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.

17 thoughts on “Mass Stupidity

  1. The knock on democracy wasn’t stupid voters. That’s a modern complaint. The traditional critique was that the public was prone to make irrational decisions because large groups don’t think. They feel.

    • No doubt. The American system was originally intended to put a brake on public passions, while still giving the people a say in the affairs of state. The conservative critique of democracy is that it always leads to despotism.

  2. “the evidence says the West is getting dumber and the Internet is probably a part of it.”

    Mass third world immigration is a bigger part of it.

    • Worth noting that when I did some teaching, the ‘students’ had not the slightest interest in anything other than their own narrow interests. I would tell them they had a wealth of information at their fingertips, but they would rather listen to foul-language rap and play ‘whack-a-donkey’ all day. It seemed that the more you gave these people the less they wanted, or rather merely wanted more of what they already had.

      As for immigration, from my experience our new friends were just as gullible as the natives when it came to shit-through-a-wire.

      • This is something I’ve discovered as well. The narrowness of young people is a bit off-putting at first blush. Instead of the wide-eyed gaz trying to take in too much, it is the narrow brow of those taking in too little. This is a consequence that will have bad ends, I suspect, when these people are in the middle years when narrowness comes easy.

    • Agreed, but even factoring in race, our young people are stupid. Spend time on an Ivy League campus and it is shocking.

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  4. Facebook is yet more confirmation that Marshall McLuhan was right. I’m sure I’m the zillionth guy to make this observation, but when it comes to social media, the medium really IS the message. Now, instead of a million atomized, personality-less individuals being instructed by television, those personality-less atoms can chant banalities at each other and feel less alone.

    And don’t get me started on Wikipedia making you dumber. I like to compare the Republicans destroying themselves in 2015 to the Whigs destroying themselves after 1852… and oh, the Wiki-inspired pedantry I get. Wikipedia’s motto should be “helping miseducated retards miss the point since 2001.”

  5. “we are floating in a sea of bad information”

    Isn’t that the truth? For my part, I do not watch TV, go to movies, or participate in any social media. But I do read blogs like this one every day. Does that mean I inhabit my own echo chamber?

    I very occasionally visit a left wing site via a link; I am appalled by reading a dozen comments and realizing how much these people hate me.

    “We are floating in a sea of bad information”. This will certainly not end well. But many thanks, Z for the aphorisms; they condense a lot of observation and analysis down into something I can grasp with immediacy (guess that’s what an aphorism does).

  6. So, you posit that Idiocracy is prophetic? I think it is, but I’m pretty stupid, myself, so I can’t be sure.

  7. Cable TV has 400+ channels, but if you start looking at who owns what, that list shrinks to about 20 different corporations, tops. Most of all the cable channels are actually owned by the broadcast nets.

    What’s sad about news-on-twitter is that the @BreakingNews twitter account has close to 8 million followers, but when you dig deep and track down the owner, surprise surprise, its an NBC property.

    That all being said, I’m of the opinion that no one is actually on twitter. Twitter seems to be journalists talking to each other, political junkies talking to each other, marketers trying to push their products, and Hollywood celebrities pushing themselves. (And I realize most of those categories overlap.) Twitter gets pushed because the media is on it, not because normal people are.

    But I digress…

    • I’m of the same mind. Twitter is about the pose with the chattering classes and those who wish to be in the chattering classes. I follow Jonah Goldberg, for example, and his tweets are mostly banal musings about his dog or how he is struggling with the twinkie wrapper. The comments are mostly his fans cheering him in some way. It’s a weird form of church.

      • the irony(?) of twitter is that while it allows a “mass audience” it also allows a handful of trolls to bug the hell out of supposedly respected journalists like Goldberg. #NROrevolt

  8. I know what you mean. I posted something on my Twit account, which periodically I look at, about whether the Syrian refugees would want to come to Europe given the white man’s supposed track record of hate, racism and misogyny. It is something i occasionally air in the family (using, shock horror, ordinary words) but one of my close relatives — who is well aware of my views as it happens — immediately called my wife to ask if she had seen my tweet. So my wife asked, I showed and she saw it contained no hate, racism or even misogyny. In this I am pretty careful what I do say and no one was called names or even hated. It was an open question, though as I admit I did know the answer it was more rhetorical.

    Well, things were pretty frosty at home for a couple of hours after that, but I survived. Lesson learned: I had forgotten this close relative has a twitter account she almost never visits. So I guess in the social media whirl I just got a bit unlucky that this just happened to be the time (after three years away) she decided to click in and check on me.

    As for fecesbook, it really isn’t anything useful although it does let me see how my left-leaning relatives get to spout off about things they know little about. I have several times poised with my finger over the send button with a withering reply to some socialist gobbledegook just itching to go, but hit delete instead.

    It’s wise. I can only take so much frost in my life.

    • Hehe, “fecesbook”. Good one, UKer! I joined Facebook years ago to reconnect with old high school and college friends, but quickly understood what a stupid waste of time it is. I now use it as you do, a means of spying on Leftist friends and family while they bloviate publicly. I never say a thing unless someone spouts off nonsense about Islam. I let an awful lot of other nonsense go by, but I will not, can not allow ignorance of Islam to go unchallenged. For this, I am willing to endure endless frost.

      • Like you Kathleen, I joined Facebook for a utilitarian reason. I signed up about year ago because it was the only way you could register to comment on the web page of one of our local TV stations. When I looked at my Facebook home page, all six of my kids (ranging in age from 47-59) wanted to be friends. How they knew I’d joined Facebook, or how Facebook knew they were my kids I’ll never know. I went ahead and made them my Facebook friends. A couple days later I looked at my Facebook home page and was stunned by the drivel my middle-aged kids, as well as several of their kids and friends, who had apparently become my friends too, were spouting. I’ve never looked at it again.

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