The worst lies are a mosaic made of a thousand truths
We live in a world of noise. Information, almost infinite, is streamed at us relentlessly, bombarding our minds and overwhelming our capacity to distill truth. In such a world, it is very easy for narrative weavers to create truth. After all, there are facts everywhere, enough that they can carefully select the ones that suit their message and create a story that is not only convincing, but is actually full of true facts. The lie is in the selection of facts, and the choice to omit ones that do not serve the narrative.
And yet… I believe with even a modest degree of focus, most of us would be capable of separating out the informational wheat from the chaff. I think we could know more truth with a bit more effort, if we really had to. The question is, how can that be done?
The Oracle and the Glock
This takes me to the ‘Oracle and the Glock’. One imagines an omniscient personage – for the sake of visualisation a faceless, spectral figure dressed in black body armour with empty, luminescent blue eyes, in the fires of which glows the flame of perfect knowledge. This is the Oracle. She is armed with a Glock 9mm pistol, black to match her general appearance.
Her M.O. is that she approaches you and places the barrel of the pistol against your temple. She then asks you a question; a question to which she, in her omniscience, already knows the correct answer. The game is quite simple. If you give her this correct answer, you live. If you fail to answer or you answer incorrectly, she will blow your brains out. But because the Oracle has some sense of justice, she will allow you enough time to scroll through the internet in search of whatever information you need to support your answer.
The question is this: In such a world, would more people come closer to the truth than is currently the case? In other words, how much is the plague of disinformation a result of willful ignorance, laziness and dishonest self-interest, and how much is a genuine artefact of the digital age, or the pernicious activities of Russian bots?
Who has Dominion over election results?
Perhaps it helps to consider a concrete example. Let’s take, for instance, the results of the 2020 US Presidential Election, in which Joe Biden is said to have defeated Donald Trump. Imagine the Oracle asked you this question, “If the 2020 election had been run entirely absent electoral fraud, mail-in ballot stuffing or manipulation of electronic voting machines, would Joe Biden still have been declared the winner?”
If you are a left-leaning, college educated Coastal American or a middle class European, you would casually answer this question with a ‘yes of course’ while sipping a £10 craft IPA with your friends on the sunny terrace of a trendy London bar. But imagine the question came while you were in the Oracle’s dark crucible, on your knees, transfixed by the piercing blue light of her spectral eyes?
I hope you would at least take the time to go through the evidence carefully – after all, the Oracle is patient. I hope the pressure of the Glock’s cold steel against your temple would make you just a little distrustful of the first few hits you got from Google. I hope you would dig a little deeper. You might think, ‘obviously the election wasn’t rigged. But, well, what if I’m wrong?’. Maybe you would dig out the footage of the vote count in Cook County or Philadelphia and look, really look, at what happened around 11 O’Clock that evening. Maybe you would listen, for the first time, to what Trump said that night and the next day and search for the lie in his eyes. What answer would he give to the Oracle? And if he really believed it was rigged, is he just a crazy, egotistical old man? Or did he know something I don’t? Maybe you would read the documents submitted by the Republicans in all the court cases that were dismissed for lack of standing.
You might even listen, for the first time in your life, to what intelligent people on the other side think is the right answer to this question. Not because you necessarily agree with them, but because there’s a chance you might be wrong. I certainly hope you would search for the truth, as if your life depended on it.
Because I know I would.