Examples of the Confusion and Difficulty with Navigating the Current Information Environment

There are two main positions regarding the lack of an informed citizenry in a democratic society. One emphasizes the failure of individual citizens–that is, they are apathetic or lazy, failing to think critically and put in the time to inform one’s self. The other emphasizes the effects of new technologies and media–specifically, the deluge of information and the eroding authority and influence of traditional curators of information. I use the word “emphasizes” intentionally, signifying that both aspects are important, but the difference in position is a matter of emphasizing one aspect over the other.

I fall into the latter group. Specifically, I believe that not only an informed citizenry, but a functioning public square, which is critical for a democratic society, depends on addressing some of the negative effects of new technology. My sense is that new technologies that change nature and flow of information requires societies to adjust, creating tools and processes to help individuals and institutions manage and make information meaningful and useful, versus the opposite. Knowledgeable, critical thinkers are important component of this process, but even if every citizen had these attributes, the problem would still be significant. In this thread, I hope to give some specific examples, primarily from social media, that illustrate this.

Evaluating the Credibility of Information Sources: An Important Procedure to Managing News and Information in the 21st Century

Here’s the basic premise I’m operating from: There’s too much information for even the most rigorous critical thinker to evaluate each news item or issue on a case by case basis. As a result, everyone has to rely on shortcuts or heuristics to evaluate information. One common approach is to rely on certain sources, while ignoring others. A source can be an individual, group or institution. It may be someone we know personally or strangers we see on TV or the internet. It may be mainstream or fringe outlets. In some cases, we just accept information from sources we trust at face value, without any scrutiny. For this approach to be sound, an individual has to effectively identify and separate reliable from unreliable sources of information. This is key. However, in a democracy, it is also crucial that consensus forms about credible and trustworthy source from across the political spectrum. If every political or social group makes different determinations about trusted sources, I don’t see how we can operate from a common set of facts and norms; and without this, I don’t think we can have a functioning democracy.

Because of all of these factors, I think we should put more time and effort into a thorough evaluation of the people and institutions that play a major role in providing information to the public sphere. This process should be based on similar, if not the same, type of standards journalists and academics use, and can be put into a table or scorecard. This would be easier to read, allow for regular updates, and provide a way to hold pundits and news outlets accountable. The reputation and trust of those who score highly should increase, while the opposite should occur for those with low scores.

By the way, a recent article on Bill Barr, specifically making a case that the public should not trust his pronouncements, made me think of this topic. Spending time and energy building a case for an individiual’s or institution’s credibility, based on previous comments and actions–and then presenting this in an easy-to-digest form–seems like a more useful way to use resources and an effective way to help citizens to sift through information. Ultimately, I think the approach will be crucial for creating a healthy public space for debate and discussion of critical issues–at least if we want a functioning democracy. On a sidenote, I recommend reading the Bill Barr piece. At the same time, when I imagine indifferent news consumers reading it, I tend to think they would think it’s just partisan attack on Barr. What I’m suggesting could get around this–as long as casual news consumers of all political stripes view the process of evaluating news sources as trustworthy and credible. One thing I forgot to mention: The people evaluating sources should represent major political groups, and being diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation, religion would be great as well.

The Best and Worst Casting of a Movie

The director, Cary Fukunaga, once said that a movie is 70% casting–or something to that effect. Great casting goes a long way to make a great film, while if a film has no chance is the casting is awful. I was watching the original Karate Kid recently, and the casting stood out. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita may be one of the best cinematic buddies, and that’s primarily a function of casting, in my view. But then the villains are also great, not just Martin Kove, as John Krease, and William Zabka, as Johnny Lawrence, but even the other Kobra-Kai thugs. What are some films where the casting really stood out, either good or bad?

Notes on “The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin

Thread on the famous essay. One quick point. I was first attracted to this essay because of hedgehog and fox dichotomy. Berlin suggests that thinkers can (or tend to be?) one or the other. Simply, foxes know many things, while hedgehogs know one big thing. I wanted to learn more about the two categories. Unfortunately, the essay says very little about this. The categories are mostly a springboard or a backdrop for an investigation into Leo Tolstoy’s conception of history, epistemology, and philosophy. Still, I ended up learning and thinking about the way people fall into different categories, in terms of their outlook, thinking, and personality, and the way this seems seems to frame or influence debates about key topics in philosophy and politics. I’ll try to go into that in the next comment section.

2020 State and Local Elections

I’ve been spending so much time consuming national news that I’ve been neglecting informing my self on state and local news–particularly the candidates and important issues. Thanks to Don, I’m going to try and get on the ball. And this thread will be a place where people can post articles and discuss the candidates and major topics.

Why I Am So Anxious About America

The topic may not be very interesting as the answers are multiple and obvious. But I’m writing an explanation in order to better understand my anxiety and in so doing maybe find some comfort. Better yet, maybe someone will provide insights that will come close to removing a large portion of my nervousness if not all of it. I’ll explain more in the first comment post.

The Lincoln Project–This is How I Expected Congressional Republicans to Act

Well, not all of them–but a handful of them at least. And maybe not at the very beginning of the Trump presidency, but at least by impeachment trial. In case you don’t know, the Lincoln Project is a group of a conservatives/Republicans (most seem to be political consultants) who are helping to defeat Trump and congressional Republicans who have enabled him. Greg Sargent, a liberal WaPo columnist, interviewed John Weaver, one of it’s members. Actually, it’s more accurate to say Sargent grilled Weaver–taking the role of someone who is skeptical about their intentions. If what Weaver says is genuine and accurately reflects the group, I really feel an affinity towards this group–specifically in a commitment to the U.S. Constitution and rule of law. I’ll see more, particularly about the interview, in the comments section.