Fake News and Distrust of Our Institutions – What Are We Thinking
There is a growing mistrust of the very institutions we’ve put in place to help guide society; Intelligence agencies, academic centers, our media and journalists, and of course our governments (though it’s debatable if governments or politicians were ever truly “trusted”).
Each of these pillars of society is meant to serve the people.
They all wield incredible power over public opinion, and are meant to use that power to keep in check the power of the other “pillars.”
Of course, government has the greatest responsibility to act on the behalf of their people. Everything the government does, both foreign and domestic, is supposed to be an example of the power the people have given it to represent them. But, because of the tendency for power to corrupt, there are various checks and balances in place to stop an “over-reaching” government. The structure of our society is interestingly both durable and yet, like our money, is propped up by our faith in it.
That faith, and the ability of the people to keep their government representative of them rather than its own interests (as we see far too much these days), is meant to be supported by the other “pillars” primarily the press.
There is a reason that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was a protection not only of the freedom of the individual to speak their mind, but also of the press; because only a nation and a press that is free to speak out against injustice can keep a government subservient to its population. What happens then when the press is derelict in its duty?
A very simple glance at checks and balances.
Intelligence agencies have the role of protecting the people of the country they serve through supplying accurate intelligence to decision makers in government. That information is used in decisions ranging from foreign policy, to defense of the homeland, to decisions to go to war.
This information, for obvious reasons, is not openly available to the public which gives these agencies incredible power and influence over the direction a country might take. But what happens when the agencies (or subsections of the government) take on an agenda of their own or start to try to bend national politics to their will?
Generally that power is kept in check (partially) by the government those agencies serve, as it is government ministers and elected officials who, unlike the intelligence officials, are there at the will of the people they are meant to represent.
Ultimately, the ones who are responsible to make the final decision on the course of a nation are meant to be held in check by the educated voters, backed by the information provided to them by the free press, as well as their reason and knowledge of civics, history, and the responsibility of government, honed through their education at schools and universities.
Aside from the people keeping their elected officials in check (who in turn appoint intelligence officials and are tasked with keeping the power of the intelligence agencies in check), journalists and media outlets wield incredible power over public opinion, which in turn, helps to hold elected officials accountable.
It is the media’s role to relay to the public what is going on in the world and in our governments. It is their job to dig deep and investigate until the truth is exposed (in order to make sure that our society is running on accurate information) and to ensure that government, and other powerful organizations like the intelligence communities, are kept in check by an educated constituency.
The final pillar in society is our hallowed halls of academia; our universities and schools, where truth is both discovered and taught.
They are meant to be places where objectivity, logic and reason are paramount and the subjectivity so persuasive in our society is reined in with facts and data. These facts and this data is then taught to our younger generations, helping them move farther than we ever would by standing on the knowledge we have given them.
Between history, political science, economics, sociology and other aspects of the humanities and social sciences we are supposed to receive accurate portrayals of what’s taken place, and how we can use the lessons of the past to make better decisions about our future.
The STEM fields help us make advancements in many aspects of life but it’s really the social sciences that effect our society’s actions.
From the effects of psychology on how children are raised and the effects of economics on how markets are regulated, to the lessons of history and the wisdom that comes from philosophy. These areas of academia are constantly shaping our opinions of what is true, what is false, and what we should be doing in order to improve our societies, and through that our individual lives.
But what happens when members of these very centers (that are meant to uphold reason, truth, and science) are derelict, or even implicit in bending the minds they shape to a particular political persuasion regardless of it’s merit or lack thereof?
We have an epidemic, one that’s been dubbed “fake news” but that term doesn’t quite accurately portray the extent of this phenomenon.
It’s not just the news that people are finding difficult to trust.
There was a time (maybe through our own collective naivety) when western, liberal-capitalist nations, trusted that their systems – and more specifically intelligence agencies – had their best interests in mind.
Why wouldn’t they? The entire purpose for these agencies (as mentioned previously) was to keep the people safe. They were staffed by people from the nations in question, and were run by the governments of the nations in question. Because we trusted our government, we, by default, trusted our government agencies, assuming that their only goal was to keep us safe – as it should be.
However, in just the last few years we’ve discovered (through the incredible self-sacrifice of patriots) that our intelligence communities are not only increasingly surveilling Americans and non-Americans alike, they are actively lying to the people and the government they are meant to be serving.
From the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton, to members of the Intelligence communities’ farcical claims of Russian “hacking” of the presidential elections.
From the bogus intelligence and failures of attempted regime change in Syria and Libya, to the lack of any acknowledgement of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in funding both Al Qaeda and ISIS. Our collective trust in our intelligence community has been shattered, and this has very dangerous implications.
Media and journalism
Meanwhile the media, rather than performing their role as champions of the people, has been playing lap dog to political partisanship. They have been incredibly supportive of ideas like regime change without offering much evidence to support it; to the point where one might wonder if they are simply a tool to push political agenda rather than an independent, free thinking, bulwark against tyranny and injustice.
The “fake news” epidemic infecting MSNBC (and the talking head that the Soviet Union wish they’d had in Rachael Maddow) and CNN (formerly an assumed “unbiased” news source) as well as others in journalism (for example The Washington Post, The New York Times) has made it all the more difficult for the average person to know what to believe.
In the past, we mostly went about our lives, focusing on our business and expecting that our news sources were telling us the facts. That, like scientists, journalists were looking for the underlying truths which they would then reveal to us and from that accurate information we could make up our political minds.
But now, with online media (and so many unqualified “news sources”) when the world needed the mainstream media to show the supposedly glaring difference between “unbiased journalism” and “fake news,” we’ve found that not only is there little difference, but often the online news sources present a more well researched, well rounded, and less narrative driven portrayal.
In an age where the relevance of print media was already being questioned by online media, the last remnants of the mainstream media’s dignity has been crushed by partisan and agenda driven reporting.
This also leads to very serious implications, as our trust in the media that is supposed to be on our side, keeping government in check, is at an all-time low.
Then, as a final nail in the proverbial coffin…
The final stronghold of objectivity, logic and reason.
We all felt that at least in science there was some sense of foundation. The academics, scientists and researchers at least must be unbiased and devoted to fact and reason. They are the ones who of anyone would be able to support an idea until it is proven false, at which point they would wholeheartedly move on with the facts of the matter.
But more and more even that faith is being destroyed.
As academics and pseudo-academics that we once revered as children (*cough*Bill Nye) are beginning to be discovered to also be pushing partisan politics – as if it was science!
Already in our world there are major rifts between accepted science (at least opinion that we would consider mainstream) and challenging thought; climate change proponents vs climate change skeptics for example.
From what I can tell, the STEM fields are still holding to the enlightenment principles of objectivity, logic, and reason; but the social sciences – the ones that have massive effect on our society at large – seem to have largely forsaken that objectivity (in what already are very difficult fields to find facts and objectivity).
Feminist Theory and Gender Studies departments have published intentionally ridiculous papers in their peer reviewed journals; these papers being published not on their scientific or academic merit, but because they fit the radical closed minded narrative of modern day feminism.
The dangerous implication
These issues run deep; deeper than I am able to address in one article. But I hope to explore each of them further, particularly regarding academia, the humanities, and social sciences.
As these mainstream institutions betray the trust placed in them by the people they purport to serve, they also open up the world to the very thing they feared, the resurgence of pseudo-science, conspiracy theory, and fake news.
We often hear the mainstream media complaining about “low IQ voters” and the people who no longer believe their narratives. This mistrust is not something that can be blamed on the people however, the blame cannot even be placed on “fake news.”
Instead the blame lies firmly with those institutions and agencies that have betrayed the trust that was automatically given to them; betrayed to such an extent that people can no longer trust what they say, even when they’re speaking the truth.
Trust, like respect, is not something one deserves, it’s something one earns.
If these “pillars” of our society want it back, they are going to have to start earning it again.