How do we Pry Apart the True and Compelling from the False and Toxic?

cpu-stack

Stack of CPU’s. Shawn Stutzman, Pexels

David V Johnson | Aeon Ideas

When false and malicious speech roils the body politic, when racism and violence surge, the right and role of freedom of speech in society comes into crisis. People rightly begin to wonder what are the limits, what should be the rules. It is a complicated issue, and resolving it requires care about the exact problems targeted and solutions proposed. Otherwise the risk to free speech is real.

Propaganda from Russian-funded troll farms (boosted by Facebook data breaches) might have contributed to the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union and aided the United States’ election of Donald Trump as president. Conspiracy theories spread by alternative news outlets or over social media sometimes lead to outbreaks of violence. Politicians exploit the mainstream news media’s commitment to balance, to covering newsworthy public statements and their need for viewers or readers by making baseless, sensational claims.

In On Liberty (1859), John Stuart Mill offers the most compelling defence of freedom of speech, conscience and autonomy ever written. Mill argues that the only reason to restrict speech is to prevent harm to others, such as with hate speech and incitement to violence. Otherwise, all speech must be protected. Even if we know a view is false, Mill says, it is wrong to suppress it. We avoid prejudice and dogmatism, and achieve understanding, through freely discussing and defending what we believe against contrary claims.

Today, a growing number of people see these views as naive. Mill’s arguments are better suited to those who still believe in the open marketplace of ideas, where free and rational debate is the best way to settle all disputes about truth and falsity. Who could possibly believe we live in such a world anymore? Instead, what we have is a Wild West of partisanship and manipulation, where social media gurus exploit research in behavioural psychology to compel users to affirm and echo absurd claims. We have a world where people live in cognitive bubbles of the like-minded and share one another’s biases and prejudices. According to this savvy view, our brave new world is too prone to propaganda and conspiracy-mongering to rely on Mill’s optimism about free speech. To do so is to risk abetting the rise of fascist and absolutist tendencies.

In his book How Fascism Works (2018), the American philosopher Jason Stanley cites the Russian television network RT, which presents all sorts of misleading and slanted views. If Mill is right, claims Stanley, then RT and such propaganda outfits ‘should be the paradigm of knowledge production’ because they force us to scrutinise their claims. But this is a reductio ad absurdum of Mill’s argument. Similarly, Alexis Papazoglou in The New Republic questions whether Nick Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister turned Facebook’s new vice president of global affairs and communication, will be led astray by his appreciation of Mill’s On Liberty. ‘Mill seemed to believe that an open, free debate meant the truth would usually prevail, whereas under censorship, truth could end up being accidentally suppressed, along with falsehood,’ writes Papazoglou. ‘It’s a view that seems a bit archaic in the age of an online marketplace of memes and clickbait, where false stories tend to spread faster and wider than their true counterpoints.’

When important and false beliefs and theories gain traction in public conversation, Mill’s protection of speech can be frustrating. But there is nothing new about ‘fake news’, whether in Mill’s age of sensationalist newspapers or in our age of digital media. Nonetheless to seek a solution in restricting speech is foolish and counterproductive – it lends credibility to the illiberal forces you, paradoxically, seek to silence. It also betrays an elitism about engaging with those of different opinions and a cynicism about affording your fellow citizens the freedom to muddle through the morass on their own. If we want to live in a liberal democratic society, rational engagement is the only solution on offer. Rather than restricting speech, we should look to supplement Mill’s view with effective tools for dealing with bad actors and with beliefs that, although false, seem compelling to some.

Fake news and propaganda are certainly problems, as they were in Mill’s day, but the problems they raise are more serious than the falsity of their claims. After all, they are not unique in saying false things, as the latest newspaper corrections will tell you. More importantly, they involve bad actors: people and organisations who intentionally pass off false views as the truth, and hide their nature and motives. (Think Russian troll farms.) Anyone who knows that they are dealing with bad actors – people trying to mislead – ignores them, and justifiably so. It’s not worth your time to consider the claim of someone you know is trying to deceive you.

There is nothing in Mill that demands that we engage any and all false views. After all, there are too many out there and so people have to be selective. Transparency is key, helping people know with whom, or what, they are dealing. Transparency helps filter out noise and fosters accountability, so that bad actors – those who hide their identity for the purpose of misleading others – are eliminated.

Mill’s critics fail to see the truth that is mixed in with the false views that they wish to restrict, and that makes those views compelling. RT, for instance, has covered many issues, such as the US financial crisis, economic inequality and imperialism more accurately than mainstream news channels. RT also includes informed sources who are ignored by other outlets. The channel might be biased toward demeaning the US and fomenting division, but it often pursues this agenda by speaking truths that are not covered in mainstream US media. Informed news-watchers know to view RT and all news sources with skepticism, and there is no reason not to extend the same respect to the entire viewing public, unless you presume you are a better judge of what to believe than your fellow citizens.

Mill rightly thought that the typical case wasn’t one of views that are false, but views that have a mixture of true and false. It would be far more effective to try to engage with the truth in views we despise than to try to ban them for their alleged falsity. The Canadian psychologist and YouTube sensation Jordan Peterson, for example, says things that are false, misogynistic and illiberal, but one possible reason for his following is that he recognises and speaks to a deficit of meaning and values in many young men’s lives. Here, the right approach is to pry apart the true and compelling from the false and toxic, through reasoned consideration. This way, following Mill’s path, presents a better chance of winning over those who are lost to views we despise. It also helps us improve our own understanding, as Mill wisely suggests.Aeon counter – do not remove

David V Johnson

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article here.

Socially Conscious Hip-Hop

Hopsin – Ill Mind Of Hopsin 7

It’s us, find power
Live life, mind power
It’s us, find power
Live life, mind power

Yo, fuck anybody I might alarm
Life is a tour, I sit and ride along
Taking some notes and then I write the song
I’m staring down the road my life has gone
Is this where I belong?
Is it wrong to not believe in right and wrong?
My mental state is fucking me up
And I cry the pond while asking you for some answers
But we don’t have that type of bond
That my desires gone with the way that I’ve been living lately
If I died right now, you’d turn the fire on
Sick of this bullshit, niggas call me a sellout
Cause I hopped on Christianity so strongly then I fell out
Now I’m avoiding questions like a scared dog with his tail down
Feeling so damn humiliated because they looking at me like I’m hellbound
What story should I tell now? I’ll just expose the truth
I’m so close to the fucking edge, I should be close to you
But who the fuck are You? You never showed the proof
And I’m only fucking human yo, what am I supposed to do?
There’s way too many different religions with vivid descriptions
Begging all fucking men and women to listen
I can’t even beat my dick without getting convicted
These ain’t wicked decisions, I got different intentions
I’ve been itching to get it, I’ve been given assistance
But the whole fucking system is twisted
Now I’m dealing with this backlash because Marcus isn’t a Christian
And I’ve been told that my sinful life is an addiction
But I can’t buy it, it’s just too hard to stand beside it
I need an answer and humans can’t provide it
I look at the Earth and Sun and I can tell a genius man designed it
It’s truly mind blowing, I can’t deny it
Is heaven real? Is it fake? Is it really how I fantasize it?
Where’s the Holy Ghost at? How long it take Man to find it?
My mind’s a nonstop tape playing and I can’t rewind it
You gave me a Bible and expect me not to analyze it?
I’m frustrated and you provoked it
I’m not reading that motherfucking book because a human wrote it
I have a fucking brain, you should know it
You gave it to me to think to avoid every useless moment
It was a mission that I had to abort
Cause humans be lying with such an inaccurate source
It’s gon’ be hard to put me back on the course
Next Jehovah’s Witness to come on my porch
I swear I’m slammin’ the door
A lot of folks believe it though, but I’m not surprised
Humans are fucking dumb, still thinking that Pac’s alive
I ain’t trying to take your legacy and torch it down
I’m just saying: I ain’t heard shit from the horse’s mouth
Just sheep always telling stories of older guys
Who were notarized by you when you finally vocalized
Now I’m supposed to bow my head and close my eyes
And somehow let the Holy Ghost arise
Sounds like a fucking Poltergeist
Show yourself and then boom it’s done
Every rumor’s gone, I no longer doubt this shit, you’re the One
I’ll admit that my sinful ways was stupid fun
And all my old habits can hop onto of a roof to plunge
I’ll donate to a charity that could use the funds
Fuck the club, instead of bitches I’d hang with a group of nuns
And everyone that I ran into would know what I came to do
I wouldn’t take a step unless it was in the name of You
I hate the fact that I have to believe
You haven’t been chatting with me like you did Adam and Eve
And I ain’t seen no fucking talking snake unravel from trees
With an apple to eat, that shit never happens to me
I don’t know if you do or don’t exist, it is driving me crazy
Send your condolences, this is me reaching to you so don’t forget
If hell is truly your pit of fire and I get thrown in it
I’mma probably regret the fact that I ever wrote this shit
My gut feeling says it’s all fake
I hate to say it but fuck it, shit I done lost faith
This isn’t a small phase, my perspective’s all changed
My thoughts just keep picking shit apart all day
And in my mind I make perfect sense
If you aren’t real then all my prayers aren’t worth a cent
That would mean that I could just make up what my purpose is
And I could just sit in church and say “fuck” in the services
Man what if Jesus was a facade?
Then that would mean the government’s god
I feel like they’ve been brainwashing us with a lot
So much that we don’t even notice that we’re stuck in the box
Man everything is “what if”, why is it always “what if”
Planet Earth “what if”, the universe “what if”
My sacrifice “what if”, my afterlife “what if”
Every fucking thing that deals with you is fucking suspect
I’m fucking done, I’m fucking done
This is my fucking life and I’m living it, I’m having fun
If you really care for me, prove that I need to live carefully
But I’ll be damned if I put my own pleasure aside for an afterlife that isn’t even guaranteed
We are you, and you’re us, stop playing games
My life’s all I got, and heaven is all in my brain
And when I feel I am in hell, my ideas are what get me through pain
Do as you please, and I’ll just do me
I’m a human, I’ll stay in my lane
Ill mind

Tupac Shakur – Changes

Come on come on
I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
“Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?”
I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.
My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.
First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers.
Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.
“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said.
2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead.
I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes.
Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?
I’d love to go back to when we played as kids
but things changed, and that’s the way it is

[Bridge w/ changing ad libs]
Come on come on
That’s just the way it is
Things’ll never be the same
That’s just the way it is
aww yeah
[Repeat]

I see no changes. All I see is racist faces.
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races we under.
I wonder what it takes to make this one better place…
let’s erase the wasted.
Take the evil out the people, they’ll be acting right.
‘Cause both black and white are smokin’ crack tonight.
And only time we chill is when we kill each other.
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.
And although it seems heaven sent,
we ain’t ready to see a black President, uhh.
It ain’t a secret don’t conceal the fact…
the penitentiary’s packed, and it’s filled with blacks.
But some things will never change.
Try to show another way, but they stayin’ in the dope game.
Now tell me what’s a mother to do?
Bein’ real don’t appeal to the brother in you.
You gotta operate the easy way.
“I made a G today” But you made it in a sleazy way.
Sellin’ crack to the kids. “I gotta get paid,”
Well hey, well that’s the way it is.

[Bridge]

[Talking:]
We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.

And still I see no changes. Can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war on the streets and the war in the Middle East.
Instead of war on poverty,
they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.
And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do.
But now I’m back with the facts givin’ ’em back to you.
Don’t let ’em jack you up, back you up, crack you up and pimp smack you up.
You gotta learn to hold ya own.
They get jealous when they see ya with ya mobile phone.
But tell the cops they can’t touch this.
I don’t trust this, when they try to rush I bust this.
That’s the sound of my tool. You say it ain’t cool, but mama didn’t raise no fool.
And as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped and I never get to lay back.
‘Cause I always got to worry ’bout the payback.
Some buck that I roughed up way back… comin’ back after all these years.
Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat. That’s the way it is. uhh

[Bridge ’til fade:]
Some things will never change

Dead Prez – Propaganda

[Intro: news snippets]
“Let me now turn, to our program for the future…”
“The economy right now, is extremely supportive of the president and his
policies”
“FBI scientists have found chemical traces, consistent with a bomb or a
missle, on a piece of wreckage…”
“Police using clubs and tear gas against demonstrators…”
“They called me a mother -(bleeped out)-ing so-and-so…and a white
facist…like they said, ‘you’re getting some of your own medicine’…”

[Singing:]
Telling lies, to our vision
Telling lies, to our children
Telling lies, to our babies
Only truth, can take us away

[Verse 1:]
You can’t fool all the people all of the time
But if you fool the right ones, then the rest will fall behind
Tell me who’s got control of your mind? your world view?
Is it the news or the movie you’re taking your girl to? (uh)
Know what i’m sayin cause Uncle Sam got a plan
If you examine what they tellin us then you will understand
What they plantin in the seeds of the next generation
Feeding our children miseducation
No one knows if there’s UFO’s or any life on mars
Or what they do when they up in the stars
Because i don’t believe a word of what the president said
He filling our head with lies got us hypnotised
When he be speaking in cold words about crime and poverty
Drugs, welfare, prisons, guns and robbery
It really means us, there’s no excuse for the slander
But what’s good for the goose, is still good for the gander
See…

[Chorus:]
I don’t believe Bob Marley died from cancer
31 years ago i woulda been a panther
They killed Huey cause they knew he had the answer
The views that you see in the news is propaganda

[Singing:]
Telling lies, to our vision
Telling lies, to our children
Telling lies, to our babies
Only truth, can take us away

[Verse 2:]
I don’t want no computer chip in my arm
I don’t wanna die by a nuclear bomb
I say we all rush the pentagon, pull out guns
And grab the intercom, my first word’s will be I believe
Man made God, outta ignorance and fear
If God made man, then why the hell would he put us here?
I thought he’s supposed to be the all loving
The same God who let Hitler put the Jews in the oven
We don’t fall for the regular shit, they try to feed us
All this half-ass leadership, flippin position
They turn politcian and shut the hell up and follow tradition
For your TV screen, is telling lies to your vision
Every channel got some brainwashed cop shit to watch
Running up in niggas cribs claiming that they heard shots
It’s a plot, but busta can you tell me who’s greedier?
Big corporations, the pigs or the media?
Sign of the times, terrorism on the rise
Commercial airplanes, falling out the sky like flies
Make me wonder what secrets went down with Bob Brown (?)
Who burnt churches to the ground with no evidence found?
It’s not coincidence, it’s been too many studied incidents
It coulda been the Klan who put that bomb at the Olympics
But it probably was the FBI, deep at the call
Cuz if they make us all panic then they can start martial law

[Chorus:]
I don’t believe Bob Marley died from cancer
31 years ago i woulda been a panther
They killed Huey cause they knew he had the answer
The views that you see in the news is propaganda

I don’t believe Bob Marley died from cancer
31 years ago i woulda been a panther
You killed Huey cause you knew he had the answer
The views that you see in the news is muthafuckin propaganda

[Singing:]
Police is telling lies fooling millions
What are they teaching our kids in these school buildings?
Televised, enterprised in all the killing
Controlling our lives, this ain’t living
No this ain’t living

[Chant:]
FBI, CIA
ATF, KKK
IRS, TNT
CBS, NBC

FBI, CIA
ATF, KKK
IRS, TNT
CBS, NBC

[Singing:]
Telling lies, to our vision
Telling lies, to our children
Telling lies, to our babies
Only truth, can take us away

[News snippet:]
“uh, we view each other uh, with uh, a great love and a great understanding and that we
try to expand this to the general, uh, black population and also people,
oppressed people all over the world, and, i think that uh, we differ from
uhmm… uh, some other groups simply because we understand the system better
than uh, most uh, groups understand the system, and uh, with this
realisation, uh, we attempt to form a strong political base based in the
community with the only strength that we have and that’s the strength of uh,
a potentially destructive force if we don’t get freedom.”