A nagging problem with which I seem to constantly wrestle is the phenomenon that people seem to embrace fiction rather than fact as their reality. Many people very earnestly argue for a policy for our nation based on erroneous assumptions. This might be just a problem of being uneducated, but these same people resist education in order to preserve their world view.
This issue came to mind when recently I was discussing a reality TV show with someone who talked about it as if it were real rather than staged. Even after I explained that these shows have people who craft a story and then make it look like it is real, this person remained unfazed not just in his enthusiasm for the show but in the way he continued to talk about these characters and their adventures as if they were totally real.
It occurred to me that what I was observing should really have been obvious to me long ago: people would rather be entertained than informed. This is why news programs have turned into “infotainment“: they get a larger audience and make more money. It is why Rush Limbaugh is so popular: he is an entertainer rather than a reporter. Because we would rather be entertained, we embrace engaging narratives and monologues as reality so that we don’t have any obligation to watch real news which is so boring.
If you spend enough years in the fantasy world of “infotainment,” you lose your perspective on reality. You also lose your appreciation for the scientific method of determining what is true. We lose, in effect, the heart of the benefits of the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment. We move from an enlightened society to a primitive, unenlightened one.
Most people appreciate the benefits and advancements that humanity has enjoyed during the past few centuries, but I’m not sure they understand that these benefits were the result of the Enlightenment. I figure some assume that humanity progresses inevitably over time. Humanity, however, spent many centuries before the Enlightenment when the rate of advancement was very slow. There have been periods when civilization devolved into more anarchy and primitiveness.
So where are we headed? Will we allow our lazy appetite for scintillating stories and images to convince us to reject facts determined by the scientific method of empirical, measurable, and repeatable evidence? I don’t think we will. I believe the power of science is strong enough to weather this storm, but I believe we are already seeing setbacks within our society, and these setbacks may altar our global standing in the future.