It Is a Good Day to Learn Something New

When I wrote about bamboozling, I was not thinking about any specific instance as there are so many examples. Rather, I was trying to point out the amount of trouble we get ourselves into when we trust a single source of information or, far worse, we allow someone else to decide what information is trustworthy. So, while it is easy to mine Fox News or MSNBC for the number of bamboozling attempts per minute, we are warned before hand. We know there is an agenda that we do not have to take to heart and we can look behind their message for the rest of the story. Fate has handed me a golden opportunity to discuss how sources of information both create and solve problems in the form of Associated Press's Twitter account being hacked.

This example of bamboozling springs from a false report that bombs went off in the White House causing a mini panic in the stock market, which dropped 100 points in an hour. People heard of a threat to the President and their immediate reaction was to sell off their investments before the losses became greater. Capitalism functions inside a delicate system of balanced confidence in what value commodities will have in both the near and long term. It takes only a small handful of bamboozlers to shatter that confidence and create an atmosphere of fear that expresses itself in selling off investments. Information demonstrates its supremacy as the most valuable commodity in an hour of selling, followed by buying when the truth of the hacking is obvious.

As the false report circulated, the bamboozle perpetrated by the hackers threatened to become a market panic, pretty much according to plan we can imagine. Turn bamboozle loose on the trading floor and get out of the way as damage will be self-inflicted. It is also pretty easy to guess that one or two of the less lemming dna'd traders made a call or two, or took the time to bring up Google news for a quick search before happily buying up shares at panic reduced prices. All of the took an hour to create a minor blip on the days trading as the bamboozled reports were replaced by reality in the conversations on the floor.

Rumors flying around at digital speeds allow us to create virtual mobs that react to gossip, or in this case, outright lies planted by a hacker. Anyone who remembers Edmund Muskie in tears over planted misinformation during his presidential campaign knows that information routinely is used, misused or blatantly fabricated in an attempt to influence events. Bamboozlers count on their ability to offer plausible fodder for the fervent imagination of the audience. Propagandists use the same principle to establish the “official” version of truth by creating a monopoly of information.

Monopolies of information were first discussed by Canadian economist and historian, Harold Innis, just after the second World War. Innis correctly predicted that technology that prevents space (think long distances) from slowing down the flow of information (think radio as this was before television) raised the intensity level of perceptions. His suggested antidote sounded a lot like a call for storytelling to maintain oral traditions and make sure that the meaning we generate from events remains buffered from technological immediacy. Innis was not trying to argue that broadcasting was inherently negative for culture, but he did have a view for how to counter the influence of the speed of information.

Bamboozlers have always thrived on monopolies of information, situations that prevent another voice from being heard. Storytellers, with their multiple points of view, provide protection from both technology and bamboozlers. T. H. White summarized this phenomena with this advise from Merlin to Arthur in the Sword and the Stone:

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

I have carried these lines around in my head for over 40 years, courtesy of a lovely English major who thought we all became better people by reading. In that time, I have found that reading starts the process, but we need something to read and hear. We learn as much from telling the stories and comparing them to the stories of everyone around us. It just never gets old, the bamboozlers do.

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