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.
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.
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 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?
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.
You do see it, don’t you?
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.
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?
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.
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