How to fight bullshit

Written by Daniel Waldman

Unfortunately, we have now moved into a world where information has near zero value. It used to be that information had an inherent value and was potentially powerful. But we have reached an era beyond even George Orwell’s darkest imagination. We have reached an era where facts don’t seem to matter. And we will be living in this era as long as Donald Trump is president of the United States, as long as he and his team continue to spread falsehoods while also discrediting real, verifiable information.

As this NYTs opinion piece points out, it doesn’t even matter if we’re talking about facts. It’s completely meta, that is, if the administration says something offensive or easily proved false, they simply deny, deny, deny. And they say so much crap that they overwhelm a normal person’s ability to sort it out. After all, even though their language is simple, the topics and issues at hand are certainly not. Get used to hearing “I never said that.” Case in point is Trump’s denial that he ever mocked a disabled journalist during the campaign. Of course, there are videos of this mocking, and it was reported on continuously in the media. It definitely didn’t prevent him from succeeding, which is shocking in and of itself.

By denying the reality that he has created, Trump has managed to both confound and insulate himself from criticism. And now that he has the authority of being president, he will use the power of that position to build up and tear down statements, forming perceptions as is convenient to him.

So powerful is the BS machine they’ve built that holds up lies as truth and plays victim when it is called out, that it has conned (dare I say brainswashed) enough people to internalize the BS and defend it. Facts don’t matter to them. At all. There was a certain irony last week when Trump called CNN “fake news” and then proceeded to take a question from Breitbart, which has all the journalistic standards of a tabloid.

Now, I’m sure they’d be more than happy to point out our own hypocrisy and how Hillary Clinton this and Hillary Clinton that. The fact that they are still clinging to attacking Clinton just shows how weak their own arguments are. It’s no longer about Clinton. Period. It’s about the dismantling of our democracy through corruption and cronyism.

John Stuart used to show us this hypocrisy regularly on The Daily Show. He’d play a clip of a politician saying one thing, then he’d play another clip of the politician saying the exact opposite. I wonder these days what good that did, and I can only hope it had an impact. But then again, the people who need to see and hear the hypocrisy and who need to recognize it for what it is probably never watched that show anyway.

I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we need to dismantle this system, to rebuild the value of information. How do we do that? It definitely won’t be easy, but here are a few ideas:

  • Stick to reality: If information has lost its value, then do we fight it with equally absurd BS? No, we can’t. We must stick to reality. Climate change, for example. No amount of putting our heads in the sand will change this fact.
  • Use their own words against them: Trump and the right love to play the victim, but we know they are far from that. By taking their own phrases that they use and turning them against them, you can demonstrate the impact of their BS. A great example is how Chuck Schumer recently re-used a letter Mitch McConnell sent years ago regarding cabinet nominations.
  • Get active: It’s not enough to like and share posts on FB and Twitter. It’s not enough to even write essays like this. Get out into the world and do good. Create the world you want to see. How does this make information more valuable? Two ways: 1) Activism is a platform for disseminating facts and 2) Seeing people being active, doing good things, can help break through to people’s consciousness.
  • Run for office–even if it’s for dog catcher. Progressives need to build a stronger grassroots movement and affect policy even at the smallest level. Additionally, just as Trump uses his position to broadcast his BS, you can use your position to publicly broadcast truth.
  • Help others: there’s nothing more uplifting than helping other people who are less fortunate than we are. One of my goals this year is to do some volunteering (once my French gets better).

One question that I keep tossing around is whether to engage with people. One the one hand, it’s important to engage people with different points of view in dialogue. However, when that dialogue is hateful and racist, I’m not sure any amount of talking will help. I’m still conflicted on this, but I think overall, it’s important to try to continue to engage, though we can often talk ourselves blue in the face (I know I’ve felt that way about many a FB thread).

What will you do to increase the value of information?

Comments: 1

  1. Robyn Waldman says:

    Nicely stated Daniel. My attempt at conversation on Facebook has been somewhat eye opening. Does it make me feel better to know why my right-leaning friends voted they way they did? Not sure. They are all educated people who have chosen to disregard anything they find distasteful in order to support their candidate. Perhaps that what we all do. What is most disturbing, as you have so eloquently stated, is the blatant disregard of facts. It’s a little like having a conversation with a 3 year old, “I know you are but what am I”.

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