It's been nearly two decades since I first read Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy
. Like plenty of people influenced by that book, parts of it have stuck with me ever since -- even if it's been at least a dozen years since I last picked it up. One key thing that I remember taking away from the book is a recognition that "the truth" isn't always as clear as it seems -- and anyone claiming to tell you the full truth is misleading you in some way or another. One key scene (which I think was actually buried in a footnote in an appendix, but as I said, it's been many, many years...) is where the authors point out that the only way people recognize the real truth of a situation is by figuring it out for themselves -- and present a scenario whereby that happens. If you took a low level army private and put him between two equally high ranking generals, with one screaming for the private to sit down, and the other demanding he stand up -- the likely response is for the private to "wig out" and finally make a decision for himself. To me, investigating the "truth" is always something along those lines. I find it compelling to have various generals screaming totally contradictory concepts until I have no choice but to look at all
of the evidence and decide for myself.
Apparently, some people feel quite differently.
Over in Forbes, there's a column by Melik Kaylan, where he claims that the internet is "bad for truth" because
it presents so many contradictory ideas. He bemoans the fact that, in the good old days, the truth was whatever the elitist and limited media told you was the truth, no matter how wrong it might have been. But, these days, with so many different and contradictory voices, Kaylan worries that the actual truth just gets blurry and people simply surround themselves with the truth that they want and ignore the "official" truth.
This is, really, just a rehashing of the old "echo chamber" insult that gets thrown at various online communities -- and I've yet to see much evidence that it's true at all. Folks involved in extreme communities often seem to actively seek out
opposing viewpoints, if only to trash them. Yes, I'm sure there are some folks who refuse to read anything critical of their own viewpoints, but those people are so far gone already, I'm not sure it really matters. As someone who is occasionally accused of having "extreme" points of view, I actively read the viewpoints of various critics and people who disagree with me, because it helps me to continually understand that "truth" that I seek. It keeps me sharp as I keep refining and adjusting my own beliefs -- whether it's figuring out why someone I disagree with is wrong, or if I can't figure it out, refining my own beliefs. Not everyone is necessarily like that, but I'd argue that people are a lot better off having more information at their fingertips to make their own decisions than when they got the word from on high from some "official" source.
It's not that the internet is bad for truth. It's that people have started to realize that the "truth" provided to them from official sources wasn't true at all. The real problem for "the truth" was that the actual truth didn't match up to it. That's not the "fault" of the internet -- it's one of the benefits of the internet.