Mass Stupidity

Way back in the olden thymes, I kept getting invitations from friends to join Facebook. I had no interest in joining Facebook, which made me a weirdo. Friends would ask me why I was holding out and I’d tell them “I’m just not that interesting.” I did not realize it, but I was subtly insulting my friends by breaking the unwritten rule of social media. That is, none of us are so interesting that we should be on social media. No one I know, except me apparently, can face up to the fact that their life is not all that interesting.

I finally relented for a while, but then I quit and no one noticed. The same is true with Twitter. I have two accounts. One for sports and one for this blog. I rarely tweet anything. When I do read the twitter (I love calling it “the twitter” for some reason), I mostly see strangers posting what they hear on TV or say on the Interwebs. It’s an echo chamber of snark and stupid.

A good example of the latter is Razib Khan, who is a super smart doctoral candidate in genomics and genetics. This is mighty tough material tackled by the very brightest people. On the twitter he comes off like a teenage girl with a bad attitude. The reason is he spends most of his time commenting about what twit-wits are tweeting. Dogs and flees.

I think there is merit to the wisdom of the crowds. I’m a human and humans are social animals. We take cues from those around us about what is and what is not acceptable and preferable. Restaurant reviews are the most obvious example. Bad reviews count for way more than good reviews, because we are wired to look for taboos and dangers. “I had a great burger” tells me nothing. “I found a rat in my soup” tells me everything.

Unlike many on my side of the fence, I’m not in favor of shuttering the TV stations and closing down the Interwebs. The young and the stupid need entertainments and it keeps them busy. We live in an age with lots of idle young men and idle young men get into trouble. Having them play video games and watch car chase movies is probably a good idea. It keeps them off the streets, at least for a little while. I’d rather have them on Facebook than on my street corner.

This is something the people in charge have long understood. The first thing the Reds did in the 19th and 20th century was take control of the media organs. The Cult of Modern Liberalism controls mass media in America because if you control the media you control the country. The CIA works hard to control social media because they understand that it is the key step in controlling the people. Having the title “Director of Internet Sock Puppetry” must make for some laughs in the Langley locker room.

The trouble is we are awash in mass media, meaning we are floating in a sea of bad information. Republican voters often carp about the low-information voter, but most of the people voting GOP believe all sorts of nonsense, mostly because they see it on Facebook. They think they are holding the correct opinions because people they see on TV or on-line hold those views and those people seem nice or smart or cool or whatever.

Men of the Right have been complaining about the stupidity of the people for a long time, which is why the Right has always opposed democracy. It’s indisputable that half the people in any society are below average in IQ. Giving them the franchise is inviting trouble, but as long as the smart fraction controlled the mass media, society buggered along without too much trouble. The dimwitted got their cues from the local paper or TV about which way to vote, thus mitigating any damage they could cause by backing a nut or a deviant.

That’s not really the case with social media. Twitter and Facebook are platforms run by the masses, mostly by the portion of the masses with free time. It is the nature of man to trust what is said to him and that makes all of us susceptible to the mass stupidification of mass media. If you spend all day listening to blockheads on Facebook or Twitter, you’re likely to get caught up in whatever the other blockheads are doing.

The so-called Arab Spring is a good example. The claim at the time is it was driven by social media. How did that turn out? Egypt had a nice blood bath with a brief period of control by Muslim lunatics. The same thing played out across the Maghreb. One could argue that the unrest in the Maghreb is in some small part responsible for the mass invasion of Europe from the Near East. It turns out that a million nitwits can be wrong.

That’s the Arab world and easy to dismiss, but the evidence says the West is getting dumber and the Internet is probably a part of it. All of my Progressive friends get their “facts” from Wiki and Facebook. They think their ability to Google something makes them brilliant. This make them dumber than nature intended because instead of being ignorant, they are ignorant and certain. Smart people are always uncertain. It’s when the stupid become confident that things can get out of hand.