Have you heard? It’s simply not true that Myanmar’s military leaders are massacring the Rohingya Muslim minority. Never mind the eyewitness accounts of soldiers throwing babies into fires, or the photos of the more than 600,000 starving Rohingya who’ve fled to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh. “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” a Myanmar official declared this week. “It is fake news.” Ah, fake news. Such a useful concept. Totalitarian states have long known its power and utility, but autocrats are now taking lessons from the U.S. Cryin g “fake news” can magically erase any inconvenient evidence, whether it points to genocide, the destructive impact of rising global temperatures, Russia’s election interference, or a favored politician’s predations on teenage girls. The lying media made it all up!
Our nation is having what philosophers might call “an epistemological crisis.’’ That’s a highfalutin way of saying many people no longer know what it’s possible to know. If nothing the media reports can be trusted, if scientists are frauds, if there is no reliable source of information or verification—then how do you distinguish between “fake news” and reality? You cannot. This can be disorienting at first, but it can also be marvelously liberating: There is no objective truth—just what you want to believe, and the “biased” beliefs of the enemy. Thus, in Alabama, 71 percent of Republicans say they don’t believe that senatorial candidate Roy Moore preyed on girls in their teens, despite the detailed accounts from eight women. The president’s attorneys are now saying he can’t be accused of obstruction of justice, even if he tried to shut down the Russia investigation, because “the president is the chief law enforcement officer.” (See Controversy.) In 1984, George Orwell described a dystopian world in which citizens are taught: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Surrender to the paradox, and you are free from all doubt.