By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Nov. 10, 2023)
The explosive expansion in telecommunications has brought to our eyes, ears, voices and fingertips information, facts and an avenue to knowledge and greater understanding. This unprecedented access to information via smartphones, Wi-Fi connection and the internet means that there may well be more facts and less knowledge.
With the ease of access comes a flood of misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and alternative facts. This rush of information has caused great confusion and disorientation among large sections of the population. Some protest that they don’t know what to believe or who to trust.
Who to believe or trust? Are our schools, churches, leaders and other socialising institutions reliable sources? Should we trust our own beliefs or opinions? Where do ideas come from? Are the ideas and opinions we hold really ours, or are we simply repeating what we observe, read or hear without examining and interrogating them?
When I lived in the United States, I remember a bumper sticker that said, “The bible said it, I believe it, end of story”. Another way of making a similar expression is to say, “My country, right or wrong”. But the question looms large: Is unquestioned allegiance to anyone or anything wise or useful?
There is a radio programme called Scriptural Search. It grapples with the biblical text in search of meaning and answers to everyday issues and problems. It makes for good listening even though one may not always agree with either the host, guests or conclusions. It is the search that matters.
Similarly, James Baldwin, the celebrated American literary giant, said, “I am most critical of my country because it is all that I’ve got.”
Experience has shown that the mass mind is to be frowned on. It fosters groupthink and a single view of everything. And we all know the dangers of a single story. It can lead to draconian measures, misinformation and disinformation.
We are not far removed from the days when powerful forces told us that the Covid vaccine offered complete prevention and protection against infection, transmission, hospitalisation and death from the illness. Anyone, including highly qualified doctors, virologists and epidemiologists, not to mention ordinary citizens with common sense who questioned the preferred narrative, were chastised and vilified.
Many lost their livelihood and much more. Now, we are told after all of the carnage that the authorities never said that the vaccine offered complete protection. Experiences over the last two years constitute living proof of the dangers of the single story.
We must all say Never Again. Never must we allow our emotions and actions to be driven by fear, the lowest of all vibrations. In the darkest hour, we must force ourselves to stop and think.
The futuristic thinker Alvin Tofler said the illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read or write but those who refuse to learn, unlearn and relearn. This is a profound thought that more of us should embrace. Nothing is settled for all times. Change is the only constant. We must always look for information that challenges our worldview and be prepared to do away with untested, outmoded and refuted ideas.
Critical thinking is fundamental to self-development. Only through critical thinking can we truly become problem solvers. No one disputes that our country is saddled with a mountain of problems. More of us need to learn to question.
There is a great danger in surrendering one’s thoughts. Everyone must learn to process ideas for themselves. In the era of fake news and alternate facts, misinformation and disinformation, the search for knowledge takes on an even greater importance. The ancients were correct in saying, ‘She who knows that she knows little knows the most.’ An appreciation for the limits of your understanding is the engine that ought to propel us to go in search of more knowledge.
Even though we believe that the universe is knowable, we are confronted by the harsh reality that there are known knowns. These are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we know that we don’t know. But there are unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Therefore, how do we arrive at the truth? Are facts truth, and are truth factual? Some say that facts and truths are different things. But are they? A fact is something that is indisputable, based on empirical research and quantifiable measures. Facts go beyond theories. They are proven through calculation or experience.
Truth is discovered facts. For example, the chemical formula for water is H2O. Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This formula holds true whether we are on the continent of Africa, in Australia, or Antigua. It is also true that an egg from a woman and a sperm from a man allow for conception and the miracle of a newborn baby. It is a fact and true that Ralph Gonsalves has been prime minister of our country since March 29, 2001. Therefore, truth, like facts, is universal and testable.
Sometimes, a given view is presented and repeated by the most respected and authoritative voices. It doesn’t mean that it is either factual or true. One of the best examples of this is Colin Powell’s persuasive but lying 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Powell’s performance led to the invasion of Iraq, the destruction of the country and the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis.
Similarly, one does not have a university degree to be wise and discerning. Wisdom is found in the simplest of places in the nick of time.
As it should, the search for facts and truth continues.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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