Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Innocent Until Proven Guilty."

I found the photo above from the Net.  According to the one who posted this to the Net, this photo is suited as a theoretical illustration of how media can manipulate photos (among other data) to suit the desired message they want to convey to their audience. 

If they want to show the soldiers as compassionate and noble human beings, they would crop the picture like this:

On the other hand, if they want to portray the soldiers as cruel dogs, they would crop the picture like this:

Clever manipulation, eh?  This photo might be just a theoretical illustration but it can’t be denied that media has this power and had used these kinds of strategy so many times before. 

Do I think that the media is 100% credible and trustworthy and has no self-agenda?  No, I don’t.  From what I said already, they can easily manipulate the available data to convey a message suitable for their purpose.  I don’t think that the media is totally objective.  We know that media organizations, though they claim to be objective and neutral, has their own stand as an organization on certain issues (e.g. Left-leaning  TV stations and newspapers’ attacks on Bush) or has their own agendas (e.g. what else? Mullah, leverage, power, profit, etc.).  Media would tend to sensationalize to sell.   Omit certain facts to make out of context statements, or completely omit to report the event or news completely if it is not favorable to their agenda at all.    Media needs to make a profit.  They have to report things that people want to hear or read.    Thus if a good news would not sell, why report it at all?
To be fair, I am not only referring to the media.  I think that there is actually no such institution or person that can be totally free from any form of bias, thus his or her or its statements can’t be believed to be true all the time.  I am not saying that the media is completely untrustworthy.  That’s not the point I will make.   Media is the best option we got to obtain data from places or sources out of our reach.  But we should not take all what the media gives us as the gospel truth.  And not only the media but other sources of information as well.  As I’ve said, I am not only referring to the media but to every institution or source that we might get our information from, like the government, from the textbooks, our teachers, or other authorities.  That’s the point I would like to make.  We should have this mentality of being a bit of “I-believe-it-when-I-see-it” skeptic, so that we would not be easily be persuaded to believe any argument or idea without seeing or experiencing or researching about it first-hand.    

Yes, I am saying that we should not totally believe everything an authority (media, books, and other sources of information) says.  But the opposite extreme of it – to totally disbelieve everything an authority tells us – is also a wrong approach.   We have to be open-minded ourselves and consider the points of the authority’s arguments or see if we could verify what the authority says.  That’s what I mean earlier when I said that the media “is the best option we got to obtain data from places or sources out of our reach” (unless we can get to the main source of the data, to confirm it against the media’s message).  We can absorb the data provided by the media (or by any source of information), listen or recognize their own interpretation of the data and its argument, consider if all arguments are in context, discard the “props” or the dramatic or romantic arguments (e.g. use of labeling, red herrings, or anything that can appeal to the emotion that prevents objective mental evaluation), presume, even this far, if the arguments match flawlessly with the data… but never judge or accept it as the 100% truth until we look upon it ourselves, from other sources of information, or from the opposite side of the argument.  I said “presume”, since we can assume it’s a fact (if the argument was unflawed and concrete), but we should still find a way to confirm it.  Once we checked it all, either we agree ourselves with what the media or authority or source of information told us, or found out it was all fallacious.   Let me use the fact that the world is round as an example of a good approach on how we can believe what an authority says.  It is generally known that the world is round.  Have we been to outer space to see it for ourselves?  So why can we quickly accept that the world is round?  Because Ferdinand Magellan traveled to Asia by going westwards instead of eastwards.  Because Yuri Gagarin and others who went to space have seen for themselves that the world is round.  Throughout history, we find figures of authority – geographers, travelers, historians, scientists, astronomers, astronauts, etc. – that has arguments and evidences that supports the fact that the world is round.    Two factors why we now can comfortably believe that the world is round is a fact.  One, there are evidences and arguments that we can look upon.  Two, the claim that the world is round comes, not from one authority or source, but from multiple authorities and sources.  There’s no way there could be a conspiracy among all these authorities and sources throughout the centuries to mislead us.  On the other hand, we have what argument that the world is flat?  None.  Thus, we can trust the truth in the claim that the word is round.  However, in the back of our heads, there should be a tiny voice saying, “But I will 100% believe it when I finally go to outer space myself and see it for my own eyes.”  Not because we still completely doubt that the world is round, but because always maintaining this mentality of a bit of “I-believe-it-when-I-see-it” skepticism is healthy, to avoid being gullible and to always have a rational and objective mindset. 

One of the faults we have is we can be easily persuaded by intelligently packaged arguments or propagandas.  We are easily impressed by statistics, as if statistics are all accurate and always tell the whole story, and as if we understand all those statistics delivered to us. We think we know everything about Global Warming just by simply watching a documentary by Al Gore and we forget the important fact that weather is just too complicated to be explained simply, thus we have wishful thinkings such as the Earth Hour actually having some effect on the lessening of Global Warming.  We join bandwagons, like hating Bush for no justified intellectual reason at all, but just because the animosity on him is popular. We are easily addicted to fads.  Our opinions and feelings are easily swayed by the flow of the crowd (it’s a true human phenomenon).

To be able to persuade people does not necessarily mean it was through unflawed and concrete arguments.  We all know that we can persuade someone by appealing to the emotion, which is a weak basis for faith in a message or idea, and even convincing by appealing to the mind can be done by intelligent but manipulative arguments.  I should know since I also sometimes succumb to using techniques like sick logic, labeling, out-of-context points and analogy, reverse psychology, etc.  Even great logicians and debaters would also, consciously or unconsciously, use these effective but faulty techniques.  Sigmund Freud can deliver fictional and flawed ideas in a scientific and logical way.

I’ve said that there can be no institution or individual that can be completely objective, even ourselves.  Thus, even if we look upon the data ourselves, we could also be biased in some way.  It can never be helped.  It is being human. The point is, though we would lean on a particular idea because of the thought indoctrinated to us by our upbringing or beliefs, we should be able to stand to these beliefs because we, ourselves, had looked, researched, studied, or evaluated the given data first-hand and had not just accepted it passively.  I had always argued that one of the factors for effective analytical thought is to be able to get to the main raw source of the data, and not from already “processed” data – though, this would be theoretically more convenient if the one who did the “processing” is 100% trustworthy and error-free, which is almost impossible.  The next best thing we can do is to always have an inquiring mind, never compromising to believe in something until there is no doubt in our mind after doing our own researches.  Therefore, even if we have our own “biases” because of our faith or principles or philosophies, the “bias” would be minimal; that we can sincerely believe that our stands and beliefs have firm bases, and not holding unto them stubbornly even if we know that the stands and beliefs we have are false.    

  Let me share an illustration by Max Lucado.  The point here is that Christians should not take all what anybody preaches as true and that they should confirm all what is preached to them by turning to the Bible.  It is also similar with my point.  Here is the illustration:

Imagine you are selecting your food from a cafeteria line. You pick your salad, you choose our entrée, but when you get to the vegetables, you see a pan of something that turns your stomach.
“Yuck! What’s this?" you ask, pointing.
“Oh, you don’t want to know," replies a slightly embarrassed server.
“Yes, I do."
“Well, if you must. It’s a pan of pre-chewed food."
“Pre-chewed food. Some people prefer to swallow what others have chewed."
Let us not make other people do the intellectual chewing for us and be resigned to just do the swallowing.  We should stop letting others do the thinking for us.  We should always have an inquiring mind, to confirm the information we get and not just passively accepting and believing them.  We should always have concrete bases on what our stand or what we believe in.  We should see through the “bells and whistles” arguments.  We should not be quick to judge.  We should not let our emotions cloud our evaluations.  And though we will always have some bias and prejudice, we should keep it at minimum and be objective enough, at least, to not defy ethics and common sense.  This is a healthy mentality that we should always practice as best as we can.  In Law, I like the term used for this kind for mentality.  “Innocent until proven guilty.” 

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