Losing Our Minds in the Misinformation Age

Imagine a scenario in which people start forgetting basic things, such as air traffic controllers losing the ability to conduct their operations. Lawyers forgetting their arguments. People from all walks of life suddenly rendered unable to function with everyday tasks.

Instead of becoming rabid zombies or suicidal, they would simply continue to attempt to do normal things, but with complete ineptitude and confusion. My friend Melissa and I joked about this concept for a horror movie many years ago. You’d be forgiven in the idea reminds you of failings in our institutions that are now breaking wide open or political repercussions and ramifications of previously unfathomable choices. Every day brings another shocker.

In the fictional scenario above, there might be initial mayhem, but it would not likely repeat as everyone on Earth is left enfeebled. And, ideally the microbes in the air causing the temporary amnesia would dissipate and the whole world would be all the better for the experience because everyone would become grateful for each other’s contributions.

Yeah, but, we are not feeling that way these days in America, are we? We may have lost our collective minds.

One example is Trump Derangement Syndrome, which Trump himself likes to joke afflicts people who can’t stand him. Oddly, the Urban Dictionary suggests that TDS occurs when a fanatics’ love of Trump causes them to lose their minds. We cannot even agree on the definition of this reaction to the president of the United States.

I propose a possible cure. Take a given policy idea and examine it without knowing who proposed it. Build the Wall? OK, what if a list was issued with particular, detailed items for border security. Maybe there are some valid plans in there.

Allow Saudi Arabia to access nuclear technology? OK, what kind and what do career policy experts say about it?

Alright, I just blew it trying to be even-handed, but I revealed I would trust people who others decry are in a nefarious entity called the Deep State. At some point, I hope we can get back to trusting that people who devote their professional lives to something specific are actually good at it. I don’t view my CPA as being part of the Deep Nerd Cabal or my dentist as part of a Deep Medical Conspiracy.

Ah, but yet, there are those who believe in a Deep Medical Conspiracy: the proud anti-vaxxers. Years ago, people lauded the Information Age. But as the old saying goes with databases, garbage in, garbage out. Google has recently agreed to provide better sourcing in its search engine results for queries about vaccines, such as the Centers for Disease Control, and Facebook is also working on improvements regarding health information on its platform, both in response to critics.

How can we save our sanity and restore the social fabric? We are going to need to start agreeing again on facts – what’s real and what’s not. What is truth and what is propaganda. Unfortunately, it seems few politicians are willing to be honest brokers and cable news cannot let go of the format of having people yell at each other.

For my own sanity, I am keeping a New Year’s resolution to not watch any cable news. It’s really making me feel much better about our chances for restoring a robust, thoughtful discourse and returning to being a country that prides itself on getting things done, together.