Information mess again

In information society, communication and information function almost entirely in strategic terms. The primary point of communication is not to convey reasonable accuracy, but to participate in persuasion and political struggle. This is a standard feature of communication, but in information society it appears magnified. Certainty and loyalty to information, and the groups supporting it, not only provide status and marks exemplary membership, and helps to filter the huge amounts of information people have to explore, it provides apparent order, and allows immediate action. Accuracy of particular pieces of information can sacrificed to victory, or to the more fundamental principles that a group stands for. This means that all information and principles a group clings too can be sacrificed for loyalty. Principle A can be asserted (when it fails), by justifying and holding on to principle B, and Principle B likewise by justifying and holding on to Principle A. Coherence is not required, so if principle C threatens something disliked and threatens principle B, it will only be applied to the disliked idea. The group eventually lives in a fantasy world, because there is so much ‘good’ information.

Furthermore, given these priorities, there is no need to check accuracy. Statements which appeal to group biases, can be promoted and spread with great speed. They become more available and easier to find – hence bad information drives out good.

If information which could refute a ‘dearly held position’ comes from a political outgroup, then it is easy to claim that information is biased and geared to what are perceived as that group’s political interests. The more the information, or the informer, contradicts our political position or status, the more it can be condemned and vilified – we do not trust outsiders as their information would disorient us. The more information comes from a recognised insider the less checking it will require. Hence increasing polarisation.

As an example, a member of the Trump team made it clear that they would not be engaging with ‘politicised’ information about climate change from NASA, by which they meant information which they did not like politically. What is not your politics seems politicised. Similarly, if Trump had lost the election and it seemed that Russians had hacked in favour of Clinton, then it is hard to imagine that he would not be declaiming about it and demanding a recount or fresh election. But given it is the opposition, he can be demanding that the opposition quieten down and accept his victory, and that the stories are completely fictional.

Admitting “we are wrong”, or that “we may have benefitted from Russian hacking, and this is bad” produces loss of claims to information certainty, navigations, political power and status, and will be denied, just as climate change is denied, or the failure of corporate power to produce general prosperity is denied.

Power is based in information and persuasion as much as it is based in being able to persuade people of those with power’s capacity for violence.  If there is no belief in the ‘legitimate’ basis of power, then it will eventually start to dissipate.

The end point of these processes is where groups use their power and certainty to supress even discussion, as in Australia where the climate-right has just stopped the government from even thinking about some ways of dealing with climate change. In their view allowing the discussion of climate change and emissions costing was to show disloyalty to the party.

This is not a right only phenomena of course, but it seems particularly pronounced there at the moment, perhaps because their main policy is promising that if corporate and market power was increased, general prosperity would follow, and it clearly has not.

If we think we are certainly right, then we are probably caught in similar processes, so the first step is always a degree of scepticism that is open to the possibility of the other being corrector than yourself.

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