April Fool’s Day, Fake News, And The Reality Wars

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April Fool’s Day…now THERE’S a subject. Especially in our current age.

One possible origin of April Fool’s Day, according to Snopes (and we’ll be circling back ’round to this site in a bit), involves the switching from the Julian to Gregorian calendars in 1582.

In the western world under the old system, New Year’s was technically on March 25—but, because of the Holy Week, celebrated on April 1. The story went that those who forgot about the switchover to the Gregorian calendar—which firmly established January 1 as the beginning of the year—and said “Happy New Year!” on April 1 were “fools.”

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what a Fool might look like

And so implicit in that possible April Fool’s Day origin story is the idea of competing “realities”. Time itself, the calendars, all that—those are human concepts. The scientific data used to back up these different calendars might be objective; but those “objectives” are then utilized to serve subjective (often power-based) aims.

image007The Julian calendar was one type of consensual reality, enforced by the powers that be (the church and royalty). The Gregorian calendar was another. A person who was just fine following one consensual reality was now told to follow a different one; if this person resisted, he or she was a “fool.”

Further: just the act of switching the calendars at all implied a sort of subjectiveness to what was once assumed to be inviolate Reality.

Anyway, that’s one possible origin of April Fool’s Day. The holiday was observed over the centuries by playing pranks on other people…and then we get to the current era, where it has been taken just ONE wee bit step further. April Fool’s Day became the day that otherwise “reputable” online news agencies would run fake stories.

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April Fool’s Day headline from 2013

I remember this from like almost a decade back…where the fake stories would be published on April 1 with little or no indication that they were fake. And then, months or even YEARS later, one would come across the outlandish tale and at first glance consider it real; share it with one’s friends online; be told to check the date on the article; and OH NO!!!

Fooled you!!!!

So here you have what some consider to be the “birth” of online “Fake News.” The original intention was to be a simple joke, celebrating a holiday; but that, like so many other cool things on the internet, gets “weaponized” in a propaganda war. Then you have people whose whole livelihood depends on creating “fake news” (example 1; example 2).

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But there is another angle here, and I go back to the “fools” who had allegedly followed the old calendar. And this is the idea of different groups of people holding on to different consensual realities. What we have in the United States, at this point—and indeed, perhaps in the world in general—is a Crisis of Realities. And I’ve discussed this concept a lot on this site.

Thus to me, the concepts of “Fake News” and April Fool’s Day go hand-in-hand.

And then we have to return to the website Snopes itself; a site designed to “debunk” fake news. It was originally a place you could go to in order to see if that outlandish news story was merely an April Fool’s Day joke. But now…now it’s sort of “political.” I mean, how could it not be?

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There’s no more pranks, no more jokes, and no more japes. One person’s joke in the past is now a plank in another’s reality. One person’s Fool is another man’s “Stable Genius”; and vice-versa. There is a relativism here that massive efforts like the Gregorian calendar sought to rectify by literally getting us all on the same page.

But is it really possible?

Let’s go back to Snopes just one more time. The site is considered by many to be the “gold standard” of debunkers; hence, it is also considered somewhat of a locus of Objective Reality. (Another assumed locus of Objective Reality is Wikipedia—links from which will be used on the YouTube site itself to debunk conspiracy videos.)

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But looking at the sources for the Snopes April Fool’s Day piece…are these unimpeachable sources? Old books and articles from the 1980s and 90s? Who were the sources for these sources for the Snopes article? Should I be questioning any of this at all? Is there a point where we really do designate certain sources as unimpeachable? If Snopes or Wikipedia or The Encyclopedia Britannica or The New York Times is cited, should that be the end-point of my inquiry? Can humans even operate in civilized society without having these “trusted” end-points in inquiry? Without these end-points, would we be sitting around questioning shit all day?

For some of you reading this post right now, to even question a source like Britannica or The New York Times might give you high blood-pressure. My purpose is not to do this; actually, I still place these two sources as very high on my personal yardstick.

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My point is to say: many of us assume that there are these objective end-points to inquiry. The Final Word. Objective Reality. And that we live in a world of Fools and The Informed. And that the world would be a better place if this type of larger Objective Reality went back to being the focal point of our collective lives.

I want to assume that. I want that to be the Final Word. I want Final Words on things, so I can feel secure.

I want trusted sources.

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I want these things…but unless I get like a frontal lobotomy, I’ll always know it’s still subjective to some extent. I will always have to approach things like a potential April Fool’s Day jape; not with complete seriousness and paranoia, but not with 100% credulousness either. It’s an uncomfortable, liminal place to be.

But, of course, the purpose of the Fool archetype is to make us more comfortable living with such liminality.

Laughing jester