Being An Idiot in the Information Age

Have you ever had a discussion with someone who lacks the ability to accept straightfoward, factual information? I’m sure we’ve met one or two out in meatspace, but what about online? I bet if you stopped to think about it, you could name dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people you’ve had, we’ll be kind and say discussions, with, who deny the most basic of factual statements.

In my life outside the internet, such as it is, I have never met a single person who believes the moon landing is a hoax. Oh, sure, I’ve known one or two who were unsure as to how we could have managed to land on the moon, but no one who is truly, ardently opposed to the idea that we went to the moon, and landed on its surface in 1969.

On the internet? Christ, I’ve met hundreds. I’m sure some of you have met more than that. There are websites dedicated to proving the moon landing was a hoax. “Oh, we’ve been there by now,” many of them say, “but uh, back in 1969, there was no way we landed on the moon.” To you and I, this seems absurd. The most basic, and fundmental laws of physics say we can travel to the moon, says that with the technology we had in 1969 we could have traveled to the moon. It would have been costly, and it WAS costly, but we had the capability.

Now, this isn’t a moon landing story, so much as it is a ‘denial of basic facts’ story.

How many people do you know who deny that dinosaurs died millions of years ago? That man never walked with dinosaurs? The science is there, the evidence is there, but such people simply will not accept it. The ones I know do it for religious reasons. They simply do not believe the earth is as old as it is; and they’ll argue you from a place of total ignorance, your facts be damned along with your soul, as it were.

Now, you might think I’m being a bit harsh by using the term “idiot,” instead of, say, “ignorant,” because there is a major difference between the two terms. One who is ignorant is simply someone who does not know something. When they are given the evidence, and given time to think critically, often they will come to the conclusion that they were wrong and simply didn’t know. This is fine, I hold nothing against such people. An idiot, however, is one who is ignorant by choice. They have been given the evidence, they have examined it, and instead of thinking critically, they reject that evidence out of hand because it doesn’t fit the preconceived notions they have about that particular idea.

So why do we have so many idiots in an age where information is everywhere? You can’t throw a rock without hitting a Wikipedia, a Google, an online research database. Why are so many people so uninformed and misinformed? Even 25 years ago, that would have been understandable, but today? Why?
Part of it is due to the internet itself. The internet has given rise to voices that were usually in the back of the room mumbling to themselves, or in religious groups that never really spoke outside the confines of their sanctuary. The man who believes that the Illuminati control the world was relegated to shouting on a street corner, or writing a crappy self published book that maybe five people read. Today, though, he has a powerful tool, by which he can publish his opinions, and have them broadcast to an audience of thousands. Like minded people then find each other, and form networks; bastions of foolishness where the uninformed can become the misinformed.

That’s not all, though. While the internet is part of it; another part is our increasing lack of critical thinking skills. Look at your television. Turn it on. Okay, NOW look at your television. A quick bit of channel surfing will show commercials, and programs where you can be healed by magnetic bracelets, or restored to youth by crystals and powders; Take this herbal supplement! Drink this berry juice, and watch your cancer disappear! It’s organic, all natural, new, improved, homeopathic, and tastes great with only 90 calories! Would you like to buy a star? Oh, yes, I’m fully authorized to do that! Don’t worry, all of my certificates are printed on paper that’s 100% post recycled consumer waste. Of course you believe me, it’s right there in black and white!

See what I mean? People forget some of the old axioms that we need to remember; my favorite being, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” People are so eager to be accepted, they want their desires met, they want their wishes fulfilled, and there are flim flam artists out there who will sell them exactly what they want.

So what does that have to do with ignorance? Well, that same principle that allows the marketing of flim-flammery, hand waving nonsense, is the same principle that applies toward ideologies and core beliefs. When you want to believe something; when you want someone to blame, you can always find a willing purveyor of bullshit; someone who will inculcate you with all of the misinformation you need to feel confident, and most importantly, RIGHT. What makes it so prevalent in our information age, is that it can come from anywhere, and worse, it rapidly propagates. Nothing spreads faster than gossip, and bad information might as well be gossip.

When one can find any website, podcast, radio program, blog, what-have-you, to acknowledge and pander to your beliefs, without the need for critical thinking, without the frustrations of researching that belief, one is likely to jump onto that prospect, and ride it for all it’s worth.

So let me close with this, a quote from Mark Twain, who once said, “I ask that you always be mindful what you read on the internet. You never know what is, and isn’t true.

Take care my friends, and remember to love one another.

Until next time,
-.Lotus

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