Is Your Truth Same as Mine?

There’s much talk about how the corporate mainstream media is to blame, at least in part, for having gotten the sense of the election so wrong, and that some sort of independent media is a (partial) solution.  I’m not so sure if this works.

I think first part of the premise is on to something:  the corporatized media is so accustomed to its own bubble that it is ignorant of what goes on outside its own circles.  This is a chief weakness of the modern media:  it substitutes “data” for “perspective.”  As such, they are easy to fall prey to systematic selection bias which they cannot check because they lack the framework into which they can place the data..and they lack the sense of how wrong they could be.  But this is not a unique failure to the “modern” times:  this is exactly how the Literary Digest got the election of 1936 wrong:  they had the mostest data, collected via the best means available to them, and because the patterns in the data fit their preconception of how the universe worked, they did not follow up on the “what if” possibilities.

The problem lies, I think, in the assumption that the “independent” media, catering to their own agendas, are any better at grasping the context of the world than the corporatized media.  To believe that they will be better is silly:  anybody who has seen the absurd attempts by the “conservatives” to set up alternative sources of information can see how badly that can turn out, or indeed, the way the liberal partisans had absurd expectations of election results in 2004, 2010, 2014, and 2016.  I think, fundamentally, a whole collection of diverse “independent” media outlets would be a good thing if anybody had the time to go through them all and digest them, and place them all in appropriate context.  I don’t think that is going to work for hardly anyone, certainly not all times.  In my experiences trying to follow controversial world events, I’ve had to track a lot of different media outlets in different countries and that was not easy to pull off.  Having Google both helps and hurts.  On one hand, you can find information that you would never be able to find without it, on the other hand, it helpfully suggests the information that it thinks (wrongly) that you want to know.  And I could do this only because I wanted to spend the time looking things up and learn the appropriate contexts, at least for those topics, because I’m multilingual enough that I could read information in 4-5 different languages, at least on the topics of interest to me at the time.  I don’t think this is a normal state of affairs.

I think this brings us back to my favorite fable:  the blind men and the elephant.  Everyone does have his own version of the “truth.”  My truth is not same as yours–because my truth is that the elephant is a wall and your truth is that the elephant is a spear, and each of us can marshal necessary facts and figures to support our truth and yell and believe and shout until we can badger the other side to submission, which may never happen.  But beneath the surface, my truth is same as yours–only if we think about it further and look around more carefully.  an elephant is simultaneously a wall, a spear, and a lot more–and, technically, neither a wall nor a spear.  But we can discover that common truth only if we have a bit of faith, that the other side knows what he is talking about, that our sense of the truth is not complete, even if it is true, and we have more to learn.  It’s not “independent” journalism we need, especially if all that gets us is more people insisting that they are right.  Rather, it’s a deeper perspective–we need to place the knowledge, the different truths from different people, in a broader, more inclusive context.  Maybe that’s not going to give us the right answer right now.  But it will give us the righter answer in the long run.  Indeed, that is the spirit of “science.”

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