Even if you don’t get into politics, you can’t escape the effects of a strange zone we are in these days where everything seems to be polarized to extreme views. Good luck trying to find reason, rationality or critical thinking.
Economic systems and assumptions are failing across the globe, and this is bringing out the worst. With high unemployment, the ranks of those angry at society have swelled. Rational and irrational people alike are lashing out against any target they can find. Emotions also are trumping critical thinking and people seem more susceptible to believing extreme views.
I was at a local panel discussion last week in Glendale where it felt like a convention of conspiracy theorists, made up mostly of people from outside Glendale trying to stir things up by fear-mongering about the evils of technology.
A politically conservative speaker tied to the Tea Party was making the case that increasing carbon emissions is actually a good thing and it helps plants grow. She also went through an elaborate journey to weave together all sorts of misinformation to support her thesis that addressing our society’s critical environmental and energy issues is somehow linked to a global mind control conspiracy.
She also linked her fringe ideas with our Constitution in an attempt to gain “credibility.”
More than the extreme statements or blatant misinformation shared by the panelistswhat I found scary is how the audience applied little scrutiny, taking things at face value.
We are witnessing the same trend on the national level. If we look at the beginnings of the presidential race, the lack of authenticity and the disrespect for peoples’ intelligence by some candidates is astounding.
Take Herman Cain’s oversimplified “9-9-9” plan to revive the economy because he thinks we are incapable of complex thoughts; or Rick Perry’s ignorance advocating shutting down three major federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, yet not being able to name them when asked. And these are people who we would trust navigating our country through one of the toughest periods in our history?
But the schemes aren’t limited to conservatives. You don’t have to dig very deep to find the White House defending what are essentially billion-dollar taxpayer subsidies to companies such as Solyndra Solar or Siga Technologies with little oversight or scrutiny. Their founders happen to be big political donors so you decide whether there is pay-to-play going on.
It’s this lack of honesty that makes watching the news through Jon Stewart’s Daily Show more credible than the regular news because he leaves no stone unturned in exposing the hypocrisy, political double-talk and lies.
But it’s also this lack of honesty by many political and corporate leaders that makes people believe anybody but them, as long as the person comes from the grassroots. However, even those from the “grassroots” can lack authenticity or credibility in what they advocate — they’ve just packaged themselves to appear like they are with “the people.”
Never in human history have we had access to such robust amounts of information as a result of technology, which brings the world to our fingertips or living room. Yet, we also have unprecedented amounts of misinformation, slanted self-serving information or downright lies coming at us from every direction, whether from people in official positions or people in our own communities.
It’s incumbent upon us to apply scrutiny to what we hear and read, no matter the source. Get into the habit of doing your own research from diverse sources to draw your own conclusions. If someone were to knock on your door peddling some cure-all product you would likely apply great skepticism.
The marketplace of ideas is no different.
George Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
To get to that revolutionary act, we must first find out the truth.
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ZANKU ARMENIAN is a resident of Glendale and a corporate communications and public affairs professional. He can be reached at email@example.com.