The Illusion of Mis(Dis)information
I remember a day when people were encouraged, and often rewarded, for having ideas. I could replace the words “having ideas” with “thinking.” There really isn’t much difference. People don’t just “think,” they solve problems, they come up with solutions, they formulate opinions, they fix things by thinking. That is what thinking is meant for. Yes, maybe we used to think too much, and then meditation came into the modern world (it has always been around) which has its purpose in just being, not thinking, but that’s another story. Let’s stick with “ideas” and “thinking” for now.
When I was a kid, we were taught critical thinking was an attribute, and through our experience we learned that ideas came from critical thinking. Ideas were the godhead. Good ideas of course were the ultimate goal, but having bad ideas (in other words “making mistakes”) was all part of the creative process and should be expected on the road to success. How many times did we hear as kids about all the bad lightbulbs that went through Edison’s lab before the one that lit the world came to be? Or how many times we heard, “when you fail, try, try, try again.” So, an idea, when it first lights up in our minds, is just that, an idea. There was nothing right or wrong about it, it just was. And it was often good.
How do ideas come about? Who knows? People think, they see a problem, and they attempt to solve it. An idea is not just: “I want to solve this problem,” but actually is a formulation of an end result that was constructed partially from inspiration and partially from information. You don’t have to be well educated to come up with an idea. Some fields may require some specific and detailed knowledge (like medicine and engineering, among many others), but an uneducated farmer could have a problem with feeding his chickens and come up with a clever idea to solve the problem. Most people know the story of Temple Grandin’s brilliant idea in the creation of the diagonal livestock pen—and she wasn’t a farmer, but was autistic. Good ideas can come from anywhere. The point here is that practically any idea is worth nurturing and investigating, certainly they are all worth listening to, regardless of their possible dubious nature.
We also learned as kids (at least my generation did) to filter out ideas that might be too unfounded to spend time contemplating. Ideas contradict other ideas, that is the nature of a lot of minds trying to solve one problem. We have always entertained all ideas (well, Hitler didn’t, Lenin and Stalin didn’t, Mao didn’t…hmmm, I wonder what these men had in common?) It was less likely for us to consider an idea about medicine from a car mechanic. But you would still listen; maybe the mechanic’s Ukrainian grandmother knew something about mushrooms and the full moon that Dr. Jones down at the clinic doesn’t know. When I was a kid this was not a far-fetched assumption, and not just for me, but for the grownups as well—at least the ones with open minds. We tended to often trust intuition, anecdotal experience and “old world knowledge” more than we do now.
I actually believe that everyone should have a voice, and it is ultimately the job of the listener to determine if that voice meets their own standards and needs or not. We don’t, and never have, needed Uncle Sam to tell us what we could, or could not, listen to. Uncle Sam has a voice too we should listen to, but ultimately we should decide if that voice is of positive use to us. Of course our new evolving culture isn’t being designed that way, we are only allowed to listen to those the culture has said are worth listening to, like the university trained and licensed physician and not your Ukrainian grandmother. In my opinion there are problems even with this but I won’t go too far into those weeds with this article. Let’s just stick with basic “free speech,” not so much with the criteria that determine if what someone says is worth listening to. Lets even stick with “the experts probably know best.” And for now leave grandma out of this—although we should still let her speak, and we should still listen.
So, if we live in a society where everyone is allowed to say whatever they want to say, which is essentially the primary tenet for free speech, we are then expected to do whatever we can to allow that to happen. If we do allow that to happen, and do not allow a governing body to determine what speech is ok to be spoken, and what speech is not ok to be spoken, then there is really nothing real about misinformation or disinformation. Is there? The “mis” and “dis” is an illusion.
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