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Russell Wangersky: The death of truth


For a couple of years, I regularly and quietly followed a right-wing Facebook page in Ontario that, inexplicably, posted either about the need to ban all immigrants from Canada — even if it meant letting them die by drowning in the Mediterranean — or, conversely, about the need to help small dogs that had been saved by animal rescue groups.

(The quality of mercy may drop as a gentle rain from heaven, but it apparently can also be tidily segmented into those who deserve plenty, and those who deserve none.)

Often, the juxtaposition was jarring: at one moment, someone railing about the need for people in this country to keep everything for ourselves, while, the next moment, the same person railing against anyone who would mistreat or fail to properly care for a Pomeranian, a toy poodle or a Shih Tzu.

It was eye-opening to realize that, sometimes, it’s not a matter of someone lacking compassion, it’s just how tightly focused that compassion can be.

Whether on Twitter or Facebook, I try to do a fair amount of listening: I try to keep the lines of communication open, and try to follow both sides of the argument, even when I can’t stand some positions diametrically opposed to my own. (Sometimes, though, I give up, shaken to the core by how bluntly people can hate someone they have never even met.)

But there’s one thing that’s become clear no matter where you stand in the left-right spectrum.

Facts have become malleable.

People “sample” the news and select the stories they need to support their own beliefs, and then believe the facts they choose to accept, and discard the rest.

Some would say that is a kind of freedom: instead of being imprisoned by, say, the mainstream media’s choice of what’s provable and defensible, we get to quest out into the world wide web for the facts we think are more comfortable for our own world views.

Hate immigrants? There are sites to give you “evidence” of constant immigrant crimes. Favour immigration? There are sites to comfort that affliction as well.

And social media is in no way helping.

Lost amongst our own silos of the like-minded on Facebook and Twitter, we comfortably get more of what we already seem to like delivered to our doors, like an algorithmically derived meal brought right to our prison-cell door. Then, after we’ve eaten our fill, we offer it up to the choir of our like-minded friends, and we all sing in tune.

Is it the death of truth?

Yes, I think it is.

If you’re uncomfortable with something someone’s saying about governance or foreign policy or taxation, you simply change the channel to beliefs you find to be more palatable, and ignore that troublesome noise.

No need to trouble your digestion with the thought that you could actually be wrong. It is really not all that much different from North Korea, where the entire world exists only as the dear leader sees it. The only real difference is that you get to cast yourself as your own dear leader every time.

I do think truth will rise again from its own ashes — eventually, people will realize there’s more to accuracy than their own opinions and beliefs, and there is a need for proof that is testable by more than its mere existence on your computer monitor.

I hope it comes soon. Already in this world, we have uprisings and riots and positions taken based on complete lies — lies meant to drive particular secular, political and religious ends.

A world without truth?

It’s not sustainable — with the weapons and tools we have, it’s a clear recipe for world war.

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

 

 

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