Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Post-Truth Era and how to spot a FAKE?



The Middle Ages have often been termed as the Dark Age. It was a time when religion reached its peak of obscenity. Ruthless battles were common sight of the era (though there were places in the big world where peace still prevailed). Then came the age of enlightenment. Technology grew exponentially and science trumped over prejudice, or so we thought. The darkness never dies. Pride and prejudice are the lifeline of darkness, and they will live as long as humanity does. At the heart of pride and prejudice lies ignorance. 'What’s wrong with being ignorant?' you might ask. The irony of being ignorant is that most of the time you don’t know it.

"The irony of being ignorant is that most of the time you don’t know it."

Majority of American’s think that 33% of their population are immigrants. The real number is just 14%. Many Indians believe that the Muslim population in India is over 30%, The real number is only 14.2%. Wrong statistics with hidden agenda are floating around in Facebook and WhatsApp. If you tell the people who believe in these mythical numbers that they are wrong, the reply is either the government cooked up the numbers or they don’t care because they are right (http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21699455-dealing-problem-public-misperceptions-ignorance-isnt-bliss). Ignorance gives rise to conspiracy theories. And there in lies the problem. Ignorance isn’t always a bliss.

‘Post-truth’ is Oxford dictionaries word of the year for 2016. It is an adjective meaning, "Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Politicians funded news channel, rise of social media and internet, insecurity resulting from declining economy and rising terrorism and polarisation of political ideologies are few of the many reasons for the birth of post-truth era. In this era the once good words like being ‘intelligent’ or ‘liberal’ suddenly became a curse, and are now preceded by the word ‘pseudo’. These words are commonly used to describe people whose logic you do not agree with, but you are unable to prove that he/she is wrong. Why do we behave this way?

"It is a normal human tendency to only verify information that does not fit our prejudice. When it perfectly fits the bill, we tend not to check the facts."

Greylag goose brings back her displaced eggs to the nest by rolling it with her beak and neck. Now, if you keep a spherical object similar to her eggs, like a ball, nearby she would roll it into her nest too. She cannot help it. Human beings too have their eggs of faith. When someone puts another object, no matter how fake, that fits your faith near you, you are going to roll it into your nest. We just cannot help it. It is a normal human tendency to only verify information that does not fit our prejudice. When it perfectly fits the bill, we tend not to check the facts. That's when we tend to believe a lie. And when a lie is fed over and over again it becomes a truth. Post-truth politics has played its role in Brexit referendum and US presidential election. Westerners believed when Tony Blair said Iraq has an advance chemical weapon programme meant to destroy them. US and Russia are probably killing more innocents in Syria than ISIS, but many are fed to think that the war is justified. Anti-intellectualism and populism are on the rise in Poland as conspiracy theories exponentially grow. Back in India character assassination posts using morphed images of Gandhi and Nehru has gone viral. It is easy to fall for misinformations.

Misinformations are used to trigger riots and wars. Misinformations feeds racism and creates an industry like ‘fair and lovely' out of it. Misinformation creates intolerance, ISIS being a live example of that. But ISIS is not the only example. Marshal Khan was tortured, shot at, and even after he died his dead body was beaten to a pulp by his fellow students in Abdul Wali Khan University. His guilt? He was secular and liberal and thus, according to the murderous mob, blasphemous. 28 years old Nazimuddin Samad, an atheist blogger, was hacked to death in Bangladesh because he wrote what he felt was right. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 30 year old Indian, was shot in Kansas USA because he was not an American working in America. Pehlu Khan, a 55 year old man from Haryana was murdered by ‘gau-rakshak’ (cow protector) mob in Rajasthan just because the mob suspected him and his friends of illegally transporting cows. Ignorance has taken more life than any weapon in history of human civilisation, how can it be a bliss?

"Ignorance has taken more life than any weapon in history of human civilisation, how can it be a bliss?"

Is it possible to get rid of ignorance completely? The capacity of our human brain is limited.  Large Hadron Collider can churn out 30 times more data in a year then the total storage capacity of our brain. There is only so much we can store. In this age of information we need to depend on the knowledge of others to believe in something. Neither do we have money and time nor the skills required to verify each and every information that comes our way. If you question everything then you have nothing to begin with. We believe in evolution, plate tectonics and big bang because we believe in the word of someone else. These are not even facts, but theories that we have never personally tested. When an orthodox Christian tells that evolution is fake because he/she believes in the word of someone else who wrote the bible, how do we say the he/she is wrong? 6000 years ago some pretty reliable persons said earth was flat. We ‘saw’ it and believed it. But they were wrong. Newton, a pretty reliable physicist in my opinion, told us how gravity works and we believed him. But he was wrong. It is never an easy thing to separate facts from fiction. There will always be things we can never verify. It is a slippery ground. But that does not mean you will let others exploit your ignorance. Luckily, there are few things you can do. Question the authenticity of the source, especially before you plan to share an information with others and potentially spread a lie (very well knowing that even a reliable source like Newton can be wrong). The next thing would be to question the motive behind the information you received (REF#How to tell truth from lies, O’Callaghan 2017). Is it trying to spread hatred? Is it politically motivated? Spent some energy thinking before you act.

"In this age of information we need to depend on the knowledge of others to believe in something. Neither do we have money and time nor the skills required to verify each and every information that comes our way. If you question everything then you have nothing to begin with."

While it is not always possible to verify facts, there are times when we also need a bit of fiction to understand the bigger truth. While interpreting seismic data to find oil we Geologist have many interpretations. All interpretations are wrong, only some are more useful than the others. In science we often use simplifications that deviate from truth, we call them assumptions, to deduct a bigger truth. If we do not use assumptions and try to put in all complex ‘true’ variables, we will never come to an answer. These fictitious falsehoods are important as they help us dig out the truth. There is no light with out darkness…and no darkness without light. One cannot live a life holding on tightly to the truth. One needs to be flexible. A wise person understands when wrong is really WRONG. The trick is to have an open mind and challenge the prejudice. Ask yourself if you believe in something just because you were told by people close to you, or you actually spent some time thinking about it. It is OK to be a skeptic, but never be a cynic...because ignorance is a bliss only if you know you are ignorant.


"It is OK to be a skeptic, but never be a cynic...because ignorance is a bliss only if you know you are ignorant."


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1 comment:

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