April Fools’ Day provides a valuable public service of infusing a normally naïve populous with scepticism.
The people of the 21st Century Western Hemisphere are generally trusting and passive. People believe what they read in the tabloid newspapers. People believe the weather forecasters. People believe what they hear when someone speaks with a voice of authority, whether it’s actually legitimate or not. For the most part, people receive and accept the received wisdom of the age: people believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, people believe that passive smoking causes lung cancer, people believe violence in entertainment causes violence in an impressionable public, people believe that they contribute to climate change.
But then, on April 1st, for one day of the year, people take what they read on the internet and in the papers with a pinch of salt. They read that Google are planning to colonise Mars and they raise an eyebrow. They snort derisively when they hear about spaghetti trees. For this one day of the year they don’t blindly accept everything they hear. The public is more wary, perhaps with slightly heightened senses because for today there is the possibility, however narrow, of deception afoot. Individuals drop their naïvely innocent blundering through the world and do some actual thinking for themselves.
Of course this position of scepticism is a worthy position to take. A process of systematic doubt acts as a knowledge filter, stopping false or spurious pieces of information from entering the true epistemological bank of information. Some doubt allows people to refrain from immediately believing something and makes them take a moment, just a single moment, to think about why the Earth has to be more than 6000 years old and how nonsensical it is to posit galactic Douglas DC-8s. It also allows them to question what they’re told, even by people they perceive as authoritative; to wonder whether it’s advisable to follow ‘scientific consensus’ when science is supposed to be about one hundred percept conclusive results and not consensual majority opinion. Any dose of scepticism is a healthy dose of scepticism. Although, a warning from this Philosophical Wanderer must be heeded; down that road lies the borough named Solipsism and, further still, the rocky shores of the Nihilist. Too far down that road, madness lies.
April Fools’ Day serves to makes people aware of their surroundings a little more, breaks them out of naïveté, and makes them less soft. ‘Scepticism’ became a dirty word somewhere along the path of the 20th Century and it’s time for intelligent people to reclaim the word: to proclaim loudly that “no, we don’t believe everything we hear and we want to see some proof before we subscribe to your opinion”. To shout that there are no negative connotations with being charged a ‘sceptic’ and that doubt, for lack of a better word, is good.
Oh, and watch out for these.