Friday, February 26, 2016

The Mandela Effect and the social production of knowledge

As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a "categorical pledge" were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

There has been some discussion on Twitter today of the Mandela Effect website. I tweeted a link to it myself.

Nick Barlow describes what you find there:
The Mandela Effect falls into that confused territory between conspiracy theory and weird belief system that you often find in these corners of the internet. It’s named after some people’s belief that they have memories about how Nelson Mandela died in prison, so never got to be President of South Africa and everything else that happened after his release. They believe that either history was changed, or that they slipped into a parallel universe where that event happened before coming back to ours where they were confused to find that it hadn’t.
He also offers a critique of it:
Like any conspiracy theory, the Mandela Effect is interesting for what it reveals about those who believe in it. We want to believe our memories are perfect records of our histories because they’re an important part of what we are, so when we discover that we’ve been remembering something wrongly, we can either admit our fallibility, or adopt the position that the universe must be fallible instead.
All true. But we should not overlook the extent to which what we know is subject to social confirmation.

Two examples. First, when their was widespread discussion a few years ago of the practice of sending children from British institutions out to Australia, I read letters in the newspapers from people who had come across those children. One had been a ship's barber who had cut the boys' hair on the voyage out to Australia.

I don't suppose they had talked much about this experience in the intervening years because the sending of children from homes to Australia had dropped out of public memory. It was never a secret - at one time it was a widely discussed public policy: it was just forgotten.

Second, in 1971 my father returned from a business trip to South Africa and (illegally) Rhodesia, he brought with him the news that Tony Greig was an epileptic.

I never heard anyone else mention this, and if I raised the subject I was met with scepticism. Years later Greig chose to talk about his condition and I could console myself that I had known this all along.

But had I? It seems there is an inescapable social element to what constitutes human knowledge. It was for this reason that the French philosopher Michel Foucault talked about "power/knowledge".

I am a Liberal, not because I am confident the human spirit will overcome any social pressure, but because I fear it may not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I simply do not understand why there are not more reporters coming foreward. It's not like they are marginalised, rediculed, socially isolated or rejected as lacking mental acuity.