When I was an eight-year-old Catholic school student and Sister Leonice informed us that God loved us, but we also needed to fear him, I was confused.
This same message came at mass from Father Donnelly. How could someone who loved us so much also possibly condemn us to the fires of hell for all eternity? It was a quandary for me, and when I finally screamed “I hate you God” in the privacy of my own home to test out the theory of being struck by lightning, it was my very first attempt at confronting “fake news.”
I learned that I had been lied to. Blasphemy and irreverence did not evoke the vengeance of the Almighty. I was not struck down by lightning, nor did the other horrible things happen that I was told would happen. (I can’t yet speak for the fires of hell thing, but let’s hope my conclusion pans out.)
Today there is an epidemic of fake news in our culture and many suggest that it influenced the 2016 presidential election.
Fake, “a thing that is not genuine, a forgery” and news, “newly received noteworthy information especially about recent or important events” together mean that there is information being circulated, primarily on social media, that is false—lies about people and institutions that are being read, and in many cases believed, shared and acted upon.
Bogus news has been around for a long time, but social media has the ability to take a fake news story viral in a matter of minutes. Two fake news stories just prior to the election were eventually proved to be false, but not before they went viral. One story claimed that “tens of thousands” of fraudulent ballots that were cast for Hillary Clinton were found in an Ohio warehouse. This fake news was shared with over 6.1 million people. The other story asserted that Megyn Kelly was fired from Fox News after she endorsed Clinton and criticized Donald Trump—over 724,000 saw this one.
According to Wikipedia, “fake news websites are designed to deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media.” The information lacks credibility or substantiated facts and information. Less discerning readers do not distinguish between what is the honest and true reporting of news. These sites profit from advertising and are often generated to distract from the facts. As Joni Mitchell says on her 1994 LP, Turbulent Indigo, “… sex sells everything, and sex kills,” so too does fake news.
But here’s why I think fake news is a good thing, and how that it’s helping us grow and mature as a society. Once we hit a bottom, there is no place to go but up. More importantly, every breakdown is followed by a breakthrough.
“Breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe
The Czech physical chemist, Ilya Prigogine, developed the theory of dissipative structures and showed that “open systems” (those systems having continuous interchange with the environment) occasionally experience episodes of instability. When these episodes exceed a certain limit, the system breaks down and enters a state of “creative chaos.” What happens next is a phenomenon known as “spontaneous transformation” which is a higher order born from the breakdown. Prigogine discovered that this spontaneous breakthrough transformation creates a new and higher order. It is the basis of physical evolution. His discovery earned him the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1977.
The integrity, honesty and professionalism of our news outlets have broken down—especially on social media. If our news systems can no longer be completely trusted and fake news on social media has become a norm in our society, then it is calling forth within us a new set of eyes and ears.
We can no longer rely on something or someone outside of ourselves to tell us what to think, believe or how to act. We must find our own way.
It is time to breakthrough and emerge to a newer and higher order of our physical evolution and especially our critical thinking skills.
If, in fact, fake news stories were the basis of individuals’ understanding of the two presidential contenders and determined their vote, a breakdown occurred. As Prigogine described, we are now ripe for the “spontaneous transformation” to a higher order of thinking.
Let’s take back our power to know the facts.
Let’s check and recheck and find a third source of information when determining the merits and faults of any argument—especially related to our elected officials.
Let’s take individual responsibility for our own evolution and not look outside ourselves for our own beliefs.
This can be the breakthrough that emerges from this news media breakdown.
Transformation and breakthroughs are not easy, especially because they follow the painful experience of breakdowns. Tension is necessary to growth. Like the butterfly must struggle through the tension of pushing its way out of a small opening in the cocoon in order to develop the strength in its wings to fly, we too must struggle through the tension of finding our way with credible information and our own critical thinking skills.
Fake news will probably not go away any time soon, but we can change our relationship to it. It’s our initiation into a new and higher order first by taking responsibility individually and then by standing together in the truth of what we learn.
“I will not adjust myself to the world. I adjust to myself.” ~ Anaïs Nin
Author: Sally Bartolameolli
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Travis May