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What do you know, and what do you believe? Think about what you know, actually know. Not the things you believe because someone told them to you, but the things you know for a fact because you witnessed them first hand or experienced them directly in some way. For almost everyone today, there’s really not that much we truly know.

It wasn’t always like that. Almost everything in a caveman’s brain got there from direct experience; he knew fire was hot because he burned himself (probably when cussing was invented), he knew animals bite because he’s missing a finger. He had no way to pass this knowledge along, no written word, no spoken language. He may not have known much, but what he knew, he knew from direct experience, he didn’t have to rely on believing someone else relating his or her experience.

Today, we may not “know” much more than the caveman, but our brains are crammed with things we believe. Most of us have never touched fire but we believe it burns because our mothers warned us to stay away from the stove when we were toddlers. We know that you can’t breathe on the moon because we’re told there’s no air up there. It’s handy to believe in things we’re told. Can you imagine relying solely on direct knowledge today? You’d never get through a day.

But there is a problem inherent in getting your information second hand, compared to experiencing it yourself; who do you trust? If you aren’t going to run around experiencing everything for yourself, who do you listen to? Who do you believe?

This problem is exacerbated exponentially by the Internet. The ‘Net is the greatest disseminator of information since Gutenberg cranked out the first mass produced book, but the Internet is also the Great & Powerful Oz, the man behind the curtain with unknown credentials telling stories vetted by no one, filtered by no one, proven true by no one.

So what? What does this mean to you, the believer? It means that the burden is on you to separate the speakers of truth from the snake oil salesmen. It always has been but today, in this era of information overload, it’s more important than ever to separate the wheat from the chaff, as they used to say.

The first question you have to ask yourself is, does the person you’re listening to have a horse in this race? Is there some angle, some hidden agenda he or she is trying to nudge you towards or away from? I’m not sure that it’s possible to be completely unbiased, but whatever happened to hearing both sides of a story? Are you listening to a bleeding heart liberal, or a Fox News right-winger? Do you listen only to people who support your beliefs, or do you take in the other’s point of view?

And even if you find a happy medium, where you believe you’ve found a source that comes close to fair and honest reporting, is it accurate? Remember when a journalist’s job was to tell you who, what, when, why, where and how? Now it’s all about spin and scoop and speculation. The churning, voracious 24 hour news cycle must be fed and being first to spill the story has superseded being accurate. The motto seems to be “Get it out there first, then issue a correction later”.

Obviously, not all reporting is bad. There are credible, fairly unbiased sources of news and information. There are still places where you can go to listen to both sides of an issue. But you have to make that effort (or not).

Remember, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Ben Franklin said those words of warning 200 years before the Internet and Photoshop and Virtual Reality. So, after reading my little caveat, you should be asking yourself one question first – Who the hell is this guy why should I believe him? Good question!

Jack Dolan is a retired journalist living in Newhall.

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  • lois eisenberg

    “What do you actually know?”
    I know that the destroyer -in- chief is a liar, fraud, deceitful, con man, lacks integrity,
    lacks governing skills, lacks ethics, lacks morals, lacks compassion, lacks empathy,
    etc, etc, etc, and doesn’t deserve to be the President of the United States !!

    • Phil Ellis

      I guess you didn’t understand Jack’s letter very well. You need to stop listening to the snake oil salesmen.

      • Gary Bierend

        I have her blocked Phil, I recommend you do the same. If you’ve read one of her posts (or LsTE), you’ve read them all. Save yourself.

        • Ron Bischof

          Ever live in a neighborhood that has an annoying dog that barks endlessly without reason because it’s a default dysfunction?

          That’s why Disqus has blocking. It’s akin to noise-cancelling headphones on a flight to filter out noise.

          • Gary Bierend

            Yes, like a screen door so you don’t get a buzzing fly in the house.

        • Phil Ellis

          Yes, but then I would miss the comic relief often needed on a stressful day at the office.

          • Ron Bischof

            The Bingo Lady no longer engages directly because she at some point internalized the fact that she’s not up to the task. Therefore, the comic value dissipates because her posts are 99.99% copy and pastes of off topic talking points from random unattributed sources.

            Of course the fault lies with others, not her. 😀

            The above is my rationale for blocking her inane chatter. Tolerance for nonsense varies, of course.

            De gustibus non est disputandum.

  • Gil Mertz

    As Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet”

  • Ron Bischof

    I enjoyed your call for critical thinking, skepticism and individual effort, Mr. Dolan.

    Nicely done!

  • Ron Bischof

    Here’s an example of performing what Mr. Dolan recommends after reading a New York Times article:

    This one is a real blooper and I cannot let it pass by

    by Tyler Cowen on March 27, 2017 at 7:23 am in Current Affairs, Data Source, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

    I don’t usually “go after” news stories and headlines but this one is such a bad mistake, and it so affected my Twitter feed (I was swindled too), that it deserves comment (the pointer by the way comes from Alex, our Alex). Stephanie Saul wrote in The New York Times:

    Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey…

    Here is what the opening of the survey itself said:

    39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.

    The NYT article does not reproduce the more positive pieces of information, from its own cited study, which may be suggesting international applications are not down at all, or perhaps down by only a small amount. If you look at all the data, they probably are down, but by no conceivable stretch of the imagination should the 40% figure be reported without the other numbers. The headline of the piece?:

    Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants

    I look forward to not only a correction but in fact a retraction of the entire article and its headline.

  • lois eisenberg

    “What do you actually know?”
    ” Just two months into the Trump presidency, the U.S. military is becoming more involved in a string of complex wars that lack clear endgames — and often endanger civilians.”
    The- destroyer- in chief is getting his wish about going to war.
    And this incident is on his head !

  • lois eisenberg

    “Michael Flynn wants to talk to congressional investigators examining the Trump team’s ties to Russia. But first he wants immunity.”
    When one asks for immunity one is guilty!!

  • lois eisenberg

    “Yesterday Pence was at a women’s empowerment forum. Today he voted to disempower millions of women — the first time in history a vice president has cast the tie-breaking vote to do so.” The irony of it all !!