Honesty is such a lonely word

I’m really sad these days. I have always been a person to believe that honesty is the best way of operating. You try to lie and then get caught in a web of lies and then no one trusts anything you say anymore. I’m sure people are rationalizing that since everyone is doing it right now, I might as well make up stories that help my cause, because the “other side” is lying as well. Well now we have absolutely no idea what is true. I don’t trust anyone in the media, especially those who are arguing the most vociferously.

I started out loving Bernie Sanders because he was consistent and straightforward, but as time has gone on, I’m questioning him as well. I still want to believe he is the most honest politician of all time, if such a thing can exist. But I am starting to wonder if maybe he has been fed misinformation by the media and the people surrounding him as well. No one is immune. Absolutely no one.

I am writing this and realizing that a blog, about my own feelings and thoughts, may or may not be based on reality. I read others’ blogs and opinion pieces and think certain points of view are valid because it fits my preconceived notions. When I read another opinion piece that disagrees with my own world view, I think they are wrong. How is one to discern the truth?

First of all, one must be cognizant that we each do have biases. And while I want to be true to myself, is it possible that my idea of the truth is based on my own particular experiences and influences and indoctrination, is it possible that I would think quite differently if I was raised and surrounded by a completely different cultural, political, and ideological environment? Would I still think these thoughts, can I claim that I am thinking for myself?

Another issue with thinking we are right and others are wrong is that our opinions and beliefs only seem to bounce around in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals, and if it does get out of the room, it is likely ignored and pushed away by those with differing beliefs. Perhaps it is the tone of our writing, no one is humble, everyone is accusing, but opposing factions are deaf to each other.

I am thinking about humility. I may be right to strive for justice and kindness, but am I better than anyone else? I want to believe that all human beings would do the right thing given the right understanding. But I know there are a lot of grey areas. There are people suffering in hidden ways, we cannot know their personal experience without actually living in their shoes. We can assume they are villains, lying about their grievances. Or perhaps we can be humble, and listen for a bit, have an open-minded discussion.

Yesterday, I discussed lessons I planned to teach about the role of propaganda in the Holocaust. I forgot something important.  You know, the popular Diary of Anne Frank? I have also read her Tales from the Secret Annex, where she imagined what it was like for the people living a normal life on the outside, while all the terrible things were happening around them. I was struck by a recurring theme in her work: Anne’s belief in the innate goodness of human beings.

Friends and neighbors, if someone who actually witnessed the rise of Nazism and herself suffered from persecution could still believe in people, I think it behooves all of us to take a look at each other as openly and hopefully as possible.

Propaganda or Misinformation

The Aim of this article is to point out a widespread problem that affects all sides of the political spectrum. I am afraid that my own thoughts have been clouded by the rampant misinformation so readily available on the internet.

Back when I was a Judaic studies/Hebrew teacher, I had the opportunity to teach a class of 8th graders some of the history that led to the Holocaust. What I learned from the text books and documents that I scoured in preparation was that the Nazis were systematic and adept at using mass media and  propaganda to gain control of the hearts and minds of a population that had not all voted in lockstep with them to begin with. The Nazis drew upon centuries of stereotyping and stories about the scary “other,” who made an easy scapegoat for real problems that had nothing to do with them. Despite the demise and repudiation of the Nazi regime over 60 years ago, these vivid images persist: the “Fat Greedy, Banker Jew,” the “Blood-drinking Satan Worshipper,” the “Lazy, yet Violent Barbarian.”

Especially with the advent of the internet, and it  being so easy to find multiple sources of information, one would assume it would be nearly impossible to get away with the type of propaganda that can be used by an oppressive, controlling regime.

Propaganda (dictionary.com)

[prop-uhgan-duh] noun

1.

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

2.

the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

3.

the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.

Until recently, yes, very recently, I was very naive about the power of propaganda in an open and free society. I don’t think I’m the only one, and I now believe that the makers of the current us vs. them propaganda are poisoning our social media and turning what should be open, reasoned discussions into finger-pointing and accusations. We think of our digitally advanced society as the “information age,” but solid facts are becoming harder and harder to discern.  

Yesterday, I saw clearly for the first time a blatant example of propaganda, a supposedly evidenced based article, promoting the narrative that Trump motivated hate crimes are a hoax created by “liberal Jews.” Here is the headline:

FAKE HATE: Leftist Students Painted Swastika and “Trump” on Campus Church

The article actually quotes and links to a real news story from the Jewish Week, and if you do a search for the two defendants mentioned, you will find multiple articles from mainstream news sources such as the Chicago Tribune. The author, Jim Hoft, of the Gateway Pundit, does not expect readers to click on and scrutinize the original source material, but by quoting a Jewish media source, he has given his article an aura of legitimacy.

Now, go ahead and click on the original news stories. You see the same pictures of the two students, but something is missing, not one word characterizing the two as “liberal” or “Jewish”. In fact, they are currently still being prosecuted on multiple counts for an actual hate crime, not for creating a fake hate crime!  Also, the Gateway Pundit story is dated Nov. 15, 2016, which is yesterday, and withholds the information that this incident occurred back in March. Mr. Hoft is trying to create the illusion that the two students are retaliating for the loss of their favored liberal candidate to President-Elect Trump.  The author copy and pasted an old news story and slapped on the attributes liberal and Jewish, to create a misleading piece of propaganda.

Now let’s say you are a liberal like me, and don’t bother to read the Gateway Pundit, which apparently is filled with stories like this, yay, I won’t be mislead! Unfortunately, this article and others like this showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday, thanks to a well-meaning  more conservative minded friend who is by no means anti-semitic. She immediately deleted it, when I pointed out how it was false and misleading. Another friend, however, continued to argue that the Jewish week and Chicago Tribune confirmed the veracity of the Gateway Pundit story. I don’t think I have been able to change his mind. Even if I had been able to change his mind, it is unlikely that most conservative readers are discussing with liberals this specific article. Meanwhile, the idea that liberals and others are responsible for perpetrating hoaxes to malign Trump supporters has already taken hold.

Propaganda is being used with increasing frequency on both sides of the political spectrum. Now that the head of the alt-right Brietbart news has become the chief advisor to President-Elect Trump, after heading up his successful campaign,  I am afraid that this type of systemic and sustained propaganda is being intentionally deployed to control the hearts and minds of free citizens, who might otherwise be able to have reasoned, fact-based discussions of the issues facing our country.

****Update: If you click on the Gateway Pundit, the story has now been updated, and “cleaned up”.  Here is another site that picked up on the same false story and links back to the gateway pundit as proof.

Update 2: Another site removed the “erroneous” Jewish attribution.

Update 3: Huckabee called out for quoting misinformation about this fake story here.