One of things I find most annoying about modern times is the solipsism. Everyone is convinced that their ignorance is an important counter to whatever it is you’re saying. The typical formulation is something like “I’ve never heard of ….” That is a response to some statement that contradicts the official narrative. My intern, who I immortalized the other day, used to say this a lot.
Megan McArdle had a different take on this the other day. In the middle of her post she has this summary of the phenomenon.
I’m always fascinated by the number of people who proudly build columns, tweets, blog posts or Facebook posts around the same core statement: “I don’t understand how anyone could (oppose legal abortion/support a carbon tax/sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis/want to privatize Social Security/insert your pet issue here).” It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.
The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.
In short, “I’m stupid.” Something that few people would ever post so starkly on their Facebook feeds.
The other stuff about the wrongness of calling people stupid is whatever you want to make of it. I happen to think pointing out the stupid is useful. If we’re not going to let the stupid eliminate themselves from society, we better do what we can to identify them. The stupid are always a danger to others.
Anyway, way back in the olden thymes when Al Gore, peace be upon him, was still working on the details of his contrivance, solipsism changed from a character flaw into a weird defense against uncomfortable facts or opinions. I recall having e-mail exchanges with friends where they would insist on links to back up some point. If you could not furnish a link, then it was assumed your point was invalid.
The simplification of Al Gore’s contrivance through networking platforms like message boards, Facebook and now Twitter has gifted this idiocy to the masses. Maybe before the information barrage, it was easy to avoid people and words that were unwanted. The response to this change in the human condition is to pretend their can be no thoughts, feeling or ideas that are not your own. The more we crowd together, the more we become isolated.