Believing Anything and Nothing

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

– McKay Coppins, writing about political disinformation for The Atlantic.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is often quoted as saying that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

What microtargeting of vulnerable people has created is the opposite: minds that filter all ideas, opposing or not, through a distortion filter that makes them unable to think critically on anything. Facts don’t matter, because everything is just a predictable reaction based on a fundamental premise, world-view, or political exigency.

That article is extremely depressing. But if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if/when the internet became so drowned out by bots and misinformation noise that it becomes useless, you’d enjoy Fall by Neal Stephenson.

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