By all appearances, it seems that there is a baffling lack of thinking in this country right now. What I will cover here is a strange, almost contradictory circumstance. We have a situation where people have a Soundbite Overload, and yet at the same time seem to be suffering from a Factual Deficit.
Soundbite Overload/Factual Deficit
While the internet is a wonderful tool, there are flaws in the system and in how it is used. There is an excessive amount of opinion, partial facts, spin, misunderstanding, sensationalism, as well as outright lies. There is so much information out there on any topic or news story that it takes time and effort to sift through it before you can even begin to truly understand a topic or event. People don’t want to take the time to really know and understand. They want to get the soundbites and assemble an opinion to post on Twitter or Facebook.
People who know nothing about a given incident or topic start ranting about details that may or may not be facts. Often, these are simply assumptions on the part of the person who is seething with rage and hate. These rants turn into soundbites that are repeated by the masses. Little tidbits of misinformation, a slightly old picture to exaggerate the youthfulness of a key figure in the event, and quite often – quick one-liners that allow a person to deflect counter-arguments and shame those with a differing view of events. This becomes the Soundbite Overload. A person heavily armed with misinformation and half-truths, emboldened by righteous indignation and hate.
To this mess we have to add another problem; the Factual Deficit. With so much false information and intentionally misleading information there are bound to be problems, but when the real facts are left out, for whatever reason, then understanding becomes that much more challenging, if it remains possible at all. Facts are missing, or obscured by the lies. And when you actually do find some facts you are shouted down by the crowds who know better than you, because they read it on twitter or Facebook or saw part of a news report.
The Soundbite Overload/Factual Deficit is probably an older problem than I am aware of, but if it is not new, it certainly has been exacerbated in the age of the internet. These problems are added to, or in some cases exploited by the other factors.
There is the human habit of ignoring details that run against their assumptions, while clinging to details that confirm these assumptions. I don’t care what assumption you want to start with as a basis for this line of reasoning. Once you make an assumption, from that point on you are going to notice only the details that seem in your mind to confirm this. From that point onward, any information you receive will be checked, unconsciously, against your preconceived assumption. If it matches what you already believe, you will stick with it, if it runs counter, you will dismiss it. This is a human habit, and everyone does it. (At least, it is my preconceived assumption that everyone does it…just TRY to prove me wrong!!!)
The media has a role in this as well. Gone are the days when they were there to keep an eye on things and look out for us. The networks make money off of your viewership, and this is why they sensationalize things things the way they do. It is business to them; not a mission, not a service to the public; it is money. They tell stories in a way that will bring out an emotional response from the viewer, and this is not by accident. Give it a simple test. Watch an evening national news broadcast and note every time that you start to have an emotional reaction to a story, whether that emotion is anger, disgust, or joy that there are still good people in the world. If you pay attention you will see that there is a pattern they take you through, almost every evening. Don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourself. If you pay close attention, you will see that the media are master manipulators.
If you are aware of the processes used by the media, and if you are aware that some random person on Twitter or Facebook are not really experts on any given topic, then you can be a step ahead, but it takes effort and it takes time if you want to understand real issues. It is a mistake to allow yourself and your actions to be shaped by people who know not whereof they speak.
Critical thinking is a tool that allows you to examine arguments offered by others. It is not an outright dismissal of another’s position, but instead a method of checking their argument within a framework of reason.
Do you have to be an expert?
On the internet, everyone and their Uncle seems to be an expert about everything. My suggestion is to not participate in that game.
Wait a minute! Did a martial artist actually just say you don’t have to be an expert at everything?!?!
Yes I did.
Why be like everyone else? Why not be strong enough to admit that you do not know something? Why not be willing to say that some social issues are very complex and do not have answers simple enough to fit into a one line soundbite? It would be refreshing to see people willing to take that step. I don’t think it will happen because of the massive number of people who make emotion-based decisions, but one can still hope. Right?