The Watcher Problem

While alchemists were certainly quite concerned with the transformation of lead into gold, they also engaged in certain other pursuits which might prove the dominion of Science and Magick over the world, most notably attempts to create life, especially sentient life. Little did we recognize the import of that work in the modern world. In this brief series, we’ll discuss some of the tools you need in order to create a Fact Checker.

We’ll start with water.

Now, first principles. Ask yourself: What might challenge us about “fact-checking”, if we did not live in a perfect world full of blameless persons, as, of course, we do? One grave problem might be the ancient conundrum: “Who watches the watchers?”

This is quite a large subject in and of itself, but I speak of the sort of fact-checking which is prevalent these days, that is, the one in which private companies alter our normal access to their informational and discussion services in order to critique the information we’re about to see. To put it more concretely, when I pop by social media, and someone’s written a message about certain topics, the platform’s quite likely to change my access. They might hide the information from me unless I opt into it; they might bury it; or, best of all, they might stop me before I can see the thing to give me a fact-check.

(Now, it’s entirely possible that, say, a search engine might engage in the business of information without ever becoming aware that changing context makes fundamental alterations in how we receive that information. That is to say, it’s possible that Google is unaware that if it gives us a “fact-check” before we see certain search results, it will change how we perceive that information. It’s possible. It’s just unlikely. I’d say that the probability that Google is unaware of this is approximately the same as the likelihood that Google hasn’t actually been searching the web all this time; it’s just been giving randomized results to all of our searches, and by sheer coincidence, most of those results are relevant.)

Thus we have a core challenge of what we call “fact-checking”: the act of intercepting our awareness with a “fact-check” changes how we perceive something, and thus it relies on the independence of those doing the checking.

After all, while Plato asserted the famed concept of “self-evident truths”, we have not found them. In fact, we have found reality to be quite difficult to pin down. Is a given corporation “successful”, for example? That’s a good question. Unsuccessful companies will often show, on their tax forms, that they have made no profits, and, indeed, have taken a loss, because they wish to pay less in taxes; whereas successful companies will often show, on their tax forms, that they have made no profits, and, indeed, have taken a loss, because they wish to pay less in taxes. One must have quite a broad view in order to weigh multiple factors with an unjaundiced eye and make a reasonable pronouncement of corporate rise or fall.

We therefore require someone who has a vast breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding, who is yet unswayed by any particular side. You might argue that such a thing seems impossible; but I’d reply that we deserve it, and therefore, it doesn’t matter what’s possible or not. It should be ours, and that’s all there is to it. Go make it so.

The task is complicated a bit by the fiduciary side. If one side or another pays your fact-checker, the fact-checker is likely to be biased in that direction. One could, of course, attempt to pay one’s checker without announcing one’s own biases; but who, exactly, is quite so entirely public-spirited that they’d put hard-earned money into someone who’s likely to make it harder for them to earn money? If I, say, purveyed encyclopedias door to door, I’d be completely broke, but that’s not my point. Even if I didn’t tell the fact-checker my identity, the knowledge would eventually filter into society, as the fact-checks began making themselves known. Would I want a fact-checker who would conscientiously speak what that checker believes to be true, even if it might hurt the encyclopedia industry? Probably not. But if I did, wouldn’t I potentially be destroying myself? That is, unless I could trust others to also fund truthfinding efforts which might damage them, I’d be in an uncomfortable position. I’d be paying to put myself at a disadvantage.

You might argue that it’s the right thing to do; but if my business opponents were out there telling people that encyclopedias make your brain melt, whereas Wikipedia, they claim, raises your IQ, I might run out of money and be unable to fund my fact-checking.

(Can we simply trust others to act in an honest, upright fashion? Well, no. If we had that sort of belief in others, we would specifically have no need for fact-checkers.)

We can’t speak for OTHER gigantic faceless corporations, but here at Dark Lord MegaEvilVillainCorp, we have a simple solution:

We go and hire the very-best fact-checkers we can, at a very reasonable wage.

We tell them we want them to ferret out the Truth, as best they can, as disinterestedly as they can.

Then we feed them large draughts from the River Lethe, so they don’t remember a damn thing. And that’s when we turn them loose.

You’d think it would be a problem, having fact-checkers with constant memory loss. But they don’t seem to mind at all, and neither does the public.

Or if they do mind, they’ve forgotten.

~Jeff Mach

The preceding essay was brought to you by Dark Lords For Azathoth, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the being who wrote, edited, posted, and marketed this document.

My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities and create things. Every year, I put on Evil Expo, the Greatest Place in the World to be a Villain. I also write a lot of fantasy and science fiction. You can get most of my books right here. Go ahead, order I HATE Your Prophecy“ It may make you into a bad person, but I can live with that.





Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.

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