Save the Encyclopedias!
Today the world is full of FAKE news. Some of it truly feels fabricated and crafted. Actual reporting of FACTS, sans opinion, is scarce. The culture war has infected everything in our society. Alternative facts have been postulated as a thing, but I submit there are no alternative facts. There are FACTS and then there is their interpretation and that interpretation can serve as an alternative narrative, but it is based on the SAME facts.
We lack that today, an agreement on facts. Everything seems relative and politically motivated. We are bathed in propaganda in this nation, though its source is not always the government. Corporations seeking to influence our buying decisions have been quite active here too. One would think that Americans would be good at sniffing out propaganda, but we seem quite obtuse. We are completely convinced that Russian propaganda qualifies as “hacking”. There is not even any debate on this only about whether the hacking was coordinated by one political party or simply a Putin attack vector.
We are so politically divided that we choose our facts based upon which side of the aisle we hail from. That was why the cover of my first book was Uncle Sam wearing eye patches, the one on his left eye read, Conservatism and the one on his right eye read, Liberalism.
That was over 7 years ago and I am not encouraging you to buy that book, because it was my first try. I was trying to sketch out the common ground that Americans share but which has been obscured by partisan alternative facts. During that time I tried to generate traction for the book and that meant social media. That meant engaging with zealots on both sides. Some of those discussions were exasperating due to the alternative facts.
How does one counter these alternative facts? We know that throughout history the controllers of the media, whether that be clay, stone, papyrus or paper, will try to rewrite history. We see succeeding rulers, races or conquerors destroying or overwriting those narratives. Egyptian hieroglyphic evidence is just one example of subsequent rulers altering the “facts” of history.
Nowadays the media is digital and with bots everywhere it is actually quite easy to remake the digital universe. This is an especially dangerous time, because “reality” and “facts” of the current time are pretty fluid. Try to find the photos of George W. Bush and Vlad Putin having such a fun time in Crawford, TX where the two men declared their steadfast friendship. Or a photo of Donald Rumsfeld with Saddam Hussein during the early 21st century. Recent events are fluid and subject to “spin” due to the culture war. It made social media discussions difficult.
I eventually stopped engaging there and figured the book just was not going to make it. “Pearls before swine”, I told myself and started searching Canadian real estate on the internet. Recent events have jarred me from my apathy. I have tried a different tack with Libertarian-Socialism: American Style , but still attempting to jar Americans from their partisan “facts”. However, I have faced very similar if not more vehement opposition when trying to counter partisan narratives, especially those revolving around why America should continue the Global War on Terror.
Islamophobia has infected a large portion of this nation. Fear and more fear is constantly being sold to this nation. Seal Team 6 TV show is loaded with the reasons why Americans should be VERY afraid.
Sometimes when engaging on these matters, I am faced with a lot of horrible stories about Mohammed being a rapist and a murderer and the whole religion based upon rape and murder. I am then bombarded with links supporting these contentions.
These web sites are detailed and professional looking…sometimes. That is what is so amazing to me, some of these sites pushing so much hate based upon shaky facts, are so slick. Where is the money coming from to sell this hateful narrative? I understand that Al Qaeda has produced many slick propaganda productions, but that just supports my position that facts are fluid today.
Historical facts should not be so fluid, but getting the supporting documentation for these facts can be difficult today. When everyone believes that the best way to support their narrative is links on the internet, how to counter the fact that links are so easily produced. Alternative historical facts can be generated to support the alternative narrative. How can I engage with these people with some hope of changing hearts and minds when basic agreement on facts so difficult?
In one particularly heated exchange I had an epiphany. There was a source for certain types of facts that had been largely retired in the 21st century. I had an old Encyclopedia Britannica published in 1966. This is at the embryonic stages of the culture war, but the Encyclopedia Britannica was published by a bunch of stodgy British dudes in the middle of the 20th century.
In 1966, facts were double checked and triple checked before even being considered for the real vetting process. A vetting process that may still decide to leave it out as not quite a FACT worthy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Encyclopedia Britannica was the gold standard back then. These are expensive hard copy books published before the culture war. Nobody doubted those facts then, so maybe it still mattered today.
I found the volume that had a couple of pages about Mohammed. The encyclopedic passage sounds a lot like the story of Moses or Jesus. There in the stodgy conservative British encyclopedia, a nation historically not all that fond of Arabs, is a narrative worthy of the founder of one of the world’s major religions. I photographed those pages and used them to continue the discussion beyond basic Islamophobia.
Having a very expensive old style physical Encyclopedia Britannica still had gravitas. The photos verified its publication before the culture war caused politics to leak into all aspects of American society. Now the discussion turned to actual texts within the Koran supporting this or that negative interpretation of Islam.
That opened up the Old Testament as part of the discussion. I could now point out that Lot offers up his daughters to be raped by the crowd rather than turn over the angels taking refuge at his home in Sodom. I mean if we start doing strict interpretation of the texts used by the Abrahamic religions, none of them can stand the scrutiny of 21st century morality. They all share the Old Testament.
I cannot say that I “won” that debate, but I felt like things toned down when I brought the “hard copy facts” of a mid-twentieth century encyclopedia. I felt that there was agreement that these historical facts were untouched and unadulterated by the culture war. These historical facts were widely accepted by ALL sides. These “hard copy facts” represent a yardstick that current narratives can be measured against.
Unfortunately, encyclopedias are scarce and those printed before 1970 are even scarcer. I now realize just how valuable these “ante culture war” publications have become. They represent a time when all sides agreed on the facts. Of course, in the case of science due to new discoveries, they are not as useful. They also are unable to cast “unbiased” light on recent history, which is why so many have been lost forever.
However, given that they serve a useful role in establishing HISTORICAL facts, I think they are being undervalued. Sans any archaeology that uncovers clay tablets showing the pyramids built by aliens or Aryans, we will stick with the Egyptians as the builders. It is hard to argue with these old style encyclopedias.
I have been thinking I may have to spin up a GoFundme page to start a non-profit to save encyclopedias printed between 1930 and 1970. What do you think? I have my Encyclopedia Britannica, so I don’t really need to acquire more. I am pushing Libertarian-Socialism: American Style, but maybe my true calling will be to squirrel away this information that we ALL AGREED was accurate once upon a time.