“Fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth.”
We live in the age of communication where information is now more readily accessible than ever and yet we also hear about this being an age of conspiracy. What effect has the new digital communication era has had on its quality, namely its truthfulness and accuracy? If lies have always travelled faster than the truth, then the Internet has certainly amplified that phenomenon.
Conspiracy theories are legion in today’s world, but they are hardly a new phenomenon. Already in the 1950’s the dangers of Communist infiltration and nuclear war proved a fertile ground for fear of the hidden enemy and popular culture reflected that, and not only in the U.S. A good tale using this atmosphere of paranoia and conspiracy as its themes is “Shutter Island”. The main character is a tormented U.S. Marshal investigating the disappearance of a mental hospital patient, but who is really interested in uncovering the truth behind the hospital’s true goals? What is real? What is delusion? And how can anyone tell? The library has in its collection the graphic novel and the original novel, which differ markedly from the movie and which I highly recommend for fans of psychological thrillers.
As the Cold War entered its second decade, the culture of paranoia truly blossomed as misinformation and secrets became weapons of the ideological struggle between the eastern and western blocs. The classic comedy film “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to stop Worrying and love the bomb” may seem absurd to our eyes, but was most pertinent to those who lived daily with the threat of nuclear annihilation. It criticized the insanity of many of the attitudes that defined the era: Mutually Assured Destruction, nuclear deterrence, political brinkmanship. Spy fiction became popular as they were seen as the vanguard/enemy of a new kind of covert warfare. For fans of spy and/or conspiracy novels, it should be noted that the library has an extensive collection of John Le Carré novels, including “Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy” which has just been adapted to cinema.
By the 1970’s our own governments became sources of suspicion and could no longer be trusted, and conspiracy theories about hidden state agendas became mainstream. An interesting book on these effects on society is “Strange Days Indeed: the 1970’s: the Golden Age of Paranoia” by Francis Wheen. It gives fascinating insights into how events like Watergate and the rise of urban terrorism, cults, fears of ecological and economical catastrophes affected public consciousness worldwide and contributed to new popular attitudes toward government. The 1970’s also saw a surge in the phenomenon of UFO sightings, and related to them, accusations that various official or secret organizations were, and are still hiding or manipulating the truth about extraterrestrial life. This is the topic explored by Mark Pilkington in his recently-released “Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare and UFOs.”
Science can be a solid foundation on which to base one’s reality, since it is supposed to be a discipline based on objective and measurable facts. Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou “Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth” is the tale of mathematician Bertrand Russel and his obsessive quest to develop the means to uncovering objective truth through mathematics and logic. The novel also includes the authors as protagonist as they debate how best to present his story for the general public, and they succeed quite handily in making Russel (and other mathematicians of the time) absorbing and fun.
But what about us, you may ask? What can we trust? Quite apart from big conspiracy theories, we still deal with both small and bigger lies on a daily basis, often served to us by the people we are supposed to trust to make informed decisions. How can one sift through daily misinformation and half-truths? Well, Jamie Whyte’s “Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders“, might help in one’s quest for the truth. The interest of this small book is in its stated goal: to make the reader aware of the various ways “experts” and other shapers of opinion use faulty reasoning, generalizations, and misinformation to shape arguments supporting their biases. The book is easy to read and full of examples that are pertinent to us as information consumers in an age of misinformation and half-truths.