Truth and Lies
We no longer call lies what they are
The past two weeks have featured an explosion of discussion about how to address lies in the political life of a democracy. Lying in public life is so pervasive that we have taken to an elaborate system of ruefully, but also sometimes gleefully, calling lies something else — misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, truthiness.
As scholars, librarians and publishers, we all believe we have vital roles to play in the defense of truth in this teeming environment. We can earnestly celebrate our contributions. But, we must recognize that no amount of information literacy, and no amount of education, no amount of gatekeeping and no amount of dialogue, can alone address this challenge.
“We Need More Education”
Some scholars, looking on in horror at recent events, have concluded that our educational system should do more. We’ve read pablums about the value of education in protecting democracy, with one famous historian saying (perhaps exaggeratedly): “The only protection against demagoguery is education.” Others believe we need more civics education and more civic-minded universities. No doubt more education and institutions that are more civic minded would be beneficial. But, technical skills and critical thinking abilities are not sufficient to prepare learners to discern truth and reject lies. It takes little time to make lists of those with liberal arts majors and advanced graduate degrees participating in, even leading, movements for vaccine denial, election outcome denial, and climate change denial. More education is surely better than less but being educated doesn’t prevent a liar from lying nor does it alone prevent lies from spreading.
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