A fool factory?

Why in English?     

I found yet another rant about how the internet gives a voice to any idiot, and how this allegedly makes us dumber. Janice Kennedy of Ottawa Citizen even suggests that the popularity of ignorant political leaders can be blamed on social media. Her premise seems to be that stupidity is contagious.

Is this true?

Granted, social media let ordinary people share their thoughts in public. Sure, people with crazy ideas do find each other on sectarian web sites. And of course such ideas can thrive and seem plausible to the feeble minded, especially when all critisism is treated as conspiracy.

Of course. But does any of this make us dumber?

Consider it a test: Did you read it? Did you believe it? Did you fail to consult other sources? Check, check, check – you flunked! I'm sorry, you're stupid.

But you didn't become stupid. The internet didn't make you that way. The fact just became apparent, and you found someone to play with. No harm done. Sure, it's easier to preserve prejudices where they’re never challenged, but that's no novelty. People have always protected their fads. Fact is, it's easier to stumble upon different opinions on the internet than in RL.

If you're a reasonable person, you're influenced by people making sense. You'll be able to distinguish knowledge from nonsense most of the time. With free access to almost any information, you can learn whenever you want to, and maybe even when you don't. This you can «blame» on the internet.

But I really don't see what the internet has to do with stupid politicians. Did Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee find their ideas on a chat forum? Are their supporters able to convert sensible people by the thousands? Of course not.

But yes, it's tragic that ignorance is celebrated, and even more so when proud fools decide to run for office. Maybe their shamelessness can be partly blamed on media (social as well as conventional), but hardly their ignorance. Besides, the interesting question isn't who or what to blame, but what to do about it. Here's my suggestion: 1) make information retrieval and source evaluation mandatory topics in school, 2) elementary knowledge tests for politicians.

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4 Kommentarer til A fool factory?

  1. Skarntyde says:

    There are certainly some stupid people out there. Many, even. However, I don’t think the main problem with most is stupidity, but simply naiveté. People seeking some kind of truth in an uncertain world, trying to make sense of things, but lacking the tools to discern real truth from hokum. The alternative movement comes to mind. I can’t even count all the times I’ve had to argue against anecdotal evidence and logical fallacies when it comes to s***t like that. I try to explain that I’m open to the unknown, but as a skeptic I won’t believe it until it’s been examined properly by people who know what the hell they’re doing. And that doesn’t include psychic Martha from Cornwall! Science makes exciting new discoveries all the time, yet the alternative movement is looked upon by many as the true explorers of the world, because they’re not «bogged down» by stupid stuff like «the scientific method» and «logic». No, no! They have «ancient knowledge»! From the ancients, mind you!

    It’s hard being a skeptic, sometimes.

    This turned into a small rant, that wasn’t really my intention. I’ll just conclude by saying that I agree with you, but may I make a suggestion that a course in avoiding the most common logical fallacies is also included in the curriculum? Because no, just because you got touched by a healer on monday doesn’t necessarily explain why your cold disappeared four days later!

  2. abre says:

    I agree, of course. Learning how to recognize truth is essential. So let’s add logic, an introduction to scientific method, and a bit of statistics.

    The question is: Has the internet added to the problem you describe? In some ways, maybe. It certainly can give fake legitimacy to a lot of hoax, and it makes it a lot easier to find like-minded people, supporting each other’s fancies.

    Still, if you’re just a bit open, you may also find just what you need to think things over. Of course, if you’re determined not to listen to others, you won’t on the internet either.

  3. Skarntyde says:

    If nothing else, it has given individuals with a mental dissonance a perfect method to meet like-minded people. So, probably. Probably, the Internet has added to the problem in some ways. The people who would otherwise be occupying street corners, shouting their deranged wisdom at passersby, is instead meeting others of their kind online, justifying their beliefs and – ultimately – falling deeper into their own delusions.

    But that’s the extreme cases. Most people, I sincerely believe, are reasonable. Thus, when given the proper tools, they won’t fall for ignorance. A good tip is to be open-minded, but not so much that our brains fall out. This is why it’s so important to educate people, and do it as early as possible.

    On a different note: When I first clicked on this post, I thought you’d called it «a cool factory». I was kind of disappointed.

  4. abre says:

    We’re on the brink of something new, and probably always will be. The education falls behind. It always has.

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