Fake news and alternative truth

Fake news and alternative truth

Fake news and alternative truth
What should and shouldn’t appear on Facebook

Censorship raises its head in Asia as controversy over terrorist militancy is fuelled by the Manchester atrocity and fears grow of larger organised networks of evil doers. Where a thousand letters took time to write, print, envelop, stamp and post, now a small Twitter, sometimes bereft of thought or logic, can disrupt a vote or unseat a democratically elected leader. How are we to balance such easily available free speech with safety?

Even to write moderately about the subject is difficult because feelings run so high and revenge and hate are featured so frequently in our entertainment media that it seems almost reasonable to settle an argument with a rifle. Strong language, whether with four letters or more, is apparently endorsed by our leaders so it must be OK, surely?

In my childhood a noble carpenter taught me the value of caring for my carpentry tools. He did not make it an issue of inanimate objects having feeling. He saw it as how I see myself. Fail to look after a good handsaw and you will neglect those who gave you the power of detachment. Leave a chisel to rust and you may turn out to be someone who ignores the very people who taught you to fashion beautiful things. Let a wood plane become blunt and your diplomatic lessons of how to work smoothly with others count as nothing.

There were two consequences to his teaching. I learnt the power of storytelling with strong metaphorical allusions. It was an early stage of learning to be creative. I also saw that respect for others, even for things, was the best form of self-respect.

Responsible people realise that they are influencing their peers and the next generations. Many of them want to be or actually are coaches and mentors. How much of their coaching and mentoring is devoted to improving civilisation and how much to teaching the tricks of selling, persuading and influencing? There has to be a balance, of course. Life is for now as well as for the future. I suspect the current imbalance is because we have forgotten to define and teach what a good life really is and how we can teach others to enjoy theirs even more than we have enjoyed ours.

Pleas for tolerance miss the point. Putting up with something you don’t like is a weak response to unpleasantness. Showing how something different is better, is a noble one. We have the means of communication but we do not appear to understand what we must communicate. Since our education systems are so advanced why have they missed the purpose of life which was so well understood by illiterate farmworkers I spent time with?

We hear that it takes a long time to change a culture. People who say this must mean “to change a culture for the better”. It takes very little time to change a culture for the worse. That has been clearly demonstrated in my 85 years. The test of any statement is “Is it true? Is it constructive? Does it demonstrate greater kindness than I am obliged to show?”

So should we be censoring Facebook and other media? We always have. The existence of law is itself a censorship about what we may do and say. If our philosophical understanding has deteriorated so much that we cannot distinguish why we should be civilised, making our censorship that much more effective won’t destroy the concept of free speech.

While we reassemble our Socratic teachers and put them back in the place society where they belong we should take a firm stand in favour of discipline to make a better world. If we don’t, destruction will exceed construction.

You build a civilised society constructively, not destructively.