Orwell Trumps Roddenberry

I’m seventy-four years old and slowing down a bit but unlike some of my contemporaries I’ve always bought into whatever the next new technology happened to be. I’ve carried an iPhone since the first generation. I use Twitter quite a bit today and spend a lot of time on-line. And on and on….

As a youngster I was a sci-fi reading geek living in Hialeah, Florida at a time when we had only a limited number of news sources. I think we had three or four local TV channels that we received over the air (no cable or satellite.) If you wanted tv news you had to wait until 6pm or 11pm to watch short segments of headline news. Very little of the news was of the ‘opinion’ variety and these were clearly labeled. We also received some from the radio but mostly we read the paper for our news.

People would sit out on the front porch reading the paper and drinking coffee or some-such and from time to time they’d wave to their neighbors doing the same across the street. Often they would join the neighbors for coffee and talk about things including the news of the day. Arguments were usually light and uncontentious. We had fewer sources, so we seldom talked about how they lied and misled us. Still, the papers were often wrong in their facts, but seldom ideologically based and they would print corrections sometimes when they clarified their reports. Page six of the paper usually was where the opinion pieces were, headed up by the “editorials.” Again, opinions were clearly labeled as such.

I recently had a twitter exchange regarding the double standard being applied to the evaluation of Donald Trump v Hillary Clinton. I’m not a huge fan of Hillary, but I’m a liberal democrat and I supported her when she became the nominee. In my twitter exchange I suggested that if HRC had said and done even one of the things that Donald Trump openly admits he has said and done, she would have been an immediately unelectable outcast and probably worse. If she had just said, “Vladimir Putin has a firm handshake” she would have labeled a traitor.

Of course, in response I received “proof” that Hillary is a ball grabber in the form of a picture of Florence Henderson in a broadway show of some sort. But while that silliness prompted me to express myself on this subject, it really isn’t important to me.

My point is one that has been made before and will be made again. I fear that admitting I’m a liberal democrat has ruined my chances of persuading some, but I have always been honest to a fault and it has generally served me well. (As a CPA, I lost tax clients from time to time because I refused to take advantage of some ambiguities in the tax law to their advantage. You can never get to be a rich tax preparer that way.)

I think we now have so many millions of publishers of opinion pieces (I’m writing one right now) that identifying the “TRUTH” has become almost impossible. Even seeking the truth is rare. Entire news channels are on 24/7 broadcasting what they say is news, but is actually far more often opinion or, more nefariously, deliberately fake-news. Merely stating one’s opinion on an interview show now often ‘becomes’ the news. We have come to a point in our history where opinion is more important and more persuasive than fact.

Bertrand Russell said, “If fifty-million people say a foolish thing, its still a foolish thing.”

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

These guys certainly didn’t conceptualize the social media age in which everyone with a keyboard or a cell-phone can publish foolish things that would travel around the world in time it takes to utter the word ‘shoe.’ And the incredible volume of foolish things uttered mostly drowns out attempts to provide “truth.” And these are ‘searchable, heaven help us.

Worse, our ability to communicate ideas when combined with our difficulty in culling out the truth from the falsity makes our collective IQ far lower as each day passes. Even science and scientifically proven facts are rendered impotent because their methods invariably admit that ‘there is more to be learned’ and this admission leaves science open to the total discrediting of the validity of its findings by those whose short term interests this serves.

We are in a divided cess pool of ideas, red on the right, blue on the left. As each idea is put forth, be it red or blue, it is met instantly with a scoop of sludge of the opposite color dipped more or less indiscriminately from the pool as to truth or half-truth or falsity and slung with great joy and no interest in filtering out the impurities. We are all guilty of this. This would not have changed if Democrats had won this election. This problem runs across party lines and is part of the fabric of modern life.

As a long-time “Trekkie” who came into the world prior to TV, personal computers and men walking on the moon, I had the naive ‘Roddenberry’ notion that we would continue the progress begun after the great war; that we would proceed to develop into a world where science and technology would guide us to eliminate disease, poverty and inequity. That dream has been dashed and I’m now convinced that it will never be even partially realized. Orwell Trumps Roddenberry.

I am thankful that for most of my life that dream had been somewhat alive and working. I’ve been lucky. My grandchildren probably won’t be. Social media and ideological discontent have cast us into red and blue quicksand and we are unlikely, it seems to me, to be able to find our way out. I’m hoping to be gone before the shit really hits the fan.

Don Smith

February 16, 2017

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