The Democratization of Truth

I am currently watching former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate investigative committee. I feel that it is important to do so, not for any political concerns (although the concerns I have will eventually manifest themselves politically), but for cultural concerns. Let me attempt to expound.

The growing tendency in America to distrust experts, and authority figures generally, stems in part from the corruption, partisanship and nefarious motives with which many traditional authority figures find themselves embroiled. But there is another factor which contributes to this growing mistrust, which isn’t the fault of the authority figures, but rather lies with the American people. For several decades now the citizenry of the United States (and Western societies generally, with several notable exceptions) have embraced and promulgated the idea that each and every individual has an equally valid opinion — globally. This narrative, which has now reached the status of paradigm, does not qualify the validity of personal opinion by reference to that person’s knowledgeability, expertise or education — it simply grants, a priori, that each and every human being has a valid opinion. Of course we can all agree that everyone has the right to their own opinion; and we even acknowledge the fact that there are many people who, in the tradition of the liberal arts, educate themselves on a wide range of matters, and therefore have the capacity to weigh in on those matters. What we cannot tolerate, however, is the wholesale democratization of expertise, to the point at which the average citizen becomes emboldened enough to knowingly overstep his intellectual authority and assert that his opinions on matters quite foreign to him are just as valid as anyone else’s.

We see this circus of public opinion playing out in the infantile stages of social media. Where we once handed the responsibility of collectively judging an individual to courts of law and seasoned journalists, we now see the growth of an outrage culture that employs the basest of human instincts to rally an anonymous Internet lynch mob against any and every suspected enemy of the mob’s particular agenda. The authority of sworn testimony, hard evidence and even full-scale FBI investigations are now being challenged by the authority of accusatory Facebook posts, unsubstantiated Tweets and poorly-researched (and poorly-produced) YouTube documentaries. The authority of the viral individual is in ascendence, and the more clicks and reposts he garners, the more authority he acquires vis à vis the traditional authoritarian figure.

So I watch the Comey testimony, (full video here, watch it because from here on out, I would like to receive the information that informs my opinions from the horse’s mouth. I will no longer be coerced into taking a position on a matter by the 140 characters of someone who is paid to make the matter salacious. There are sources of information and peddlers of information; and for a society with an almost instantaneous access to sources of information, it is terribly disappointing how often people accept peddled information at face value. And because I know that there will be a great deal of information peddled about this particular Senate hearing, with lots of juicy details cherry-picked and enhanced to boost circulation, I would like to encourage everyone to take some time out of their day and actually watch the damn thing.

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