Tuesday, January 22, 2013

friendship means fact-checking

Bertrand Russell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell) once said, “If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do… So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.”

A lovely quote that sums up not only this past year, but the general trend in political support.   Another item that reminded me of the crazy fervor found today in a majority of Americans is Ken Follet’s World without End.  In this and its predecessor, Pillars of the Earth, Follet continually tells tales of horrendous wrongs performed on the pragmatic, by those who believe that they are doing God’s work and therefore are absolved of any wrong doing.

The majority of the events in World without End are through some character misrepresenting the truth in order to get popular opinion, royal opinion, or religious authority opinion.  They do it without remorse, feeling as though the end justifies the means.  Meanwhile, the angry mob, for example, hangs a so-called witch even though she spent years healing them.

The frustration and horrifying anguish of someone who is at the other end of these actions is a place of empathy for me.  Because I am no threat to anyone, I have not been directly attacked, however I do feel that this country and its people still allow themselves to be angered and mislead by those who wish to abuse their power.  They use the citizens of this country against those who truly wish to help them.  The result is the semi-crazed cry of "We The People" as another genuine fighter is taken down by the very people they were trying to help.

The only difference is the time period that Follet writes about is a time where rumor and religion were the only sources of information and general education and knowledge was at an all-time low being in western Europe during the medieval period – a time so romanticized, even though in the East and South were brilliant minds still at work.

So in this time period, one could see how it would be difficult to see who was playing it straight.  However, a little investigation, thought, and reason would have surely turned them in the right direction.

Today, we have so many resources of information.  Yes, there is a lot of misinformation and biased communications.  It sends chills up my spine that even as mainstream as CNN is, the reporters are still buying into, and continually pressing, this idea that Obama isn’t ‘social’.   

Can you see it?  The room full of angry people, and the little man who runs from ear to ear whispering, “But why is he so anti-social?”  And then different voices in the crowd shout, “Yeah, why don’t you socialize more??”  Gross, misrepresentations of what it means to be a journalist.  These so-called modern day town criers will be remembered and quoted as examples of ridiculousness in these times.  It will be a supporting video to show the temper of the land while discussing what actual intellectuals were doing.  They will be on the wrong side of history, and if they were proper journalists who ensured that they educated themselves on the history that came before them, they would see that.

As for the rest of the citizens: with a little investigation, thought, and reason one can usually separate out the lies from the facts. 

If you find yourself so completely outraged by something, chances are it’s bullshit.  When one Googles any claim, they can see just by the links listing whether or not it has a chance of being true.  If the first ten links are to left or right specific sites, chances are its bullshit.  But find the fact checker and non op-ed articles – or better yet find the primary source, and see for yourself.  Usually, this process takes ten to twenty minutes, if you are truly honest with yourself and allow yourself to find the actual facts amidst all the noise feeding into your insatiable anger.

This, in my opinion, is the responsible thing to do.  Especially if you want to pass on the information.  I get more and more disappointed by those who simply pass on information to me without ever looking into it.  How can one call themselves a friend if they so carelessly, unknowingly mislead me?  It is a cruel and selfish act to try and get your friend to join in your anger based on your creditability, when you have not done your due diligence.  Shame on you.

And so here we go into a second term of these actions.  Blatant lies and half-truths in order to anger people into action against their own interest.  In the name of political power.  And those who do it believe they are doing it for the good of all.  But they are getting in the way.  They stall progress, are distracted by their own vanity and materialistic needs, and lack any deep perspective or historical knowledge of what actually is good for the people.

So the next time you hear something that gets you angry – research it before passing it on.  The next time someone tries to convince you of something and you can only ramble back emotional outbursts, relax… because you may be wrong.  And that is okay.  In the least, you might learn something, so start listening and try to introspectively search for the reason behind your anger.

This tactic presently is used primarily by the Right to try to regain power, and has made for a very cannibalistic environment. They are losing control, as many rabble-risers do, to more irrational and very angry leaders who have stopped listening a long time ago.  The silver lining might be that the ‘killing’ is only political now, whereas years ago there would have been blood in the street.  I am still scared that blood might find its way back in – and continue to watch with fascination, apprehension, and anxiety as this modern day Follet novel plays out.

Our only weapon against it is the spreading of the idea that friendship means fact checking.  Pass it on (after you research it, of course).

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