Ex Post Facto

We are told that we live in a “post-fact” world. If you grew up in a print-based culture like I did (and you actually still use books to round out your understanding of the world), then this is alarming.

After months of brutal electioneering, a candidate has been chosen. He might be the perfect choice for a world where fact and science has been swapped for tweets and relying on his “gut” or something other than his brain for decision-making.

If it was merely our reality TV president relying on something other than fact-checking and data, then jokes and innuendo might be the end of it. However, it’s each and every single one of us “googling” on our smartphones that is driving dismissal of fact. Facebook then amplifies it ten-fold.

Like most nearly every aspect of life in America these days—the problem of ____________ (fill-in the blank) is someone else’s fault. Actually, most of the issues staring us directly in the face could be rectified with a little backbone and character. Like so-called fake news. If we didn’t consume so much of this fucking dreck, then there wouldn’t be a market for assholes like this guy, making shit up in his basement, and laughing all the way to the bank. Isn’t capitalism grand?

Fake news-free, at Curtis Memorial Library

Fake news-free, at Curtis Memorial Library

I’m crafting this blog post from the confines of Curtis Memorial Library’s study area, in Brunswick. I’m reminded once again that there was a time in my life—back at the University of Maine’s Folger Library—when I’d “lose” two hours or more some days, reading through stacks of newspapers from all over the country and even the world. That’s how we stayed current on the news of the day, back when I was a college student.

This isn’t mere nostalgia for the past. I’ll grant you that newspapers haven’t always been the most reliable sources of news. However, there was a time when there existed ethical expectations of journalists, and America had some great daily newspapers (and magazines highlighting fact-based/fact-checked, long-form narratives), back before the internets hollowed-out newsrooms and elevated the status of click bait.

Relying on print, not my smartphone.

Relying on print, not my smartphone.

I had an exchange of notes recently with an old high school friend, now living in another state. He was pretty discouraged about the state of news, the pitched battles waged on Facebook, and the reality that facts no longer mattered. He was talking about scaling back his consumption of social media. My thought was, “good for him.”

So what’s the path forward for those of us that care about facts? I’m not really sure.

I take time out each week in the midst of a life scurrying hither and yon as a citizen of free agent nation, to cobble together 500 or more words, looking out towards the horizon. Coupled with the challenges of the past few months, working towards unloading our house, while also writing an article for pay here and there—I’m not always sure any of this kind of work matters any longer. Maybe I’m like the snake who gets cut in two and still continues twitching. At some point, all of this may go dark—who really knows?

One thing I do know. I’ve stopped trying to shore up my own preconceived notions with digital sandbags supplied by Zuckerberg and the folks from Google. I sure as hell ain’t surfing fake news sites.

I’ve enjoyed getting back to reading books the past few months. The kind that represent some intellectual heft. Adding names like Chomsky to my “diet,” along with brushing up on Marxism and anarchism, have served as tonics to my intellect—much the way that whole, plant-based foods have boosted my physical capacity the past two months.

I’d encourage you to adopt something substantial and filling in your own news-gathering. Rather than opt for the empty calories offered by Facebook and a myriad of fake news and other sites that are the equivalent of a bag of junk, or fast food, visit a library, and add a few books to your weekly info acquisition.

Who knows what would happen if 100 people did it and then, got 100 of their friend and family to do the same thing? Maybe it would start a movement, or something.

6 thoughts on “Ex Post Facto

  1. All news is fake news, and Chomsky is thoroughly a part of the system he claims to be critiquing.

    Some pills are harder to swallow than others.

    • LP, I can’t let you off the hook with your maxim, “all news is fake news.” This would dismiss any attempt at honest journalism. I also think it’s disingenuous to lump traditional reporting with the kind of dreck being produced by the likes of Paul Horner and his ilk.

      While I can argue there is a paucity of that kind of boots-on-the-ground work being produced these days (for a host of reasons), there are still journalists out there that I trust and read their work. I’d cite Glenn Greenwald as an investigative journalist who files hard news stories that aren’t fake. Chris Hedges is still producing content at Truthdig that is hard-hitting and worth considering.

      Chomsky isn’t a journalist, and my mention of him wasn’t intended to lump him into the mix. However, he’s one of the last public intellectuals still producing material that I’d argue is worth reading and considering, and he’s been at it now for more than 50 years.

      He is an uncompromising critic of American society and our so-called “liberal intelligentsia.” He also offers his critique as an anarchist, which I find intriguing. In fact, rereading his classic work on the subject reminded me why I was drawn to anarchist theory in the first place.

  2. There are, perhaps, such things as pure facts. GDP in November was such and such, for example. But as such facts have no meaning. Whoever is passing on the fact as news, whether CNN, Fox or Chris Hedges, presents it in the context of the meaning that each wants it to carry. More challenging, though, is that each of us seeks only the “facts” that support and reinforce our own positions, that comfort us. I give Hedges great, great credit for being exactly so uncomforting, for making us confront the unpleasant and disconcerting, but that alone does give him any monopoly on “the facts, just the facts.”

    Pontius Pilate, universally reviled as a bad man, nonetheless spoke a very hard wisdom when he asked, What is Truth?

    Hedges has spent most of his adult life as an outcast from the system, as an outsider who critiques from outside. Chomsky, however, has never paid any such price. Chomsky’s critiques can be valuable, but I find it notable the system has always had a comfortable, quiet, well-compensated place for Chomsky. Could it be that he is still a part of the family, the cranky uncle of sorts, or more sinister, that he is a form of controlled dissent–let Chomsky spout his stuff, attract the malcontents around him into a controllable lot, one that believes they don’t have the power to change the system and so live their lives playing that role of cranky old uncle without ever threatening anything?

    To cover Greenwald quickly, I am told on the classified side a very different version of events surrounding our dissenter in Moscow than is publicly presented by Greenwald, or others. Frankly, I don’t know which account is true, or if any of them are, but I must remind you that honest, truth-seeking journalists can be and have been played like fine violins in the past, and still are.

    Speaking of cranky old uncles, certainly you are enjoying the spectacle of Green Jill Stein ripping off over seven million dollars from the suckers, at least six million of which will likely stay in her own accounts. She polishes up her own lefty creds, gets a few minutes attention, and hasn’t a chance in Hell of changing anything, but oddly, her own pockets get well-lined in the process.

    Let’s go back to the whole point of “fake news.” Who decides what’s fake and what isn’t? Horner claims to have started the Amish vote for Trump biz, and yet that’s an AP article–and more importantly, there was a significant voter drive in Pennsylvania and a “get out the vote” effort by drivers. Where does the fake end or the real begin? Branson did vocally encourage a Led Zep reuinion tour, Jimmy Page publicly said he was up for it, it was Plant that said no, he wasn’t a jukebox. Taylor Swift no doubt grossed over $365m, and you betcha JayZ has inquired about the rights to Prince’s catalog, no different than Michael Jackson’s people buying the Beatles catalog. Where does the fake end and the real begin?

    The only way I can accept the term in any form is that it demonstrates how powerful emotion is, and how easily emotion can be stirred to generate absurd levels of self-identification and interest in people. An 1835 farmer could only be stirred to such levels of emotion by something that truly, directly affected him, such as crop loss. But what remains unclear and all the marketing experts know this is that the line between aroused emotion and a particular action are still unclear and unpredictable. Paul Horner thinks he elected Trump? Hogwash. All he did was muddy the waters and make a lot of money, too.

    The label “fake news” is about control, and it’s about muddying the waters so that only a few labels (CNN, Fox, the usual suspects) can project themselves as authoritative. Screw them, and screw “fake news” for the camel’s nose under the tent for the censorship that it really is. Remember, everything that Hedges writes, and maybe Greenwald, can easily be lumped under the heading of “fake news.” As always, the soundest advice is to ignore what is said and pay attention to what is done (the secret to Hedges’ power, btw). That’s what elected Trump, too.

  3. So what is truth?

    I think it was Goebbels who said something to the effect (I’m paraphrasing) that the bigger the lie and the frequency of how often you tell it conditions people to believe just about anything. Corporate media channels have been pushing lies of all shapes and sizes for awhile, now.

    Stein’s reason for requesting recounts in several states seems to be due to their being evidence that vote totals were tampered with in several states. The researchers who first discovered them brought them to Democrats first, but they were content to “go along, to get along” and quick to validate Trump’s victory. Since Stein and Greens weren’t “on the team,” it made sense for them to pursue this in order to ensure the legitimacy of future elections. I don’t dismiss the notion that it benefits Greens to keep this alive, not to “line their pockets,” but to show that as an alternative to the two-party duopoly, they care about voting results and legitimate elections, which wasn’t something the Democrats were too keen about a few days ago (but now seem to be coming around to).

    Voting fraud is nothing new. I think back to 2000, where there were a host of irregularities in Florida, to name just one state that got the lion’s share of attention in the Bush/Gore race that year. There’s actually a really good book about that race, written by labor organizer, Jane McAlevey. She was part of a team on the ground doing the prep work to set-up what could have been a successful statewide recount, but Gore’s campaign shut them down.

    Investigative journalist, Greg Palast, has tracked voting irregularities and fraud for several election cycles. Again, in 2004, in Ohio, more than 300,000 votes (ironically, mostly from blacks and browns, as well as students) were “lost, stolen, destroyed,” or left uncounted, according to Palast.

    Again, it was the Green Party, and their candidate at the time, David Cobb (Stein’s campaign manager in 2016) raising $800,000 in four days to fund the Ohio recount. It also sparked other investigations in other states. Their efforts served as a catalyst in what became a nationwide movement against black box voting. Again, Palast is one of the better sources on this topic.

  4. Here we just disagree. I don’t swallow the Green bunkum about Wisconsin, which ultimately boils down to “The Russians, the Russians!” The same crap line that Hillary used all through the campaign to explain away why she was so despised. If the Greens gave a rat’s ass about electoral fraud they would be investigating the millions of illegal aliens who somehow found their way into the voting booths, starting with California. They don’t. This is posturing and fund-raising, and likely Soros money being laundered into his continuing anti-Trump campaign. Are the Greens investigating the multi-billionaire funding large riots across the country? Thought not. Too easy to take the money and posture.

    Yes, the Republicans do crap, too. My absentee ballot for Florida for many years was probaby tossed into the bin because a) military and b) my name combined made it likely challenged, part of the Rove strategy.

    The single most powerful election reform the incoming President could do would be to require voter identification and proof of citizenship for voting for national offices. That would immediately filter down to state offices for obvious reasons. When some party appointee judge says “That’s un-Constitutional,” respond as did Lincoln: I, too, swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, which means I, too, interpret it, and you are interpreting it incorrectly. Cut funding wherever that fails to persuade. We’ll see.

    https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/ I toss this in per my last commnent, an article by Greenwald about how his and truthdig (Hedges) and other sites are targeted as “fake news” by the WaPo. Watch what they do, not what they say.

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