Does 2 plus 2 really equal 4?
Some would say not, the way some insist a leopard can change its spots, the way others point to the moon and call it cheese.
A world without established facts is a world in deep trouble. It doesn’t take long until meanings evaporate and discord takes over in a society where facts don’t matter.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
That is the sinister opening line of the dystopian novel “1984” written by English author George Orwell and first published in 1949. From its first sentence, we are plunged into a world in which facts no longer matter – a totalitarian, repressive society in which everyone is tightly controlled and manipulated by a cult leader dubbed “Big Brother.” It is a world in which people are forced to believe that 2 plus 2 equals 5.
In another classic English novel, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” (1865) facts become shuffled in a chattering flurry during the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Time stands still in the Hatter’s world; the clock’s hands are stuck forever at 6 ‘o’ clock – thus, a perpetual tea time in a topsy-turvy world. Fond of nonsensical riddles, the Hatter asks Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Alice ponders until the Hatter admits the riddle has no answer. All facts become muddled and confused at the tea table.
“Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to her to have no meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.”
Like Alice, whose adventures began when she fell down a rabbit hole, we too are in danger of falling down a big rabbit hole into a crazy “Dunderland” where confusions, not facts, rule the day. Some people nowadays gather at political rallies to applaud outlandish lies; the bigger the lie, the louder they clap.
Just one example: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, famously referred to “alternative facts” after the president’s press secretary (Sean Spicer at the time) insisted Trump’s inauguration attracted the biggest crowd in inaugural history. Trouble is, it wasn’t true; photographs proved it wasn’t true. Well, no matter, just keep saying it was true, over and over, until listeners believe the “alternative fact.” That ruse is precisely what Big Brother did in “1984” to keep people believing in the very opposite of what is true – that “war” actually means “peace.” Alternative “facts.” It’s the way the Hatter juggles things into a jumble of confusion.
The next election is rapidly approaching. Will the Russians again meddle in it by perpetrating lies, distortions, slanders and alternative “facts?” They almost certainly will, perhaps not so much to favor a candidate as to infect our democratic process with divisionism, suspicions and rampant distrust. It is the new “warfare” – cyber lies in place of bombs, propaganda attacks instead of facts and truths. The prime rule in the Russian playbook is to first divide via confusion and mistrust and then dominate. If we cannot trust voting results, we lose faith in our system, our democracy.
Once again, Putin and his cyber-thugs will likely infiltrate social media with the copy-cat help of cyber warriors right here at home. Before the last election, the Internet was flooded with lurid lies, such as Hillary Clinton operating a sex ring of children from a pizza joint in Washington, D.C., a vicious “posting” that caused a gullible (and deranged) man to shoot a gun inside the pizza place, fortunately striking nobody. Many of those kinds of vile postings were perpetrated not by Russians but by Americans.
To guard against another infiltration of free and fair elections, we must all insist on the integrity of facts and stop mistaking ludicrous, alarming or “entertaining” Internet postings as factual information. We need highly informed voters, not low-information voters who don’t pay attention or who applaud and then parrot only social-media lies.
Let’s remember that 2 plus 2 really does equal 4.