Donald Trump, Alex Jones and the illusion of knowledge (opinion)

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Donald Trump, Alex Jones and the illusion of knowledge (opinion)


Put simply, fact and fiction are morphing into alternative facts and gospel. Since the United States is the most powerful economy and military in the world, this is not just an American problem — it has the potential to be a global problem, particularly if our government begins to make decisions based on falsehoods.

Notably, following the missing children broadcast, NASA rebuked the report that children were being sent to sex colonies on Mars. That NASA, an independent agency under the executive branch, felt compelled to respond at all gives weight to the number of potential believers and the influence that Jones and his ilk may wield.
Holding onto any illusion of knowledge — which is an easy way for people to feel like experts in in topics they know nothing about — usually doesn’t stand up to any form of critical thinking. If we cannot explain how a political neophyte like Trump Jr. could possibly have the training to track Russian spies or identify who on Mars might be importing sex slaves from Earth, then we should question those claims.

Yet the phenomenon of believing the absurd rather than critically questioning it is nothing new.

Originally published in England in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay became a classic that explored and documented the “madness of crowds” and the psychology behind things like 17th century Tulipmania, when mass delusion made people think tulip bulbs were worth more per ounce than gold. This, in turn, created an economic bubble that left a lot of investors in poor financial shape.
And then there were the witch hunts. Salem aside, the BBC reported that 60,000 people could have been put to death in the 15th-17th centuries in Europe alone, a period of time referred to as “The Burning Times.” The witch hunts, in particular, were examples of the masses thinking they had figured out how to make sense of the world — burning all those who might be using sorcery to influence it.
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