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Fast Lies vs Slow Truth

December 5, 2017

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. Winston Churchill

This is a dangerous truth about human society in general. Truth requires thought and time to reach a reasonable judgement. While someone is going through that slow, considered process the opportunistic will rush to propagate lies and thoughtless convenient fictions that fit in line with their preconceived narratives. This is a much more accurate way to look at the whole fake news phenomena. Not what we have seen where you have a shouting match between right and left wing media trying to demonise and scapegoat news they don’t like with the title fake news. To make people afraid/ridiculed/ashamed to get their news outside of “accepted” sources. As if people are incapable of making judgements about media credibility for themselves. As if news on one side of the divide is flawless and 100% trustworthy and news on the other side is 100% beyond the pale regardless of the content of the articles and news that they share.

I don’t need my media and my government moralising at me about some extreme right wing outlet. I can make my own judgement to not join their agenda, but I can also still see a true story when they share it. The truth is not determined by the source. That would be trust, not truth. Truth is determined by a steady process of evaluating and looking into the evidence provided to build an overall coherent picture of how something is working, regardless of moral and emotional judgements about the people who shared that information. This latter is a standard example of a logical fallacy, its probably, in fact, a standard example of multiple logical fallacies. Lets take a standard case of someone who believes only a few specific sources of news, say, BBC and CNN. This could lead them to be guilty of some of the following fallacies:

  • Argumentum ad populum: If they take these sources as representing what most people think or believe. And these sources do often claim to be speaking for “everyone” or all reasonable people as one of their arguments/justifications for what are in fact opinions that they want us to agree with.
  • Argument from authority: A similar kind of fallacy in this regard. By trying to smear other news, often any news that says something different to them, they are arguing from authority, claiming to be the only authoritative source for your information and news about the world.
  • Ad hominem: I think this one is every poor reasoners favourite fallacy. Attack the character or motive of the person making the argument or presenting the evidence, that way you don’t need to worry about dealing with the argument/evidence. As by whipping up some emotional feeling of dislike or hatred of the person providing the argument/evidence you distract from the issue under consideration. (The British Media and Government engaged heavily in this the other day with their collective faux outrage at Trumps retweets)
  • Argumentum ad baculum: The threat of force to bring about acceptance of your views. A favourite tactic of radical left groups lately with their punch a nazi campaign and ANTIFA in general who try to intimidate people who have different opinions to them with physical force. And in general this is something we have seen in the attack of liberal universities on the free speech of right wing people on campuses. In all these kinds of cases their first move is not to engage in discussion, the first move is to physically intimidate you somehow to influence the view you express. Once again, they seem to imagine we are incapable of avoiding nazi style extremism, but really this is just a cover to label anyone they don’t like in this way, so that they can point at them and begin their argumentative approach of persuasion by use of physical force and intimidation. It applies also to news media who legitimise this kind of approach to discourse by not disavowing such behaviour and often not even reporting on it, or if they report it in the case of CNN, BBC, as I am using them as an example, you can be sure it will be to do a similar thing, of labelling a right wing group in such a way as to dehumanise them, indirectly promoting use of violence against that opinion rather than use of good reasoning.
  • Argumentum ad passiones: Appeal to the emotions of the recipient of the argument/evidence to manipulate them. A real big favourite of mainstream media outlets. Instantiated by examples such as the appeal to fear, the appeal to shame, the appeal to pity, the appeal to ridicule, the appeal to wishful thinking. It’s just too easy to give examples of this. You will often see certain media news talking paternalistically and condescendingly to their audience. This then allows them to better manipulate your emotions in the above ways with whatever “information” they then want you to have a certain opinion on. (The Russia Collusion narrative and the attendant impeachment narrative is one long example of this fallacy, appealing to the wishful thinking of many left wing people and democrats.)

I will leave it at that for now. I basically just searched logical fallacies list, and the first few that came up, right away were perfect examples of the kind of fallacies of poor news reporting that are engaged in all the time. Both in the information they present, the arguments they make and the opinions they want you to have about that information either explicitly or implicitly.

Why do they engage in all of this poor reasoning? It comes back to the quote I started with. It’s a much quicker process to spread information if you do so without thinking about it much. The downside is that you then load all that information with your own emotional prejudices and biases. Just as much as that right wing group spread some false stories about immigrants, based on their emotion about immigrants, the left wing spreads multiple logical fallacies in how they portray that fact to people, based on their emotion about this right wing group. By attacking their character, not their false content, by appealing to emotions of shame of being seen as racist, of pity, for those who are victims of this presumed racism. And by claiming themselves to have special authority in judging other sources of information in this way, as if they are somehow above reproach. If they really wanted to fight fake news they wouldn’t take a little bit of factual information and explode it into a unending stream of logical fallacies that totally undermine the content they were trying to present.

In summary, a good general rule, when all these news outlets of all political persuasions try to throw logical fallacies at you under the guise of “neutral, reasonable news and information”, ask of them not to give you their emotion, not to try and provoke your emotion, but to give you their reasons and appeal to your mind. Ask of them this, and you will soon find you can filter out probably around 95-99% of the news presented to you.

Fake news is not a simple issue of apples and oranges, or apples and bananas for that matter, it is an issue based on the fact that emotion works quicker than reason and instinct tends to trump thought. Slow down the stream of information you take in, filter most of it out, reflect on what all news sources tell you over time, and form a solid coherent conception of truth and reality. Whenever there is an emotional upheaval on twitter or on the mainstream media news, or on the alternative media news, unless it is about real bad events such as murder and deaths and crimes of this nature (and you can determine this to be the case from multiple independent sources quickly) do not join that wave of emotion, question it, and you will most likely find it is engaging in multiple logical fallacies, and it is most likely doing this precisely because there is little to no truthful content in what they are saying.

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