[Preface: what a treat to post this, and see that Howard Portnoy has just posted a piece illustrating perfectly why we cannot dispense with the “wild, wild West” of unfettered new media. His “MSM playing us like a fiddle” is exactly what Obama wants when he calls for “curated information.” No, we didn’t coordinate this. We’re just that good. – J.E.]
Here’s the funny thing about Obama’s call for a better “curated” information flow in our public discourse, made during his remarks at an innovation conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
I mean, literally, a funny thing. There’s also the not-funny aspect of this.
But here’s the funny one. Obama actually spoke yearningly of having “truthiness tests” for what people get to hear.
“There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” Obama added.
Now, really. The appearance of the word “truthiness” in our popular vocabulary wasn’t that long ago. And it certainly presented itself through a medium Obama and his hip cohort could be expected to harbor some memory of — Stephen Colbert.
But Obama has apparently forgotten what “truthiness” — vintage 2005 — was actually intended to mean. “Truthiness” doesn’t mean “exhibiting the characteristics of absolute, empirical, or widely accepted truth.” It means more nearly the opposite.
Merriam-Webster announced truthiness as its Word of the Year in 2006, describing its meaning and origin this way (emphasis added):
By an overwhelming 5 to 1 majority vote, our visitors have awarded top honors to a word Colbert first introduced on “The Word” segment of his debut broadcast on Comedy Central back in October 2005. Soon after, this word was chosen as the 16th annual Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, and defined by them as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”
So, to invoke one of our favorite movie lines: Mr. Obama, I think that word does not mean what you think it means.
On the other hand, of course, maybe it does. We mustn’t discount the possibility that the president in fact does think we need to have our brain-food restricted to what he wishes were true.
Obama is exactly in the tradition of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot, in being appalled at a “wild, wild West” aspect to information media.
The point of the First Amendment is to preserve that aspect of information media, against the arrogance of those who want to demonize and punish independent thought. “Wild, wild West” isn’t a bug in the modern infosphere. It’s a feature. More, please. The remedy for speech is speech. It’s not “curation” or the pretense of consensus “truthiness.”
But the POTUS-in-Chief is clearly scared of speech, unless he’s dangling a sword over the speaker. Naturally, he doesn’t put it this way. In an unsettling political season, he couches his appeal in terms that sound comforting. Soothing. A relief from all the fractiousness of disagreement on fundamentals.
Demagogues always sound plausible, and always present their proposals against the public weal as the only thing that will get us out of our “crisis.” The record of demagogues when state power is given over to them, however, is an uninterrupted one of brutality against their people.
But rejoice: if you let Obama curate your information for you, brutality against the people will simply become “defense of victims against racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, and who knows what other enormities perpetrated by a people infected with ‘implicit bias.'” So you have that to look forward to — if you’re feeling tired and weak, and you just can’t take any more of the “wild, wild West.”