Truth and Propaganda

In the days before the printing press, and for a long time after, information was controlled by a minuscule group of people, who because of their monopoly were able to wield almost complete control over the beliefs of the general populace. Therefore the distributed propaganda favored the large, stable, monopolistic systems, whether they be a monarchy or organized religion.

No longer. The internet has distributed the locus of information control among the general populace and thus made propagandists of us all. The very nature of this democratization means that much of the distributed propaganda instead favors the diffuse, progressive, experimental ideas that themselves form the basis of our new systems of mass communication.

True, accurate information now exists in greater abundance, but in far greater proportional scarcity than before.

Accurate information is rarely emotionally compelling when compared to lies that have been designed specifically for the triggering of emotion in a targeted group. Therefore, because in regards to information for the general public, what is most emotionally compelling is what people are most willing to pay for and consume, the profit motive drives all propagandists, whether they be independent bloggers or large media conglomerates, to craft scandalous, controversial narratives that never resolve so long as they can generate attention and escalate so long as the public is entranced.

In the western world, detailed and entertaining information is now easier to get than food or water. But truth regarding contentious issues and moral quandaries is as difficult to obtain now as it was during the dark ages.

Not because the truth is nowhere to be found, but because we all believe we’ve already found it.

The Future of Ideas

A crude version of the steam engine existed in the first century AD. It was thought of as a novelty, a toy, an interesting spectacle. It was by no means utilized for pragmatic purposes or used to jump start a revolution in manufacturing and transport. In fact, it didn’t change the world at all.

We often think that good ideas and great works automatically gain popularity and prominence. We believe that good ideas win, and bad ideas lose. Perhaps on an extreme macro scale, this is true. But it took almost 2,000 years for steam power to transform the world, even though the basic principle was known in the first century.

Such a historical oddity forces us to consider something:

What if the revolutionary ideas of the future are already in existence?

Perhaps some obscure book collecting dust in a local library is the only one that really got things right. Or what if some new age author accidentally stumbled upon the true meaning of life?

What if an unknown and minor physicist has already discovered the principle that will allow for intergalactic travel in 1,000 years?

Such “what ifs” are fun to entertain, but how can they help us?

They help us to understand that our civilization is still young, and far from understanding the Universe, or optimizing our lives through technology.

And in the realms of psychology and philosophy, I doubt we’re even at the point of discovering a rudimentary steam engine. Our most profound ideas today will be looked back on as profoundly naive and misguided.

Keep your mind open. Read the obscure and strange. Be skeptical of the popular and widely accepted.

Because when you look back at history one clear pattern comes into view:

Everyone was wrong about everything, except for a few brilliant weirdos.