Archives for category: Society

Take a look at your Facebook feed.  (If you don’t have a Facebook account in this day and age, pat yourself on the back!  You don’t have to put up with having to wade through crap to find the funny video your friend is nagging you about.)

If it’s anything like mine, it’s filled with shares of image macros, articles, and other political quackery designed to get cheap thrills out of mocking your political enemies and their arguments, with no regard to whether the argument is any good.  Rather than an argument designed to convince, it’s one designed to shame and mock the opponent so you, yourself, feel good about being better than those idiots on the other side.  These postings often have arguments that wouldn’t hold up for a microsecond in a real debate.

Many smart people (and not so smart) people have posited explanations for the rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy.  I’d like to throw another reason onto the pile: Trump-style misrepresentations have become how we talk to our friends and family about the politics we agree on.  Through Facebook and Twitter and other short-form, rapid fire social media, we’ve become accustomed to arguing through belittling our opponents and their arguments rather than having anything interesting or insightful to say about *why* they’re wrong.  (No, insulting and flawed analogies do not count.)

We may have discussed politics echo-chamber style in our communities and homes for a long time, but that was in private, where different rules and a different social context applied.  Now, confirmation bias and the cheap thrill of “righteousness” is out in public, only a scroll-down away.  People post inane comments on news stories, the sort of insulting and  ill-thought accusations they would normally only make in private, except now they post it publicly for all to see.  Many have posited that anonymity is a contributing factor, but this is happening on Facebook, where the vast majority are posting under their actual name.

I wish I could tell you I had a solution, but I fear the political polarization of the last decade is only a sign of things to come.

The benefits of my strange experience are mostly gone, but I still have a little of that confidence it gave me.

Now, on to the news.

I’ve been reading more of the news lately — mostly BBC and ScienceDaily.  The latter helps me come up with new, interesting ideas, in addition to being a fun site to read.  The former helps me keep up with current events, which I had been turtling myself away from.

As I got back into reading the news, I was immediately confronted with the reason I stopped reading it to begin with.  Many stories are on recent, developing situations with much of the information missing, meaning that it would be pointless to form an opinion on them.

And yet, most people do, forming opinions from their own life experience.  One example (and I hate to use this, since I tend to stay away from celebrity stories) is Oprah’s accusation of racism in Switzerland.

Was it or wasn’t it?  Some say it’s racism while others say it’s snobbery.  The information that I would need in order to form an informed opinion simply isn’t present.  However, people (myself included) form opinions on such incidents based on their own life experience rather than the facts of the situation in specific (which, even after they all come out, can be interpreted either way).  In the end, there is an objective truth about what really happened, but all we can do is guess what that truth is based on our own experiences.  When it comes down to it, unless one is a practiced people-reader, it is difficult if not impossible to rule on the situation objectively, and the sheer volume of misinformation at the start of many high-profile cases skew opinions in one direction or another based on that first impression, sometimes prompting people to action over the internet.  An excellent example of such were the rumors that were reported as fact following the Boston bombings earlier in the year.

Perhaps a wider variety of life experiences and meaningful encounters with others brings one closer and closer to the truth?  If so, then I’m definitely not one who should express an opinion on this.

Of course, I could just read the news without forming an opinion, right?  Nope.  Part of the fun of reading the news, I believe, is forming that opinion of the events and/or opinions contained within.  It strengthens or weakens our mental predispositions, giving us a high of experiencing strong emotion in a context divorced from our everyday lives, kind of like a good book or movie.  To judge the situation is an automatic response, and even if one suppresses it consciously, it takes strong mental discipline to walk away without forming any opinion at all — stronger mental discipline than I have, for sure.  I don’t doubt there are those out there who can do this, as I’ve seen that a great many interesting things are made possible by the brain.

In the end, I decided it was fine to read these things despite my automatic judgments.  It is, after all, part of being human.  Or at least I think it is.