The Age of Ignorance

I am someone who loves to read shit on the internet. Connie would rightly contend that not only is it my favourite past time, surpassing the Nintendo Switch, reading books, and watching TV, but something that I waste my life doing. I read Twitter with folk tweeting about ambient music, and read forums that talk about music here and there, and love to read articles on subjects that I find interesting.

I'm the epitome of someone who live within an echo chamber. I follow people who believe similar things to me, read and share similar articles to me, and like similar video games, dogs, and music to me. So my curated list of things I see on a daily basis are things I want to see.

But I know this.

I know that there is a whole world out there of people who are the anti-me, who blame immigrants for their problems getting jobs, or the lack of services when they go to the NHS. They see the anti-Semitism row rolling through the Labour party and wonder "when will they think about me?". They believe Brexit is a taking back of control that we desperately need and cannot fathom how it could possibly be bad for this, our Great Britain. They read articles by Boris Johnson and wonder how anyone could disagree with someone just "saying what the man on the street thinks".

And they, like me, get fed a personalised feed of articles backing this up. They see real articles, in real newspapers, confirming this view point to them. On top of that, they see posts by other people who believe this sent into their feeds. And to cap it all off they also get the new Fake News micro-adverts and micro-articles being syringed with medical precision into their feeds, confirming even more their bias.

In that above paragraph, replace "they" with "me". It happens to my feed, and it happens to yours.

The issue is that it breeds ignorance of not just other things that are happening, but also an ignorance of critical thought. I follow Donald Trump, the current President of the US, because his feed is full of things I don't want to hear. I then go and look at the comments made by those who also follow him, and most of them I disagree with, and what stuns me isn't the idea that there are people online who repeat him, scream adulation at him, and agree with what he says - that's not surprising. He did win the election after all, someone must agree with him.

What is incredible is that there are a group of people on all sides of the political divides across all western democracies that are taking everything as black and white. They do not understand that there is, and that there has to be, a middle ground. Somewhere that we can meet to discuss the events of the day. That despite it all, you might think that Scottish Independence is abhorrent, but I don't - and there is a playing field on which we both can talk, and that is the common ground of "let's make this a better place, shall we?". In there, we can talk about what we want, and then the how falls out, be it independence or staying in the UK.

What has fallen apart in almost all other parts of the world is the fact that being seen to aim for the grey area is now seen as conceding, and that is the problem with the world of ignorance. You won't see a right wing or staunchly left wing voter being given something into their feed to coax them into the middle ground for that doesn't get clicks, it doesn't get them on board, and it doesn't pull them to the grey area where commonality can be found. Peddlers of hate reinforce this, and that is not just news sites and Facebook's feed algorithms, it's the way the world is rewarded in black and white terms. I feel like the rise in Twitter's combative and hostile environment also coincided with the decision to change "Favs" to "Likes", because with Faving something there was ambiguity on what it meant. I faved things I disliked or disagreed with to read later or to bookmark, but today it's a love-heart, and you can only like it. It's black and white.

This blog post is, I should point out, not me being sneering at those who have this happen to you - it's not a new thing really, as the theory of this has been in play since the day newspapers were first published. Conflict sells papers, and now conflict sells shares online.

I have no idea what can be done to bring the world's discourse back because people like it so much.

The other thing that I find is crazy is that when someone is presented with an idea that is plainly obvious, this combative world of never being wrong, something I have a hard time personally with admitting even in the most low-impact of scenarios, is the pure cognitive dissonance from the truth. People will argue against provable facts, or powerful theories, or even tangible analysis of statistics and trends. But these words - facts, theories, or analysis - are now considered by those who cannot believe for a second that they could be wrong to be pejorative. I don't need your facts, they'd say, for it doesn't agree with my belief and therefore must be wrong.

What this all leads to is the collapse of a workable democracy. It doesn't work unless you're willing to accept that there might be good ideas that you disagree with. You might disagree with Brexit, like me, but if there was any positives you might be able to be swayed. I see it with clever and well meaning Unionist friends who despair at the thought of Scottish Independence, and I wonder what it would take to bring them to a position of commonality, for they might be able to convinced me a different way. In the wider world however, "hot-takes" and "outrage" powers the internet today, and that means the death of political discourse and difficult, hard to swallow ideas.

Like, for example, the almost insurmountable evidence that Brexit without a deal is demonstrably a bad idea. No one thinks it'll be good - and if you do think it'll be good, you're either a multi-millionaire with skin in the game, or someone who has believed the lies they've peddled to you to get what they want. If we, as a country, decided we don't want it to happen it's the biggest political climb down in history - and one, that as a society based on black and white ideals, the populace probably can't stomach.

If someone can't come to say that they are wrong when they've supported Trump and he does abhorrent things, we've gone off a cliff and it'll take something huge to bring the world back.