There have always been snake oil salesmen, convincing us that they have just the thing to cure what ails us. We have been trained over lifetimes to take in advertising with very little questioning. We use social media, which has now been proven to contain not only the obvious ads, but also content to manipulate us in every direction, including our choice of leaders. Most recently, computers are being used to construct videos of public figures speaking, and saying things that they have never said. And before ever there was advertising, there were preachers of religions, philosophies, edicts of empires, medical practices, scientific theories, etc.
When we look back over the various “truths” that were proffered, some by very sincere people of good will, and others by unscrupulous, self-serving money grabbers or pursuers of political power, we can see that very little of what was said to be the truth was, or still is thought to be so. The use of computer generated media has now brought us to a crisis point, leaving us feeling like we can never be sure as to the veracity of what we are seeing or hearing. We are cowed into frozen skepticism, unable to trust our eyes and ears.
So how can we find our way in this world of smoke and mirrors? One option might be to follow only those who have demonstrated trustworthiness over a significant period of time. But even here, genuine people have been caught out by deceptive sources. Many people tend to go with what they already think to be the truth, disregarding any evidence that doesn’t confirm what they already believe. This condemns them to being stuck in points of view that are unnecessarily limiting or self-injurious.
I think the short answer is that skepticism is the safest approach. It would be important, however, to choose a few topics that are most important to you, and research them in depth over multiple sources. This takes time and effort, but if you are to take up your adult responsibility to act justly, then you need to educate yourself as best you can about issues that are important to you.
Otherwise, there is the very old wise question: Whom does the Grail serve? What this is urging us to look at is, if what is being said is true, who will benefit from it being accepted as true? For example, if there is a study that says that sugar is good for you, that would benefit the sellers of sugar and sugary products. If it not true, it would hurt ordinary people. The question therefore is, who funded the study? If people who are dis-empowered are painted in very negative terms, those already in power are the ones to benefit. It supports bullies, the very rich, and those who need to feel superior, leaving deprived members of a society more and more oppressed.
A big contributor today to deception and manipulation is what is not said. The phenomenon of the “half truth” is an illustration of this. You are told that, on average, more people are living longer. What you might not be told is that those living longer are those in the upper 25% of the population economically, whereas those in the lower 50% are dying at a younger age. The other major contributor to “fake news” is what the mainstream media never bothers to report on at all. Crucial information such as, “How much more money, percentage wise, do the top 1% have as compared to everyone else?” “How many people in other countries has the US military and its “auxiliaries” killed in the past year?” “Who are the biggest funders of the re-election campaigns of those in Congress?” This information is important for understanding what is true with regard to who controls our world and who is responsible for the injustice that fuels terrorism.
Another important thing you can do to help yourself navigate the swamp of information out there is to learn how to be self-reflective. Registering when your autopilot reactions to certain subjects has been provoked is crucial to avoid being manipulated. If you are not self-aware and able to sense when your emotions have been hijacked to get you to believe something that may not be true, then you are much more likely to be deceived. This is a process that also takes time and effort. It requires us to acknowledge our shortcomings and blind spots. If a person suffers from low self-esteem, then an ad that tells you “you are worth it” is very effective in separating you from your money. Self-awareness is fundamental to your being able to discern where you are vulnerable to false claims.
We live in a time of unprecedented lying, deception, misleading statements, and manipulation. Each of us must work hard to deal with this attack on credibility from all angles. There are no easy answers, but with effort, we can begin to sort the wheat from the chaff.