August 5, 2017
Think critically to make sense of Politics in Era of Fake News
by Dean Johns
As I doubt you have any particular cause to recall, in my previous column I tried to argue for the crying need for us all to cultivate our critical thinking skills to better equip us to rationally resist the tsunami of fake news and views with which ruling regimes continually contrive to swamp our minds.
But I then went on to express the reservation that rationality appears to be powerless against the ‘passionately-expressed but patently false emotings of US President Donald Trump, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak or any of his mendacious paid mouthpieces, or the ravings of any of the world’s countless other misleaders.’
Or, in other words, as I went on to extend this thought ‘the very idea of dealing rationally with the verbal vomit such people constantly spew forth, and that their venal, vapid or utterly vacant supporters so eagerly lap-up, seems ridiculous to me.’
Such was the apparent lack of interest in this or anything else I had to say in the column that it drew only two comments. But, to my surprise and delight, both vividly illustrated the points I was at such pains to make.
In one comment, ‘The Analyser’, a critic of Malaysiakini articles and columns so ubiquitous and anti-Opposition that many readers rightly or wrongly consider her to be an UMNO-BN stooge, seemed to largely agree with my first point.
‘Thank you for all the philosophising, but I think I’ll stick with the facts,’ she typically sarcastically wrote, but then, completely ignoring the question as to what these alleged ‘facts’ might be, went on to concede that ‘a tiny bit of political philosophy in Malaysia would go a long way to squashing the existing ideology of selfishness and greed.’
But The Analyser’s somewhat surprising support of my argument in favour of rational argument based on critical thinking was totally blown away by the only other comment on my column, which was a tour-de-force demonstration of why I have doubts that reason can ever prevail over unreason.
Some regular Malaysiakini reader and commentator posing as a cigar-chomping ‘Tony Soprano’ provided as compelling proof of philosopher David Hume’s proposition that passion can trump reason as even the current US President or Malaysian Prime Minister or any of such peoples’ spokespersons could be capable of.
Not that I have the slightest intention of, or feel I have any justification for, attacking ‘Tony Soprano’ personally, you understand.
In fact quite the opposite, if anything, considering that all the comments I’ve read that he’s made at Malaysiakini in the past have left me with the impression that he’s as disgusted with the UMNO-BN regime as I am, and thus, at least on the proverbial ‘my enemy’s enemy’ principle, a friend.
But unfortunately, my attempts at a rational argument against the possibility of Trump’s ever realising his incessantly-trumpeted intention to ‘make America great again’ appear to have turned ‘Tony’ from friend to friend.
Or, more specifically, by mentioning just a few of the recent and current apparent lapses from greatness on the part of the US, I’ve so offended his sense of patriotism as to provoke him to reason-killing rage or what the shrinks call an ‘Amygdala rush’.
Here, to save you the trouble of looking it up from a week back, is how this ‘Tony Soprano’ hissy-fit went, with my own brief notes in square brackets:
“Another America-bashing Commonwealth citizen who’s undoubtedly not spent any time in the US [False] It is a great country [Any evidence at all?]; making it great ‘again’ is merely another misleading Trumpian slogan.
“Two-thirds of the gun deaths are either accidents or suicides [But still deaths, right?] Meanwhile violent crime has been declining drastically since 1993. I live in a very safe and friendly city of 500,000 [Bully for you. But your point is?] Trump is Trump and wasn’t even elected by absolute votes [Just like Najib, in fact, in GE13].
“In case you’re not aware [as if anyone could not be], the checks and balances are closing around him [S-l-o-w-l-y]. As for the Vietnam War, you can go back in history as far as you want. [Not very far, is it? With one of its chief war criminals, the mad bomber of Laos and Cambodia, Henry Kissinger, still alive? Or is the US re-writing its history Malaysia-style?]
“China annexed Tibet in 1950. China murdered millions of its own citizens even up to 1989. Many of her prisoners are POLITICAL [Yes, but what on earth does this have to do with the alleged greatness of America?]. How could you be so epistemologically immature [???] as to miss that point?
“Australia is notorious for its outrageous treatment of boat people and other refugees. [True. In fact, for this and many other reasons, I loathe Australia’s current government almost as much as America’s] Indian students were afraid to apply to your universities due to a spate of violent attacks. [Fake news. It was only in Melbourne, and the attacks were on employees of 711 stores, most of whom happened to be Indian]. You forgot to mention all that.’
As I’m sure you clearly see without even reading my comments on it, far from removing or disproving any doubts that America is ‘great’, whatever that supposedly means, this ‘Tony Soprano’ diatribe, like similarly irrational ‘arguments’ in favour of Malaysia’s UMNO-BN and sundry other false and crooked regimes, only serves to support my thesis that fakery, finger-pointing, and other passionately-employed propaganda techniques can be highly confusing and even convincing.
Or, in short, as everybody knows and I’ve endlessly repeated previously, bullshit has a way of baffling brains. And the fact that today we’re apparently faced with more phony facts, fake news and views and other forms of bullshit than ever before is the most compelling possible case for us citizens to all think as critically as we can.