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Discourse on Navigating Fake News

Fake news. Alternative facts. Inherent bias. These phrases linger in my subconscious when I check Apple News moments after I wake up in the morning. Still sluggish from sleep, I hesitate to click on an article about Jeff Sessions' connections to Russia, published by the New York Times. A minute or so later, I linger before clicking on an article from Fox News, my finger hovering over the words, “American Health Care Act.” Distraught and unsure, I exit the app, roll out of bed, and get ready to start my day.

When I first heard the Trump campaign attack the media, I laughed at the absurdity of his remarks. The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal; throughout my life these have been the titans of news, the pillars of the truth. How could any of them be corrupted by bias, let alone levy a personal vendetta against a presidential candidate? Yet, as the election cycle progressed, and the country grounded itself in partisan divisions, the biases embedded in each news distributor showed more clearly with every passing day. Realizing the imperfections of my news sources, I was thrust into a state of apprehension, constantly wondering, “What do I have to do to find the truth?”

Still suspended in a vacuum of uncertainty, I arrived at my Perspectives class that same morning a bit late. And as I hurried to flip through my notes to an empty page, I paused over the words “I think, therefore I am.”

Certainty.

If you have not read René Descartes’, Discourse on Method in your Perspectives or Philosophy of the Person class then you have, essentially, missed out on the greatest “how to guide” for any moments of confusion. In Sparknotes fashion, the Discourse on Method details Descartes’ reaction to uncertainty about truth by throwing all taught knowledge out the window. Descartes stresses that in times of doubt and hesitation we return to what we know for certain.

In time of doubt regarding the news, we must return to what we know for certain. Strip away all the finery, the ornament, the opinion, and what remains is the fact, the event itself, the objective truth. This is what we must search for before we take on the inherent bias of perspective. Instead of reading about why the American Health Care Act is better or worse than the Affordable Care Act, read the bullet points of the bill, attempt to formulate your own opinions, and then go off in search of conflicting viewpoints.

René Descartes warned against becoming too reliant on others in formulating beliefs. He encouraged men and women to delve deeper into their souls to uncover what it was they could sincerely justify. The uncertainty surrounding political belief in the modern era demands this very same warning, it demands that we as Americans remember our duty to both our country and ourselves to be informed, opinionated, and correct. Shouts of “Fake News,” and “Alternative Facts,” may be unwelcome and absurd, but they serve to remind us that our duty should not be passed off on a few famous news distributors. Rather it is we, the people, who ought to analyze the facts and forge the prolific discourse which guides our nation.

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