites do so for, generally, altruistic reasons. I’m sure there are biases but I have to believe their exist people that are more concerned with the truth and not just proving themselves right. At least I am. I don’t want to be wrong but I especially don’t want to be willfully ignorant. Still, on more that one occasion, I’ve seen people explain that Snopes is just a husband and wife googling for answers and jotting down whatever they find. The same people claim without a hint of irony, that it must be true because they googled it. And, with almost no effort, you can learn about PolitiFact’s bias against the right. Just google PolitiFact bias. And what reasonable person wouldn’t agree that random people are the internet are the more credible than documented sources. Who are these sources and how can we trust them!?
I want to believe that people could be convinced that these sorts of sites aren’t an evil conspiracy by “the left” to brainwash us into believing… I don’t know, whatever agenda it is they believe fact checking sites are trying to push. But then I consider that the Flat Earth Society has hundreds of members. Hundreds of years of physical and scientific evidence are all dismissed as a big conspiracy for… reasons. I have no idea. There are even more that believe we never landed on the moon and, despite overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is real, there are many many people that refuse to accept this interpretation of the evidence.
Before the internet these fabrications and fringe beliefs had a tougher time taking root. If I decided that we’re all living in a computer simulation and went around to friends and family expressing this belief they’d (hopefully) tell me that I should seek help. I haven’t googled this but I bet if I did I could find plenty of people on the internet 100% convinced this is the truth. There is probably a Matrix society for like minded individuals. So how do we fix that? Is it even fixable or are humans hard wired to be skeptical of any challenge to any deeply held belief? We could make a 100 more Snopes and end up with thousands more theories on how and why there conclusions are biased.
It’s all incredibly frustrating to me and I don’t see a quick fix. We’re not going to be able to address the real problems in the world until we reach a point where we can mostly agree on reality itself and see what the real problems are. It feel cuckoo to even have to type that out but there it is. So how do we get to that point? What would it take to create a source of knowledge that wouldn’t immediately be dismissed as a tool of the left or the right? Is such a thing even possible in society as it exists today?