Fake News is everywhere these days. Some of us, unfortunately, aren’t really paying attention and are just too ready to believe what we read, or what we’ve heard. There is a Paradigm at work, caused by a miasma of Propaganda (and, yes, Fake News) filtered via popular media like television, magazines, newspapers and the Internet. A Paradigm is essentially what you’ve come to believe and accept about the world: an hierarchy of received viewpoints, beliefs and emotional values prevail, shaped by historical events, scientific discoveries or social/cultural developments.
The mysterious individual at the Contrarian website notes that: ‘Our paradigms are infused with prejudices, assumptions, expectations, and beliefs, and from that flow our values, ethics, and rules. Our paradigm determines how we interpret the world around us and how we interact with it. Our paradigm is the lens through which we see life.’ The trouble is that many of us unthinkingly accept it, so susceptible are we to what is absorbed from our environments. As Oscar Wilde once put it, the thoughts of most people tend to be ‘someone else’s opinions’ and ‘their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’
Sometimes, new discoveries alter the prevailing Paradigm quickly – if they aren’t too rupturing to the earlier one. When Galileo proved that the earth revolved around the sun (and not vice versa), the Scientific Paradigm changed. This because Science was making rapid progress in the seventeenth century. Had telescopes been available in ninth century, Galileo would have burned at the stake – the world wasn’t ready for a major paradigm shift from the Church’s cosy world-view that the Universe was geocentric (earth-centered). The Scientific Paradigm is one of the most powerful, as it can shape how we think the world really is. Wikipedia describes it as a set of ‘shared preconceptions, made prior to … the collection of evidence’ and which contains ‘hidden assumptions.’ This means we begin an experiment with some presumptions as to the result. But the Paradigm also determines what we’ll research – what we’ve deemed worthwhile. This is why mainstream science rarely ever takes ‘psychic powers’ or astrology seriously – these subjects are laughable, and not worth investigating.
The Paradigm works on an everyday level, too: how many of us, for instance, have adhered to some of the more well attested ‘facts’ about the world we live in? There is a whole list of Fake News items which turn out not to be true:
* Humans only use 10% of their brains. (They don’t – this belief has been attributed to American philosopher and psychologist William James, who was making a point about mental laziness. But one wonders if James wasn’t right, given the displays of intelligence by some American Presidents, football supporters and British ‘reality TV’ contestants.)
* Ostriches bury their heads in the sand. (They don’t – this mistake comes from the first century Pliny the Elder, whose book Natural History is, according to the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, a ‘fascinating ragbag’ of ‘entertainment rather than enlightenment … a multi-volume collection of myths’ with ‘odd tales of wondrous creatures.’)
* Everest is the world’s longest mountain. (It isn’t – it’s only the one with the highest elevation – at 29,029 ft. The accolade for tallest goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii, USA. Its elevation, above sea level, is only 13,796 ft., but from its starting point underwater it is actually 33,480 ft.)
* George Washington had wooden teeth. (He didn’t – the reality is even more bizarre, apparently his false teeth were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and animal teeth.)
* Masturbation leads to insanity (It doesn’t – though this was believed in the 19th century.)
* Lemmings engage in mass suicidal dives off of cliffs. (They don’t – apparently it’s Walt Disney’s fault).
FAKE NEWS AND JESUS
Let’s look at a larger example of Fake News: a part of the Christian Narrative that says Jesus was born on December 25. (He wasn’t.) Interestingly, this date just happens to coincide with the ancient pagan festival of the Saturnalia from the Roman Empire. This was held in honour of the agricultural deity Saturn, and whose celebrations ran through to 23rd December.
Another parallel is with the later institution of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), a solar deity worshipped by the Roman soldiery. It had been an official cult since 274 AD, during the reign of Aurelian, and the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) occurred on 25 December. (If you’ve noticed that this ante-dates Jesus’ birth, Christ’s ‘official’ birthday wasn’t decided on until the late fourth century.) But these dates are significant as we’re near to the winter solstice of December 22nd – the shortest day of the year. By the 25th the days are noticeably getting longer, and so the sun has ‘conquered’ the darkness once more – it is the power of self renewal in Nature.
Another undigested myth is that Jesus lived most of his life in Nazareth, Galilee. The phrase ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ has tripped off the tongue with such regularity for 2,000 years that just repeating it seems to confirm it as a fact. And yet … there is simply no evidence that Jesus came from Nazareth. Furthermore, there is no evidence that (when Jesus is actually said to live) Nazareth even existed as a place of residence.
The Encyclopaedia Biblica actually states that: ‘It is very doubtful whether the beautiful mountain village of Nazareth was really the dwelling-place of Jesus.’ This is because there is no archaeological evidence for human habitation there during Jesus’ lifetime – up until AD 30. In Excavating Jesus (2009) a Christian theologian and an archaeologist (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed) show that first century Nazareth came into being only after A.D. 66, and say that the earliest date for dwellings in Nazareth is A.D. 70. (These findings being confirmed by other authors and researchers, one being Yardenna Alexandra of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.)
FAKE NEWS AND DRUGS
Another widely held, oft undigested, belief that has emerged in modern society is that the drug heroin is toxic, ruinous to the body and ultimately fatal. This is Fake News writ large, as it is demonstrably untrue. Due to media hysteria (all those emotive images of dirty, emaciated, kohl-eyed heroin junkies) Heroin is imagined as some invasive carcinogen that slowly poisons its host, like a combination of tar, carbon monoxide and strychnine. In fact, pure heroin is better for you than smoking cigarettes or drinking. That is to say, it’s less harmful than either alcohol or the nicotine-tar combination.
However, back in the day when we were more credulous, the US surgeon general, Rupert Blue, denounced heroin as ‘poisonous’ in 1924, even claiming that it induced insanity. Dana Hubbard – from the New York City health department – agreed, adding that addicts are a result of ‘sin and crime’ and that society ‘must protect itself from the influence of evil, and there is no greater peril than heroin.’
This is palpable nonsense. Professor David Nutt (in 2010) went on record as saying that alcohol is more harmful than heroin, and Professor Arnold Trebach agreed: ‘We cannot find any medical research from any source which will support the international governmental contention that heroin harms the body or the mind of its users.’ In other words, the evidence does not fit the propaganda. The Paradigm that has grown around the perception of heroin. The worst it can do is cause temporary nausea and perhaps constipation ‘and that is all.’ Indeed, when pure pharmaceutical heroin has been prescribed and administered by a doctor, it is mostly harmless.
The author Enid Bagnold, for example, was prescribed it following a hip operation, took it for twelve more years, and lived a normal life until age 91. It only becomes abnormal when the craving for a new fix cannot be sated. Then, people resort to desperate measures, trying to obtain it illegally on the black market. As we all know, it is highly addictive – this is not in question. It is also in the interests of drug barons and pushers to keep the junkies addicted, thus hungry for more. (In order to finance their habit, people usually turn to crime – like stealing to raise money.) And since the customs and excise authorities can never quite prevent the smuggling of illegal drugs into the country, the war on drugs can never be won.
And so a Paradigm is something you never bother to analyse because ‘everyone just knows
that …’ Here, you may add your own ending: the world isn’t flat/God doesn’t exist/astrology doesn’t work/your money is always safe in a bank. Many people retain the image of banks as some respectable pillar of society, a solid, praiseworthy institution that keeps our money safe. Recent history has made nonsense of this particular paradigm – banks are just a business (designed to make money out of you) like any other. How many of us have wondered, for instance, from where all of that instant cash comes when we apply for a loan? Suddenly, you have two extra noughts added to your current account – but that’s all they are: digits on a computer. The bank has provided you with made-up money, even though you’ll have to pay it back with real money (plus interest) and if it’s a large amount you’ve borrowed, may lose your home into the bargain if you default on the loan.
Take care – the Paradigm (or the Narrative society wants you to believe) is around you all the time, trying to sway your outlook on life. Politicians try it every day, as most of the time they have a secret agenda (usually involving the amassing of wealth in one way or another). In short, they lie about what they’re up to. One of the new euphemisms for the lies and propaganda they would have us swallow is ‘perception management’ (a favourite of former Tony Blair aide Alistair Campbell). The public’s views on their political masters (and their activities) can be ‘managed’; how things are generally perceived can be ‘modified’, as in Orwell’s novel 1984. Put this way, it has a deeply sinister undertone.
That Nazareth was never Jesus home town; that Heroin is in itself not a poison, and that banks effectively steal money from you, may sound unfamiliar – but that is what repetition of the Narrative does to the human mind. Many people experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance when their prejudices are rudely interrupted by the truth. Sometimes, it is hard to take the new idea on board. Our beliefs are absorbed into our reality system and we leave it at that. Knowing what’s what about the world, so to speak, makes us feel secure. Then, if an ingrained belief turns out not to be true, we can become seriously become disoriented. We don’t like being wrong!.
But, like the guy from the Contrarian website asks: ‘Have you ever questioned your paradigm?’ That is, have you actually tried thinking for yourself – and asked: what if that particular idea is wrong? More to the point, what if the beliefs you never question are secretly having a negative impact on you? What if your perceptions really are being ‘managed’? Time to unbelieve – if you can!
Sources: Wikipedia/Guinness Book of World Records/ thegooddrugsguide.com)