We are in the midst of an epistemological crisis.
A crisis of what it means to know something
A crisis of what it means to have a justified belief
A crisis of trust that I’m starting to feel will create a permanent divide that cannot be reconciled. And maybe shouldn’t be reconciled.
I’ve seen this crisis building and I imagine you have as well, regardless of your ideological bent. Until now though I’ve been seeing it through a lens of good will.
Because all have our own opinions and interpretations of the world. Our experiences and circumstances influence how we form our beliefs. So it’s natural that our beliefs differ.
No big deal.
And for a long time I’ve believed it was possible to reconcile our differences through dialogue.
Enter the epistemological crisis.
Right now people are revealing that they don’t care to have a justified belief. They’ve revealed that they’re not interested in the foundation of their belief being based on some semblance of objective reality.
Before now I imagined that to be something that only happens on the fringes. But it is not on the fringe. It’s directly in the mainstream of our society.
No better example than those who share memes that contain false information that would be easy to check if the person cared to.
Not only has it become clear that people don’t care to check if the meme they care is true before they share it, if you challenge them to check it after they share it they will refuse.
Because they don’t care if it’s true.
They care that it supports their beliefs to the exclusion of evidence.
The worst part is that it’s just a meme. A picture with a few sentences attached to it. No one should base their beliefs on that:m. No one should trust that as a true and valid source of knowledge.
I’ve come to realize that this is a new development in what it means to lie. Maybe an application of the biblical prohibition on gossip.
Because if you’re going to share information then you are responsible for knowing if it is true. The obligation is on you to verify accuracy.
So sharing falsehood is a malignant lie that spreads more falsehood on a broad scale, resulting in far reaching damage that is much more destructive than an interpersonal lie.
And I’m not talking about people making mistakes or not having all the facts. That’s unavoidable, we all have the potential to make mistakes when we’re not informed by evidence.
The even more perturbing phenomenon is the denial of evidence. Not just denying the evidence presented in an argument, but the denial that evidence even matters at all.
The quintessential example is the moment in a social media post that I’d call the unconfront-able truth, where a person makes a post with a comment to the effect of:
Here’s the proof that I’m right and even if this proof turns out to be false, I’m still right
It’s not that I disagree with people on one subject or another that’s a problem. It’s that we’re approaching a sharp divide on what it means to know something at all.