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Thursday, December 6, 2018

When "Fake News" is not Fake

I am sick to death of hearing the words “fake news.” I admit I have been for some time now.  I do not like to be asked to believe that “fake news” is routinely reported by previously well-respected, professional investigative journalists.  It seems that when the WHO (White House Occupant) is involved, the journalists just never get the story right. 

For the most part, we Americans are pretty happy with our fake stuff; fake nails, fake hair and teeth, fake smiles and fake boobs.  Except for the boobs, they’re easily detected, and nobody thinks a thing of it. I can imagine this American billboard: Fake is Fine.  Naturally TV and movie sets use fake backdrops; the stunt men perform fake fist fights; gunfighters use fake bullets and blood and we pay good money to see all of those things. We enjoy reading The Enquirer knowing full well that the stories are not true, but they’re so titillating. It’s entertaining. Likewise, fake wrestling with well planned feints, pins and trampling.  Fans are quite willing to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the spectacle of it—the cheering and the hooting. And who doesn’t thrill to see a magician saw a girl in half? Perhaps our ordinary diet of fake stuff inures us to the possibility that when bad stuff happens, it unfortunately, is most often true.

In my work life, I met people who stated with certainty that “stories about dinosaurs and evolution are just that—stories—dinosaur and humanoid ancestor bones were created and placed in the ground by the Creator in order to test our faith in the true Creation story.” Maybe some of those nonbelievers are the same folks that insist that humans have not affected our climate. The assertion is that climate changes are entirely naturally occurring—humans have nothing to do with the degradation of our environment.  Scientific research is meaningless. Discounting science may be popular in some groups, but if that same group would heed the National Hurricane  Center order to evacuate ahead of a monster hurricane, I’m going to suggest that they’re just picking and choosing which sciences are convenient at any given time.

I was with a roomful of people, all of us glued to the TV immediately following the crash of the first airplane into the World Trade Center.  It was not until the second plane struck that we accepted that this was not just a horrible accident. Our first response to tragedy is often disbelief. When we are informed that someone close to us has died unexpectedly, we sometimes say, “No, that can’t be—I just saw him.” Of course, that response makes no sense in retrospect, but it is our first response to tragedy. We deny the reality of it. We would prefer it to be fake news.
One of the most horrible, egregious events in history that many people said was not true, could NOT be true was the Holocaust. Ghastly photos proved what we didn’t want to believe. To acknowledge as truth the extermination of 6 million Jews and other non-Aryans is to understand, truly understand that evil can and does run amok on the earth. With the unforgivable collaboration of the population of an entire nation, families were rounded up all across Europe, children separated from their parents never to see them again, incarcerated behind wire and walls, used and abused, raped, shot, starved, experimented upon, poisoned, worked to death, buried and incinerated. 

We cannot deny that mankind has willfully created hell on earth for others. We might claim that we had nothing to do with those particular events. If we accept some culpability, such acts can challenge our very beliefs in what it means to be human. These acts challenge our religions beliefs, our philosophy, our teachings from childhood. How can we tolerate living in our own skins while truly understanding what we are capable of doing?

But if not living in the real world, where do we reside? Humans do make mistakes; sometimes really big mistakes. We want what we want. And we have messy emotions. I read a book about a study not long ago that was done to identify the essential, uniquely human qualities that separate us from animals. I thought I knew what the results were going to be before I started, but I was wrong. I read that the unique quality wasn’t the ability to use tools; primates use sticks to get at grubs. It wasn’t the use of language; several species have been shown to communicate quite clearly among themselves. It wasn’t the devotion to parenting; parents in many species will sacrifice themselves to save their offspring. And it certainly wasn’t sexual behavior; there are several species that are more monogamous than humans. The only quality that could be identified as distinctly unique to humans and that therefore separates us from all other species is the practice of killing our own kind. 

We hurt each other and we kill each other for reasons that defy explanation; one victim at a time, multiple victims in mass shootings, and in wars that destroy civilians, soldiers and often the very civilization itself of the nation where the battles take place. Wars are endorsed and orchestrated by us, by our governments, and with the righteous belief that might is right. When we have harmed and continue to harm each other so atrociously, how can we pretend that bad news isn’t right there in front of us? When we rush to agree that bad news is fake news, I believe we risk becoming automatons, beings without feeling, without conscience, or compassion, without intellect—without the urge to become better than we are or have been.

Yes, I understand that believing without question that an official’s statement of “fake news” is sometimes the easier route. If disastrous things are “fake news” it becomes easier to go on with our lives with a good conscience. We tire of being pummeled by bad news. We become worn down and exhausted. We want to tell ourselves that we are inherently good people and that we can trust people in positions of authority that we have placed there.  We want to and sometimes need to believe that we have done the Right thing when casting our ballots.

When news reports point out that someone has lied to us, wouldn’t it just be nicer if it simply was “fake news”? When the news is about victims that have been damaged in our society, or maybe elsewhere in the world too, wouldn’t it be nice if what happened wasn’t anything that had anything to do with our decisions. Perhaps it’s easier to think that the reporter got it wrong, or that the victims “deserved” what happened to them anyway. They were someplace they should not have been, their skin was the wrong color, they should have worked harder so they wouldn’t need help, they should have fixed the problems in their own country instead of asking for asylum here. When we deny the validity of “bad” news we increase our culpability. 

Listening to and reading the news isn’t as easy as choosing your “good guy” to believe and identifying the “bad guy” so that you know where to place your anger.  Leaders will all tell us what they want us to know; they encourage us to see the world as they do. But when they insist that we forego reasoning for ourselves and just accept the statement that bad news is “fake news,” they take advantage of us. They take advantage of our inherent desire to deny bad news. That is exactly when we must dig in deeper, and stay in the real world. To think harder. 

Faced with the choice between critical thinking based upon input from investigative reporters versus accepting blanket assertions of “fake news” from elected leaders, I will take critical thinking every time.  In my fantasy world, there is an Amendment to that effect—  The responsibilities and duties of a Voting Citizen of the United States shall not be considered discharged upon exiting the voting booth. It remains the obligation of each Citizen to critically assess the veracity of all those serving in elected and appointed positions for it is They Who Speak for Us. 


Anonymous said...

I come to sites like your to read about boats and boating. There’s plenty of loathsome political commentary out there, how about sticking to boats?

Ardys said...

Ah, you have a good point. A combination of frustration with our forced absence from our boat (home) and politics Stateside has lured me to the dark side. BUT, we will return to our home aboard Northern Star in Trinidad in January. I can't wait to get back to boat living.