Modern Politics: The Misinformation Age
It is no secret that we are living in an age that is dominated with misinformation. This is by no means a new phenomenon.
“We are the resource. We are worth more if we are addicted, distracted, outraged, narcissistic, attention-seeking, polarized, and misinformed, than when we are a thriving citizen or a healthy growing child.” — Tristan Harris
It goes without saying that it is better to be alive now than it was at any other period in time for most of us across the Globe, even if we live in poorer conditions. At one point the black plague wiped out more than 1/3 of Europe. And the Spanish flu killed millions in the 20th century.
Life is better. However, that is not to say that there are no areas to improve in.
Inequality is still rampant. Racism dominates politics across the Globe to a concerning extent. Ill-equipped populists occupy our governments. Add unto this, social media creates fertile ground for disinformation and outrage.
One writer who is raising the alarms is the McGill psychologist, Daniel Levitin. Levitin helpfully explains that misinformation is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been with us since the time of superstition in the medieval era but even more recently.
In fact, with the rise of the internet, mass information, blogs, and alternative media sources, many are starting to believe that misinformation is becoming much worse and more consequential.
Levitin’s solutions to misinformation are what interested me the most. For one, he argues that motivated reasoning is so prevalent among citizens that it would be useful to set up circumstances that would curb any possibility for misinformation.
For example, people are more likely to use public transport if those around them use public transport. As someone who comes from Europe, I have witnessed this first hand. In Canada, most students use cars to commute to university. In Europe, this is unheard of; trains, buses, bikes, and metros are the most convenient and cheap forms of travel.
This translates well to misinformation. If from an early age citizens were taught that expertise is valuable and that issues are very difficult, then maybe they would be less prone to believing anything they hear on the internet.
Expertise & Truthfulness?
One problem I have with Levitin’s thesis, however, is that I think he smuggles in the idea that expertise must be an indicator of truthfulness. This clearly is not the case. One should just be reminded of the overtly intelligent conservative economists who adamantly oppose the raising of the minimum wage, such as Thomas Sowell and Niall Ferguson, and then contrast them with economists who argue in favor, like Terry Eagleton and others.
Expertise does not always prevent experts from making mistakes in reasoning. I discuss this briefly in Chapter 2 of my book, Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism, & the Global Problems of the 21st Century.
Our environments are profound influences on our behavior and thinking, as Levitin pointed out himself.
Nonetheless, Levitin provides a helpful way at looking at misinformation and his solution to change the environment we live in to prevent the spread of misinformation is invaluable.
This blog post is a part of my brief series on political philosophy! I cover thinkers from Locke and Rousseau to Marx, Hegel, and even Bernie Sanders. You can check out some previous posts here if you are interested:
Hegel: The Failure of Enlightenment
How to Move Forward & Not Make the Mistakes of the Past
Before you go…
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Until next time, keep reflecting!