I was recently referred to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience where he had a very glib and sophisticated guest explaining how vaccines for COVID are part of a great conspiracy. He was so persuasive and appeared utterly convinced by his own story of how giant and insidious forces within our economy hide real treatments from the population, and then encourage them to get dangerous and unproven vaccines. I was shocked as I listened to hear the words of one of my sons coming straight out of this expert’s mouth. It had been over dinner and my son was explaining all these problems with the vaccine and all the remedies the government doesn’t want you to know about. When I listened to the podcast sometime later, I could see that my son had internalized the entire episode and now regurgitated the information as if it were sourced directly from the divine.
On the other hand, we have all heard official sources give us inaccurate and manipulative information to cause the population to do as they want. They do this by misrepresenting their degree of confidence when they present a new hypothesis as a proven fact, only to revise it later when more information comes up.
And from what I see in the world, the Joe Rogan guys are actually on top of the truth claims right now. Why? Well look where we are. The official line was that if everyone would just give up their objections and take the vaccine, then we could put a quick end to the pandemic with herd immunity. Of course, now we all know plenty of vaccinated people who caught COVID and passed it. And so the official line suddenly shifted. Instead of the old refrain “it’s a public responsibility to get vaccinated to avoid spreading the disease to those who cannot get vaccinated” the message changed to “stopping the spread of disease was never the point. The vaccine was always intended to simply reduce the severity of the disease.” These two statements are completely contradictory and yet they were both espoused as absolute truth. We are asked to forget what the government said before, and believe what they are saying now. Anybody remember George Orwell’s 1984?
The motive might actually be somewhat benign. The government officials who publish these messages might actually believe they are doing some good by convincing people to get vaccinated, and so they publish persuasive stories, leveraging theories as facts, and make the best arguments they can to push people into the vaccination queue. And of course, this leaves the other side completely free to publish whatever theories it has, similarly elevated to fact, and persuade people that the Government is dishonest and corrupt (which it clearly is).
There simply is no longer any truth in the news. It’s all just persuasion. Every article is measured by its ability to inspire clicks, and nothing inspires quicker clickers than controversy, anxiety, and righteous indignation. And that is what is happening to us. We are fed news and information on the basis of sophisticated algorithms which are designed to predict what we will like. And so when we like one thing, we are shown another, and so on.
It feels like we are trying on clothes in a Nordstrom changing room with a helpful sales representative that keeps bringing us more of what we like. Don’t like pink? well no more pink will be draped over the wall of the dressing room. Like tight jeans? Here are three more pairs for you to try on. Like a political candidates? Here are stories showing them as heroes. Think they are all villains…well here is more proof.
The news only confirms our predispositions.
I remember when I was practicing as an attorney in litigation. We would often have to use expert witnesses to prove a point in a trial. I remember one case that was as mundane as an asphalt application that was misapplied by a defunct contractor. Was it bad material or did the contractor mix it with too much water? Expert opinion was required. Of course, both sides had an expert, and each picked one who said what they liked.
I actually testified as an expert witness one time in a trial that depended in large part on the valuation of an aircraft at the time it was purchased. I was firmly of the opinion that the purchaser had been sold a real lemon of an aircraft that was actually worth much less than he paid. The buyer had been duped! The other side had another expert, a very official aircraft appraiser, who was of the opinion that the aircraft was purchased at fair value. Yes the aircraft was very old, but it had a big cabin and the ability to cross the country, and so it’s current performance justified the price despite the age.
I’m quite sure that the other expert believed what he was saying just as much as I believed what I was saying, even though we were saying opposite truths. What the lawyers do, is they interview experts with really good resumes until they find an expert who will testify to what they need to establish. One case early in my career was about the security of mortgages that were taken out by home buyers of a developer that had run afoul of his bankers. “These people would eat birdseed before they defaulted on their mortgages”. I remember him looking at us for approval. After all, at $500 per hour, he wanted to make sure he got the nuances just right.
Of course there was an expert on the other side of that case too, who explained how risky all the mortgages were.
And so here we are today in a much more sophisticated world. Now we have a world full of experts, and they are all looking for an audience. The more outrageous and outlandish their statements, the more clicks they get. People like Joe Rogan have a real nose for this. They know just who will stir the pot, and they get millions of listeners not by promoting truth, but by promoting controversy.
I remember growing up in Miami, Florida with the Miami Herald. Newspapers back in that day held their reputation as the most important thing. Have you ever watched the movie Absence of Malice? What a great movie about how the Newspaper business used to be. Back in that day, the newspaper came out every day, and pretty much everyone in Miami got their news in the morning from the Miami Herald, and in the evening from Channel 7. Every story that the Herald published was distributed to everybody. When the Miami Herald reported about the Miami River Cops who were involved in drug dealing, or about whatever other topic, they would be called to account by everyone on all sides of the issue. They had to make sure the paper could stand behind the facts they reported. People trusted the newspaper to tell the truth. People trusted their news anchors to tell the truth, because if they did not, they would lose their reputation.
But not anymore. Now we go to a news service like Google or Apple News or whatever source we have. If we like one article we see more like it. They come from all different sources, and there is no accountability. There is simply no longer any objective truth in the media at all. There are just click temptations.
So what can we actually do? Turn all of it off is my answer. It’s been a couple years since I signed off of Facebook, Instagram, What’s App, Gmail, Google News all of it. I have been on a vendetta to get rid of all these manipulators. And what can we do instead? We have to go to the source ourselves. We have to get back in touch with the real world and with people we actually know. I get my vaccine advise from my personal doctor now. It’s so much simpler.
Maybe the answer is to look at the stars and planets for guidance. Maybe the messages we receive from them won’t be any less clear, but at least we will have the peace and serenity that come with gazing at the heavens.