Isn’t Receptivity for Fake News in Our Genes?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When we are very young our parents convince us to believe in Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy and The Easter Bunny. We grow up believing in Super Heroes, Harry Potter like magic, and far out science fictional ideas. We are taken to churches and taught to believe in Jesus, God, angels, heaven, hell and eternal life. All of these beliefs are easily disproved with a good education. And when we want to keep these fantasies rather than accept reality, we learn denialism. Even our favorite adult art forms – television, movies and novels depend on us suspending rational thinking to enjoy.

Orson WellesWe are conditioned to believe in fantasies. Most people aren’t atheists because they can’t throw off their childhood brainwashing even when there’s amble evidence. And all the fantastic ideas we embrace are so much more appealing than the cold facts of reality. Is it any wonder we find it easier to rationalize what we want than to be rational thinkers able to discern fake news from validated facts? Homo sapiens aren’t rational creatures, but rationalizing ones.

Strangely, fake news is in the news like its something new. The Onion and Saturday Night Live have been doing fake news for decades (1988, 1975). Tabloids go back much further, but even the earliest of newspapers played fast and loose in their reporting. It’s also well established that first person testimony is unreliable. We all live in a sea of lies, so is it such a surprise we can’t tell shit from Shinola?

The Bible is promoted as the literal word of God by many, yet it only takes reading the book itself to reveal it was written by all too human people, expressing widely divergent opinions and philosophies, using different writing styles and points-of-views, and often showing contradictions and inconsistencies. And scholars of history, who study The Bible in-depth, have found parts of it to be fake history. Many books of The Old Testament appear to have been written to pre-date land claims in building of an ancient nation. And books in the New Testament were forged to shape Christian theology based on personal bias. To compound the many false aspects of The Bible, many thousands of books have been written to rationalize those falsities. Anyone who reads The Bible should at least get a scholarly study Bible, like The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and read what experts have to say along with the currently best translation of the oldest biblical texts we have. It would also help to read books about the history of The Bible before starting any serious Bible study, such as The Bible Unearthed or Who Wrote the Bible? to give a historical context why the The Bible was originally written, and by who. But we don’t do that, do we? We just embrace the good bits, using them to justify our current beliefs and wants, claiming “God” an an authority.

And remember that saying, “History is written by the victors,” that’s just the start of the distortion. Anyone who wants to shape current thought can write a history book. And the news media can say anything about history, as well as artists. Just look at JFK by Oliver Stone. Everyone thinks they know the truth. But reality is Rashomon 24×7. Truth is extremely elusive, unless you understand science, math and statistics, and only then it’s the best truth we can find at the moment.

How to deal with fake news is the talking-head topic of the month. Most discussions are about how to ban fake news, yet I can’t imagine a world where we can trust what we read, hear and see. Will we ban satire? Obviously we won’t ban lying politicians. Should churches have to prove the existence of eternal life before collecting tithes? Shouldn’t fantasy fiction come with the warning “Magic Does Not Exist” printed on the spine?

Fake news isn’t just those weird stories you see on Facebook. Fake news is any information you use to understand reality. I include religion because gospel means the good news. We assume its true, but isn’t it fake news too? Gossip can also be considered fake news, since it’s usually distorted. When it comes to spotting fake news, we’re piss-poor judges, and it’s everywhere.

To abolish fake news would require programming our kids to become hyperaware of lying, to think skeptically, distrust the media, history books, social institutions and other people, and carefully evaluate everything they read, see, or hear. We need to educate them about science, logic, philosophy, ethics, authority, evidence, scholarship and statistics. We’d have a wiser society if folks studied statistics and data mining every Sunday instead of going to church.

But will any of this ever happen? Didn’t Donald Trump win because of anti-intellectualism, denialism, fake news, unethicality, and mob rule social media? Doesn’t his success endorse its efficacy? Isn’t fake news an effective tool in the fight against science and enlightenment politics? Didn’t orthodox Christianity suppress liberal Christianity in the first three centuries of the common era with the same tactics? George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four illustrated perfectly the value controlling the news. Aren’t the institutions of news always the first things revolutionaries take over in revolutions? Haven’t conservatives succeeded amazingly well with Fox News? Fake news is too effective to give up, especially if your objective is to get votes, change laws, or demolish reputations.

I’d like to believe we could change things for the better, but when I read history I’m not sure I see any signs of progress. I’d like to believe the pendulum swings back and forth between conservative and liberal eras, and overall we’re becoming more liberal over time. But that might be like climate change deniers taking tiny segments of temperature histories to claim a cooling trend, while ignoring the larger trend on the graph. Reading books like Collapsed by Jared Diamond suggests we don’t change. Our species has been extremely stable for a couple hundred thousand years. Evolution produces species that adapt to their environment, and we have adapted very well. But we have adapted because of the selfishness of individuals. We have not adapted because of liberal ideals. Fake news benefits the survival of the fittest individuals, not groups.

JWH

Have the Climate Deniers Won the War–Or Just Built the 21st Century Maginot Line?

How often do you see a big documentary on Global Warming on TV now-a-days?  Sure, the nightly news often mentions global warming when it runs stories on hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and other extreme weather events, or when it does stories on habitat changes for animals, plants and insects, but you seldom see big documentaries about climate warming anymore.  Nor is climate change a hot political issue for the presidential elections.  Obama hasn’t made it an issue, and when climate change does come up in Congress or State Capitols it’s often by politicians suppressing climate change data or bills, or even writing laws against collecting climate data.

Read these articles to see what I mean:

Are the climate change deniers and skeptical scientists right?  Do we have nothing to fear from global warming?  Or are they complete deniers of reality and have built a political Maginot Line to convince the American public we’re all safe from the global warming threat?

Many of the reports above are from writers attacking the idea of global warming and climate change.  They consider themselves fighting fear mongers.

gwcritics

Now you can read for yourself the reports about the climate from NOAA – State of the Climate.  This ain’t light reading and you have to concentrate on the data, charts and graphs.  If you search the web you can find reports from other agencies and countries.  On one hand you have the scientists studying the data, and on the other hand people, including some scientists, but mostly right-wing activists who say the data is all wrong, deceptive or incomplete.

Who do you believe?  The folks you want to believe?  Doesn’t that make us all reality deniers?

We spend untold billions on defense because we fear attacks on the United States.  If global warming is the threat scientists say it is, it’s more of a security threat than we’ve ever faced by any war.  We have a long history of going all paranoia over reds, but why greens?  Some people even believe the greens are the new reds.  But the greens are trying to protect America, but the public doesn’t want to believe that.

There is something deeply psychological going on here and I don’t know what it is.

If everyone is sticking their heads in the sand, what do you do?  If the collective says, “Let’s pretend nothing is happening, and it will all go away,” what do you do?

If you look at the climate history charts, the scientists appear to be right, so how long do we keep looking at the data and seeing it relate to reality before everyone with their heads in the sand and their butts in the air start thinking, “Hey, my ass is on fire!”

To tell the truth, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a huge scientific reality to denying.  That’s it’s part of human nature.  That no matter how bad things get, the deniers will keep denying global warming, and finding reasons to think things are okay.  That denying reality is MUCH bigger than science.  That if I read enough history I’d find that the deniers have always won the war on denying.

Or is it simply, to conservatives liberals always have to be wrong, no matter what, and on every subject.

JWH – 7/11/12