False Equivalence and Information Confetti

One of the most pernicious tendencies in modern life is the tendency to create false equivalencies. This goes beyond relativism and veers into the absurd in most cases. I recently had a vigorous discussion with a friend about the modern political controversies embroiling the White House and Congress. The disagreement largely boiled down to the perpetuation of false equivalencies -- a minor ethical breach is equivalent to thousands of lies through the lens of false equivalency, while violence to protect freedoms is falsely equivalent with violence inspired by racism. And so we wander as a culture, our sense of proportion distorted so badly that right and wrong become a confusing, recursive spectrum akin to Mobius strip.

Information confetti, as I like to call it, contributes to this phenomenon. To me, this is the problem of a million little facts, related or not, blotting out larger truths, making them appear as indistinct and therefore equivalent shapes hulking behind the blizzard of little information bits. Masters of information confetti use it to disorient and conceal, leveraging an endless barrage of social and conventional media to make it difficult to discern the shape of truth.

In the academic world, the trend has not taken hold as much, but you can see instances where it threatens to intrude, from the intolerance around certain speakers for minor slights in their past to the dredging up of old trespasses to politicize a topic or a historical figure. The good someone does in their life can be undone with one simple lapse in judgment or word said in anger. After all, in a world of false equivalence and information confetti, there isn't time to study and contemplate each instance, and surely each is just another little inconsequential shred of information soon replaced by another.

This mindset -- that information is all equivalent, and that the goal is to keep up rather than to make sense of it -- undercuts critical thinking and makes us vulnerable to manipulation. And that is the most profound false equivalency -- that more information is better. In fact, what we're seeing may not be information at all.