Pack of liars

Aldous Huxley: “People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

In Brave New World, Huxley envisioned a future in which we are oppressed not by political tyranny but by getting what we want—infinite forms of technology that give us comfort, feed us only satisfying information, and isolate us from each other and from our heritage, making us easily controllable—a very different conjectural vision than other fictional speculations on future repression published in Huxley’s time.

The novel is filled with sentences like this: “History is bunk. History is bunk. … Accompanied by a campaign against the Past; by the closing of museums, the blowing up of historical monuments (luckily most of them had already been destroyed during the Nine Years’ War); by the suppression of all books published before A.F. 150. … And then he spends most of his time by himself—alone.”

Huxley envisioned, in other words, a world much like the United States of America in 2015. Bad information has become so omnipresent that some publications have fact-checking features that cannot begin to keep up with the flow of nonsense. Devices reduce the amount of time we must spend with each other. Media live by the drug-dealer’s defense: We give the public what it wants.

One consequence is that we lose sight of what is important, unable to distinguish between Stephen Hawking and Stephen King—a celebrity is a celebrity—or between folk wisdom and science.

“The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence,” Huxley wrote. During the past week in Reno, a documentary has been showing at the Riverside theaters downtown. The widely praised Merchants of Doubt is based on the powerful nonfiction 2010 book of the same name that describes how industry manipulates us by using renowned rent-a-scientists, mostly physicists, to create doubt about what science says. Some of the same former scientists—they generally haven’t done original research in years—who told us science was wrong about tobacco and cancer or secondhand smoke later told us science was wrong about acid rain or the hole in the ozone layer, and now tell us science is wrong about climate change.

Think tanks that do little thinking but lots of propagandizing were created by the rent-a-scientists and corporations to do what the pesticide industry once did. That industry manufactured doubt about the findings of scientist Rachel Carson on the threat of pesticides. Every independent scientific study has upheld her findings, but it doesn’t matter. The point of the techniques employed by that industry was not to disprove her findings but to fabricate distrust, which it did.

At one Reno showing of Merchants of Doubt last weekend, two people attended. No doubt there was heavy attendance down the hall at Mall Cop 2. Little wonder Merchants was shown at only one theater.

Documentaries tend to tear through Reno like cheetahs. Not surprisingly, the date that this edition of our newspaper hits the street is the last day Merchants will show in Reno. We urge readers to turn to other ways to see it. It is not just a movie. It’s important, if we still can recognize that characteristic in media.