Sunday, November 13, 2011

Truth or fiction?

Often referred to as the Age of Information, this period in the Earth’s history has seen a revolution in telecommunications which has allowed us to know in seconds what is happening on the other side of the world.  The range of information available both on the internet, via satellite TV channels and mobile phones and other devices is truly staggering.  Deciding what article to read or programme to watch is one problem with only so many hours in the day.  Many have honed their speed-reading skills to make life easier. The other problem is knowing what to believe when there is so much conflicting information. How do we decide what is the truth and what is fiction?

From an early age we learn to mimic our parents and as we get older we are taught to do as we are told by them and the other adults that surround us.  We aren’t usually encouraged to think for ourselves or make our own decisions, at least not until we reach our teenage years.  Most of us who have gone through the school system have been forced to memorise facts and reproduce opinions that have been approved by the respective educational institutions of the country we have grown up in. The educational policies have themselves been influenced by the prevailing political bias and religious dogma of that society. Rarely are we ever allowed to question anything at school nor are we encouraged to develop our own opinions.  We are considered ignorant and like empty vessels that must be filled in order to be able to regurgitate the belief system of the status quo.  Like our parents and many generations before them, we then become compliant members of society who live our lives according to accepted norms.  If we have questions or doubts we always refer to people in authority such as teachers, the medical profession or government officials. We also get our answers from mainstream sources such as newspapers and the television news. We rarely question if this information is true or correct.  These established sources are like the modern version of village elders. We put unquestioning faith in them as though they are kindly guardians who have our best interests at heart.

For example, in the United Kingdom the BBC is the longest running television channel.  Funded partly by the state and partly by a compulsory license fee paid by everyone who owns a television, the BBC is a greatly admired and loved national institution.  Sometimes referred to as ‘Auntie Beeb’, the organisation has a reputation for impartiality and well-researched, high-quality programmes.  It’s authority as a source of factual information, as well as fair and balanced opinion, is so ingrained in the national psyche that people rarely question whether the ideas presented in its programmes are true. So are the programmes objective or do they have a hidden agenda? It’s usually possible to detect a bias, although it's much less noticeable if the facts are presented in an emotive way with music and the interviews are edited so that only the parts that support the chosen argument are shown.  Also the use of ‘expert’ testimony is very convincing and lends credibility to the arguments, however flawed.

As an example of this, the BBC’s programme, The Conspiracy Files: 911 – The Third Tower, attempted to appear as though it was a well-balanced presentation of the conspiracy theories and an analysis of the ‘facts’ around the collapse of Building 7, the third tower to fall on 11 September 2001. Although the programme initially outlined some of the big questions about the official story, its attempt to debunk the conspiracy theories was incomplete, misleading and, at times, glaringly inaccurate to anyone who has taken the time to find out the facts. (See: A Case in Point above.)  But due to the BBC’s huge influence on the British public, it is quite probable that those viewers who had doubts about the official report before the programme, had them laid to rest by the end. 

Another example is the BBC’s documentary investigation of the events on the Mavi Marmara the Turkish aid ship that was attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.  The ship was stormed by Israeli naval forces at 4.30 on the morning of 31 May 2010 and resulted in the death of nine activists on board. Called ‘Panorama: Death in the Med’, the programme is blatantly biased in favour of Israel from the outset.  The programme begins by painting the Israeli naval commandos as an elite force that is legitimately defending Israeli interests. There is little mention of the fact that the Mavi Marmara was in international waters and therefore the boarding of the ship by the Israeli forces was illegal in the first place.  The program then goes on to portray the activists on board as extremists who deliberately laid a trap for Israel while implying that the Israelis were the innocent party.  The presenter, Jane Corbin, attempts to explain the situation in Gaza but does not explain fully the devastating effect the illegal blockade is having on the people who live there and why activists would risk their lives to help them.  Mention is made of the fact that Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s ‘right to exist’ but there is no explanation of the fact that Hamas said it would recognise an Israel based on 1967 borders. Nor did Jane Corbin explain that Israel is gradually colonising Palestinian land through the building of illegal settlements.  Interestingly, Jane Corbin’s husband is John Cradock Maples, former MP and president of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

So from these two examples we can see that even those sources of information that promise to give us an unbiased view of the world can be unreliable.  There are many other examples such as the lies told by our leaders and then propagated in the newspapers about WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in order to get support for the war in Iraq, but there are too many to go into here.  Of course, there are also some truthful, accurate and well-researched articles and programmes out there but how do we tell which ones they are? We can read widely from many different sources: books, the internet, newspapers, magazines and journals and by watching alternative TV channels and programmes on-line. From that information we can begin to build a complete picture of events without relying on one opinion. Most articles include an opinion, even if it is not presented as such.  We need to learn how to detect this and not allow it to colour our view of the world.  We need to develop independent thought and choose consciously how we see events.  Our greatest tool in this is our own intuition. Although we have not been encouraged to develop it because it is not generally believed that it exists, this ability that we all possess cannot be underestimated.  We instinctively know if something is right for us. We only need to trust it. And if we listen to it, that little voice inside of us gets stronger each time and soon we will be using it daily in our decision-making process.  I truly believe that this is the way we are evolving and that within a relatively short time it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to be fooled at all.