Living in the Disinformation Age
In the mid-1970’s, Alvin Tofler’s influential text, Power Shift foretold the immense impact the coming Information Age would have on society. In a recent interview, a Christian university president insightfully reflected on the subsequent paradigm shift in education, noting, “From the beginning of civilization until about 2010, education was the acquisition of knowledge. Now, with Google and the Internet, the current challenge is to discern what is true.”
Learning and discerning are different skill sets. This would not be a tremendous problem if all humanity collectively sought truth as its highest and most noble mission. However, a portion of humanity is so ambitious in their competitiveness to succeed, they are willing to sacrifice truth on the altar of progress toward their desired goals.
Competitiveness fully extended is warfare and all warfare is based on deception. Through influencers unconstrained by truth, the Disinformation Age has been spawned adding considerable complexity and stress to the decision-making process for everyone. The loose alignment and collaboration of influential bodies in marketing falsehoods compounds the problem. Each day we are bombarded with information and are challenged to determine, “What is true?”
In the 1990’s, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective people became a top-selling leadership book. His second habit was to “Begin with the end in mind.” This is a universal best practice principle emphasizing the importance of goal setting. He introduced this habit with a thought exercise where he asked readers to contemplate their death. How would you want to be remembered? What goals did you want to achieve? It’s a helpful meditation to focus on important things and possibly redirect one’s path to live a life with fewer regrets. However, in discerning the optimum strategy for one’s life journey, is physical death the proper end to have in mind?
Moving into the 21st century, political activist Andrew Breitbart famously noted that politics is downstream of culture. Culture is downstream of cultural influencers or institutions—the so-called Seven Cultural Mountains of Media, Arts/Entertainment, Education, Business, Religion, Government, and Family. These institutions are downstream or guided by a particular worldview. Aside from Religion and that portion of Family who earnestly live by their faith, these cultural institutions are primarily secular. When these institutions are led by people willing to sacrifice truth (i.e., lie with impunity), to advance their agenda, then the level of trust within our culture and society plummets. Integrity becomes a scarce commodity. Today, polling shows Americans have less confidence in government, science, medicine, business, religion, law enforcement, and education than any point in our nation’s history.
Upstream from worldview, thought decouples into individual choices which are driven by desire. In analyzing desire, human value systems or axiology aligns well with an ordinal system. We like this over that—dogs over cats, chocolate over vanilla, pleasure over pain etc. In such a system, there must be a first position—a number one or cornerstone that supersedes the rest. It is one’s greatest love or highest importance. Every person, conscious or not, has a cornerstone and each of us should recognize what it is. Then ask ourselves, “What should it be?”
The answers to what one values most, what end in mind one possesses, and how one values truth illuminate the root cause of division within our society. They address the topics of meaning, morality, and destiny which are necessary for a coherent worldview. As a hat tip to technology, we can use Boolean (If—Then) logic to identify the point of separation. Consider the following:
If there is a Creator (a.k.a. God) of the universe, and…
If there exists a life after this earthly life that is far greater in terms of potential (peace, joy, no pain, etc.) and duration (eternity), and…
If what we say, think, do, and believe in this life somehow affects our status in the next life, then…
How should we live our life?
The interesting aspect in terms of ROI (Return on Investment) for optimizing the total human experience is not the existence of God but the potential of a future eternal life, although it is inconceivable that the latter could exist without the former. Even the apostle Paul noted that hope in Christ for this life only is pitiful. If these “If statements” are true, then one should live by the rules and principles as defined by the Creator for the payback is a perpetuity. The wise investment strategy for life is to pursue what our Creator desires that we should say, think, do, and believe.
However, if any of these statements are false—if there is no God or eternal life then what would be the best course of action? Well, eat, drink, and be merry for when you die, it is over. You could live as Covey suggested, a lifestyle that seeks to minimize regrets or pursue whatever hedonistic lifestyle your heart fancies. For it’s only when you believe that this world is all that there is, are you the star of your show. Looking out for number one is all about you. You may help others in some quid pro quo where others may return the favor, but it would be illogical to help those who cannot help you back. It would be a waste of resources.
Observing current society, there appears to be a sizable number of people whose greatest desire is to be the star—who have themselves as their cornerstone. That level of self-focus naturally creates division within society, manifesting itself for the elite to pursue greater wealth, power, and control and in the underclass through self-proclaimed victimhood, racial/sexual oppression, and an entitlement mentality.
This star complex includes the virtue signaling where one takes a knee without lending a hand or the incessant passing of judgment on others as an effortless way to gain attention without contributing to a solution. The accompanying philosophy defines freedom as the opportunity “to do what you want” as opposed to “do what is best.”
Such valuing of individual contentment over community benefit is the decision dilemma analyzed within Gaming Theory. John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) developed the mathematical proof that one should always act in self-interest. This is true for a finite number of trials (a limited lifetime). However, for an infinite number of trials (eternal perspective) the optimal decision changes to cooperation.
If we pursue goals selfishly stemming from a “this world only” perspective, it eventually devolves into a survival of the fittest environment. This leads to tyranny and ends in destruction. If we choose an eternal perspective (store up your treasures in heaven mindset), then cooperation (serve, accept, forgive, encourage, etc. one another) by pursuing the truth in love becomes the dominant theme for how to live.
Belief begets behavior. Our nation was founded upon a professed esprit de corps (e pluribus unum) and in servitude to God, our Creator and Supreme Judge, in Whom we trust. We claim to be a nation under God. Those are just words. If we desire to preserve this Republic, we need to live it. It is the critical action upon which our nation’s destiny hangs.
Tom McAllister, EdD, is a business strategy/continuous improvement consultant, adjunct professor, and author of the book, Short Strolls in Faith.