What is true? What is nuanced fact? What is false?
Who knows any more?
The more news I listen to and watch, the more I suspect that I am not getting to the truth of the matter.
Back in the day, when I was 26, I used to read The Times daily, maybe watch one BBC news bulletin per day and I felt that was sufficient for me to be properly informed. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning the truth of what I was told.
Then along came 24/7 news channels and, of course, social media and I was overwhelmed by the variety of newsfeeds.
Even before “fake news” became a headline in itself, I suspected that I was being manipulated by the media. I came to realise that I was being fed the news which journalists and news editors chose to report. They decide what makes the big stories of the day. Moreover, the style of reportage has changed from a largely factual presentation to one which includes commentary and opinion from “special correspondents” and “experts”. They frame issues, often with a negative bias, which they then use to inform their questioning of those on whom they are reporting.
Does any of this matter? Well, I think it does. That’s because it influences the way I think and the way I vote. Do I really think what I think, or am I being led to a set of conclusions which may be erroneous?
Recently, I listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4 which was discussing “critical thinking”, defined, in Wikipedia, as:-
“the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” and “an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation.”
I learned that critical thinking used to be a curriculum subject in some schools, in the UK, but not any more. Another good idea gone west then. A generation or two of kids loses the opportunity to learn how to sift and weigh the information that comes at them and to make their own balanced appraisal.
Having said that, I have grounds for optimism. The BBC recently launched BBC iReporter, which uses an online interactive game to help young people in the UK to identify “fake news” . This is part of a broader programme, being run by the BBC, to help 11-18 year olds identify fake and false news stories, by developing their critical thinking and media literacy skills. The BBC has a vested interest in fighting back against fake news because of the huge decline in global audiences’ trust in news overall. So I’m not alone in my scepticism then.
More encouraging still, I have seen for myself, without the need for any “expert” commentary, that there appears to be a generation of teenagers coming through who seem to have very mature heads on their shoulders. I’m thinking particularly of the kids who were caught up in the recent shooting incident in Florida. Every one of them, that I have seen, who spoke about their experience and their attitude to gun laws spoke rationally, and in a balanced way, giving their reasons for thinking as they do. Whether they are right or wrong in their view is not really the point. Of course people will differ in their opinions. What matters is the ability of these kids to gather evidence and information, to consider it calmly and objectively and then to arrive at their view. Opinions formed by way of a process of objective evaluation and analysis, should be and are capable of being respected, even if differing opinions result. What a difference that could make to decision making.
Similarly I was heartened to read LA’s post, They were better, in her blog “Waking up on the wrong side of 50.” She writes about her daughter’s reaction to not winning a mock trial competition in which she participated. Her daughter is ambitious and keen to succeed as a lawyer, but was able to review her own performance objectively and conclude that the winning team were just better than hers on the day. I think that’s admirable. I used to be a lawyer and I’m not sure I was ever that good at objectifying my view of my own performance. If the teenagers of today can learn or be taught to think critically and can maintain the confidence and ability to sift truth and fiction through an objective process of analysis and reasoning, then I feel hope for better things to come when these kids take their turn at running the show.
I think I just thought critically.