Friday, January 28, 2011
Tinfoil Thinking-Cap Time, a Civic Soapbox essay by Chris Edwards
At a family gathering recently, I overheard two bright young guys critique a page in a history.
“‘One giant leap for mankind’ – gimme a break!”
“Everyone knows the moon landings were a hoax.”
No one seemed to “know” that, in 1969. When most of us had yet to touch a computer. How come we felt free to accept moon landings, when today’s 18 and 19-year olds, holding marvelous technology in their palms, feel free to deny them?
Google “Moon Landing Hoax,” and you get 1.8 million results. More even than “Global Warming Hoax” (1.6 million). So my question is: Is there still such a thing as an agreed-upon reality anymore? Does the Flat Earth Society’s website represent madness? satire? or merely one, among many, postmodernist “realities” – Is it possible that there IS no reality anymore -- just my truth, for me, and yours, for you?
I mean, did Jared Loughner’s online ramblings really predict the Tucson massacre?
If they did, how can we draw a clear line separating his posts from the 1.4 million posts on alien abductions, or 5.7 million supporting a flat earth? Millions of on-line references claim President Bush deliberately carried out the 9-11 attacks... while 27 percent among us think, or suspect, President Obama isn’t American. None of those claims can be remotely grounded in fact.
I’ve heard both leftists and right-wingers, people I’ve known and in the media, screaming that we live under fascism. Have they listened to anyone, such as a Holocaust survivor, describe real fascism?
Of course, next to all the online rants and fantasies, we can pull up countless bytes of solid, useful information. The Internet will certainly make today’s kids better informed than we were...if only they can sort it all out.
There’s a criterion for sorting out an idea’s credibility, called Ockham’s Razor: Given two possible explanations for any event, go with the simpler one. A patter on my roof could be footsteps of little green men from the Andromeda galaxy, but more likely (if less excitingly), it’s rain. Try asking: what would be the motive to fake a moon landing? Cold War Strategies? Perhaps. But think how many parties would have had to be in on the hoax – not only protecting the truth then, from Soviet spies, but each person, without exception, hiding it for more than 40 years! Ask yourself what’s more likely.
Also, there are widely-verified websites that can help sort truth from rumor, such as snopes.com and factcheck.org.
Of course, I guess you could just claim Hawaii is a hoax.
It seems to me that in this “information"-glutted age, determining reality is, in itself, a challenge.
But without shared reality, how do we know if we’re still sane?
--Chris Edwards is a writer living in Harrisonburg.