On fact-checking

We are told, by innumerable “websites” this morning, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Internet website, uploaded by Tim Berners-Lee on the 21st of December, AD 1990. This corresponds to a full generation ago, by a statistical convention. “Email” came along, less than three years later; then more unfortunate things.

I recall not the moment, but one shortly after, when a techie first explained this whole website business to me. He was “Eric the Not Read,” the volunteer who was frankly responsible for installing the first “networked” computers in the Idler magazine, then still extant. Too, I remember my response to him after listening quietly to his explanation. It was a variant on Marconi’s, “What has God wrought?” Ever the editor, I shortened this to, “Oh gawd.”

How was I to know that for once the hype was understated?

Gentle reader may be inclined to note, against my posturing, that I am writing on one of these “websites” myself. Having been fact-checked at a weekend Christmas party, on a fine point touching the murder rate in Finland — by way of sabotaging my delivery of an amusing anecdote, and insinuating that I am a pathological liar — I am not currently disposed to smile. It is now possible to obtain “facts and arguments” — true, false, or ludicrous — instantaneously, almost anywhere on the planet, from billions of soi-disant “sources.” (I inserted the word “almost” to protect myself against the fact-checkers.)

The reduction of human communication to the “virtual,” or sentimental-robotic, is an aspect of “progress” that cannot be blamed entirely on the Internet. It goes back to the invention of newspapers, if not before. What has been achieved, in the last generation, is only an extraordinary acceleration of this process, along with the imposition of a new horizon in historical time. Everything that happened before 1990 has become incomprehensible. Anything recorded after, is stale-dated within hours. But the supply of electronic digits grows, exponentially. (Or perhaps I am exaggerating.)

According to Received Opinion, “digital” — which we might date to Charles Babbage’s computer games in the mid-nineteenth century, but gets truly out of hand not until twenty-first — constitutes the Third Industrial Revolution. As Plato pointed out, the First one (agriculture) was a mixed blessing. To which let me add, by way of update, that the Second one (inhuman machinery) was very badly mixed, and the Third (this new age of worthless “information”) is a downright curse. I pray that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be delayed by some international catastrophe.

So why do I “blog”? Let us call it a post-modern irony.

To the mind that is not Catholic, we must climb Everest, land men on Mars, cure flatulence and so forth, “because it is there.” Similarly, we must enslave ourselves to every technical innovation. While curious in the better scholastic sense, the Catholic is content to observe “that it is there,” only. In other words, we must bear it in mind on our journey. We don’t necessarily have to go to the top of Everest. With patience, we might find a way to go round. But if no way presents itself, then yeah, over the top.

My alternative to blogation is to accept being silenced at a time when all Catholics are invited to shut up. Call me disobedient.


Which takes us to Saint Thomas Didymus (“the twin”), a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas,” whose Feast we celebrate today. It strikes me that someone should propose him as the Patron Saint of Fact-Checkers.

In the Gospels, and more in the early apocryphal works, he appears to come from poor fisher folk. And while he may not have been actually “retarded,” he was never the sharpest knife in the drawer. Of such stuff Christ made His Apostles — the foundation of that Church of which He is the cornerstone.

Thomas carried the faith East, ever East — according to uncheckable traditions — finally finding his martyrdom somewhere near modern Madras (er, Chennai). Along the way he was able to establish that Mesopotamia, Parthia, Persia, and various other places really existed, all the way to the Coramandel Coast. Indeed, southern India is where he established “seven-and-a-half” churches. (I’ve checked, that’s what it says.) A plain indication that he must have done some such thing, may be found in the evidence for Saint Thomas Christians in e.g. Kerala, going back many centuries before any other Christians caught sight of them. However, while we await further evidence (should any remain this side of Eternity), let us return to the start, and impulse of Saint Thomas’s journey, in the event that led him to declare, by the verification of his own eyes and fingers, Dominus meus, et Deus meus!

Saint Thomas, O doubting Apostle: now you have established that Christ was actually Resurrected, please pray for the rest of us simpletons!