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Information Disease


Undoubtedly you're asking the questions, "Information disease? What's that? And what does it have to do with free speech?"

I first came upon the concept of information disease almost thirty years ago in a book called Snapping. At that time there was a great deal of interest in and fear of various cults such as the Moonies, Hare Krishna and the Children of God. My copy was bought shortly after the events at Jonestown. After that horror I resolved to learn more about the cults and how they worked. I had heard that this book contained the best explanation on what happened to people caught in the cults.

To describe information disease you first have to realise a simple, everyday fact. So simple and everyday, we overlook it. I know I did. This fact is that our minds take in new information through the prism of the information already in there.

It was through this fact that the cults worked. They all used very similar tools; lack of sleep, isolation from the world, poor food, a constant bombardment of the cult's 'theology', mental exercises designed to short circuit the critical processes. The cults force fed information, diseased information, into the minds of their converts. In many cases, the victims would have a 'snapping' moment, an instant where their perceptions changed so suddenly and completely that they became different people.

This is what information disease is. It's when there is so much information of a particular type in your mind that it changes the way you look at the world. And not for the better. Worse, it becomes self-sustaining. Your judgment becomes so skewed you cannot properly take in information that could change this new view of the world. Anything new that comes in will either be damaged or rejected by your mind. Only things that reinforces your perspective will be accepted and considered.

The depths of this change in perception is difficult to believe. I remember two cases cited in Snapping that drove this point home. The people involved had left the cults and described their thoughts while members to the authours.

The first example was a husband and wife couple who had become Moonies. They had been living with the man's parents and went to collect their belongings so they could be given to 'Father'. Needless to say, the parents were distraught and tried very hard to dissuade their kids to stop. It didn't work, of course.

As the couple was driving away, the wife said to the husband, "I'm so proud you stood up to your parents that way."

He replied, "Those aren't my parents."

It was, at that time, quite literally the truth. All connections with his previous life had been severed and the people who bought him into the world and raised him were no longer a part of his life. He said that if you had hooked a lie detector to him that statement would have registered as true.

The other example was a former Krishna. He noted that every time he left the temple, the outside world looked grey and frightening, as if the sky was overcast and threatening rain. This, in Southern California, where cloudy days are somewhat of a rarity.

I'm citing these examples to show how severe information disease can become. It changes not only your thoughts, but the very way you see the world.

So this is what information disease is, a set of information in your mind that prevents you from, to all intents and purposes, thinking. Your world becomes a small place defined by the severely limited parameters of what you know and believe.

And such things don't just happen in the cults. It can happen to anybody if placed under enough stress.

It also doesn't have to happen quickly either. The way you were raised and the community you live in can cause very similar effects.

So what does all this have to do with free speech?

Well, to my mind, information disease is not limited to individuals. It can happen to groups, organisations, nations and societies.

It's why authouritarians of all stripes are in favour of censorship and propaganda. If you examine the various non-democratic areas of the world, information there is tightly controlled. Only 'correct information' is disseminated. Nothing else is allowed. As a result, the people living in these places end up suffering from information disease. And because the people make up a society, where they live has it as well.

And the idea of free speech is anathema to the leaders of these societies. Their continuance in power is dependent on the people never recovering from their illness.

For free speech is the vaccine of information disease.

When all of us discuss freely what we think, what we feel, what we fear, what we want, it widens our perceptions and emancipates us from ignorance. Free speech makes it easier to spot lies, uncover deception, throw light on obfuscation. It makes it possible for us to act in a wise, good and restrained manner.

Which is why so many people are against free speech, especially those with power. With free speech we can criticise, consider, decide 'no'. And the people with power don't want us to say 'no'. We are always supposed to say 'yes'.

If you look, you can see the signs of information disease all around us. Our speech is being limited by law. Our information is being bent by politics. Our viewpoint is being skewed by economic forces.

Unless we start applying the vaccine, free speech, now, we as individuals and a society will end up suffering from information disease.

And like the people I described earlier, we shall cut ourselves off from our past and the world we live in will become a dark and frightening place.

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