I was reading an article on Vox this morning about the advent of realistic and easily accessible “fake” tools, which allow for the creation of altered video and images with relatively high rates of accuracy, relatively low resources required, and the vast expanse of the internet with which to spread them.
This is a very real concern as we head into the 21st century. Our lives have become controlled by society (whether we like it or not), and if society is controlled by deception, what chance do we have to really have to live our own lives in a good way?
The answer is fairly simple. Use good guiding principles, and you will be able to ignore the worst effects of this fake information.
What Are Principles?
This may seem like an incredibly obvious question, but it’s important to take a step back and make sure that we know what principles are.
Positions and beliefs are not principles.
This is a misconception portrayed by anyone with an agenda to push.
The reason why you can’t make a decision based on positions and beliefs–at least not alone. It takes thorough examination and a willingness to change if you get better credible evidence to make such things worth anything at all.
Rather, principles are the way that we approach the world, and are more often described as guidelines for behavior. This is a good starting point, though it is important to consider principles for thought.
One of my principles for thought is “Wish no person ill.”
I’m not perfect at this (being human), but by making a decision to try to live this way I inure myself against a fair amount of potential for causing harm.
Principles do not protect against deception directly. In a world where our perceptions can be falsified and everything we hear and see can be fiction, deception will still rule some part of our minds.
But there are a couple things to consider:
First, we cannot have perfect Truth. We can strive for it, but we ourselves are not the font of it. Because we are not the source of this understanding of universal Being, we only understand what our filters and our schema allow us to perceive. We are all infinitely deceived by the nature of our biology.
Second, humanity has lived plugged in to deception since the dawn of civilization. We accept expedient explanations even in the least important matters, but when we come to matters of grave significance we are more than happy to rely on information we do not gather ourselves. The dawn of the 21st century brought an era of constant surveillance and sousveillance that allowed us to enjoy a relatively evidence-driven view of the world.
But evidence has always been flawed or faulty. Sherlock Holmes may be able to catch criminals using his incredible mind, but he does so only in a simulacrum of the universe. Fingerprint and even DNA evidence has been proven invalid due to a number of reasons, and now even recorded video is no longer sacred.
This is fine.
We simply need to lose our hubris and abandon our pride; we have never been omniscient, only momentarily deluded into thinking we were.
Why Fakes Matter
One of the driving movements of the postmodern era has, ironically, been to know the Truth. This is painted in the notion of a thousand individual truths, a notion based on the perceptual differences between each individual. However, as thinkers like Peterson and Scruton would be happy to point out, there is no way that there are actually a thousand realities.
So people set out to find what reality is. They make their purpose in life the knowledge of Truth while simultaneously denying its very existence.
The better focus, rather than Truth, is God. While I’d like to say this in a strictly religious sense, I am speaking here in the Nietzschean sense, where God is the driving sense of morality.
You see, when Nietzsche spoke of God’s death, he wasn’t trying to blaspheme Christianity (at least not solely, though having read some of Nietzsche’s work I think he was more respectful of the faith than his critics give him credit for).
Rather, he was referring to the social changes that would become modernism and then postmodernism.
Modernism and postmodernism rely on ends-based methods to determine morality. Strictly utilitarian, they rely on analysis and reason to minimize whatever the individual defines as harm and maximize whatever the individual defines as good.
This utilitarianism works really well when you have a rational and clear picture of the universe.
But we might be moving past the point where that’s possible. I would hope that advances in technology make it easier to identify fake audiovisual productions, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that we can have social movements that will accurately flag and remove falsified information from our communal consciousness. Any movement trying to do so is limited in itself by the information available to it, and the perceptions of the individuals involved.
We might be able to do some damage mitigation, sure. The blockchain promises an opportunity to validate the time of creation of these documents and files, but there is no reason to believe that it will be effective at fully suppressing falsehood. The system has to work 100% of the time, and that’s not going to happen.
A Better Way
Kant describes a Categorical Imperative, the notion that if something would be wrong in any situation, it should never be done.
I’m not a huge fan of Kant, to be blunt, but he’s not that far from the truth.
The best defense against deception is to live in a way that even when deceived you will not harm others.
Seek morality not from the effects it creates but from the virtues it reveals within you. Are your actions building others up? Are they building God’s–whether the literal divine or the archetypal good in the vein of Nietzsche–kingdom?
Would you be ashamed to do what you do to your enemies to the best person on earth? Do you force others to do what you would not want to be forced to do? Have you managed to overcome your vices before condemning others?
Only then can you live in Truth.