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Monday, February 25, 2019

Rage

Walter Sobchak: Were you listening to The Dude's story, Donny?
The Dude: Walter...
Donny : What?
Walter: Were you listening to The Dude's story?
Donny: I was bowling.
Walter: So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…
The Dude: Walter! Walter! What's the point, man?
Walter: There's no reason – here's my point, Dude – there's no fucking reason why these two…
Donny: Yeah, Walter, what's your point?
-- The Big Lewbowski, 1998


I have no idea.

I have no idea what you're talking about.

No idea.

I logged into social media a few days back to discover hundreds of responses to a comment I’d made the previous night.

The vast majority of those comments began with, “I have no idea…” or words to that effect.

It was there that I began to hear Walter Sobchak raging inside my head.

I have no idea what you could be talking about.

Shut the fuck up up, Donny!

The humor palled fairly quickly, however.

No idea. I have no idea. I don’t know what’s going on. I just got here and I missed the whole thing. So I have no idea.

However, I feel compelled to respond anyway.

Yes, that’s right, I have no idea what going on but instead of first looking for context so that I might discover for myself what you’re talking about, I’m just going to wade right on in.

This is the age we live in. From climate change to politics to vaccination to whatever the subject of the moment. This is the age we live in. All the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, all of us shouting our opinion into the void, recorded every minute of every day, but it’s too much effort to look for context, do a little digging, maybe see what somebody is talking about before announcing publicly that you have no idea what’s going on – but you feel compelled to comment anyway.

I have no idea, so I’ll need you to fill me in right after I tell you why you’re wrong!

That’s where the problem begins, that intellectual laziness, that expectation of being spoon-fed context that you won’t listen to anyway. 

Here’s what I said:

Pretty terrible, right?

Sure. There I am, attacking poor liberals.

Just terrible. If you read it in isolation.

If you see something and get instantly mad because being insulted is your default setting and you don’t bother to look any further.

Sure. Pretty terrible.

But, see, my rather blunt admonishment was made specifically in the context of a conversation that was then happening between myself and regular readers on my Twitter timeline.


Let me repeat that for the late arrivals: The comment was part of a larger conversation between myself and several hundred people.


That conversation was about the coming 2020 elections and my comment was made, again, specifically in response to those self-declared liberals who were shouting that the sky was falling, that Trump would declare another national emergency and cancel the elections and so there was no point in voting, no point in fighting, no point in turning out. Woe! Woe!

That sort of defeatism tends to give rise in me the impetus to smack people hard across the face. Slap! Slap! Maybe that’s the wrong impulse and maybe it isn’t. Nevertheless, that’s where my comment came from. Snap out of it! We’re not beaten yet! Slap! Slap!

That’s the context. You had to be there.

Now, Twitter limits each tweet to 280 characters. But even if that limit didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t feel any compulsion whatsoever to caveat every comment I make with a detailed summary of everything that occurred previously to prompt it.

If you show up late for the party, then look around before wading in.

If you want to know why I made a comment, then look.

If you want to know why anybody made a particular comment, then look.

And you should want to know. You shouldn’t expect to be fed out of an eyedropper like a baby bunny. It’s social media, by definition the context is freely available.

All you have to do is look.

On my social media feeds, this intellectual laziness is a minor irritation, but it’s indicative of a much larger problem.


Given that I was bullied mercilessly throughout school and called a loser every day, that last one is particularly amusing, ironically speaking. But I digress.

Do you see it?

The common denominator?

The implication is that because they didn’t personally see something, it must therefore not be true.

Who does that remind you of? Think on all those times there was a hate crime or a sexual assault or something terrible happened and the denials of those who didn’t personally witness it and thus loudly questioned if the crime even happened. I don’t know anybody that was raped. I don’t know anybody who was assaulted because of their race or gender identity. I don’t believe it ever happens. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It never even occurred to the above commenters that they might not be seeing everything, or that my viewpoint might be different from their own, or that given my social media footprint is several orders of magnitude larger than theirs my data sampling volume might be vastly greater as well.

It never occurred to any of them to look beyond their own viewpoint.

Who does that remind you of?

Then there’s this guy.

Buck up, I said. Or see yourself out. Slap! Slap!

That made him mad. Belligerent. How dare you tell me to buck up or get out? How dare you!

He didn’t bother to look at the context of my comment.

He didn’t bother to see who it might have been directed at.

Instead, he arrived late, had no idea what was going on, and was determined to take personally a comment not aimed at him, determined to be insulted, determined to interpret “see yourself out” as some sort of missive to leave the country instead to just depart my social media timeline. All of these things would have been clear, if he’d only looked. But he didn’t. Instead, he got mad. Because mad is his default setting. Pay me! he demanded, and I’ll move. I’ll just wait here for you to live up to this strawman fallacy I’ve created by not bothering to look for any context at all.

Let’s you and me fight.

Yeah!

Folks, you don’t need to wrestle with every belligerent who happens along.

You’re not required to fight people, just because they want to fight.

You’re not required to feed the mob out of an eyedropper, just because some loudmouth demands it.

They throw down the gauntlet, I’ll wait here while you walk your walk! Great. I accept your terms. By all means, wait, right there. Wait until the stars burn out. Because I’m not required to live up to the expectations of every random belligerent from the internet.

You come at me with that attitude, you go out the airlock. Feel free to wait outside.

And that’s what happened to this guy, he got himself blocked.

Twitter, for some reason, continued to show me his comments for a while afterward, though he couldn’t see mine.

And that made him mad.

Take a look:

See?

See how entitled this guy is?

He thinks that people are obligated to listen to him and he’s damned put out when they won’t.

This is a guy, a supposed “progressive,” who advocates shooting down the government “firing squad style.”

He didn’t bother to look for context. He didn’t need any. He just charged in, guns hot, demanding to be heard even though he has no idea what’s going on, demanding a fight, threatening violence.

Tell me, how is that different from the ideology he supposedly stands against?

How? Go on, take you time. Compare and contrast. Don’t forget the guns.

Or how about this guy?

Hey, Dickwad!

Charming. His bio says he’s a “progressive living in the backward state of Idaho” and that he very much dislikes the GOP. His timeline suggests he’s a Vietnam Era veteran. And yet, here he is, hey Dickwad!

Who does he sound like?

He wades into my timeline like it’s a rice paddy, guns blazing, determined to be insulted, looking for a fight, doesn’t bother to check for the context of my comment, doesn’t bother to first determine who he might be talking to, makes a number of very wrong assumptions, and then proceeds to act exactly like the very people he claims to hate.

Again, tell me how is this any different from Donald Trump or those in the red hats who support him?

These last two examples are symptoms of the larger problem.

Do you see it?

Do you see it? Look closely. Leave aside the insults and the personal attacks. Don't get emotional. Turn off your reflexive need to be insulted. Look at these comments dispassionately.

Do you see the common thread?


I look at the profiles.

I look at their Twitter timelines and their Facebook pages.

They have a handful of followers. They interact with a handful of people. They follow a handful of accounts carefully selected to show them only what they want to see.

I don’t see it, so it must not have happened.

Folks, there is an enormous difference between blocking out those belligerents who are just looking for a fight and deliberately limiting your viewpoint to information that only shows you what you want to hear. That’s bad enough at the personal level, scale it up and you might find your nation invading another looking for weapons of mass destruction that don’t actually exist.

Now, of course, we all limit our viewpoints in some way, me included. But as a former intelligence officer, I was trained to recognize my own bias and to look beyond it. This is no different from science – it is science – where you deliberately seek to challenge your assumptions and viewpoints. That doesn’t mean you have to entertain discredited theories or give any respect to junk science and woowoo. But critical thinking requires you to continuously test your worldview.

Unfortunately, social media reinforces the human tendency to form assumptions based on incomplete data and then become vested in that faulty position no matter what. Here’s a rather pointed example:

He begins by admitting that he doesn’t understand the situation.

He could have looked for context. In the time it took him to type his first demand for information, he could have found that information in detail. All he had to do was look. Instead, he demanded to be spoon fed, like a baby bunny. And I could have told him anything, I could have shined him on, how would he know if I was telling the truth if he didn't go look? But he really wasn’t interested in finding out. He just wanted to fight. He’d already made up his mind. He’d already decided who I was.

He didn’t need to know anything else and he wasn’t interested in finding out.

He’d already decided who I was – even though he admitted right up front that he had no idea whatsoever who I was or what I was talking about.

By the time he showed up, I’d fielded hundreds of similar responses and I was already thinking that I might turn them into this article. So, in the spirit of the topic, I went looking for more information. Despite his belligerent self-introduction, I wondered if he might be amenable to reason? So I asked him if he had even considered looking for context.

Instead, he not only doubled down, he created a strawman right on the spot and stapled my face to it.

That explains it all, he said.

And it surely does. It does. And that’s the problem, right there.

That’s the larger problem with the Information Age itself.


We’ve been given the tools and access to god-like awareness, but not the training or the intellect or the self-discipline to manage it.


This, this right here, is the problem with America.

On my timeline, aimed at me, well, it’s just an annoyance. One easily dealt with. But out in the real world this tendency to assumption without data, without context, without intellectual curiosity, and a refusal to admit and correct error, has very real consequences. See the last election, see the rise of conspiracy theory treated as fact, see the increasing divide and those who can be easily convinced to daily act against their own best interest, et al.

Or see that comment I made up above about the invasion of Iraq. We killed half a million people, or more. I know, I was there.

Do you see it?

Do you see the common thread running through all of these responses? The lack of intellectual curiosity? The confidence of their assumptions, unaware of the incompleteness of their worldview?

Do you see it?

Who does that remind you of?

All of the responses in this essay are from self-declared progressive, liberals, Democrats, people on the left of the political divide.

None of them are conservatives, no Republicans, no libertarians, no rightwing independents. Only liberals.

Do you see it?

I mean, you do see it, don't you?

No intellectual curiosity.

No attempt to find out the larger picture or to see context beyond reflexive anger at some perceived insult.

Assumptions treated as fact.

Refusal to acknowledge mistakes.

Personal attacks.

You do see it, don’t you?

The similarity?

The same exact irrational rage.

The same exact lack of critical thought.

The same willingness to gleefully attack, throw personal insults, and willfully engage in faulty reasoning?

Tell me who these progressives remind you of?

Yes, that’s right. This is how Donald Trump himself views information and arrives at his own defective worldview.

Trump acts on "gut feeling" instead of seeking fact, instead of looking for context, instead of reading intelligence reports that conflict with his viewpoint, instead of consulting experts. He only watches infotainment that confirms his views – views that he arrived at via instinct instead of fact. You daily see his lack of mental discipline and self-control, his impulse to insults and personal attacks. He’s not ashamed of it, just the opposite. He considered it a strength. So do his supporters.

See it?

What’s that?

Oh. Right. Of course.

But, but, I hear you protest. These people, these horrible examples you’ve shown us, why they can’t be liberals! They can’t be progressives! No! They’re bad actors. Fake news! Trolls! Bots! They’re not true “resistors!” Fake! Fake! I won’t believe it.


No true Scotsman, right?

And why?

Well, because nobody I know, no liberals I know, no progressive on my Twitter timeline or on my Facebook wall, act like that!

So, it didn’t happen.

Right?

It didn’t happen.


Except, of course, it did. You just didn't look.


I received hundreds of responses.

So I had plenty of samples to chose from when I started writing this article. And I made sure to check each one. They’re all real. Real people. Not bots. Not fakes. Real people who claim to be progressives, liberals, moderates, “resistors” vehemently opposed to Trump. Oh, sure, there were plenty of bots too, plenty of agents provocateur. I don’t deny it. But the real liberals were perfectly willing to go along – because the shit-stirrers were telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.

What are you talking about?

I don’t see it!

Not anybody I know!

Walter! Walter, what’s the point, man?

Don’t take my word for it, go look for yourselves. My Twitter timeline is public.

Just like Trump voters, for them that unfocused rage isn't a means to an end, but rather it's the whole point.

Hell, they were mad at me, they didn't even know why or even care to find out. The rage was enough.

And the assumption was enough to trigger the rage.

You have to do better than this.

Anger is one thing, mindless rage another.

It’s okay to be angry at this world we live in, at the injustice and foolishness and the self-destruction. Hell, I’m angry too. If you look around, you can’t help but be angry.

Anger can give you focus and drive you forward to right that injustice, to face down the fools, to build a decent future.

If we weren’t angry, nothing would ever get better.

But you have to have more than just anger.

Without reason, without intellectual curiosity, without looking beyond your own bubble, anger is just rage.

And rage only destroys.

Rage makes you no different than those you rage against.

Hillary Clinton once said of Trump, "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Like her. Hate her. It doesn’t matter. If nothing else, these last two years have daily proven the wisdom of Clinton’s words.

But that caution applies to a much larger context as well.

Those you can bait with a tweet, who lack intellectual curiosity and a willingness to always look for meaning, who are driven by rage instead of intellect, by conspiracy instead of fact, who see enemies at every turn and who rush heedless into battle, well, those are not people who should be deciding our future either – and their political ideology, whether it be left or right, is irrelevant.

You have to do better than this.

We have to do better than this.

We have been given the tools and god-like awareness, we must develop the discipline to use this power wisely.

We owe it to the future. To our children. To our country and to the world.

If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

This is where it starts.

We’re not in an information age anymore. We’re in the Information Management Age
-- Chris Hardwick, writer, actor, humorist, social commenter

74 comments:

  1. Thank you. You are one of the few outlets I have to keep me sane these days. Mahalo

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    Replies
    1. Exactly so. I am struggling to maintain equilibrium while juggling five or ten new bedevilments a day. Jim’s handling of the morass of social ills we’re suffering with wisdom and (often) humor, is like taking good medicine. It may not taste great all the time, but it sorts me out, right quick!

      Delete
  2. We're surrounded, Jim, and the LZ is HOT!

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  3. There's a lot of that going around lately.

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  4. Your well documented experience proves that the masses only see what they want to see and only hear what they want to hear. Anything else is ignored, ridiculed or attacked. Further, for many of them, there is no nuance, no shades of grey, only black or white, right or left, liberal or conservative. Little wonder they misunderstand your carefully crafted prose.

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  5. Yeah. I pray to be delivered from the rich and powerful who push propaganda and lies, but even before that happens, that we hunger for truth, that we do not want the lies.

    It really doesn't matter whose lies they are, if you can get people to choose the lies. It all comes down eventually to the same thing.

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  6. " The implication is that because they didn’t personally see something, it must therefore not be true." Pretty much the mantra of a lot of people I am sorry to say. It isn't a problem if it hasn't happened to ME!" is the flip side. Twitter, and I can't claim to be an expert since I dumped it awhile back, seemed to me a venue for a lot of people who react fast without thinking, and as this makes alarmingly clear, not even READING. Regrettably, I HAVE encountered liberal people who have voiced hopelessness, and capitulation. It's exhausting I know but what else IS there than to soldier on, and by the by what kind of person throws down his service as his own legitimization, while ignoring yours?

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  7. “Folks, there is an enormous difference between blocking out those belligerents who are just looking for a fight and deliberately limiting your viewpoint to information that only shows you what you want to hear. That’s bad enough at the personal level, scale it up and you might find your nation invading another looking for weapons of mass destruction that don’t actually exist.”..a friggin men, Information Literacy for the masses! #LibrariansWontGoQuietly
    Thanks for the consistently good reads

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  8. Very poignant essay. It touches on two two of my biggest pet peeves:
    intellectual laziness
    rush to rage, ad hominems, and negativity

    Keep up the good fight. I'm raising two small kids and this is just one more reminder that one of the most important lessons I can teach them is to think critically about what they consume online and manage how they present themselves online. We're at an age where our digital footprints are just as meaningful as our real ones

    P.S. I noticed today that I couldn't comment on your facebook feed. I'm not sure what I said in the past that was offensive. It probably happened a long time ago. I wouldn't mind earning that right back. If not, no big deal. I get more from reading your posts than interacting with your audience.

    Cheers,
    Ryan Hodges

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  9. Sorry to comment anonymously, but I didn't want to use my work ID, which is what popped up. This is the first time I even have the option to comment. I have been reading your blog and following you on Facebook for a few years now, and always find your words informative and illuminating. And even when the subject is depressing, what you write can be a comfort of sorts in these distressing times. Thanks, Jim. Please carry on.

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  10. Thanks for this Jim. I see this quite often in a number of liberal/progressive sites/postings. Anger before logic. Trump hurt me in some way; I must hurt him by ridiculing everyone I think is with him. No time for research, plenty of time for the middle finger. If I could recommend a book that touches on the idea of cognitive dissonance (which is a major cause of people not saying "I was wrong"), it would be "Mistakes Were Made" by Tavris and Aronson. Life changer.

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  11. In those rare occasions I have an online run in with someone who appears a total doofus I try and make it a point to check their FB profile, favorites, books, movies. Surprise, I have yet to fail to find one or more items where I am in agreement with that'total doofus'.

    So rather than attack and attempt to win I'll lay out the facts and disengage.

    So it goes.

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  12. That is a lot of (self)righteous indignation aimed at one person. And for me, it's not just the fact that they failed to investigate why he wrote that, but that they each took it so personally. I'm always amused with how some people look for reasons to be offended. It's their food, but not for thought.

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  13. Euwch! Thanks Jim. What I appreciate the most about your commentary is that you champion rational discourse. It's as if you expected us to insist that your ideas be logical and make sense. I appreciate your vote of confidence in us. It is a compliment that I'll try to validate.

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  14. I used to be one of the people who sprouted facts, but like you said above, people just don't want them anymore.

    I admit I did the rage thing anymore and all it got me was name calling both online and in person. The end was when someone spit on me in a grocery store. Then I was scared to go any place and if I did, I didn't open my mouth as I live outside the US and know people would know I wasn't Australian.

    I sat back and had a good luck at myself and everyone else. Why? Because there had to be a better way than what's been going on...we're better than this. I'm better than this.

    I took to the main road that if I didn't have anything good to say I wasn't going to say anything. I've posted a few things as facts - like someone gets charged or arrested. Facts. Even these have been scarce due to taking that moral high road.

    However, last month my brother died and I had to go to the US. What I saw there was shocking but also absolutely frightening. People were feeding off of each other like cannibals with ideals. My father actually had conversation stopped so he could listen to the same ranting and raving we had heard hours earlier and then he started about what's going on.

    It wasn't just family either. We were out shopping and people were shout things at each other. It was eye opening and jaw dropping.

    The only place it didn't seem like people did this was in restaurants.

    The one thing that's gone through my mind on the plane and since is this is what the United States has become?

    We need to do better than this because the way its going now? I can see a another civil war coming and its going to be more dangerous than the first due to the advancement of weapons.

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  15. ALL of this. My fellow libs can be just as infuriating as the red hats, if not more so.
    Confirmation bias. Check.
    Straw men. Check.
    Hasty generalization. Check.
    No True Scotsman, indeed.
    Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. At one point during the 2016 election I mentioned in my feed that I was having genuine trouble discerning the far right from the far left from the bot-farm Russians because they were all engaged in the same shitty dishonest tactics and propaganda. The response from the identifiable left was shocking in its rage, and the only discernable difference from much of the right and the bot farms was reasonable grammar, syntax and punctuation.

      The rhetoric and political tactics became this morass of lazy, truncated thinking filled with conspiracy theories that require a level of confirmation bias I have difficulty comprehending.

      It became my habit to check every single profile for clues about actual political leanings because I just couldn't tell any more.

      Two years later and today a woman accused me of hiding behind an anonymous twitter handle. A link to my work, name and location exists on my profile, front and center. Lazy.

      Delete
  16. (you don’t get paid enough, Mr. Wright!)

    Thanks for being here for us.

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  17. Jim, you bring a bit of light in dark times. I have seen many of these same people who are more than willing to give in to darkness.
    I've seen enough to make me question if should even be on Facebook anymore, because I don't seem to be able to change minds or at least get them to consider other ideas.
    It's hard not to give in to despair.

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  18. I have no idea what you're talking about. No, sorry Jim, I couldn't resist. I sympathize with your desire to return to the Age of Reason. Unfortunately we're in the Information Age and few can tell the difference between Info and BS. I do disagree on your take on anger.
    'Anger can give you focus and drive you forward to right that injustice, to face down the fools, to build a decent future.

    If we weren’t angry, nothing would ever get better.'

    I think the alternative to anger is desire. The desire to make things as good as we can. The desire to create. For me, the desire to return the world to Eden before I pass. There's enough anger and yes it's powerful. It releases endorphins, people can actually become addicted to it. Well,we're grown ups, we all know what desire can feel like. I'm tired of anger, lets try its' alternative. @ZenyattaforPres.

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  19. The desperate urge to have your say shows up in so many ways.
    If you've ever read the questions and answers on an Amazon product...

    Someone will ask "Will this do X?" and someone will take the trouble to answer: "Sorry, don't know."

    So, why the fuck did you bother to reply, Mr Sorry? How have you contributed to the sum of human knowledge or the gaiety of nations?

    It's just that terrible urge: "This thread needs input from me, even when I have nothing to add."

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm not the only person that finds those non-responses incredibly annoying!

      Delete
    2. Amazon sends questions to buyers in an email that seems like they are being asked personally. The people who respond that way have no idea that it will be posted publicly and permanently. Although that "terrible urge" certainly exists, this is not a fair example of it, and I'm sure it's not the only one that gets misconstrued that way.

      Delete
  20. I have taken to searching out reputable, verifiable sources when I’ve been confronted with this kind of nonsense. Then I can reply with the facts I’ve found and a cited source. And anyone who hasn’t seen “giving up” hasn’t looked very hard. I’ve seen liberal friends and acquaintances arguing over the candidates that have already waded into the pool. For chrissakes, the Iowa Caucuses, famous for beginning the weeding process haven’t even happened yet! All you have to do is look at how many GOPers fell off the map in the 2016 runup. Thankfully our idiot former governor and idiot representative (Pawlenty and Bachman) were some of the first casualties.

    How anyone is crying about the Democratic candidates at this stage of the game, I don’t understand. I don’t want a fucking unicorn, I want 45’s ass on a platter. Will I demand that eventual candidate listen to what the people want? Yes. But, for the love of all that is holy, let’s get them in the office first!

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  21. And those who rush heedless into battle will become fodder for trump's and the conservative's cannons. We have to be smarter and better citizens.

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  22. I find it a bit fun that a good number of the examples you used are mirror images of your own tweet in a certain way. As a stand alone tweet they are somewhat innocuous but in the context of a response to your specific tweet quite annoying. While, as you deftly noted, yours might have seemed controversial, insensitive or what the fuck ever, it was a pretty tame admonishment for that context. I just thought I'd chime in since this has been a concern for me as it applies to my own online behavior. Thanks for a fine distillation, and all the context!

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  23. Jim, give yourself some space. It's not worth it. I have airlocked hundreds, not because I disagreed with them but is that I can no longer tolerate illiterate hatred based on no facts, no research, just feelings. I do not care about their fucking feelings. If you want to debate, bring me some real facts. I'll respond after I've done my research and perhaps we can agree to disagree but we've been fair, civil. Thank you, Jim, and do not ever suffer fools. Life is too fucking short.

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  24. "Shut the fuck up up, Donny!"

    When 1 up isn't enough.

    In any case, I've got responders similar to those when I mention a piece of information that is completely factual. It's an uncomfortable piece of information, but factual nonetheless. And that's the fact that AMERICA, yes, I refer to America as a whole, voted for Donald Trump, and the rest of the world especially, sees it that way.

    When I mention this I get the usual angry excuses. "It was the Russians!" "3 million more people voted for Hillary!" (yet Trump became President, strange that), "If only Bernie had run he'd have won!" "It was fake news" "It wasn't ME!" (yes, that last line is mostly implied, but it's ALWAYS there).

    None of them ever said, "Yes it was us, and we are going have to own it and do something about it." Even those that implicitly acknowledged that they as Americans were responsible for Trump, try to cushion the blow by saying things like "we outnumber them and we'll vote him out in the next elections".

    If Trump can win once, he can most certainly win twice and that's the whole point of what I said. To highlight that possibility and make people consider their part and responsibility in all of it.

    Even if generalizing the blame for Trump on every American is unfair, if it's able to get people to take notice, take it to heart and take responsibility, only then will there be a possibility of a better future without Trump. I'm fine with anger if the above can be accomplished.

    However after seeing this essay I'm thinking that maybe this isn't the approach to take. Perhaps there really are too many people who are only too willing to deny responsibility and dwell only on anger.

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    Replies
    1. None of them ever said, "Yes it was us, and we are going have to own it and do something about it." Even those that implicitly acknowledged that they as Americans were responsible for Trump, try to cushion the blow by saying things like "we outnumber them and we'll vote him out in the next elections".

      This.

      Delete
  25. Hey, thanks so much for this, truly and sincerely. I was raised on science as a life philosophy and getting out in the real world has been...baffling. You put all this way better than I could have.

    Would you mind not quoting a rapist and abuser at the end, though? I guess that news didn't get the legs we would have hoped, but Hardwick turned out to be scum.

    Thanks for all the work you do, no matter what.

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  26. I adore your essays! Thanks for reminding us to be better critical thinkers. I wish in my younger days that I would’ve thought to get into intelligence/counterintelligence. So envious!

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  27. Thank you. I hope you manage to wake up a few of those lazy, willfully blind complainers. Not gonna hold my breath, though.
    You and David Brin are currently my favorite public essayists, for lack of a pithier description. Intelligent gadflies? Anyhow, please keep it up.

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  28. It's a Fahrenheit 451 world and getting hotter every day.

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  29. Thanks Jim. Once again you have shone a spotlight on an issue many of us have noticed, but lack the ability to adequately expose. I have often lamented the loss of Christpher Hitchens voice and writing ability to cut to the bone in these days of wanton, willful ignorance. I hope you will accept this as the compliment it is intended to be, when I say, your words have often made the loss of his insight a little easier by using your skill and wisdom to expose the type of mental laziness he, likewise, would have slashed to shreds.

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  30. Your blood pressure must be through the roof after a day of dealing with this kind of silly rage. I appreciate what you do.

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  31. Thanks Jim. I have often lamented the loss of Christopher Hitchens voice and writing ability to cut to the bone in these days of wanton, willful ignorance. I hope you will accept this as the compliment it is intended to be, when I say, your skill and wisdom at exposing the intellectual laziness and lack of critical thinking skills demonstrated by those who want their opinions acknowledged simply because they have them, has been a welcome substitute for his.

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  32. It's the echo chamber effect. It's also a further symptom of what got us Trump. The age of alternative fact has also allowed for erosion of critical thinking and fact. Looking for context, when one is ready for a fight, is sometimes hard. We should though. I must admit, reading that tweet, if I had been in a different mood, might have resulted in misplaced anger. Tribalism in US politics has a long history. Thanks for the reminder to look before you leap.

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  33. A few years back I read a book called "The Chimp Paradox", it argued in essence that humans have a chimp side and a human side. The chimp side reacts; it doesn't consider context or alternative viewpoints it just reacts. The human side thinks things through, it considers other viewpoints, it makes considered decisions before taking action. I thought the book was rather oversimplified at the time but more and more I'm realizing that a whole lot of people are chimps.

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  34. So many twisted knickers. So little time. These are the very people who don't show up and vote because they demand absolute perfection in a candidate.

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  35. Thank you for that, Jim.

    And now, a few words from Carl.

    https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/03/baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan/


    http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/pmo/eng/Sagan-Baloney.pdf

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  36. This Line - We’ve been given the tools and access to god-like awareness, but not the training or the intellect or the self-discipline to manage it.
    That applies to the Everything. I'm glad to see it here.
    Maybe I'll post that on the next foolish thing I see.
    I hope folks will pick it up, and wave it back at me when needed.

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  37. Wow. I missed the whole thing on Twitter, as I've been busy. Saw your comment on Facebook, but didn't comment as I figured I would check the timeline out when I had time. I'm an academic, trained as a scientist, so I thought I'd do some research & see what was going on. I've noticed that my students (college) tend to wait for me to tell them things, rather than gather data & figure things out themselves, but I teach freshmen, & assumed that this changed sometime during the next three years. I guess not for some people. I'm sorry you had to find that out the hard way.

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  38. Dammit. Late to party, and technologically challenged - I don't do Twitter; I'm not sure about that Iraq comment, so I think I'll pass on commenting about it (guess it's a Twitter thing). Meanwhile, I'm appalled at the lack of interest so many seem to have when they step in to argue. Their failure to look around, do a little checking on their own. Heck, just the number of people that make comments without even reading the article first. Or not reading it to the end. So, sir, POINTS for the Chris Hardwick quote.

    And from your volume of responses to everything you put out there, I'm sure you've got a WAY better statistical sample pool than most of us, eh?

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  39. Conservatives will point to this as proof of liberal stupidity. Meanwhile I'm trying to point out to them that they are liberal in the broader meaning of the word. I mean, they think that words can alter opinion. That they should be allowed to speak. That makes them liberal in their own way. It is the point when they want to stop others from speaking they cease to be liberal. After the same fashion, you can't be liberal and be opposed to freedom of speech. The mechanism you propose to limit speech, that is what separates you from liberalism. Both the hard left and the hard right are more than happy to use authoritarian tools to get their way. https://ranthonysteele.com/2019/01/gigo-is-a-thing-or-why-freedom-of-speech-isnt-free/

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  40. "We’ve been given the tools and access to god-like awareness, but not the training or the intellect or the self-discipline to manage it."

    I'm not sure when I have ever seen a truer statement of fact.

    We live in a curious age - access to the sum of human learning & knowledge literally in the palm of our hands, access to hard-earned data about almost anything imaginable, and the possibility to engage in self-directed learning on almost any topic - yet many of us spend our hours consuming information without context, raging into the void like rabid bear, and remaining proudly ignorant..."Intellectual curiosity! That's fer them pencil-necked nerds not fer me!"

    The low signal to information ratio is one of the reasons that I terminated my FB and Twitter accounts (in preference to a return to longer form blogs). The other being my realization that I was addicted to the platforms - constantly checking in for another fix. Twitter in particular I realized was, for me, the equivalent of sitting in a bar for hours listening to ignorant, old men (and occasional woman) bitching about the world but without the "ambiance" or the cheap booze.

    Instead of using the power of the system for our own edification - to become better people and better citizens - we spend hours bombarded by information without context, picking fights, and engaging with every random troll (human or bot) that pushes our buttons. The intellectual equivalent of snapping the old carrot.

    Thank you for engaging with that swamp and offering such clear and candid analysis of the environment. In doing so, you are performing a public service and are a far better man.

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  41. It's b3en my experience that a lot of people who identify with a political tribe are only interested in attacking and condemning people they percieve as the sanctioned "other". They don't care about issues or policy, just yelling at the people they've been told it's acceptable to yell at. By asking difficult or confronting questions, you immediately become "other" yourself, because the only alternative is self reflection and intellectual rigour. Cognitive dissonance. It's a bitch.

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  42. Well, damn.

    I, fortunately, haven't seen those defeatist liberals either (aside from my brother, who didn't vote in '16 because "both candidates are flawed"). But I'm not even remotely surprised that they exist.

    I guess the difference between me, and people with no intellectual curiosity, is that I know my social-media feeds don't contain a perfect stratum of every kind of person out there. I deliberately curate them so that I only see enough "opposition" to remind me that opposition IS out there, and that they think their position is as logical as I do mine. And at the same time, I don't see enough of the worst sort of people, the trolls on both sides of the aisle, the deeply racist or homophobic or whatever other flavor of bigotry is in vogue this season, to cause real damage to my mental health. You have to filter your feeds. You HAVE to.

    But to put my head in the sand and pretend that anything outside my safe little bubble isn't real because I, in my carefully-filtered SM bubble, have not SEEN IT, just seems painfully stupid. You can learn about a subset of society without having to interact with it directly, etc.

    As for Firing Squad Guy, I'm reminded of a line in Nick Manatas' The People's Republic Of Everything: "The only group capable of taking out the government of the United States of America, is the government of the United States of America." The way to enact change (without a protracted, bloody civil war that nobody in their right mind actually wants) is to vote out the corrupt, nasty members of government and vote in better ones, and above all to BLOW THAT WHISTLE if you work in any branch of government and see cronyism and other such corruption going on. Is it a task akin to cleaning out the Augean Stables? Yes. But instead of being one person, we're over 330 million people, and that many of us can do SO MUCH more than one person alone.

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  43. This is the sort of content that makes me proud to be a paying customer of your work. Thanks!

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  44. May I remember this essay when some dumbass gets my hackles raised.

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  45. When you're standing in the puddle of pre-school vomit that is Twitter, it might be asking a bit much to expect rational adult conversation.

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  46. {smacks chest with one fist} You! What you said, and the way you said it. Me! Prays for your kind of restraint and respect when I deal with it.

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  47. Thanks Jim, love the line with "god-like awareness."

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  48. "We’ve been given the tools and access to god-like awareness, but not the training or the intellect or the self-discipline to manage it."

    Truth. We (as a society) aren't very good at self-discipline or fostering curiosity. But we can't give up, and can't capitulate by handing over responsibility to the invisible 'them'. It's up to us, each of us, to remember exactly what we hold dear, and why. And recognize our shared responsibility. Thank you for holding the line - I so appreciate your clarity and ability to maintain focus.

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  49. I stopped answering questions a long time ago because I'm tired of doing the work for other people. Simple questions, how do I, where do I find, ... etc. All of them too lazy to Google the answer. It takes the same amount of time to type that question into a browser as it does to ask on social media. You're absolutely right, people are lazy and so self-involved that any response is a personal attack. I fear for the future of civilization because it really boils down to the fact that they are also too lazy to spend any time reading.

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  50. I know I get angry too easily. I'll try to do better.

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  51. "Despite his belligerent self-introduction, I wondered if he might be AMIABLE to reason?" I think that should be "amenable".

    FrancesMC

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  52. Once I was discussing with a Taiwanese the positives and negatives of the Taiwanese education system when he said

    "Do you know the difference between Taiwan kids and American kids? Taiwan kids know lots of facts but have no opinions. American kids have lots of opinions but no facts."

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  53. I'll never sign-up with Twitter and I regret signing-up with Facebook. It's ninety nine percent garbage; there's nothing there. If you want to capture my attention get a PhD and a publisher. Otherwise you're like a bunch of monkeys flinging feces.

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  54. As a retired librarian, I am used to looking up context, and checking facts. It has always appalled me that others never bother with either. The more I see people on both sides of any issue use an extremely narrow focus and ignore facts that don't fit their preconceptions, the more pessimistic I become about the future.

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  55. The dumbing down of America is well on its way to being complete. Even Carl Sagan watched in horror as we hurtled headlong into ignorance:

    "The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

    Or, if you prefer, Van Loon:

    “Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.”

    They have short attention spans. They can't be bothered with looking for substance, relevance or context. They just want you to fight the argument they're having in their head.
    Mostly, I just mentally pat them on their pointy little heads and move on. You really can't argue with idiocy.

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  56. You say it so well. I have unfriended both sides for NOT thinking. I am an engineer and testing parameters and assumptions is a core value in my life. Thank you for expressing it. I try to keep people I know and encourage them to follow the breadcrumbs but damn, it is hard work. But worthwhile

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  57. This is quire relevant to the discussion here ... https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/02/22/rip-culture-war-thread/

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  58. One of the hardest things to teach, probably because I had no formal training in it nor training in how to teach it, was the skill set to winnow factual information and valid expert opinion from the glut of falsified data and random ranting available on the internet. We do have the vast majority of human knowledge at our fingertips, and that which isn't immediately available isn't that hard to dig for, but...

    ...so many times I wound up with students unable to grasp the difference between a legitimate scientific article, pseudoscientific woowoo, fearmongering, and trolls deliberately introducing misinformation.

    I mean, I kept trying, and had some success with showing them obviously biased 'documentaries', then letting them tear the things apart, but damn it was tough to teach kids how to reliably detect BS, when so much of the BS floating around is dumped on them by the truckload.

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  59. Well said, as usual.

    Has anyone here read an opinion piece by the late great Issac Asimov entitled "A Cult of Ignorance"? If you haven't, you should.

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  60. With you, sir. Thanks for fighting for us.

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  61. Well said! It is the same thing that I have been saying for awhile Jim- it is so easy for anyone to sit behind their screen and spew. Spew whatever comes into their head. Without thinking they rant or comment.. They may have the ability to do so but never do they think maybe if they should. Or even the reasoning behind it. Like you said, they don't reach for deeper meaning or perhaps think before they speak or comment...which is just like your Commander in Chief. You are the voice in my head Jim!

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  62. This is an uncomfortable mirror you are holding up.
    But it's worth looking into and seeing both the reflection of myself and what's on the other side.

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  63. meanwhile, those of us living in the shithole that is Missouri have a new bill headed to the Senate that proposes the harshest anti abortion bill ever, anywhere. its called the 'heartbeat bill'. no exceptions for rape, incest, downs syndrom, mothers health, ...nothing. so yeah, i can see where less dedicated liberals than i might get discouraged. we are going backwards!

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  64. Jim...you touched on one of the most important things we, as thinking organisms, must look critically at ourselves and move beyond our own petty biases...for the greater good of MY NATION, YOUR NATION, OUR NATION...your military training has prepared you for the assaults on your/our beliefs..I feel the same way you do about most things, and where we differ is not important, nor relative to the situation....Keep on being YOU, for we need your unique and well thought out commentary if we are to try to reclaim our Nation from those who would harm Her...the republican party, or cult if you will...

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  65. My father used to often say, we need more light and less heat. I think that would be a good (someone more positive) title for this piece.

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  66. Your February 21 post is right on, "Your job as a citizen right now is to look, listen, question, acquire information, analyze."
    I recall that a noteworthy event occurred early in President Obama's presidency to which he responded a few days later. When asked why the delay, he said he waited until he had the facts.

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