In an interesting discussion online, Yuval Noah Harari brings up one of the most subtle changes in recent human history. Namely, the increase in information processing as a result of technological advances. Mass media, and, more recently, the internet, increased hundreds of times, if not by thousands, the amount of information that it’s produced, and that we have access to. But, and here’s when Yuval has a very interesting remark, “information doesn’t necessarily equals truth – information is just information”. And, if you really think about it, fake news is still information. Propaganda is still information. Advertising (which is a covert form of propaganda) is still information. How much truth is in these types of “information”? Not much, really.
He goes even further back and compares it with something similar in human history, namely the invention of the printing press. You would expect that such a great invention paved the way for great works of scientists and philosophers to reach the masses. Alas, this is not what happened. Instead, the vast majority of the overall printing material consisted in “do it yourself witch hunting” collections. This resulted, over the course of almost one hundred years, in dozen of thousands of people (mostly women) to be burned alive, in public executions. You would even expect the executioners reasoning to be based on some of these books, which were nothing but commercial products, designed to generate profit for the makers, not to establish the truth.
Just like a modern “keyboard warrior” would say “I know this is true, I saw it on YouTube”, the inquisitors back then would have cried: “it’s all in this book, she’s a redhead, she has freckles, so she’s a witch”.
It’s easy to laugh today at these things, and say “how limited were they back then”, but the harsh reality is that there’s not much difference between those times and what happens now. The same type of polarization is creeping in, with even more toxic results. We may not burn dozens of thousands of people in public executions, but we do cut their means of existence, we marginalize them, we call them names and turned them into “enemies of the world”, all of which, in time, leads to a much slower and painful, but equally unavoidable, demise. The “do gooders”, “knights of science”, “proponents of equality” aren’t burning people publicly, but they are amending constitutions, laws and regulations, creating a new cast system, a layered society so skewed and intolerant that I think even Orwell would be surprised.
Information And Truth Dynamic
The accessibility of information gives the false impression that, just because we are exposed to many more sources, we’re better equipped to know the truth. Whereas what happens is, whenever there’s an inflation in information, there’s a corresponding deflation in truth.
Because the extra amount of information is not geared towards establishing facts, but towards nudging people in the direction wanted by the owner of the information source. Specifically because it’s so easy to produce information, it’s very appealing to use it as an influence vector. Of course, in time, people will realize they’ve been mislead and they will start to under-react. It will be more and more expensive to nudge them, so there will be less information floating around. And as people will carry the memory of what worked and what didn’t, who was right and who was manipulative, they will start to select even from this reduced amount of sources, which will eventually lead to some sort of balance. The quantity of information will decrease, and the amount of truth in the reduced quantity will start to increase.
Of course, until this happens, there will be a lot of witch hunting, burning, and bragging by those who claim to free the world from the pagans.
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash
Initially published on my blog.
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