If our Government feeds us lies, we rightly complain, but if we are continuously fed on lies it soon becomes apparent that society finds it hard to define the truth. The growth of populism, has underlined this frailty in our society. Populism often takes true premises and then twists them through hyperbole or conspiracy theories.
To the so called ‘rational liberal’ these issues are simple when based on absolute truth, i.e. electoral issues are decided on the assumption that the voters (all with equal merit and rights) have free choice and that the system works without fear or favour. Vaccinations are good and technical efforts are the best available. We trust the monitoring institutions. Both issues boil down to trusting institutions. All institutions are built not necessarily on present day knowledge but often on beliefs and mores of the past. Even technical developments like vaccines are developed on ‘science’ which is in itself, human discovery. Belief systems are many and varied, from benign forms of Christianity to ever more extremes say from blind belief in the State, as in China, or blind belief in extreme Islam practice in Daesh.
The difference between free societies and totalitarian ones is that individuals in the free society are allowed to think for themselves. There is freedom for all sorts of ‘influencers’, even distorters of the truth, even people who tell lies because they are unqualified or have little or no knowledge of the subject, or indeed knowingly spread untruths for what ever purpose. This has become a major problem with vast numbers of individuals receiving their perceived facts and news via social media.
For those who consider themselves democrats (in the widest sense) then the issues of Freedom of speech versus the spreading of distorted information is a huge problem getting more acute each day. Indeed even the more benign belief systems have very fundamentally different ideas for example, regarding the sexes. Even in the most democratic nations there are extremes of views and beliefs in say ‘abortion rights’ or ‘right to life’ campaigners.
These belief systems are the consequence of religion that is often the bedrock of society, even if religions are challenged by the science of hard fact.
The question: Is it right? Is often framed in belief systems of centuries old religions. In some ‘so called’ West African democracies religious sects believe in FGM, the Saudi Arabians believe it’s OK to routinely chop off heads in public, these are just a few of the more obvious differences in the definition of ; Is it right?
The key to sustained democratic development is to have the freedom to respect belief systems, and at the same time to challenge these systems with truth supported by science and knowledge. The adjudication of what is true remains a vexed question. In the end social media or no, it is what the majority in a free society agree.
Beware, populism is on the march, fascism may seem a distant threat, but conspiracists and liars like Trump bring the demise of freedom ever closer.