Thursday, October 5, 2017


As part of my ongoing struggle to learn Finnish, I have now and then tried reading various books suomeksi. One of these I recently took a stab at (once again) is “The Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf” by the legendary 19th century naturalist and conservation evangelist John Muir. It’s the account of his walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico in 1867, just after the Civil War.

One passage I ran across about a man he encountered along the way struck me as surprising resonate to today:

Matkasin muutaman mailin vanhan tennesseeläismaanviljelijän kanssa, joka oli hyvin kiihtynyt juuri kuulemistaan uutisista. ”Kolme kuningaskuntaa, Englanti, Irlanti ja Venäjä, on julistaneet sodan Yhdysvalloille. Voi, se on kamalaa, kamalaa”, hän sanoi. ”Taas on sota alkamassa, ja vielä näin äkkiä oman ison tappelumme jälkeen. No, ei kai sille mitään voi, enkä mä voi muuta sanoa kuin eläköön Amerikka, mutta parempi olisi, jos mitään kärhämää ei tulisi.”

”Mutta oletko varma, että uutiset pitävät paikkansa?”, minä kysyin. ”Kyllä vaan”, hän vastasi, ”sillä mä ja muutama naapuri oltiin kaupassa eilen illalla, ja Jim Smith, joka osaa lukea, luki tän jutun sanomalehdestä.”

I traveled a few miles with an old Tennessee farmer who was very excited about news he had just heard. “Three kingdoms, England, Ireland and Russia, have declared war on the United States. Oh, it is horrible, horrible,” he said. “Again, war is coming, and yet so soon after our own big fight. Well, I don’t suppose anything can be done about it. The only thing I can say is hooray for America, but it would be better if there were no squabbles.”

“But are you sure that the news is correct?”, I asked. “Sure,” he answered. “Me and a few neighbors were at the store yesterday evening, and Jim Smith, who can read, read the story from the newspaper.”

Needless to say, no such war had been declared. Ireland? Really?

In today’s environment -- where reality itself seems to be in dispute at every turn and what you think really happens in the world will depend on which media you consume -- the farmer’s falling for a 19th century version of fake news somehow feels familiar.

From this you might be tempted to think Muir's account shows that, in this regard, there’s nothing new under the American sun. But, still, you can’t blame an illiterate farmer for trusting his friend Jim’s recitation of an erroneous newspaper story. It’s not as if he could Google “Ireland declares war”!

Today’s Americans, with so many ways to receive and double-check the news, have no such excuse for falling for stories that are demonstrably false (like Trump's claim that at least 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in the US election, depriving him of a popular-vote victory), while at the same time crying “fake!” every time they encounter legitimate news (such as Russia’s election meddling) that goes against their politics. 

But that doesn't stop many from doing it anyway. 

1 comment:

  1. This is amusing, since I consider pretty much every single western news source (USA/EU/Canada) to be, at best, highly suspect and outright pro-corporate propaganda.

    Russia's "election meddling" is legitimate?! Holy crap. Talk about believing in fake news.