Friday, January 14, 2011

Ignorance in the Digital Age

Much has been made of the impact that modern technology has had on society. I increasingly suspect that it has contributed greatly to ignorant public statements by prominent persons.

As humans, we all have our own worldviews, ways of conceptualizing the things that happen around us. Some are conservative, some liberal, some hodgepodges, some literally incoherent. But each of us has one of these lenses through which we see the world.

All of these lenses refract incoming light to some extent. Show the same picture to a conservative and a liberal, and you are liable to get two markedly distinct impressions of what happened. Hence the passionate debate over the placement of blame for the massacre in Tucson. To some, it was lax gun laws; to others, it was harsh gun laws; perhaps it was right-wing fanaticism chime in still others, only to be rebuffed by opponents who would have the shooter be a Marxist.

To me, the point of the whole saga is actually unrelated to the deaths of so many innocent persons and had little to do with the unstable mind of the swine who killed them. What I saw arising out of the haze that still obscures our unimpeded understanding of what truly happened last Saturday is a civilization that has perfected the art of jumping to conclusions and using instant communication formats to spread those conclusions like so much manure.

Now, I will not pretend that jumping to conclusions is by itself a foolish thing to do. But it can be. Two examples: jumping to tenuous conclusions that slander and libel other persons and refusing to let go of those conclusions when subsequently gained insight so strongly suggests that they are scurrilous at best but much more likely bold-faced lies.

One final note on the matter: irrational dislike of a political figure was not monopolized this weekend by Mr. Loughner. Personally, I hold Mrs. Palin in low-esteem and generally consider her to be unworthy of the attention which this country has bestowed upon her. That said, her comments on blood-libel were apt (considering the origin of the term). Those who attacked her for using it seem to have displayed the deep-seated hatred for Mrs. Palin that Mr. Loughner had for Representative Giffords.

Want to make political discourse in this country more civil? Start being more civil yourself. The longer we go around accusing others of being uncivil, the more self-fulfilling the prophesies shall be. And at a time when ignorance can be transmitted instantaneously to millions of persons, that is something that should make even the stoutest of optimists tremble in fear.

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