March 11, 2015

Information and Misinformation

I want to identify basic principles that govern the interaction of the media with vested interests with the viewer. We know that the media audience, the "public", is made up of different groups with vested interests that conflict. We are not indignant when we discover that one storyteller has distorted the truth. We know that everyone makes up stories that support their own point of view, that everyone lies, that everyone plans to persuade and deceive others and that there is no absolute truth. We know that a general audience contains individuals with different mental abilities and that most humans have distinct limitations on what they can and will understand.

We know that the root human struggle between self-interest and the interests of groups is ubiquitous, pervasive and is not going away. We know that each new human is born with an old brain and has to be brought up to date rather quickly and efficiently and must learn to override innate programs to develop skills of peaceful co-existence. We know that a small number of humans will be alpha animals and lead a much larger number of humans who are followers and will not have the inclination nor the ability to "think for themselves." We are not surprised. We are not indignant. We are concerned.

The best-motivated, fairest reporter or government spokesperson will face obstacles when presenting information and reasoning to a general audience. The best-motivated, brightest viewer will be overwhelmed by the mountain of daily information - mostly bad news - that he or she is asked to evaluate.

I see the human media world as competitive, noisy and confusing. Wrong ideas proliferate like weeds. This journalistic and promotional activity provides “pseudo-knowledge,” also known as "nonsense." I advise everyone to treat media hype as the major obstacle to understanding what is true and really real.

Obviously, we all like the idea of easy understanding and we like quick fixes to complicated problems. We are constantly tempted by promises that a quick fix is available; hawkers want to sell you something quick, cheap and easy to use -- you do not have to be responsible for yourself. All claims of quick fixes are false claims. This is a law of the universe. There is a vanishing middle ground that lies between orthodox authority and the wild chaos of commercial claims, hyperbole and the incessant chatter of popular media and the internet .There remains a need to locate the middle ground of reasonable policy, good science, respect for others and common sense.
">From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason