By Keith Nobles

When I was in school I had a lot of mediocre teachers, a couple that should have been no where near a classroom and a few really good teachers.

The best teachers I had were clustered in high school social studies. As a freshman the teacher taught us about sourcing history and evaluating sources – to include that what is in the newspaper is history as well. We learned to categorize history premised on primary sources and secondary sources and who wrote it, when it was written, why they wrote it, and to think through the inherent limitations associated with all of those things – and assign some sort of value to what in the history is true, may be true, is most likely not true, etc. There are always limitations to recording history. Additionally, as objective as someone may attempt to be, no one can completely escape their own viewpoint and unconscious or subconscious bias – let alone that the information is always incomplete to a greater or lesser degree. For example, Eisenhower may have written about D-Day but there were things that happened on the ground that he did not know, there were things the Germans were thinking and assuming that he did not know. The point is even if you know more about an event than anyone else there are still things that you do not know.
No one knows the whole story and every one writing history – even the newspaper – has inherent limitations. The key is grasping the who, when, why and gauging what those limitations and bias were. It is not that you cannot learn something but just the recognition that it is always incomplete and there will be bias to a larger or lesser degree. Additionally, some people write history and make assumptions that are bad or unwarranted or just create fiction. It happens more than we would like to admit. For example, I recently read a book on the battle of Kursk and the author broke a lot of the previous bad assumptions and fiction in regard to that event. This is a good example of what I am referring to: No one trusted the Soviet histories (for good reason) so consequently what we thought we knew about Kursk for many decades was not very accurate because nearly all we knew originated with the German generals who were both biased against the Red Army for having lost to them and created a fiction of blaming Hitler for things that they were responsible for. It was not until the USSR collapsed and the actual Soviet records were available in raw format that it was discovered that perhaps the German generals account of the event omitted some key details or added other details that were perhaps not quite true that changed the understanding of what happened in a meaningful way.
Here is the gist of this example: if you only read one book that addressed Kursk, say von Mellenthin, you would come away not really understanding the whole story. That is not to say that you cannot learn a considerable amount from von Mellenthin – you can – but understand that it is not gospel. It is information and being able to gauge that information on the who, when, why and gauging what those limitations and bias were by the creator of that information is key to discerning the value of the information.
That brings us to today and the destructive habit that people have of just buying what ever sounds good and confirms their bias and then endlessly repeating it as though it were gospel. The entire concept of being able to gauge that information on the who, when, why and gauging what those limitations and bias were by the creator of the information is lost by much of the population. The current mantra is that if something confirms the preferred narrative then it must be true – no matter how absurd or dubious the source. Conversely if something destroys the preferred narrative then it must be false no matter how plausible and solid the source and no matter how abundant the data.
No one is perfect at evaluating this but it is the attempt to move closer to perfection by continually gathering new information and evaluating it to improve your understanding of what is real that matters.
We are in an era where we are flooded with endless information. A critical mass of people no longer even attempt to practice any discernment around that information, they instantly gauge the usefulness of the information on if it supports their preferred narrative or if it conflicts with their preferred narrative. Trying to gauge information on the who, when, why and evaluating what those limitations and bias were by the creator of the information will get you attacked by both sides because a critical mass of people – not everyone and I doubt a majority but a critical mass – are deathly afraid that what they have come to believe and propagate is simply bullshit and must eliminate the possibility that others are entertaining those thoughts.
I am guessing there will be severe pain associated with the unquestioning absorption of bullshit – there always eventually is. Sort of the root cause of ‘sometimes societies just collectively go insane’ – the insanity ends when circumstances are such that the insanity is no longer an affordable luxury.