Internet companies capitalize on this by bringing an optimized stream of stupidity for your viewing pleasure. Take a look at the front page of Reddit (logged out, default subs): Half of the content highlights stupidity of others: /r/IdiotsInCars shows the worst drivers from around the world, /r/insanepeoplefacebook shows the most bizarre clips from social media, /r/choosingbeggars highlights the dumbest negotiation attempts, /r/trashy and /r/iamatotalpieceofshit are selected stories of bad behavior, /r/whatcouldgowrong and /r/instantkarma are videos of people making bad decisions and suffering the consequences, /r/publicfreakout is videos of people fighting. Contributors hunt for the most egregious examples to post to Reddit in the hopes of getting upvotes.
Twitter isn't much better: Topics spread on Twitter when they promote outrage or allow the reader to feel smugly superior to someone.
If you spend your days online consuming this content day in and day out, you're going to become convinced that the world is "stupid" and getting stupider. In reality, you're simply tapping into stupidity concentrators, getting bite-sized views of stupidity so you can react in astonishment and feel superior to stupid people doing stupid things.
I think COVID quarantine has worsened this, as people are getting even more of their worldview through social media feeds instead of actually interacting with people in the real world. If 90% of your insight into social interactions comes from clickbait social media sites selecting the most egregious stories and videos from around the world, of course you're going to think "stupidity is expanding". In reality, it's a sign that you need to revaluate your sources of information and move to platforms and networks where people are talking about something other than other people's stupidity.
If you've ever watched someone be completely wrong about something you know a lot about, you know how strong the urge to correct them is.
On social media, promoting clearly wrong beliefs and ideas (Flat Earth, for instance) is good for business because people will similarly jump in to correct the wrong belief. And if you tie that belief to a political ideology, the believers will defend their ideology, further increasing engagement.
I don't think it even has to be deliberate; the algorithms social media uses, by their very nature, are going to promote stupid and blatantly wrong beliefs, since so many people will enjoy mocking them and there will always be some believers willing to argue back and keep the discussion going indefinitely.
Imagine what would happen if social media algorithms started promoting the opposite. Engagement would drop, but there might be some interesting second and third effects.
This works really well when you have a question about something. If you post a question asking for answers or ideas you often get crickets. But if you post an idea that is clearly wrong you usually get lots of people jumping in to correct you.
It's simple. The dumber you are, the easier it is to sell something to you. Susceptibility to "influence" is a highly profitable trait, so it's selected. That's why the idiot networks need to aggregate as many fools together in one big writhing swarm of stupidity. Their revenue comes from advertising, and as long as that continues you should not expect it to get any better.
This realization may also lead to the solution: Don't regulate the content. Regulate the advertising.
I don't find them particularly worse than the major mainstream media.
> If you've ever watched someone be completely wrong about something you know a lot about
This happens whenever I read a mainstream media article about something like airplanes.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”
– Michael Crichton (1942-2008)
(edit: added link below)
taken from: https://www.epsilontheory.com/gell-mann-amnesia/
Sort of like me being assigned to write an article about culinary arts :-)
P.S. For more decent articles about airplanes, Aviation Week is far better.
What has convinced me the world is stupid is that as a whole we cannot get our shit together to deal with a global pandemic. You signal your intelligence when you show blatant disregard for the rules/law when you don't wear a mask when required. There are so many reasons why people do this (not knowing any better/not believing they work comes from lack of education), but it all stems from lack of intelligence (in my opinion). The fact that some parts of the world have effectively contained
while others are miserably failing, causing so many needless deaths, knowing what needs to happen to create this outcome, you can only conclude that as a whole, we are morons.
So yeah, I'm sure social media is definitely doing some damage, acting as a conduit for false information, spreading theories on 5G towers spreading the virus etc, but taking 5 watching some dumbass total his car via /r/idiotsincars because it was upvoted into /r/all does not make me feel hopeless, what makes me feel hopeless is getting on a tram, making a quick scan and concluding that I have to move into the next section because in the current one there are too many people not wearing a mask.
Your post has made me reconsider browsing /r/all though.. it is all pretty bland these days and /r/WCGW isn't entertaining as it was when I first found it
Coming from a country which had low enforcement of laws even before the pandemic(one of the reasons why it's still under "developing" category instead of "developed"), I doubt the disregard of law is due to lack of intelligence. On the contrary, the more intelligent/shrewd someone is, higher is their chance to get away disregarding the law(in these places). They are more selfish than stupid.
But I think that what you are attributing to stupidity would be better attributed to culture, size, or strength of authority -- the countries that have handled the pandemic well score favorably in one of those attributes. Here in the 'states we are strongly individualistic and historically distrustful of government, and bad actors have been stoking those flames for a while so we are in a particuarly vulnerable state right now.
Now, in my opinion, stupidity is humanity's seeming refusal to not act more switfly about climate change, but I'm sure someone else would argue that's attributable to some other, er, attribute
Another example. If you’d be living in the Middle Ages and there would be a growing group believing the earth wasn’t flat, you’d be called stupid. Now, it’s the other way around.
Either way, stupidity is very subjective when applied at an intellectual level.
At a more practical level, stupid would be a child that just heard their parents say not to touch the furnace but still touches it and burns itself. One could call it stupid, but it’s also a way of learning, exploring and getting experience.
So even at this level, 'stupid' is subjective
So again, I agree with the premise but statements like yours could be infinitely more helpful by suggesting ways to stop using these toxic motivators for fun.
Wow, that about sums it up in a succinct and bittersweet way.
Back in 2012-ish I began to honestly worry that the steady accretion of anti-information would eventually crush the internet if something wasn't done. Nothing has been done. Now add to that the effectiveness of SEO and searching Google or DDG, or even boutique sites like Stack Overflow or Epicurious reveals a huge quantity of chaff, crust, and effluvia. Not sure where to put my faith, but I do hope search engines can resolve the philosophical dilemmas.
I'm glad I'm not the only one. A friend of mine and I spent a lot of evening hours talking about [loosely summarized] "where the internet was going" from 2010-2013. Unfortunately we seemed to be correct on many fronts, and it has made some faucets of technology almost unbearable.
Its true. I think it appeals to our inner Just-world theories https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis
It's obviously everywhere but you see it in tech when people say company X deserved Y because they didn't do Z when they get Black-Hatted for instance.
What were the consequences of acting foolishly and not concentrating 5000 years ago compared to today ? 50 years ago ?
Maybe you’d starve, maybe you’d get eaten by a lion, or ruin the hunt for food and your crops.
Today, that doesn’t seem relevant, you can spend all day believing in and talking nonsense and end up getting paid and receiving essentials. You won’t starve or freeze. You might even end up being the President of the United States by doing so.
What is the intuition that this runs counter to?
I don't see it as counterintuitive. It seems to me a reflection of human nature. I imagine people have always been that way.
Scene from the movie Idiocracy (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Idiocracy&oldid=9...):
Now, set aside the actual proposition and read the comments. Most of them are trivially wrong about:
* What a California Ballot Proposition is
* What the role of the legislator is wrt ballot props
* The text of the proposition
Now, this would be a problem if the text was particularly hard, but it really isn't. Someone in the comments there pointed out that this was the same as the infamous Prop J and K pair where one raised taxes to provide funding for a thing and the other provided the thing but only if the funding was there. The funding failed, the thing passed. The thing never came to exist. Afterwards, on Reddit, I read commenters describing how they didn't know the two things were linked.
This is a pretty common pattern on forums like this. Even HN suffers from it where people avoid primary sources only to intentionally play telephone and get bad information which they then convincingly repeat. I've definitely seen folks confidently bullshit something they just learned from another comment instead of reading the primary source. As an amusing coincidence, one of these was about the ridesharing min wage law that Seattle passed. The primary source was very clear, but most comments argued about a thing that wasn't a failure mode of the actual law - but was a failure mode of a non-existent law that they had manufactured from thin air.
¹ https://www.reddit.com/r/bayarea/comments/j6c4lv/im_a_softwa... it's deleted now but the same text as https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/06/im-a-software-engineer-at-...
I think COVID is causing it, but in a much simpler way: by increasing stress levels which increases fast system thinking. Globalization and the rising pace of change have increased global stress levels over the past decades, which has caused people to take a defensive mental stance, do more fast system thinking and be less open minded. You saw the same shift towards extreme politics throughout the world, which for me means it is not about the issues, but about how people feel. COVID turned that dial up to 11. I see people freaking out in many small ways, and they mostly don’t seem to be aware they’re suffering from anxiety and it is affecting their thought process.
Social media is the cherry on top. When you are in the fast system thinking mode, it helps you to stay there. Selection bias, shallow interactions, shallow depth of information, all things that increase as you engage more with social media. That makes it more toxic to people already under stress. These people then are able to find each other online, form vocal groups and try to spread their anxiety around. And that’s how it can appear like things are getting worse while mostly they’ve never been better. And how it can seem like people are getting more stupid while really they’re getting more stressed.
Reddit's demographics skew very young, which means it's mostly used by people who have very little socioeconomic standing. People at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are subject to significant arbitrary humiliation at the hands of others (all entry-level jobs suck; so does being a student) and have no tools with which to fight back. People who are in this situation are likely to find catharsis in finding ways to see themselves--no matter how bad their personal situation is--as at least one step above someone else (hence the popularity of subs like /r/insanepeoplefacebook) and seeing abusive people being given their just rewards in ways the average Reddit reader cannot get away with (hence, the popularity of subs like /r/instantkarma).
I also wonder if there's a correlation between preferences for mockery content and the rigidity of social hierarchies in different countries. Japan, for instance, has a very rigid social hierarchy (meaning most people are subject to arbitrary abuse) and they had an entire genre of mainstream humiliation TV. I'd be surprised if this kind of content is as popular in countries with flatter social hierarchies where sociopathic behavior directed at subordinates is less acceptable.
(As an aside, I haven't looked at Reddit's default subs for many years and it's shocking that they've crawled that far down into the clickbait gutter.)
Agreed. Isn't this the majority of people though? And if this is in fact the majority of people, then doesn't it mean that stupidity is in fact expanding?
I don't think any of us are going to hit upon the end-all-be-all decisive proof either way, but I think there's value in considering how everyone perceiving it getting larger may be the definition of it getting larger.
I think what you describe can be attributed to our brain noting the negative things much stronger in its memory while it always writes off the usual / slightly positive events as "normal".
In short, we get outraged easily, but it's hard to make us positively impressed in a lasting manner, it seems.
IQ tests are being renormalized. Today's 100 may be last year's 99. Average IQs have gone up ~15 points since ~1950. Some evidence of slowing or reversing in the last 20 years.
The response strikes me as being indicative of mental illness. And I don't mean that as an insult - I mean that when confronted with that they're clearly irrational. And something's gotta be going on their heads that makes them cling to this hypothesis. Don't know if mental illness is going up or down - our understanding and perception of it has changed so there's hardly reliable data on it. I'd have to go through a similar thought process as this article. But I think it's a factor, beyond "new media". I suspect that the toxic politics in the US is a similar phenomenon, the way people are controlled by confirmation bias and can twist their way into believing "my guy good, other guy bad" under almost any circumstances.
In turn, people reach out to conspiracy theories to simplify the world around them with obvious answers and explanations.
My theory, sort of.
The same kind of logic fuels conspiracy-minded people. The one thing they all have in common is that they reject the mainstream view, they reject the consensus. And in turn, they embrace outlandish explanations, and the communities around those, because it gives them a false sense of superiority. They know something the rest of the sheep don't!
So these two psychological defense mechanisms interact with each other, and when the information flow in society is increasing, the threshold for how smart you need to be to keep up also increases. So people in general probably aren't getting stupider, but they're getting more and more overwhelmed, which looks the same.
That narrative is ridiculous - what does intelligence have to do with it ?
I guarantee you you are uninformed on so many issues and you could easily be taken advantage of no matter how intelligent you were by someone who spent time preparing/specialising in deception - especially if the negative outcome is less then the cost of investigating the issue. Nobody has the time to investigate every choice so by your logic cynicism should be a default strategy for everything you're not an expert in.
"Further studies demonstrated that cynicism is more likely to be a worldview endorsed by individuals with lower rather than higher levels of education (Haukkala, 2002; Stavrova & Ehlebracht, 2018) and intelligent individuals’ behavior was shown to be more likely to depart from the norms of self-interest (Solon, 2014). Higher levels of education and com-petence in a broader sense might help individuals detect and avoid potential deceit in the first place, thus reducing the probability of negative social experiences, which might in turn contribute to a more positive view of human nature (Yamagishi, Kikuchi, & Kosugi, 1999). Indeed a number of studies showed general cognitive ability to be negatively related to cynical hostility (Barnes et al., 2009; Mortensen, Barefoot, & Avlund, 2012) and positively related to trust (Carl, 2014; Carl & Billari, 2014; Hooghe, Marien, & de Vroome, 2012; Oskarsson, Dawes, Johannesson, & Magnusson, 2012; Sturgis, Read, & Allum, 2010)."
So the narrative is about competence and intelligence is a factor as it correlates with competence.
Cynicism is not the same thing as skepticism. Cynicism encompasses an abstract and often moral judgment about motivations and machinations, permitting you to draw conclusions without evidence. Skepticism is more about coming to terms with the contingent nature of truth, and can be a difficult skill to employ, particularly when you're presented with concrete choices and have to make real decisions--as opposed to merely opining on matters.
> cynicism should be a default strategy for everything you're not an expert in
This would indeed follow, but if we allow for a small number of trusted sources can mostly be resolved.
I think "know[ing] you're not smart enough" inherently excludes you from belonging in the category of "less intelligent people".
One of the most defining characteristics of stupid people is that they think they're smart.
On conspiracy beliefs: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1948550611434786
In one case though I had someone say that I wasn't hitting satellites, I was hitting a solar-powered high altitude plane. When I pointed out that it would have to be going at 23 times the speed of sound at sea level and flying at 120,000 km, they said of course: technology is amazing. While in the same conversation claiming that satellites were impossible. At that point I stopped believing they even had basic common sense.
To take this even further: I encounter in my day to day many instances of people making claims that are easily refuted with a quick online search. I have realized that correcting people over their lack of scientific knowledge is perceived as nitpicking and inappropriate. We got our incentives backwards. If we cannot speak up over misinformation to our peers, then they will spread faster than the truth.
Sadly, I've had to accept that in order to be perceived as a much stronger source of truth, I have to correct people less.
And truth often is boring. It is only one. At first I've told my son only truth how it works (Feynman style). Now I engage in making fantasies (Diskworld style). I present all fantasies (theories) as equal, some can be constructed by physics laws. The game is to find which one. All sorts of interesting questions arise.
What is the difference between plane and satellite?
Can airplane flew that fast through air?
Is meteor burning? What is its speed?
> 120,000 km
That's third of a distance to the moon. Not sure how you got it
They become quite good at it as it follows simple rules.
For example, every time someone worries about their health, they can sort through all possible diagnoses online, and convince themselves they have a certain sickness just because the symptoms match. A doctor will use Bayesian reasoning and conclude the problem is really a very common infection or something, but when the untrained mind is overwhelmed with information, Occam's Razor doesn't hold.
The same goes for everything else. Information is dangerous for those who don't know how to reason about it carefully and properly, which is most of us, in most fields.
"Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus"
U.S. Surgeon General, February 29, 2020 
"Stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself. Let's really underline that. Stigma is the most dangerous enemy."
Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization, March 2nd, 2020 
Have the experts always been like this, and it's simply more obvious now that the world is much more interconnected? Or has the quality of experts gone down dramatically? Both?
So I Goggle it and sure enough he did say as much.
However, you did not post the full statement which means the context is lost.
With the full quote and the resulting context the statement makes perfect sense:
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
I was basically attacked at work as being xenophobic and insular for saying if we are going out we should wear a mask. so where were your experts on that one? sure f*#!ed up that one.
As I recall, at the time experts were saying "Don't recommend that everyone wear a mask, we have a shortage and need to save them for health care workers."
Any sufficiently advanced technology (knowledge) is indistinguishable from magic -- Arthur C. Clarke
So people just see competing ideas as a choice between two forms of magic. Add in identity politics and hey presto, changing their mind means denying themselves (a rather difficult thing for most to do). Add in Dunning-Kruger, through no fault of their own, and then people think there is a rational reason for denying objective evidence. My evidence is better because your evidence is just your opinion.
No, this isn't true. References to Dunning-Kruger need to die. I haven't seen a case yet where using Dunning-Kruger to explain behavior is not misinformation.
Dunning-Kruger's data actually demonstrated that the more confident someone is in their ability, the higher their ability, statistically. There was a positive correlation in people's ability to judge themselves, in the experiments. The only question was why the correlation wasn't higher.
It also demonstrated that the worst-performing individuals estimated themselves to perform MUCH better than they did, while the best-performing individuals expected to perform slightly worse than they did.
This comports with the average reference to the phenomenon ("stupid people think they're smarter than they are, smart people think they're stupider than they are").
The article you linked for some reason makes this comparison:
> So the bias is definitively not that incompetent people think they’re better than competent people. [...] they typically still don’t think they’re quite as good as people who, you know, actually are good.
This is just categorically false, and the chart linked not one paragraph above completely torpedoes it. The bottom quartile of people thought that they would perform at around the 57th percentile. They clearly expected to perform better than more competent individuals.
Perhaps the author meant to write "not that [they] think they're better than competent people do", which would be correct, but the rest of the conclusions seem to follow off of this flawed reading of the data.
I think you’re misunderstanding what Dunning & Kruger presented, which is precisely why references to this paper need to stop. You cannot read literally into the graph as saying that the bottom quartile of people believed they were at the 57th percentile of ability, that’s not what the experiment measured.
Have you read the actual paper? The respondents were 1- all Cornell undergrads volunteering for extra class credit, 2- asked to rank themselves, not to rate their abilities, 3- asked about such “skills” as the ability to get a joke. It seems pretty wild that anyone ever took this paper seriously. The conclusions that it makes in it’s wordy prose are not supported by the data they present.
Take a little more time to understand Tal’s primary argument - that this paper most likely is measuring regression to the mean. Because these kids were asked to rank themselves, and they didn’t know how good their peers were, there is good reason to expect a correllation less than 1. Because the authors were barely out of undergrad school themselves at the time, and not studying statistics per se, there is plenty of reason to suspect that the methodology isn’t perfect ... beyond the fact that it wasn’t a random sample of the population, it studied all rich kids who (self-selected) needed extra credit, it included no difficult mental skills, and that followup papers have shown a complete reversal of whatever effect is there, when applied to more difficult skills like law or engineering.
Now obviously there's a significant difference in degree of accuracy between the two worlds, but then one shouldn't forget that they're not dealing with equally difficult stories to investigate, or have access to the same investigative resources. Regardless, the same illogical behavior can be observed in both types, and an overload of complexity & information sounds like a very reasonable explanation.
If you get totally and irrefutably proven wrong by someone you are having a heated argument with, that is doubly hard. In order to respond correctly you need to, within a very short time-span:
- Realize the argument makes sense
- Accept your entire world-view, with a great many other related things, is wrong
- Admit that you were wrong to someone who just a minute ago you were angry at, who you thought was making bad arguments, and someone you felt was attacking you.
Doing that in the span of 10 seconds is really hard. I could easily understand how someone would fail, and instead get even angrier at the person making the argument. This certainly is irrational, but it is not a sign of mental illness. It is a form of irrationality that I am ashamed to admit I also have sometimes.
I think a big deal in the on-line space. Is that there is barely a way to re-engage after a cool-down period. You can't come back to a discussion a few days later, having had more time to process.
Especially with conspiracy theories, the shift in worldview that is required to accept that it is wrong is massive, that isn't going to happen over the span of a minute. Heck, it seems unlikely to happen over the span of a day.
I think this is a hard mantra to put into practice sometimes. I definitely think many people who are not mentally ill sometimes do not abide by this mantra.
Whilst I agree that it is better to be wrong to be ignorant, there are plenty of times where I hate being proven wrong. Sometimes that does get the better of me.
Person who is making obviously unbelievable arguments still is wrong but also dishonest. It is fine for fun or trolls but if it meant to be honest discussion it gains nothing but distrust.
In addition, where someone with an extremist view might be considered an outgroup, historically their views might have been suppressed among their peers or shutdown. Now they can engage online with thousands if not millions of other people who believe in the same out group ideas, potentially strengthening their view point.
One of the interesting psychological discussions is around people with extremist views such as flat earthers. These individuals are often minorities or outcasts of society and as such, many of those with extremist views form bonds with like minded people and their relationships and well-being are tied to those relationships. What this means is that not only are they less likely to respond pragmatically to opposing viewpoints, but that they would struggle to actually change their ways given that their relationships are tied with this belief. And if they were to believe differently, they would have to say goodbye to those bonds.
Not only that but those with out-group positions are great for those with agendas and willing to play along. Anti-vaxers are fodder for anyone looking for angry nuts to turn loose on their enemies etc.
(although he puts his cutoff point at 25% of the angriest part of the population, with no value judgements on nuts. In the age of social media, it ought to be easy enough to generate memes along the lines of his survey questions to see who forwards them.)
And don't get me started on the poor coverage of concepts like “necessary” and “sufficient” in judging evidence in support of an assertion or model.
After working in science for the past 15 years (drug development), I've come to appreciate how little in medicine we know in absolute terms. With any system as complex as the human body, generally the best you can hope for is to be less wrong.
> is to be properly understood as the physics of objects immersed in a fluid, air or water 
Kindergarten children can engage in physics, construct their theories. And only much later learn that space bodies move differently and how that knowledge can be applied to the world around us.
Trust experiment not authority.
 Aristotle’s Physics: a Physicist’s Look https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/157866135.pdf
Even the most rational among us make plenty of irrational decisions or have contradictory beliefs.
We've replaced religion and witches with aliens, new age beliefs, flat Earth, reptile conspiracies, etc. I don't think it was that different a couple of centuries ago. I read in the book Supersense by the neuroscientist Robert Hood  that in a study that is repeated every year for the past decades, the percentage of people having irrational beliefs has remained constant. I don't remember the exact percentage but it was rather high. Something like 75%.
I think you are understating the problem. Aliens, new age beliefs, flat Earth, reptile conspiracies, etc. are fringe beliefs in our current society, and are recognized to be fringe beliefs.
Religion and belief in witches, in the societies you are referring to that had those beliefs, were not fringe beliefs; they were mainstream. The people who were believed to be on the fringe in those societies--the people who were viewed in those societies the way we today view, say, flat Earthers--were people who did not believe in the mainstream religion and all of its claims. For example, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1695, people who said witches did not exist were the ones who were believed to be on the fringe.
So the problem is not that individual people can have fringe beliefs. The problem is that an entire society of people, minus a few outliers, can have, and act on, beliefs that are later shown, beyond any reasonable doubt, to be not just wrong, but delusional. So the question we should all be asking ourselves is not, what is wrong with today's flat Earthers, but which of the mainstream beliefs we have today will end up being like the belief in witches in 1695?
Indeed, but those people were highly religious Puritans that emigrated to the New World because they were prosecuted in England.
When you put those kind of people in isolation and a high stress situation you get those kinds of behaviors.
> So the question we should all be asking ourselves is not, what is wrong with today's flat Earthers, but which of the mainstream beliefs we have today will end up being like the belief in witches in 1695?
Totally agree. For example, climate change denial.
The Puritans were by no means the only people of that time who had mainstream beliefs that we now consider delusional. You'd be hard pressed to find any significant body of people of that time who didn't.
> For example, climate change denial.
I would also say, climate change alarmism. Which, if you are inclined to disagree (you might not be, I don't know, but I suspect at least some people reading this will be), illustrates another aspect of the problem: it's hard to improve mainstream beliefs when there is not general agreement over how to improve them--which new beliefs should take the place of the ones that are claimed to be wrong.
We will be mocked for sure in 300 years but OTOH witch hunts maybe weren't as mainstream all over Europe as you might think.
For example, in Europe between 1450 and 1750 35,000 witches were executed. Of those, only 1,000 were executed in Spain, Italy, and Portugal in 300 years which for sure were religious countries (I'm from Spain).
I'd be surprised if there wasn't some debate as to what caused those witch hunts. Was it societal paranoia or was it just a way for the church to exert their power?
> I would also say, climate change alarmism.
I don't know what you consider alarmism in this case, but the situation is certainly dire. I don't think it's far fetched to think that if we continue in business as usual, modern industrial civilization could be at risk.
As a small example, consider the wildfires of Russia in 2010 which triggered an increase in the global price of grain and many experts believe that fueled the Arab spring revolutions of 2011.
I didn't say they were. I didn't say all societies of that time had the same wrong mainstream beliefs as the Puritans. I just said they all had some wrong mainstream beliefs.
> the situation is certainly dire. I don't think it's far fetched to think that if we continue in business as usual, modern industrial civilization could be at risk.
I disagree (to be clear, I disagree about the "civilization could be at risk" part, I'm not saying I'm in favor of just continuing business as usual--I think there are certainly things we could and should do better). But I don't want to hijack the discussion into a debate about climate change and what we should do about it. My only point here is that there is significant disagreement on this point, and the various sides (there are more than two) can't all be right since they hold beliefs that are inconsistent with each other, so clearly some widely held belief in this area is wrong, we just have no consensus on which belief it is, so society as a whole can't make a correction.
Even more interesting, a very similar thing can be observed in the manner in which people evaluate the veracity of "religion", with their not perfectly logical tendency to see only the bad, and overlook the good, all the while holding a strong self-perception of being purely rational and right thinking. Human beings are truly quirky creatures, if only they didn't like fighting so much.
Of course within religion there is going to be a lot of 'arbitrary belief', but that's not what it is essentially. 'Parables' etc. are a function of how it's communicated and propagated, ironically, for the 'dumber folks' who 'need something material to believe in' and for whom more abstract concepts don't provide solace.
Religion is a metaphysical perspective of existence, one based on spirituality from which we develop our humanity, morality etc. and none of that is irrational.
Our earliest civilizations often confounded civic norms, civil law, religion, faith, cultural history etc. into the same sphere, from that you get things like the Torah for example (i.e. 'The Law') which is like a legal code, moral code, civic code, national history rolled into one.
Since the Common Era (i.e. about Jesus' time) religion has developed into a more strictly moral and spiritual sphere, less so the core civic stuff, but it still lays at the foundation of all of our institutions ... especially ironically our University system, and partly medical systems depending where you're from.
Our current scientifically materialist 'belief' whereupon we are all merely bags of tiny particles, randomly interacting in accordance with a few 'known forces' - which almost by definition denies the very existence of things which we otherwise believe exist - like 'life', 'love', 'intelligence' etc. is a pretty bizarre bit of irrationality that we somehow don't bother ourselves much about.
Barack Obama along with the majority of our leaders of all kinds are religious and not in the Machiavellian 'fake' sense whereby he 'need to appear religious to get elected', so let's not write them off as idiots and contemplate maybe our crude and easy dismissal is too often misplaced.
Yes, ideological conformism and orthodoxy are going to appeal to certain groups, and that's nice point, but it would be confusing the issue.
And of course ... we all have some truly irrational beliefs.
Humans have been naturally selected to cooperate over millions of years. Religion only exists because we yearn the feeling of community which is biological and it only makes sense that a unified culture makes a group most likely to survive.
Also, any belief based on magical thinking (very present in religious people) is intrinsically irrational.
No, community is only part of it, and frankly, that we lived in communities beforehand is not relevant.
Religion is the 'foundational philosophy concerning nature of who we are' that transcends most other subjects - i.e. it's metaphysics at it's core.
The 'community' part arises only in the same way secular civic and legal issues arise in our own communities.
The misunderstanding is partly evident in your comment about 'very religious people'.
You're conflating 'people who say they are hardcore believers in XYZ' with necessarily 'very religious' people.
Fred Rogers - a trained priest, started 'Mr Rogers Neighbourhood' and did that for 50 years to help communicate more intelligent ideals to children. He didn't mention the word 'God' a single time on air, you wouldn't know directly that he was 'deeply religious'.
Fred was not 'anti science' or someone we might normally conflate with 'hyper religious'.
As I indicated, Barack Obama is religious. He literally worked for the Church for a few years at the start of his career. One might argue his whole career was a bit missionary. Certainly Jimmy Cater's life - and Presidency - was that.
They're also not what we would consider 'super religious' bent on 'magical thinking' - but Fred Rogers, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama are who I would think of for example when contemplating who are 'the most religious people'.
So in a way, the nature of the comment implies a kind of 'straw man' - plucking out those with the most specific and material orthodox 'beliefs' about a system, the kind for whom the parables are meant to be understood more literally because maybe they're not so capable of the more enlightened bits - and having them representative of 'the most religious' - which is a little unfair. The plebes are going to be prone to 'magical thinking' no matter what happens.
'Scientific materialism' as it applies to the nature of life etc. is a constant stream 'magical thinking' - the dissonance between 'physics' and 'morality' is a chasm completely too wide for anyone to seem to cross with sound thinking.
And finally - every modern politicized subject, even those adhered to by 'intelligent people' is chock full of 'magical thinking'.
Not at all. Religion is simply a set of practices and beliefs.
I'm sure some practitioners have developed a philosophical understanding of it just as you can do with anything in life.
> You're conflating 'people who say they are hardcore believers in XYZ' with necessarily 'very religious' people.
It's the other way around. 'Very religious' people are 'hardcore believers'.
I suspect the root of blind belief is the same in both cases though. Most likely biological in nature.
In case it's not clear, I'm not saying religion is inherently bad, and I don't think religious people are completely irrational. What I'm saying is that religious belief is indeed irrational and fanaticism is bad (religious or not).
I found the best thing to do is stop there. Just listen, observe, try to understand. Be patient.
Unless someone comes to you asking a question, you're unlikely to change anyone's mind immediately, and even if they are asking opinions often change slowly if at all.
When we tell people they're wrong, we push them away a little, and our sphere of influence diminishes.
A mental illness framing is kind of interesting though, I've never really thought about it like that. It implies that it could be treatable, which I'm not really sure is true. Can you "treat" a troll?
I believe that stupidity is and has always been widespread and in normal times the more intelligent ideas have the widest subscription, even among the stupid. But when leaders fail to [be open, be objective, act in good faith, stick to the truth], then even the stupid can detect that they are being played and they rebel and seek alternative facts. So my theory is that leaders are currently gaming the populous rather than leading them, and that this is so obvious to everybody that trust in leadership and institutions has gone out the window.
Scott Adams has recently asserted that about 90% of what we are being told is not true. I'm don't concur with Scott on that figure, but clearly even smart people have lost trust in leaders/institutions. When the news refuses to report on 25% of newsworthy stories because they either make Trump look good or Biden look bad... when the news claims it's perfectly safe to protest BLM issues in the streets during a coronavirus pandemic... when even judges are clearly acting in bad faith (Julian Assange extradition case, Michael Flynn case)... when the Supreme Court becomes (or is perceived as becoming) the arm of a political party rather than an objective trustable institution, then the populous loses faith in the leaders/rules/institutions and we get widespread rioting, violence, a hell of a lot of stupid ideas, and perhaps hopefully some positive changed buried within all that somewhere.
I agree with that assessment. My limited and probably wrong interpretation of history indicates that in general, behavior will now tend towards revolutionary.
You may find these resources useful:
Confirmation bias also explains a lot. I remember seeing many anecdotes about Trump before the 2016 election that felt quite possibly true but turned out to be false on further investigation. As if the true things were not exciting enough.
Moreover, I suspect that much of our perceptions, esp. on topics that we don't directly seek out, are based on just glancing at the continuous stream of clickbaity article titles that cross our feeds everyday without even clicking them. In isolation, they'd be harmless, but if the same articles appears across HN, FB, and Twitter, they make a mental impact. And these half-digested impressions then color our opinions when those topics come up in debate or discussions.
A lot of what education is supposed to do is shape your instincts towards what is productive: there's no particular reason that reading history in my spare time should _feel_ productive, but it does. That feeling was shaped by my education.
We've all been trained to think of arguments as logic. They're not; they're a conflict of mindsets, fully fleshed out states of being.
Arguments are a facades on beliefs - states of being. That's not an illness; that's being human.
The way i've heard it explained that makes the most sense to me: "people are convinced (rightly) that there is something wrong with our world and society, they just don't know what it is. Conspiracies provide answers and a framework to accommodate that feeling."
The opposite of knowledge isn't no knowledge, it's bad knowledge. The creation of a parallel reality is not so unreasonable response to nothing nothing about our current reality.
We all need something to hold on to.
I think, with Bayesian probabilities, you can have a setup where, given the same data and two different prior distributions, you end up with two wildly different posteriors after updating the initial beliefs. Unfortunately, i don't have an example at hand but i remember there is a very interesting passage on this phenomenon in E. T. Jaynes "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science". Can anyone else expand on this?
Unless you're an astronomer or involved in some pursuit in which the shape of the earth is of material consequence, it just doesn't matter.
Flat earthers find community and identity amongst other flat earthers, and that to them is of much higher significance than whether the earth is actually flat or not.
Society has mostly been run by autocratic systems. If we are determined to make democracy work, conspiracy and anti-fact ideologies are existential threats.
With all due respect, there is nothing 'new' about QAnon. It's the same recycled theories about santanic pedophiles tweaked slightly to fit new surroundings. I would argue a new banality of evil that Facebook/Instagram/Twitter provides, where dangerous lies reside right next to actual news and photos of people's kids.
Let me rephrase that for you: "I've been trolled by a few of the world's most obvious trolls..."
Really, man. The internet has been around. We've been around the internet. There's this kind of stupidity that's almost...meta stupidity, you know? Like, do you really not realize the flat earthers are putting one on? Maybe you're putting one on right now...because, how can you seriously be that naive?
* Absolute dualistic cosmology: there is an Absolute Good and Absolute Evil locked in a titanic struggle in which humans are the pieces. The forces of Absolute Evil are expending every effort to knock us off the narrow path to Absolute Good.
* Gnostic notions of revelation: the path to salvation is mostly, if not entirely, dependent on the knowledge of the revealed truth of the universe. Acquiring this knowledge is difficult, and (following the above point) the forces of Absolute Evil are trying their best to prevent you from gaining it. But fortunately, those who have come before us can help us in the acquisition of knowledge.
* Evangelism: once you acquire the knowledge, you must (as a good person should!) turn around and save as many people as you can by educating them on the revealed truths of the universe. And if they look at you like you're a rambling lunatic or try to "fix" your knowledge, then clearly they must be agents of Absolute Evil trying to drag you down with them.
* The actual cosmology: [insert a mishmash of the cosmology  of several disparate religions here] and the Earth is actually flat.
These kinds of belief systems, with a variety of substitutions for the last bullet point, have been around for millennia. Flat Earth isn't even the first such system in my short Millennial lifetime. The actual beliefs of these systems are less important than the fact that you have the revealed knowledge, which is also why people seem to be able to move very quickly from one system to another (as Flat Earthers basically all jumped ship to Qanon).
 One of the things to draw attention to, from what I can tell, is that these sorts of beliefs tend to extract only the cosmological and supernatural beliefs from religion and ignore the moralist beliefs.
Although, sometimes the irony seems just a bit too rich to be true...perhaps a Matryoshka troll?
seems at least worth considering that the same is possible with psychotic symptoms.
i think some conspiracy theorists might just have a kind of low grade mania or psychosis. not enough to stop them from functioning, but enough to make them see patterns that aren't there and have a hard time thinking logically about certain topics.
this would also explain why many conspiracy theories nowadays no longer even pretend to be rational. With JFK or the moon landing, they would at least try to present evidence and make arguments, however distorted.
But if you talk to a QAnon believer or many flat earth people, their arguments do not even have internal coherence -- it's just free association.
All this being said, I think there should be a strong norm against trying to diagnose specific individuals with mental illness over the internet. But it's hard for me not to contemplate this as a possible explanation.
> Any community that gets its laughs by pretending to be idiots will eventually be flooded by actual idiots who mistakenly believe that they're in good company.
- DarkShikari, Hacker News - in a comment on 4chan, 2009, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1011498
A decade later, it still applies...
Since then, this has always been one of the most overused 4chan memes, with more than 100 variants of cute image macros. I always assumed it was a 4chan meme, and it was a huge surprise for me when I realized it actually came from Hacker News... Top 4chan meme from Hacker News?! It was beyond my imagination, I obviously underestimated the richness of cultural exchanges online.
And it was from a well-known x264/ffmpeg developer...
Speaking of 4chan, I found its trolling and politics are extremely objectionable, yet there's a lot of psychology and sociology to be learned here, especially the mechanisms commonly found in an online community. QAnon is an excellent case study on how a self-organized online community can create an influential meme that eventually affected mass psychology.
There's been a bunch of people who have had "control" over Q in the past few years. The current Q, Jim Watkins, is thankfully the laziest and most boring of them, and hopefully the entire thing fades away after the election.
It's just like how 100% of the memes are created on 4chan, the mechanism is the same, applicable from cat pictures to political propaganda. Since 2016 or so, there has been much talk about "weaponized memes" on 4chan that was mostly a meme by itself initally (I was a witness there in 2016), but based on the situation by now it's unfortunately surely a real thing, and even MIT Technology Review has an article . It feels surreal. What an interesting time to be alive! A bunch of random grassroot web dwellers can create something out of nothing by natural selection and genetic exchanges, and by attracting conspiracy zealots in this process, it will eventually become big enough to make an impact on national politics.
20 years ago, it was a Sci-Fi plot. Although Usenet already foreshadowed many social aspects of online communities (I could find conspiracy materials even from the early ARPA archives), but nowhere influential.
One comment mentioned the changed perception of free speech before and after the 2010s, and this is an important contributing factor. Perhaps the society will learn to better adapt the new meme order in another decade.
This thinking is dangerous. You open the doors to labelling every opinion that isn't considered rational or part of the status quo to be a product of mental illness.
e.g I find those AI generated pictures of people that look like real photos to be mildly disturbing. It is clearly irrational, however I don't think people could claim I am mentally ill because of it.
Currently there is a push to make racism a mental illness. I see no evidence of that at all. I've spoken to some people that have gone on the "Iron March" and they aren't mentally ill (tbh they are just losers IMO but they are pretty harmless as most of them are NEETs living with their parents).
There are exactly zero people who believe the earth is flat. Some join conspiracy groups because they are social outcasts who enjoy being part of a tight-knit group, while for the most part they are being isolated and rejected (sometimes, admittedly, because of faults of their own, unrelated to being flat-earthers).
They aren't insane, they are desperately lonely.
I don't think this is true. At any rate, if it is true, there are certainly a significant number of people who are giving an extraordinarily convincing imitation of believing that the Earth is flat. So convincing that it's hard not to allocate at least some probability to the hypothesis that they actually believe what they say they believe and aren't giving an imitation at all.
I'd be more inclined to follow this line of thought if this was about anything else. "The earth is flat" is not a claim that's false upon closer inspection of the available data, it's a claim that's prima facie false, it's in the same category of "the moon is made of cheese" rather than "we didn't land on the moon".
No, it isn't. We view the claim as absurd today only because we have the benefit of millennia of collection of evidence and arguments and theory that has established "the earth is round" beyond a reasonable doubt. But for a person who either does not have access to all that evidence and arguments and theory, or who simply refuses to believe them (and, as someone else upthread noted, it can be a valid heuristic strategy for some people to refuse to believe claims by other people that they can't understand for themselves, in order to avoid being taken advantage of), the claim that the earth is flat is not absurd, which means it's not prima facie false.
This premise is just historically false. Ancient civilizations knew full well the earth was not flat. More people in the history of mankind have known the earth is round than how to multiply.
Some did. Not all of them. The first one I'm aware of is the Greeks. Do you know of any earlier ones?
Also, the fact that particular intellectuals knew the Earth was round in a society does not necessarily mean it was common knowledge in that society, much less that it was such common knowledge that the average person would think it absurd to question it and would be able to explain why. The books we have from the ancient Greeks that give good arguments for the Earth being round were probably not read by more than a tiny fraction of the population. The earliest example I can think of of the roundness of the Earth being taught in a widespread fashion is the Christian church after it accepted the roundness of the Earth as dogma and taught it as such.
There's evidence in some Sanskrit texts that early Indian civilizations did, but they are probably contemporary to the Greeks.
But again, even superficial observations are sufficient. You don't really have to "trust" anybody or research anything. If anything, it's the belief in flat earth that requires extremely convoluted and unintuitive rationalizations.
Again, I understand this stuff is frustrating, because unwillingness to change one's mind in front of overwhelming contrary evidence is one of the worst possible behaviors.
They might believe the claim in the sense they'd pass a lie detector test, but I doubt it's because they find the argument genuinely convincing.
> early christians
This isn't true, either. Some early Christians might have stuck to a literal interpretation of the sacred texts, but the Church has strongly opposed that belief since the very beginning. I don't have any particular axe to grind, but this is really just a myth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_flat_Earth
That depends on what you consider to be superficial observations. The fact that there is plenty of evidence for ancient civilizations before the Greeks believing the Earth to be flat (for example, descriptions in their mythology) indicates to me that the observations needed to figure out that the Earth is round are not superficial. Sure, it seems like they are if you live in a society that already has the belief and can teach it to you. But that doesn't mean they actually are.
> this is really just a myth
The myth referred to in that Wikipedia article (which I fully agree is a myth) has nothing whatever to do with what I said, or with early Christians. You are attacking a straw man.
What I said, in fact, is stronger than the statements made in that Wikipedia article. The article only says that "scholars have supported" the view that the Earth is round since the 600s AD. I said that the Christian church had taught it since it accepted it as dogma, and that, AFAIK, was several centuries earlier than the 600s AD.
Of course it's possible that they are trolling or something more or less equivalent. I find it hard to believe that anyone is that good at trolling, but I admit I find it less hard to believe after spending years on the Internet. :-)
People can 'come to believe' what benefits them.
If an idea is truly exciting or engaging, or makes people feel special, or part of a 'group' esp. of 'special people' - it's just more likely we believe those things as 'factual'.
So in a way - though they would 'pass a lie detector test' and 'truly believe in a flat earth' - it's predicate upon all those things - it's an impassioned or subjective kind of belief.
They would act almost perfectly rationally if you asked them about some completely mundane subject like rocks rolling down a hill.
Our egos tend to believe it when we're told we are good, and tend to be dismissive when we are told we're bad at something, that right there is evidence we're not very objective about taking in data to begin with.
I would suggest that it's possible this need is subconscious, and if they're believing nonsense because that need is so great, I'd consider that a mental illness.
It's definitely possible. I'm saying I'd be more inclined to believe the "need" in question is a social need, rather than bad media/"fake news" influence.
Interesting. I'd like to read that study, if you ever figure out which one it was.
Meanwhile, I wonder if this was a case of people figuring out what the testers wanted to hear, rather than actually altering the beliefs they held.
Works for a while, not forever.
My money is on this. You wouldn't typically argue with a kid, but on the internet you probably are.
If you're out and about and a person comes up to you and shouts about how the world is controlled by goats in cow suits, your brain will quickly assess the trustworthiness of this person. Is the person wearing clothes? Is the person rambling/coherent/visibly intoxicated? Are the person's eyes shifting around/manic looking? Does the person smell weird? (I am making up random examples, but I am sure there are many things that every person will look at to gauge trustworthiness).
Most of the above goes out of the window on the internet. Even the shouting part does not usually manifest itself into a website comment (ALL CAPS is less offensive than someone actually shouting in your ear/many people don't know the connotation).
You have to coach them into being more critical of what they read online.
I used to post online when I was 12. I wanted to be part of the conversation and feel like an adult. What usually happened is that people would label me a "troll" and tell others to ignore me. I would genuinely use the phrase "I'm just asking questions", and people would treat me like I was intentionally trying to inflame the situation.
It is easy to fall into misunderstood or outdated ideas. Sharing those ideas with others prompts them to correct any errors in thought as a service to you. In turn, they will receive similar corrections for their misunderstood and outdated ideas as they share them. Collectively, this improves the shared understanding of everyone. The foundation of education.
Spelling and grammar corrections come part and parcel in that. They are given because they equally want to be received. There is really no greater feeling than being able to learn something new, and realizing that you were spelling something wrong, to be able to spell it correctly in the future, fulfills that as much as realizing your understanding of some complex subject was off.
On that note, those of us involved in the software industry know that software testing is greatly benefitted from testing invalid inputs as much as valid inputs. When challenging your ideas, it can be equally useful to try and take an alternative perspective – invalid input, if you will – and see what kind of correction data is returned. If the correction data is poor, what was seemingly incorrect input may be closer to being correct than you originally thought. This can be just as useful in correcting your understanding as simply posting what you hold as being true.
The old adage about asking "How do I do X in Linux?" will yield no response, but stating that "Linux sucks! It cannot do X." will solve your problem nicely captures what online message boards serve. To try and apply a human element to who sits behind the "Linux sucks" statement misses the point.
I think you'd be able to spot a 9-year-old attempting to engage in "discourse on the internet."
However, I think it's common to engage with people who are in their late teens to early 20s, who are at the point in their lives where their intellectual self-confidence has increased far beyond where their actual understanding is, but they've yet to realize that. They're fluent enough with adult language that they're hard to spot, but they've basically only absorbed one or two big ideas which they mistake for the gospel truth of everything.
"Lack of judgment"?
"Lack of knowledge"?
"Mental slowness in speech or action"?
Perhaps, "Lack of education"?
In a lot of the points, the author uses "smart" as the opposite of "stupid". Smart is also a vague word that comes up with multiple definitions such as "having or showing a high degree of mental ability", "stylish or elegant in dress or appearance" and "appealing to sophisticated tastes".
I have read the article multiple times, and it seems to me that it fires in all directions. It addresses environmental cognitive issues (air quality, etc.), education, political polarization, etc. In short, it lumps multiple issues under a personal interpretation of a vague (and rude) word.
I avoid the word "stupid". Not only is it vague but it is ableist because it creates and enforces systemic and institutional bias.
Is a lack of education the same as having temporary cognitive issues? Is it comparable to having a condition which decreases someone's cognitive ability permanently? What about people who are unable to grasp social intelligence? What about people who take beneficial drugs that happen to have mental fog as a side effect? Where is the line? To me, the answer is no. Those are all unrelated social issues that need to be addressed separately.
If intelligence is taken to be about manipulating the world around you then this is to some extent connected to the ability to obtain and verify knowledge but the ability to act upon that knowledge is far more important. True stupidity is almost by definition self-defeating.
While I will admit that some supposed signs of stupidity whole 'flat earth' movement is catastrophically misguided, it is a bit sad to see people dismiss it with arguments that are somehow even worse than the ones given by the people who have somehow convinced themselves the earth isn't spherical (often with quite sophisticated, but wrong, arguments).
I agree. In fact, while civilization has ameliorated many of the challenges to individual survival, that aspect has become much more acute.
> A smart individual can distill valuable information even when surrounded by propaganda while a dumb individual will still fall for a lot of propaganda even when surrounded by mostly correct information since they can't tell the difference.
I think that several things are going on here.
First, it has become increasingly difficult to distill and discern truth, in part because it has become more difficult to figure out what level of scrutiny any particular proposition merits.
Many of the proxies we have for trustworthiness are social and often co-opted by competing interests.
This also applies to the trustworthiness of scrutinizers.
I mean, anthropogenic global climate change is fairly well established at this point, at least in terms of mechanism and direction, but if you apply enough paranoia and squirt a bit you can discern a vested interest for doomsayers to minimize errors and collude in producing a false consensus.
The general public is more-or-less aware that enough money can either create a false consensus or cast 'reasonable' doubt at will (eg. globalization will lower unemployment and grow the economy, and smoking doesn't cause cancer).
So, given all that, a lot of people just fall back on tribalism (or more like "team-sport-ism") when allocating their limited time and attention in deciding who or what to trust vs. scrutinize, since no matter where you look you can find conflicts of interest (eg. the profit motive explains overprescription of OxiContin, so why shouldn't it explain pharma collusion to give people cancer and sideline cheap natural cures?).
It isn't that truth extraction is too hard per-se, it's the meta-task of choosing reliable sources as your starting point that has become impossible.
Needless to say it's somewhat pointless to just tell a flat-earther the earth is actually round.
The failure of intelligence is not necessarily thinking that the earth is flat, it's why one thinks that; and, in the modern context, and some historical contexts, this specific conclusion is explicitly an illogical one (i.e. an unintelligent one).
In my mind, there are two pretty straightforward, first principles at work that underlay a lot of these items.
Many, if not all, negative emotions, at least while being experienced, directly diminish cognitive capabilities. A concrete example: when a person is angry, that person is more stupid.
Next: modern communication technology allows/facilitates/encourages negative emotions to be generated, travel widely, and 'stick' in the minds of more and more people.
As I said, there's a lot of good analysis, but I believe that these two simple things are the most responsible for 'stupidity expanding'.
I went out of my way to state these things briefly, because fundamentally I think they are simple. At the same time, there are mountains of nuances and relevant conditions surrounding them.
Yup! I've read a number of papers about this over the years, and it's a big chunk of this whole landscape. The old saw: you either pay for the product, or you are the product, is right on target here.
Gaining attention and clicks from a person is much easier if that person is afraid. And/or angry, among others.
I think there is a similar phenomenon with stupidity on the internet. Because of social media and the internet, we have access to so many people. We can see what anyone on social media is doing.
Now, if someone is doing normal, non-stupid stuff on social media, that is not going to be widely shared. But if someone does or says something really stupid, it is shared with everyone. People love feeling smarter than others, so reading what stupid people say and do is addicting.
So we are bombarded by stupid people doing stupid things, collected from all over the world. We have the entire world's worth of stupidly at our fingertips, concentrated and curated for us.
In addition, now that people realize it is what people want to see, people do fake stupid things for attention.
Yes, there are more intelligent debates available for you to access than ever before.... but those don't get the million shares that stupid people get
As I watch another flat earth debunking video suggested by youtube to have a laugh I'm wondering ... Am I the part of the problem?
How popular stupidity would be without people pointing fingers at stupidity and laughing?
I feel it is quite insidious and not many have a defense against it.
The way outlier theories and polarized content can now reach a crowd that was hitherto undreamed of. And people get swept up in it.
We must learn from this, but we as technologists should also put the cat back into bag, to make our algorithms not promote “stupidity” , and to educate people to discern information.
The real question is how to do we stop everyone else from piling on top of these people and turning them into high visibility punching bags (which in turn propagates the bad information further and actually makes some folks more sympathetic to the people who now appear to be bullying victims). And that's not a question of intelligence, but one of morals and ethics.
I do believe our best bet is to let science speak louder and put more weight into that. Both in our algorithms and into our debates. If people see some dude on a talkshow with an opinion vs an expert in a field, some equate that with both having equally valid and valuable opinions. Same if that happens on social. The presentation makes it seem both opinions have equal and valid weight.
That said, it’s a valuable discussion and a good incentive to really work harder and to do our research as technologists so we can be better at curbing the trend.
I feel the same way. It seems sites like reddit have taken a sharp turn towards pointing out "stupidity" to briefly secure some fleeting sense of mental superiority. I find it mean spirited. It's strange how the zeitgeist of CURRENT_YEAR is fighting both for hyper political correctness and lambasting the mentally unfortunate. I find Gen Z very hypocritical.
For instance, hyper political correctness always has ment a double speak word to me for “I want to be racist / misogynistic, but they don’t let me”
It’s not about mental superiority, imo it is about turning around polarization and hyperbole.
If you’re happen to be “mentally unfortunate” as you put it, I don’t see any lambasting going on. Feel free to give examples.
Edit : for clarity
But, in general, it seems not unrelated to the phenomenon in which weird things are much more commonly encountered (due to the ability to see/hear/read about things happening to anyone, anywhere, anytime). Weird (and perhaps also stupid) floats to the top of the list of things to be perceived, and there is now an industry (or several) to bring them to us all the time.
Regardless, no harm in having a small arsenal of houseplants!
The good news is the global CO2 levels probably aren’t high enough to be a severe problem yet (but it might still show up in the stats); the bad news is there is enough unburdened fossil fuel in the ground to make it into a big problem.
So I can at least say that I'm getting dumber.
But if I had to comment on the original article, I'd go with option B, no. 9. The internet has truly made stupidity more accessible and permanent.
See also Eternal September https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September
When observing one surface of multiple vastly complex interacting systems (e.g society), I often have to remind myself that the causal relationships and measurements are uncommonly as singular as they are in a computer program behavior or [insert artificial technical field of choice] that I'm used to reasoning within.
The negative technical tendency of industrial technology was weapons of destruction and machines for murder, which led us to world war 2, proving that the technical zeitgeist of industrial mechanics had surpassed its rationality and was no longer tenable. The negative technical tendency of information technology is the proliferation and rapid spread of misinformation which leads us to, well the present I guess.
There's often only one way to be right.
There's an infinite number of ways to be wrong
But I do believe the number of people who go around thinking everyone else is stupid is going up.
I can't help but think that we 're lacking the genius giants for which the last century is notorious. Where are the kolmogorovs, the von neumanns, the einsteins, the fred sangers of the past ~40 years? Is there a big gap in the higher end of intelligence? What about the lower end of intelligence? If both are lacking that means we are indeed regressing to become average idiots.
I like to think we already live in idiocracy. People forget however that in that movie, the biggest idiot wasnt President Camacho, it was the people, the way-below-average joes, who are evenly distributed across the political spectrum. (In fact the blind belief that politics alone can bring progress is kind of dumb in itself). Could it be something in the way we eat? There is a well established and colossal drop in testosterone levels in the past ~50 years. After all we are just neurochemical intelligence generators.
(Also why is everyone focusing on social media? That's just a symptom)
Communicating via conference and paper, not via popular media. (As DEK says, their task is to get to the bottom of things, not keep on top of them.) IOW, where they've always been.
The Glass Bead Game (1943) calls the twentieth century the Age of the Feuilleton as snark on that genre (the dead tree equivalent of blogging) as expression of idiocracy.
What if stupidity is neither expanding (in quantitative terms) nor not expanding (in that the same volume of stupidity is experiencing expanded impact, influence and importance)?
Many of the hypotheses on both sides of the original question could be true, but the lessons would be drastically different.
If roughly the same proportion of people are roughly engaged in the same level and variety of stupidity, but that stupidity has more social sway (pandering, bullying, exhaustion, laziness, opportunism, inertia, collective trauma and coping, probably a list longer than I could compile), focusing on the stupidity isn’t much more than an escape.
Obviously I’m biased toward my hypothetical. But I think “thinking” oriented exploration might want to spend some time on “what makes people react to things that are incorrect in a favorable way” and less time on defining what correctness is when there’s a wealth of literature on the latter and a great deficit on the former that isn’t dismissed as inherently biased in this kind of discussion.
But what we really need (to convert this to science) is to measure the objective metrics. For example, measure the number of articles in [insert social network name] for claims that contradict established scientific laws (let's say, physics). I know it'll be more difficult to do for economy or sociology, but at least with physics we might have a large body of well established and experimentally confirmed facts.
1. Counts of unironic/unacknowledged logical fallacies - discussing psychology of loss aversion wouldn't be an example or even a strategic examination of loss aversion's performance and concluding it say has a niche. But stating it is better to not make an additional $10k without extra work or opportunity costs and pay a higher marginal tax rate on it? Flagged.
2. Claims which when examined closely are vacuous (having no meaning).
3. Unsupported claims which upon closer examination do not justify assertions but merely reassert more furiously.
4. Evasive chosen definitions that refuse to stay consistent as either specific or general in classifications.
One gap with it is a matter of hypotheticals and implications - even a theoretical model contrary to reality can be a demonstration against a hypothesis.
A fuzzier/snarkier example at a field level is a "SCI/Gen test" where even experts cannot distinguish noise from data indicates a lack of knowledge - although in a more positive sense it could just be a field's complexity being high such as description of a drug which interacts with proteins. I am no expert in it but given some infamously whimsical names they might not realize that a drug's complex organic compound that binds to the "Romero" prions wasn't a real specific subtype of prion without looking it up - let alone that the drug wouldn't bind with it let alone without unacceptable side effects.
What constitutes the top N pop songs each year is becoming more distilled and refined as the industry matures, which means they're all converging onto each other and losing complexity. I also contend if you chart the volume of sales for the whole music industry vs. this tight cluster, the cluster's ratio of single or streaming sales decreases.
Meanwhile there's artists in an increasingly large tail making what you'd probably call "pop" in style but just without marketing push, which are more experimental and less refined, and these become underrepresented in the study.
This is a part of it to be sure. This line of thinking is becoming more and more popular and accepted as the only truth is that there is none. The enlightenment era scientific-liberal approach is rapidly disintegrating. But I don't think the pomo philosophers would actually think an entirely new meta-narrative would be constructed from their ideas. In fact their premise was that there are no true meta-narratives. But they've had parts of their ideas cherry picked to advance a new, illiberal agenda.
Science can have lots of utility and not find us truth at all.
It's a fault of some post modernists for not saying this part out loud as much as they should, and maybe a small handful are the rabid radicals who reject the scientific method as not having any utility, but I don't think that the majority of left-wing post modernists are anti-science per say. I think that they want science to be more narrowly defined and to have a broader understanding of the socio-political ramification of its approaches.
It depends how far you want to jump into the rabbit hole. 2+2=4. It does. It always will and always has. It isn't just utility that is useful for building things. It is a universal truth and until someone can prove it actually does not, then it does. No ones lived experience changes this.
And it's not just about finding facts and attaching moral or ethical considerations to them. It's about making claims of knowledge in ways that are _falsifiable_. Any claim must have a way of being proven wrong, otherwise it isn't something we should accept into the discourse of what is knowledge and what is not. 2+2=4 is a claim that is falsifiable and therefore valid to propose.
> ...but I don't think that the majority of left-wing post modernists are anti-science per say
I don't think most right wing people are either - except when it is convenient. People appeal to science until it doesn't help or in fact is detrimental to their cause. Science will make us uncomfortable and I agree that many bad things have been done because "science". But at the minimum, claims from eugenists were falsifiable and in time they have been disproven.
And yes I agree, we need to be careful how we interpret things. I love the left's idea that "race is a social construct". I 100% agree it is. Yes, there is DNA that determines race and people are therefore biologically "different" - but it's unimportant. The social constructs that exist made race into something more than it is. It's no more important than nose shape, or eye color, or fingerprint shape, etc.
People aren't stupid. But there's little incentive to exercise one's intelligence, once the dopamine pathways get plowed the wrong way too many times.
So I think the idea that stupidity has increased is an illusion. The thing in the modern world is more that the tolerance for stupidity has decreased so we discover it more. The sad truth is also that each one of us believes in lots of stupid things but we are more interested in finding errors in other when in self improvement. Like Jesus said, "and why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?"
Maybe, in the past stupid was mainly reserved for people who knew very few facts. Knowing or having access to facts was much less common before the internet. So people used to argue about facts. But since those arguments were about facts, they always died down (someone was right and someone wrong) and you did not have a feeling of "expanding stupidity".
Since access to facts is pretty much universal now, people have started arguing about values. If someone states they have different values than you, you call them stupid. Since no one is right an no one wrong, the arguments don't die down and you perceive expanding stupidity.
Both stating wrong facts and having ridiculous values is correlated with being stupid. So I do not really see how the Fact-value distinction can be used here, stupid people fail at both.
Indeed they do.
But not the month country. I mean, maybe they have the right to, but it'd be foolish. And invading the year country would be outright suicide.
Though I suppose a joke based off a typo is pretty low-effort.
Additionally, I read it as part of some of the written hypotheses, but, upon rereading, I don't know that the exact conditions are captured particularly well in any of them.
The universal adoption of information technologies like the smart phone has definitely not been the utopia many of us thought it would be. HOWEVER, there is no such thing as an illiterate teen any more.
For what it's worth, I think that's incredible progress for society as a whole.
Now we have to figure out how to provide universal quality education and prevent ignorance and misinformation from spreading. This is a different challenge that we weren't expecting to have to address.
Hopefully in 20 years we'll have addressed this issue as well and look back at the 2020s and be amazed that there were so many climate science deniers, flat-earthers, etc.
But when I look at something like this:
(Chomsky and Foucault debating at human nature)
I tend to think that current (public) thinkers are not as good as they were.
Today more people than ever are yearning for knowledge. Knowledge gives security. You then know what you place in this world is if you know how the world looks like. The problem starts when different actors start to abuse that needs, while those who believe them are incapable of differentiating between what is real and what feels good.
What then comes out of sticking to any sort of extreme thought/position/behaviour about something is then often wrong, and this might be seen as "stupidity".
Don't love any of the comments which says "I was thinking and the answer is probably [a completely random opinion]".
Combine that with the permanence of the internet and you have a few right answers surrounded by a sea of things that range from almost right to complete nonsense.
I think B:9 is related. I really liked this article. A lot of the points made me go "hmmm".
The only thing that's made it appear worse than before is an increase in political polarization. That has made people less likely to believe that people with differing opinions are simply people with different views to them, and more likely to believe that people with differing opinions are simply wrong/stupid/malevolent. For every person out there wondering why people are so stupid, there are other people making equally valid observations about them.
Therefore the attention that would usually go to high quality content is now being spent in very low quality content.
Conspiracy theories thrive when credibility and authority are not required to publish: flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, government related conspiracies, aristocracy related conspiracies...
People being able to post anything also facilitates "online mob justice", when people mistakenly arrive to the conclusion that certain entity is responsible for whatever they consider unfair.
We have to deal with this somehow, because this is not going to end well.