I’ve always thought that the increase in humanity’s ability to communicate with one another would lead ultimately to an end to violence.
- For those who scoff at the notion that violence could ever decrease, much less disappear, Harvard experimental psychologist Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, provides an eloquent and devastating rebuttal. (Vide, my essay, ‘The Miracle of Man‘.)
So, how could better communication help us become less homicidal? Let’s look at the recent record.
Social media has positively influenced public behavior—from new laws, to new government spending, to actual revolution for more rights and better treatment (think Arab Spring). This is cause for optimism.
Why does being better able to talk to one another helped us get along? One word.
Secrets. It all comes down to secrets.
The governments of the world, from Egypt, Iran, and China, to Great Britain, the United States, and the Vatican have learned that secrets of any kind are increasingly difficult to keep. The result has been a loosing of autocracies’ grip on the people they rule.
So why, in an age where virtually every bit of knowledge humanity has ever had is available free, are we awash in misinformation, disinformation, and good old-fashioned bullshit? Why are knowledge and learning lacking?
Why is recourse to research distrusted? Why, in the name of the Christians’ fictional god, is there an anti-science movement?
How can do these bits of willful ignorance flourish amidst the flood of knowledge? Who, knowing the truth is available to anyone with access to an internet connection, would choose not to know?
One answer is the holding of very strongly held beliefs, which is often proof against information that contradicts said beliefs.
I’m not just talking about religion, either. Political ideologies are just as bad. Additionally, there are many groups with neither religious nor political agendas who are doing their best to muddy the cognitive waters; groups like the NRA and the anti-vaxx movement.
Those in this third category are all about the money. That’s not to say that religious and political groups are examples of selfless virtue, but money—in theory, at least—does not have primacy of place for the latter two.
In all types of group exist careful scholars who are quite adept at twisting information into a kind of armor against threats to their cherished delusions.
Many of you reading this are sure I’m referring to certain actors in your government. Some think it’s the current government-in-waiting. Maybe you blame certain religious organizations. Some no doubt blame some money-hungry pharma bros.
No. No. No—that’s not it.
No conspiracy theories here, thankyouverymuch! Conspiracies are just another manifestation of the aforementioned bullshit.
This holds true whether the conspiracy theory is:
- UFOs & alien abductions
- right-wing/left-wing propaganda
- Zionist/Islamist world domination
- the masons/Templars/Vatican secret plans
- ghosts/vampires/psychic readers
- Flat Earthers/Lizard People/Space Deniers (that last is a new one for me), or
- many others that will occur to the thoughtful reader.
On these and any others topics, you’ll find those who are convinced that the truth of it is being hidden from them.
The irony is that conspiracy theories are the result of inadequate reference to accurate, provable, readily available information.
Of course, all these conspiracies have their evangelists—their True Believers. These faithful masses hold tight to their articles of faith as a shield against contrary realities.
They have no interest in stifling information, for they are proof against any they don’t like. They are ‘a new strain of fact-resistant human.’ (Thank you to The Onion for this pithy phrase.)