Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who Do You Trust?

The fallout from the Virginia Tech shootings continues, with this story of an Illinois high school student who was arrested for for "Disorderly Conduct" after writing an essay that "alarmed and disturbed" his English Teacher.

I was chatting with a coworker about this, and he was convinced that the media hadn't reported the whole story. Surely, he reasoned, no intelligent prosecutor would bother bringing charges in such a case. He was convinced, in part due to his own experiences with the media, that they'd left out parts of the story that were crucial to understanding it in the proper context. It was possible, to his mind, that the story's authors had gone so far as to completely alter the whole context of the story, through selective reporting of the facts, and filling in with speculation if they didn't have all the details.

(I'm reminded of the little "radio play" narrative that weaves its way through Prince's "Symbol" album. Kirstie Alley takes on the role of a reporter who at one point attempts to blackmail "the truth" out of the Artist, by threatening that if he doesn't part with some usable information, she'll have to make something up.)

Which brings up an interesting question. How do you decide who to trust? I've harped on the media often enough that I can't justify taking them at face value. But if you have to take everything they say not only with a grain of salt, or with an eye to bias, but as a possible outright deception, what purpose to the media serve at all? And where would you get your information from?

In a modern, technological society, much of the information that we receive about the world is second-hand at best. And anyone passing on information can decide to present that information in a way that leads an audience to come to certain conclusions. People attempting to rally support for a cause, or rouse people to action are notorious for placing their crusades above the truth. But if you trust nothing you haven't seen yourself, you become woefully uninformed about the world - it's too big a place to see it all, all the time.

So you go with what sounds good, what fits your current understanding of the world, and/or the word of people you don't think will lead you astray. And then what? What do you do with that? How do you act on information, if you understand that it can't be made reliable?

1 comment:

ben said...

The chances that multiple independent news sources (i.e. make sure you're not re-reading AP news wires) coming up with the same bias repeatedly is very small. This is especially true if you read globally. Which is why I read cnn, bbc, huffington post, new zealand herald, seattle times, boston globe, al jazeera, and slew of science journals and code-monkey zines... pretty much everyday.

News stopped being a trusty worthy source of information when they had to start making money and thus became entertainment... something that happened around the time you and I were born.

So - trust no-one.

As a side note - I read the plays by the VT shooter... dude - that's not nearly as disturbing as even a G-rated Tarrintino flick (as if that'd ever happen) or any King "novel".

I'm so glad I did high school in the "good old days". I got caught stealing chemicals to make explosives in high school to use with the anarchists cook book (what red blooded kid doesn't do that)... I'd probably land in gitmo for that these days.