Sunday, 2 July 2017

Where Are We, and How Did We Get Here?

As Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, tweets us into the apocalypse, I cannot help but marvel with mouth open, at where we as a society are at. How did we arrive at this moment in time, where the world appears to be governed by absolute lunacy?

I say we, because at this particular moment in time, while exemplified by the deranged squirrels inhabiting Donald Trump's head, has its echoes across the western world. In many aspects of society today large segments of the populace reject authority, reason and scientific understanding of our world. We have democratized knowledge and understanding, and the negative effects appear to largely outweigh any of the benefits of that change. Vaccinations, climate change, GMOs, economic theory, gun control, WiFi safety, the list goes on and on. So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? In all of these areas there is one common thread. The rejection of authority. The rejection of trust in others whose knowledge differs from our own.

The most prominent decline has been the national media. Across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right and all points in between, the news media has lost its place as a broker of truth. Donald Trump has latched onto this sentiment with his war on "Fake News." Again an extreme example, but I believe there is a common thread that ties together the loss of faith in the media. Many on the right and left will blame this on media bias. That the media are gaming the system. I myself blame it on intellectual laziness in reporting. Whatever our political leanings, we are left to curate our trusted sources on our own. Brands are no longer trusted, personalities are. The brands with the most rabid fans are built around cults of personality.

From my perspective, I don't trust any of media brands because I find there's too much dross to go with the gold. Too much reporting seeks out controversy for controversy sake, and mindlessly parrots whatever lines they are given. Objective reporting should not judge the content of their reports, that is to be left up to the consumer. Well from where I sit, that is as useful as a food inspector that refuses to pass or fail the food we eat and leaves it up to the consumer to decide.

So as a result I only read content from people (including journalists) that I trust to soundly analyze the information they report on. That's my reason for not trusting media brands. Others see bias in everything that challenges their worldview, and distrust it as a result. Others feel victimized, and do not see their self-perception reflected in the stories being reported. Some reasons are more valid than others, but we all arrive at the same conclusion, there is no common source of news and information that can be trusted. Now how does that distinguish me from a Trump supporter, an anti-vaccination advocate or a ban-WiFi-in-schools group? Every variation of an answer leads to "I'm smarter than they are", which isn't exactly a winning argument.

Where I am still at a loss to understand though, is how that lost trust in one source of authority is blindly transferred to another. Donald Trump is a hero because he rejects the same authorities that his supporters do, but has somehow gained their blind trust as a result. It is easier to understand people that don't trust anyone, rather than those that only trust an irrational demagogue. But again we see that effect on other areas of society as well. Rebel Media, Breitbart, Infowars, etc. would not exist without it. The blatant contradictions of the leaders of these groups would immediately sink their brand if rationality had anything to do with it. The only consistent belief that Donald Trump and his supporters share is their hatred of the traditional main stream media. But on everything else Twitler is all over the map. He can contradict his own point in the same sentence. And he is cheered on regardless.

Somehow out of this entire hash we've made of things, Americans have somehow allowed those that shriek the loudest and think the least to overrule those that discuss and think the most. Will it spread to other nations? Recent elections in Europe indicate that we have to reason to hope not. But can we survive what the Americans have inflicted on themselves and onto the world?

Where we sit today is a unique point in history. How badly will it end? I cannot think of any way that this ends well. It may well be that the only damage caused by Trump's time in office will be a further erosion of trust and of democratic principles. Quite frankly, for any other president, that would be a very damaging legacy all on its own. And I honestly think that may be the most optimistic outcome that we face.

We may yet regret losing faith in main stream media. Maybe they sold too many lies, but we may find there was peace and continuity when we all believed them together.

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