Thursday, 19 May 2016
I'd argue that the Internet is one of the most important human accomplishments ever. It allows us to share ideas, images, music, and art across the globe in an instant. It is a truly amazing construct that has changed the world in an unbelievably short time. Hurray Internet! There, now that's out of the way we can squat down and poke at the dank and cheesy under-crevices of the great electronic leviathan we call the Internet.
First, I need to introduce a universal rule. It goes like this: “People will fuck things up." This is as universal a rule as gravity and entropy. Here are just a few examples:
A guy named Joseph Wilbrand whips up a batch of yellow dye in his lab in 1863. He just wanted to make sunflowers more sunny. The stuff he made was called Trinitrotoluene, and twenty years after its discovery, people decided they liked to blow stuff up with it better than they liked colouring buttercups. It's better known as TNT, and it's still blowing up people over one hundred and fifty years later.
A young German lad with a passion for astronomy builds amateur rockets so that one day humankind will fly to the stars. Guess what he was tagged in to do? Yup, his name was Wernher von Braun, and he designed the V-1 and v-2 rockets for the Nazis, not to mention the first intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sure, he also built the Saturn rockets, but that was only after the ICBMs payed the bills.
Orville and Wilbur Wright built the first-ever heavier than air flying machines. Wilbur lived long enough to see his invention drop a bomb from 30 000 feet that vaporized two cities. Are we seeing a pattern here? Human invention, no matter how well-intentioned, will be put to uses that would surely cause the original inventor(s) to rage vomit. The inventor of the stick was probably disheartened when 20 minutes later someone decided to jam it between two rocks and make a dick. The point is, no matter how high-minded we are in our creations, once they are out of our hands it's people, good and bad, who will use them for their own agendas. Such is also true of the Internet.
While the Internet has opened up vast new lines of communication, mainly in the porn and cat picture industries, it has also contributed to the dumbing down of a lot of people. Just like TNT, nukes, and bomber planes, it's not the Internet's fault, it's just human nature. We like familiar, we like other people to do our thinking for us, and we surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do. When all of our friends are saying the same thing, it's easier to accept it as truth, even when it bears not the slightest resemblance to reality. We like to believe the things that we want to believe, because if we didn't, we might have to adjust the way we think, and that shit's just scary.
Through social media, the Internet has made it simple for people to group themselves into tribes, and what might have once been the radical fringe have found they can group and recruit much more easily. These are the same kids that crapped in the public swimming pool just to see everyone jump out. The kids who would rather get in a fight than examine their opinions. They are the Gamergaters, the Rabid Puppies, the radical feminists, the screaming MRAs, the toxic SJWs, the people who have become so indoctrinated that they are unable to see any reality but their own.
The amorally savvy among us have realized that people will be much more likely to snuggle up with a comfortable lie rather than an uncomfortable truth, and have exploited the ever-living shit out of it. Faith has become an appropriate surrogate for reason. Just look at the support the anti-vax, the chemtrail, or the creationist crowd have gathered. Not a stitch of real science behind any of these movements, but people eat it up because it feels like something they should believe in. They want to believe that their opinion is just as valid as someone who has spent years of their life studying virology, immunology, or evolution. They want to believe the government is out to get them and has created a chemical that will make everyone homosexual.
To make matters worse we've all been spoon-fed on a diet of news reports that have pit people with good speaking skills against experts who, in a lot of cases, suck at getting their point across in a straightforward way. The one that presents well and sounds good, will win an argument nine times out of ten, not because they know more, but because they sound like a winner. Plus, we all know intellectuals aren't to be trusted.
Just a few weeks ago there was a case in the news where an 18 month-old boy died of meningitis because his parents believed that instead of conventional medicine, he'd be better served by eating a diet of hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish. This doesn't make his parents bad people, it makes them willfully ignorant and fucking criminally negligent people. It makes them people who valued their untested beliefs more highly than the life of their son. It makes them people who were dumb enough to accept the crap they wanted to believe at face value and call it faith.
I'm not saying that all scientists are unbiased paragons looking to better humanity, they aren't. I'm not saying that faith is a bad thing, it isn't. What I am saying, is have a curious mind. Examine your own beliefs and see if there might be other reasonable arguments. Don't be led by the nose by people whose arguments you want to believe, go out and see if the message is actually based on real world facts. It's not easy, and sometimes just finding a source of unbiased facts is impossible, but even if you fail, you'll know more, and be better able to make your own decisions.