Limits of the Known World



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There’s an ambiguity surrounding the idea of misinformation. On the one hand, it describes something real and pervasive. While digital media has “democratized” public information—diminishing the control over it the gatekeepers of institutional journalism have traditionally exercised—this democratization has also created a kind of chaos. It hasn’t just multiplied the number of gatekeepers; it’s flooded the gates. You can see it on social-media platforms, where memes will spread across your country or around the planet almost instantly. Or you can see it in niche communities all over the internet, where group biases will shape common sense about what’s true and what’s false almost totally. On the other hand, the idea of misinformation can seem to describe something beyond factual questions altogether; it can seem to describe something in the way people understand factual questions and their significance. The idea of misinformation can seem to be about not just information but its interpretation.
At the heart of the ambiguity is a matter of trust—that the information we’re getting isn’t just correct but organized and framed in a way we can integrate meaningfully into our understanding of the world. That’s after all what we need to navigate our increasingly complex and connected lives: to know the maps we’re using are real—and to be able to fit these maps together. It’s no one’s fault that they don’t know enough to interpret emerging information about current affairs on their own. None of us can. It’s impossible. Ignorance may be a common problem, but the fundamental human problem here isn’t really with any of us individually; it’s with the overwhelming circumstances we’re living in. The solution we may be most accustomed to in mainstream media is the kind of appointed thought leaders we see in the opinion pages of national newspapers, or on cable television, or in any number of the new venues that make up digital media’s expanding web—the kind of figures who ask us to trust them because, as much as we need them to, they know it all.
The Signal carries a different solution. We’re not interested in trying to earn your trust by positioning ourselves as your thought leader in current affairs. We don’t even believe you really want that from anyone. We’re interested in earning your trust by asking the right questions on your behalf, by finding the right people who can speak to those questions with the specific authority they demand, and by connecting what these people know to what you know—in a way that leaves us all with the only kind of insight that matters: a deeper understanding of the question that we can take with us into an uncertain future.
Targets of Discontent
What went wrong for the wave of leftist leaders elected in Latin America? Javier Corrales on the enduring appeal—and inherent danger—of authoritarian populism.
Matias Hernan
Matias Hernan
The left-wing populist and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a heavy favorite to return to power in his country’s October presidential elections. If he can hold the lead he currently has in the polls, his victory will put the six largest economies in Latin America—Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and now Brazil—under the control of left-wing populists. But those already in office in these countries are seeing dramatic declines in their approval ratings, with the exception of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose favorability has dropped only modestly this year. Street protests have broken out against Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, and Peru’s legislature has twice tried to impeach President Pedro Castillo. Voters in Chile seem certain to reject a new constitution that was the centerpiece of President Gabriel Boric’s election campaign. What’s happened here?
Common Ground
What’s happening with the politics of abortion in the U.S.? Bill Scher on how one of America’s most divisive issues could help depolarize its politics.
Katrina Berban
Katrina Berban
It was a stunning political turn following a dramatic legal development in America: Less than six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a 49-year national right to abortion—overturning 1972’s Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the conservative state of Kansas was the site of an overwhelming political victory for abortion rights. In an August 2 referendum, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the constitution of their state that would have ended the right to abortion there. The result was decisive—59 percent voting against the amendment and only 41 percent in favor, with 95 percent of the results reported. For an anti-abortion movement that worked to secure the overturning of Roe for half a century, Dobbs was its triumph; yet polls now show most Americans oppose the decision—and Democrats are eager to talk about new Republican restrictions on abortion as this fall’s U.S. midterm elections approach. How are the politics of this issue shifting?
The Signal explores urgent questions in current events around the world—to support it and for full access:
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