The freedom of expression, as well as the right to reliable information, which are often (and mistakenly) combined into one concept - “freedom of speech” - are going through conflicting times. It seems to have never been so easy to communicate as it is now, but, all the same, people roam blindly in the all-consuming fog of information and risk wandering into a place from which they can’t find a way out. Perhaps today, new communications are the main threat to peace.
Communication is the greatest value of human life, without it, our very existence is impossible. Through broadly understood communication, we gain knowledge, because even the most sophisticated physical machines are the result of the communication between scientists, sometimes mediated by books or articles. At the same time, communication is, perhaps, the main meaning of life in general. Man, as you know, is a political animal, that is, an animal whose habitat is communication.
Aristotle, in naming man a political animal, even emphasised that “he is a social creature with the power of speech and moral reasoning: Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature”. However, this is, so to speak, at best. We know, of course, about states whose goal in their communication, at least among some people, was to find the worst possible existence and, finally, non-existence. In general, communication is a society.
Emphasising the importance of communication means breaking through an open door.
Another thing is that communication, ideally, is based on honesty, on sincerity (which isn’t identical to honesty), on the reliability of information, and on the ability of people to understand this information and each other. Roughly speaking, communication requires competence, and even competencies (one of them is the ability to lie and distinguish lies).
But today, communication seems unusually difficult. New technologies have challenged people, plunging them into a new kind of ignorance; one more dangerous than before.
Let’s take the notorious example of climate change. I suspect that there are few people who can more or less confidently and competently sort out the nightmarish abundance of information on this subject. But this question is not just important for the survival of mankind. Today it is a matter of real political and social struggle, economic competition, and business. And billions of people are drawn into all these processes, who, thanks to the Internet, social networks, and numerous media, get abundant information about this warming. They are not just overwhelmed, but are actively involved at different levels of communication regarding this discussion. Those processes influence the minds and behaviour of these people: how they vote, what they buy, what meetings and demonstrations they go to, what kind of business they open and so on. Moreover, this concerns not only the so-called ordinary people (and what does it mean?), but the elites as well. Incidentally, never before have people so directly influenced the development of political, social, economic, and even natural life on Earth.
So it turns out that the global climate debate is being conducted mainly by people who are most likely vaguely well-versed in the subject. Even worse, it is extremely difficult for us to distinguish truly competent scientists and specialists from completely selfish speculators on this topic, manipulators looking for certain benefits. In a sense, the essence of this story can be seen in Greta Thunberg. I would not like to question her sincerity, but her competence is exaggerated. It’s funny that this girl has become a temporary symbol of the environmental movement. It is not particularly bad to be a symbol. There was a crusade of children in the 13th century. It ended badly, but there was more than enough earnest symbolism. Another interesting question to ask is: why doesn’t some world-class intellectual symbolise the global climate challenge movement?
It’s because uncontrolled, but often unreliable information, especially in social networks (but not exclusively), has established a false parity between truly outstanding minds, illiterate speculators and uneducated dreamers.
Moreover, the emergence of the opportunity for every human being to appeal to absolutely everyone else on the planet, for all the demagogic beauty of this fact, has played a bad joke on us, toying with both freedom of speech and the right to reliable information. Let’s say for argument’s sake that in the middle of the last century, I wanted to raise my voice against, for example, racial inequality. And it was not easy to break into central newspapers or radio stations. But today, despite billions of counted votes, the mass public is generating enough inequality to be tantamount to ten apartheids. The concentration of hatred and xenophobia emitted by these voices is comparable to the psychological stress during the great war.
We can cite multiple examples and continue the discussion. But the bottom line is that perhaps the main challenge of our time is our inability and unwillingness to properly use the new communication capabilities. As a result, new communications have become among of the main threats to the modern world, plunging it into a new epoch of ignorance and intolerance, which are more dangerous than they may have been in the past because of the power of modern technology. Blinded citizens give rise to blinded elites who gladly trample the rare sighted people into the mud. Evidence of this can be found everywhere, all around the world.I have no recipe for dealing with this threat. I’ve already written about the need for something like a journalistic renaissance, but maybe we need to think about some kind of global system for regulating communications, about some kind of global fact-checking institution, a centre of truth? This is hardly possible, of course. But, I repeat, the problem is as it is.