This is an opinion blog. It represents only my opinion and not that of way2age.

I'm concerned about America.  Are you? Conspiracy beliefs are on the rise. Politicians have reached a new low in failing to tell the truth.  States controlled by one party are rolling back voting rights which will impact people of color and older Americans.  Like you, I care deeply about this country. Without voting rights for all and a commitment to the principles of democracy our country could quickly turn into something we never imagined and we're perilously close to that reality.

How did this happen? In the beginning it was a gradual process. For many years there were few sources of media and the local paper or local news delivered the consensual facts of community. We held different points of view on those facts but we shared their reality. We shared the same facts, the same news. Back then we also shared more space with one another, met one another in public spaces, and often knew each other by name. We had relationships with neighbors. Now we may not even know their names. Today 90% of the news is owned by 6 corporations. As media conglomerated it began to grow more slanted/less objective and politicized. Up until recently however, most television media weeded out false information and broadcast facts that could be corroborated.  The 1969 moon landing is an example. Here was an event no one on earth witnessed first hand and yet all news stations agreed it happened. They showed it happening. When astronauts landed we saw their capsule splash down and heard their testimony. We could research the event. It was a fact. We could corroborate it several ways. Yet conspiracy theories about that moon landing persist among roughly 5% of Americans. That one small step for man, according to some, was a giant deceit against mankind. The conspiracy, launched by a single skeptic, was propelled by movies, investigative television, and the cultural climate of change and uncertainty then-- a climate not too unlike what we have today. In the 90's  the dawn of "reality" television helped to blur the lines between fact and fiction by contriving, in some cases, situations that were then presented as spontaneous and real. 

Religious figures and English majors sometimes accuse the 20th century rise of Ideological "isms" for contributing to relativistic thinking and the erosion of fact. Fr Dwight Longenecker's blog takes aim at 10 isms that he calls informal heresies. "Remember heresies are not complete lies," he writes, "they are half truths. Therefore in each one of the ten heresies there is something attractive and true. It becomes a heresy when it is cut off from the other truth which would balance it, or when it exists on its own apart from the rest of a truth system."  Isms bring to mind sexism and racism and the way those biases obscure facts. The Tulsa Race Massacre, for instance, and other atrocious massacres were hidden for years by racist culture. Discoveries like this cause us to wonder what other facts are hidden and to question what we've known. In the video below, a survivor of the Tulsa Massacre says, "You didn't read it in a book, you didn't see it in a movie, you witnessed it yourself in reality."  Seeing for oneself is the most powerful way to know something is true.

 

When the Internet mainstreamed at the end of last century it supercharged our individualist instincts by allowing each of us to inhabit our own reality and fact set. You can be sure that something on the Internet validates your beliefs. But how reliable is your source? As you saw in links to the 1969 moonwalk there are sites online, books, and movies available that support the belief that Apollo never landed on the moon. Today, the most visible conspiracy theory is QAnon, a growing group that believes the messages of a secret online publisher known as Q. For some, the lure of special information (Q drops) combined with new friends to share it with is exciting. As Fr. Longnecker warns, though, information becomes problematic (heretical he would say) when it's "cut off from another truth that would balance it or [exists] on it's own separate from the rest of the truth system." Facebook groups or threads somewhere supporting your belief can make it seem like it's surrounded by a truth system and that's one reason truth seekers get misdirected. It's a new world now. The Internet enabled a stunningly rapid rise of misinformation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is creating pictures so real today that it's hard to discern an online fakery. In addition, things we find online can be passed along at an exponential rate termed: "going viral." A 2019 study found that it's not political beliefs or even intentionality that causes people to share false information on the net. Guess what?  It's our 50+ peers and you and I that are responsible for most of the misinformation sharing because we grew up in a time when lying wasn't common in media and we can't easily tell the difference between opinion and fact. Think you're immmune? Try this quiz. Want to double check your Internet savvy in these AI/misinformation times? Please do. 

In our democracy we hope we can look to our leaders, our president, governors, and leading organizations for corroboration of fact. They're the elected guardians of our political system. Facts are an important foundation that weave us together as a united country. Be clear though facts aren't beliefs.  Beliefs, like which political party you believe in, don't require proof or corroboration.  Facts can be corroborated or proven by independent study. To some extent the polices we like in a political party are bolstered by facts that can be corroborated. Yet in a belief system, such as politics, we all need to be skeptical of facts supporting policies because we know that politicians and political zealots stretch the truth sometimes. Yet today powerful misinformation networks create a new level of deceit and reach wider audiences. We're vulnerable to this special danger when politics and "news" sources begin to blend and broadcast misinformation. Those of us over 65 years of age are most apt to listen to the two most partisan major news networks. Four in ten people over 65 years of age are listening to a closed loop of misinformation. In those loops statements can seem true because politicians say they're true and the news sources say they're true and something on the Internet backs it up. It's easy to mistake beliefs for fact. Step out of the loop and you'll likely find that these statements can't be proved beyond the belief system. Yet networks of misinformation, like whirlpools, have a powerful undertow. It's hard to break away.  In the video below, Emerson T Booking, a fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council, explains the power of misinformation and its negative impact on communities. He states, "We've seen misinformation infect and infiltrate democratic societies. It has led to the rise of cyber authoritarians around the world, it has sparked civil violence, ethnic and religious tension, and one day it may even start wars."

As a world we encountered a misinformation network about Covid-19. People vulnerable to that Infodemic failed to help nations conquer the virus and in worst cases died of the virus because they didn't believe it was true or didn't think precautions were necessary. Our closest brush with a national misinformation network happened on January 6, 2021 with the storming of the capital building. The suspicion that the opposing political party may have stolen or rigged an election, the driving force of January 6, happens on both sides of the aisle. We are, by nature suspicious of one another. Yet the attack on the capital was a misinformation driven break with the way a Democracy deals with political disagreement. When the President charged fraud in the election it went to the courts and to state recounts. These are the arbitration systems of political difference. We have always trusted that mechanism to resolve dispute until 2020 when misinformation overwhelmed reason, process, and unity. Now that misinformation network is driving an extraordinary private political recount of ballots and changes to voting law in Republican only states rationalized by the false narrative that the election was fraudulent. One of those laws actually moves election certification away from the non partisan secretary of state into the partisan legislature. Those ongoing disputes reject centuries of trust in the word of democratic arbiters and our democratic process. 

Democracies rest on an uneasy and fragile union that we reaffirm over and over. We must find a way to support our Democracy now because we are perilously close to losing our way of life. The new power of misinformation networks combined with a gradual erosion of the line between fact and fiction have moved our country several steps away from democratic principles.  American Democracy gives our country unique prestige and advantage in our changing world and protects our citizens. But our vision of democracy is clouded here at home. It's not the first time that's happened but it may be the most perilous time because of the Internet and it's ability to spread misinformation far and wide. Because of AI and it's ability to fool us and broadly transform industries. The pandemic changed many things about our lives but more change, driven by technology, is soon to come. In 2020 autocratic governments captured the majority of countries for the first time in 20 years. In this unsettled and uncertain world we would be unwise to think that autocracy can't happen here.  Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall and former Obama staffer traveled the world trying to gain perspective after President Trump won in 2016. In his book he relays a remarkable conversation he heard in Hungary, "...I was talking to a Hungarian opposition figure and I asked him how has your country gone from being a democracy to a single party autocracy? And he said to me: 'Well it's quite simple. Victor Orban, our prime minister, was elected on a right wing populist backlash after the financial crisis, packed the courts with right wing judges, redrew the parliamentary districts to favor his party, changed the voting laws to make it easier for his supporters to vote, enriched some cronies on the outside who bought up the media created a right wing media machine that supported Victor Orban and wrapped it all up in a nationalist bow of us v them. Us, the real Hungarians. Them, immigrants, Muslims, liberal elites, George Soros.' And he's talking and I'm thinking well he could be describing what's happening in America over the last decade..." 

Readers, we must come together. We can learn to be more discerning of misinformation. We can be more tolerant of others if we make that our goal. We can turn away from violence to manage differences-- after all we have a democracy and its tools to arbitrate conflicts. Conspiracy theories, division, misinformation, and other deceptions push us apart and weaken our country. In some cases they cause self-harm. In this dangerous and competitive world we lose power when we fight amongst ourselves. Those of us 60 or older know how to live in a united country because we grew up in one. Our elders held the country steady as we argued about the Vietnam War, suffered assassinations, and saw a president resign in disgrace. Now, it falls to us to steady America. These transformational times call for our united energies. As America soul searches for facts and the common reality that binds we must first find one another, help one another cope with this complex world. "Cmon people now," Jesse Colin Young sings in the video below, "smile on your brother. Everybody get together and try to love one another right now."

 

 

 Update:

The flat Earth Convention spreads the misinformation that we don't live on a globe

 Tempted to believe it? Columbia University explains why the earth is round. From the article: "As the scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould once wrote, the idea that many people—including the Spaniards and Christopher Columbus—believed the Earth to be flat was largely concocted by 19th century writers such as Washington Irving, Jean Letronne and others." 

update 19 July. 99.8% of people getting sick and dying of covid 19 are unvaccinated. Disinformation about the pandemic is still being spread even as people's lives are threatened by lies. In the video below an ex Fox new reporter explains the business model for 90 year old Rupert Murdoch's news empire: Fox sports, Fox entertainment and Fox "news."