A friend e-mails another friend to praise his "effort to debunk some small share of the nonsense which is transmitted on the Web and transformed thereby into Truth."
The particular bit of nonsense he referred to emerged from a right-wing (is there any other kind?) radio talk show. A caller who identified himself as a "brain surgeon" said he had learned that under "Obama's new health care plan for advanced neurosurgical care," patients over 70 would be given nothing more than "comfort care."
Like most of the canards that thrive on the 'Net, this one has sore thumbs. First, the host of the radio program is a Limbaugh acolyte; by definition, his audience is made up of kooks, fruitcakes and nuts. Second, no self-respecting neurosurgen, even one who specializes in surgery inside the cranium, would call himself a "brain surgeon." That's a layman's term. Third, this smells very much like the old "death panel" crap.
The e-mailee bothered to do a bit of fundamental checking and found that the meeting at which the "brain surgeon" purported to learn about the "Obama plan" for 70-year-olds was pure fiction. There was no such meeting.
Ninety-per cent of the nonsense which is transmitted on the Web is just as easily debunked. But even if all of the nonsense were clearly labeled "This is a lie!" the poor fools whose biases are reinforced by the lie would propagate it as Truth.
The friend praising the debunker blames the 'Net. "I think it's possible," he writes, "a generation from now, when ignorance has come to full flower and authority, that the remaining thinkers of thoughts will say that when the Internet killed off the purveyors of mostly reliable information and replaced them with a readily accessible global blackboard of prejudice and stupidity, that whatever chance the democratic experiment had was finished."
I think he's just being cranky. (He has bad knees and so far has resisted surgery.) For all the prejudice and stupidity on the global blackboard, there is also infinitely more useful, reliable information and opinion, more easily accessible, than at any time in human history.
No need to pad down to the local library and pore through two dozen publications to sip the economic wisdom of such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Baker, Robert Reich and Simon Johnson, without which mere laymen likely could not savvy the entire venality and wrongness of our leadership's economic policies. Their ready availability on the Web serves democracy far better than, say, newspapers, even when there were still several good ones around.
The Arab spring of 2011 -- the first steps toward democracy for millions -- could not have happened without the Internet.
The Web gave birth to the Occupy movement, the most promising development so far for the restoration of at least a semblance of democracy in the United States. It sustained the people's protests against oligarchy in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.
When even the New York Times lied to us about yellow cake, aluminum tubes and WMDs in Iraq, the only reasonable, experienced and reliable voices of dissent -- real truth, in this case -- were on the Internet: Hans Blix, for example, the Swedish diplomat who was personally involved in nearly a thousand onsite inspections in Iraq; or Ray McGovern, the outspoken former senior CIA intelligence analyst. In "balancing" her utterly false reports, Judith Miller did not consult either of these legitimate experts. She knew that doing so would cut off access to her source for the bogus information, "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's errand boy.
ALEC. The framing of Acorn. The health threat and unreliability of airport scanners.
The tentacles of the Koch Brothers. The real origins of the Tea Party. For either the first, or the only, or surely the deepest understanding of these compromises of our democracy one had to scour the Internet.
Of course, using a tool like the Internet -- itself a functioning democracy -- demands discretion, care and double-checking. But then, hasn't that always been true of newspapers? Magazines? Books?