Apologies again to my many, many readers for whom my posting infrequency must be torturous. I’ve been largely preoccupied by various other writing projects, leaving little time for additional wordage. By way of another brief update, gainful employment has also extinguished much of my other free time, which has been for the purpose of funding further travel, so that will also no doubt occupy me for the next few weeks.
The half-formed notion swilling around my mind for my next subject has been the theme of information. Broad, equivocal, elusive, it’s been challenging to articulate in some concise form precisely what it would mean without my usual dedication, so this will instead be a collection of sporadic thoughts to be unloaded, which I suppose is a return to my blogging roots.
It arose because I jointly wanted to discuss developments in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and the Horn of Africa, before realising they were all connected by a complete disconnect in the West and lack of information, which in itself is intriguing enough to deserve note.
Sri Lanka appears to be crumbling into a major humanitarian crisis after defaulting on international debts last month, valued at over $50 billion. The result of various contributing factors, including years of financial mismanagement in which imports escalated alongside declining exports, exacerbated by a COVID-induced tourism drought, has consequently witnessed immense food and fuel shortages. Experiencing blackouts to critical infrastructure, the nation is desperately reliant upon global food banks to sustain its population.
This runs in parallel to the famine spreading across Eastern Africa, intensely afflicting Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Locust plagues and scorching drought destroying crops, combined with COVID pressures, have imposed conditions in which an estimated 70% of people might experience hunger. Many of these nations are also heavily reliant upon imports from Ukraine and Russia, which provide 30% of the world’s wheat and barley, 20% of maize, and over 50% of its sunflower oil. Needless to say, the Russia invasion has severely disrupted this trade.
The connecting feature of these stories is a fundamental lack of awareness. Admittedly, Western nations are enduring their own cost of living squeeze, but a quick Google search yields no results younger than a month covering either Sri Lank or the Horn of Africa. Information is another precious commodity in short supply. Most dangerously, it’s often deemed unessential in times of crisis.
Were I on the brink of starvation, I’d undoubtably feel the same. Which is why deliberate disinformation, which was to be the primary focus of this blog, becomes so alarming. Russian state media is attempting to control the narrative of its invasion domestically, presenting it as a rescue mission welcomed by Ukrainians against fascism. The ferocity of the Ukrainian resistance would indicate otherwise. Still, once a population becomes convinced of an opinion, challenges to that perspective tend only to further entrench their stance.
In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr won the Presidency last month, alongside Sara Duterte. The latter is daughter to populist incumbent Robert Duterte, infamous for extrajudicial killings of drug dealers, whilst also driving the nation towards authoritarianism. During his term, he also controversially recommended a ‘hero’s burial’ for Marcos Sr in 2016. It was controversial because Marcos Jr’s father ruled as a dictator for two decades, including a period of martial law, in which political opponents were arrested, tortured, and disappeared, with the funeral described as a whitewashing of history. The election, partially won on a platform of widespread misinformation, seems to have consolidated a collective forgetfulness, as the country likely returns to illiberalism.
Attention in many avenues surely turned last week to the US Select Committee’s investigation into the 6th of January 6th, 2021 (sorry, January 6th). The so-called ‘Big Lie’, that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 US election, only for it to be stolen by nefarious means, still rages, perpetuated by high-ranking figures in the US Republican party. It’s a classic instance of widespread misinformation, somehow convincing large swathes despite being utterly devoid of fact. What the committee has thus far uncovered is reported evidence Trump and his closest allies knowingly deceived the American population, whilst others were complicit in their silence. Democracy, it seems, teetered on the brink of destruction. It’s almost as unsurprising as Sue Grey revealing Boris Johnson presided over a culture of rampant hedonism and corruption, but it’s still important for misinformation be confronted and disavowed whenever it arises.
So, information. Alone, it’s impotent. The simple act of knowing something means nothing. I’m reminded here of a fascinating riddle related to information, so indulge me on a typical tangent. Otherwise, ignore the rest of this paragraph. Imagine an island, on which one hundred people have been imprisoned, all of whom have green eyes. They are allowed to leave, however, if they approach one of the guards and happen to have green eyes. If not, they’ll be executed. There are no reflective surfaces on the island, which crucially means none of them can be sure of their own eye colour, so they don’t risk attempting to escape. That changes when, one day, they’re told: “One of you has green eyes”. It’s not new information and yet, after ninety-nine days, every islander confidently leaves. So, information can be weaponised.
That’s what so frequently happens in the wider world. Information alone does nothing, but it can quickly become one of the most powerful forces in existence.
Thanks for reading! I’ll post an explanation for the riddle down in the comments. Otherwise, let me know your thoughts on information.
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I’m often dismayed by how misinformed many people are when we live in a world of information at our fingertips. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Tom.