Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Fifth Dimension

As a teenager in the 1960s, I was at one point confined to bed convalescing from an illness during the summer and needed to keep myself occupied. We had a shortwave radio, so I roamed the airwaves to find broadcasts from different countries in Europe and Asia.

I especially enjoyed  listening to Radio Moscow, which was beamed to the U.S.  The endless stream of propaganda was fascinating. Russia had their own inventors of the light bulb and other modern devices. In fact, the Soviet Union was apparently superior in all respects. How did I recognize the propaganda? After all, I could not prove who invented the lightbulb and I was not in a position to observe the Soviet Union directly. But I did know I lived in an open society that really did have freedom of speech and of the press where I was told the truth about the Soviet Union. After all, the U.S. and World War II allies had withdrawn from German occupation while the Soviet Union had maintained control of their occupied territories throughout Central and Eastern Europe. So there was asymmetry between  U.S. and NATO allies vs. the Soviets, not two equal and opposite opponents who were just two sides of the same coin.

Aside from my textbook knowledge of world history, I also observed patterns of behavior of the radio personalities. The Soviet Union was always so wonderful. Never a discouraging word. Bursting with national pride. And never mistaken. Never in doubt.  I could not imagine that the Soviet propaganda machine was fooling anyone and wondered why they kept trying with these transmissions.

Today's New York Times opinion piece The Age of Post-Truth Politics made me think of that Soviet era propaganda. The article argues, vaguely, that there is too much data to sift through these days, too many facts available and therefore people can choose themselves what they wish to believe, which encourages conspiracy theories.

Any consumer of news programming can discern the style and behavior patterns of a reporter who is searching for truth from someone who is searching for “facts” to support their ready-made conclusions. And if that behavior includes ever-changing lines of attack against a political opponent without evidence, maybe serious skepticism is in order. The problem today is too many viewers who are happy to be fooled, not too much data or too many news sources. The willing believer will not be persuaded by better communications as the NYT piece suggests with Brexit politics as the example. The author seems to regard our current state as a confusing universe, similar to the alternate realities where ordinary folks found themselves in the 1960s TV mystery "The Twilight Zone."

Count me unconvinced.

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