I should never have gone there. Should have been content to look forward, not backward. Should have listened more closely to the aphorism that says, “when you put something out there, it no longer belongs to you.” But sometimes vanity gets the best of me. I took a peek at the “secondary market” for “Butcher, Baker.” And found the place where the truth (and facts) go to die.
There’s a guy with a YouTube channel whose Butcher, Baker video has more than 300,000 views. In the span of twenty-minutes, he spouts over 30 falsehoods. That’s a true Pinocchio.Leland E. Hale, Fact Checker
A Home for Fabulists
It’s not just YouTube. It’s the internet and Twitter and Facebook and TikTok and… Yeah, I already knew that. But like most things in life, it’s easier to accept if you keep your distance. Keep your nose down, stay with your life’s work. That way, you don’t die a little each time you bump into the distortions and outright fabrications.
But of course, these things are everywhere, aren’t they? It doesn’t help that some folks, in their quest to delegitimize things with which they disagree, end up delegitimizing everything. I’m no fan of the post-facts / post-truth world because… In order to function — as individuals, as societies — we actually depend on some things being true.
Facts We Depend Upon
As in… That highway you’re about to take really does lead to the grocery store. That place you call “home” really does have walls and a roof. That airplane you’re about to board really does fly back to your birthplace. We trust these facts because we suffer when these things are not true. The alternative is life as a fever dream, life as an endless series of false flags. Life as an Alex Jones nightmare.
Let me also note that, as a true-crime author, the assertion of “truth” and “facts” is at the core of my work. Not just because I can be sued when I assert falsehoods. When guns are fired in anger or malice, real people die. Not fake people. Not fake-news people. I have to get it right.
That said, the reality of the Butcher, Baker falsehoods really disoriented me. At first it was funny. The symphony of errors made me chuckle, then laugh out loud, then wince. I had a stray thought: how can these people blatantly spout falsehoods without consequences? Consequences that I surely would face if I put falsehoods into print.
I should have stopped there. But, no, I dug deeper, dove into the morass. Went spelunking. Suddenly, I felt the need to provide a compendium of correctives. It proved to be a new way to die.
The No Facts Zone
That’s when I met Brandolini’s law. Also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle. That’s where my impulse to fight back against the lies fell apart.
“The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.”
Another way of saying this is, “a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.” It works because battling bullshit is an exercise in futility. One of the first things you encounter is the Gish gallop. That’s where someone floods the zone with so much nonsense that, by the time you refute their first error, the propagator is wagging a finger, pointing to a new set of non-sequiturs. It’s not a single argument, it’s a bucket of riddles, each one compounding the other, as if fourteen bad arguments can ultimately add up to a single good one. Or sometimes it’s just a single, elegant non-sequitur, grammatical errors free of charge.
There is a way, thankfully, to combat this verbal flood of falsehoods, one known by rhetoricians since the time of the Greeks. “You’ve made lots of arguments there,” you counter, politely. “Let’s take them one at a time, starting with your strongest one.” Of course that means you have to do your homework. Which, to be fair, means stick to the facts you know inside out. But that’s the beauty of the online world, isn’t it? The fabulist need not respond. Hell, they can block your sorry ass. Touché.
The Larger Reality
To be fair, I’m guessing some of this nonsense is done “unknowingly.” [Notice I didn’t say “unwittingly.”] As in, said by people for whom “truth” and “facts” are things to be recklessly tossed into any conversation. It’s all about the “win.” And, these days, fast and loose is a winning paradigm. It’s a grab bag out there, so who cares if it’s wrong? The intent is to overwhelm you. It’s whack-a-mole ala Carte. You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
If you’ve ever been to a County or State Fair, you already know the most obvious perpetrators. The snake oil salesmen that hawk “it slices, it dices, it shampoos your hair.” The ones just going for the clicks. Yeah. Them. They exist in the bowels of the everyday.
Unfortunately, these folks also exist at the highest levels of discourse. Some of them are the scions of the post-truth world. Whatever these folks are offering, it’s abysmal. Run. It could cost you billions.
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2022). All rights reserved.
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