Sunday, 21 February 2016

A new mode of ignorance

Why is it that when you twist things out of their natural order, when you become a little sophisticated and want more than you ever did before, the risk is relatively greater? So easy to become rotten. A tree never gets that way because it is a tree.
Sherwood Anderson – Dark Laughter (1925)

As age pulls back the social veils it becomes ever more difficult to admire - what? More difficult to admire anything.

I can’t tell if it is the internet or age-induced cynicism but I think much of it is the internet shining its pitiless light on people in the public arena who simply should not be there. People with nothing to offer but their vanity and a grim determination to claw their way up what is now a forest of greasy poles.

Ignorant pundits, political apologists, talentless celebrities, venal politicians, professional liars, grievance mongers, deranged activists, serial exaggerators, insane feminists, male feminists, social justice warriors, eco warriors, gender pundits, race baiters, celebrity celebrities, religious maniacs, atheist maniacs, sports pundits, poverty pundits, fashion gurus, doom mongers, economic fantasists, junk scientists, junk artists, pseuds of every description, bent councillors, sinecure seekers, dodgy charities, fake radicals and all the unlovely crew we would be far, far better off without.

So little to admire, so much to scorn. Was it always like this or has the digital revolution exposed just how bad it is?

Two trends seem to be emerging. Firstly the obvious one – the public arena is far bigger than it was only a few decades ago. More TV channels, more video on demand, more digital voices and many more ways to get a narrative across. As a result the public arena is more diverse with lower barriers to entry. Anyone may hit the right note and propel themselves into the digital arena, especially with professional assistance.

The second trend is paradoxical but it may be real and it is this. In an important sense people are becoming better informed and at the same time more ignorant. The public arena has become so vast and clamorous that many people seem to miss what might once have been called the narrow path of virtue. It may have been narrow but it imposed a kind of sanity we no longer have.

This second trend makes for a peculiar world where people are at the same time both less and more naive than their forebears. They are both less conservative and more conservative as they become less aware of what is worth conserving but more susceptible to wildly exaggerated risks spewed at them from the digital arena.

The digital revolution asks more of us. More time, more effort spent checking sources, a more circumspect and sceptical attitude to information and authorities. Unfortunately many of us do not do the spadework, including many members of the elite. Perhaps most of them.

The net result feels like an explosion of ignorance. Not the ignorance of the past where people were simply uninformed, but a new mode of ignorance where we fail to be adequately sceptical and selective as a brave new world busily wires up our minds.


Henry Kaye said...

I am 84 years old and I have become painfully aware of all you say in my recent years. What an insightful post!!

Derek said...

There has always been the concept that politicians over the generations have not always spoken the truth, but how would we know unless personally eavesdropping in the corridors and canteens of government and its machinations? Joe public knew only what the media presented him, and dependent on which political strain the publication bonded to, we paid for, and got what we wanted to believe. In the main, we follow a cause, we answer to a call.

The digital age has given an outlet for alternative newsfeeds, and Joe public now has a vast array of information from which to research, and again - choose to believe, or rail against.

The question is: is Joe public more ignorant or less ignorant? Or are those in the various echelons of the political circus more ignorant or less ignorant?

How could Joe be more ignorant - unless he chooses to ignore what is available in this new age of information overload? He has a problem: to believe what he researches if it complies with what the political classes and much of the main stream media presents - or to challenge beliefs based upon alternative news sources, scientific or otherwise. Does he have the time to do so - does he have the inclination to do so?

But at least today he has more choice. If he chooses to read and research, he shows intelligence - a desire to learn more, to make better informed choices.

Compare this to the political animal, who for generations has been derided and satirised through most of the media, even when they may have had something worthwhile to say. There is something intransigent about the political circus which gives rise to the derision and satire aimed at it. Why? Is it because it is driven by a force greater than itself and from which it dare not deviate for fear of its own destruction and demise? What could this power be? What or who is it? Does it have a face or corporate image? No. Not something that powerful. It keeps its distance, it is remote, it allies to good deeds world-wide - it is carefully camouflaged. Any allusion to its existence is countered with "conspiracy theorists", because no-one wants to believe it can exist - even when in plain sight. What better place to hide?

With age comes better understanding of the world at large aided and abetted by the internet. Our forefathers learned from the local pub or social club the comings and goings of their worlds. Worlds which were the fields, the factory, the office, the docks. Small worlds, but essential worlds, worlds which largely have gone and are consigned to history books.

So we have ignorance, we have deception, and we have disbelief. So what has really changed, or have we just more of the same?

Anonymous said...

Not always like this I think, many used to have minor jobs in minor ministries and councils where inefficiency made sure they were hardly heard of. Now we have access to superb libraries, the very best of education opportunities, access to cultural experiences it used to take a lifetime to absorb - and what do we do with it - make fools and nobodies into celebrities and share pictures of making the beast.

Umberto Eco died recently, he had a handle on this process, Faith in Fakes was prescient but his hope for a communications guerrilla war' has been thwarted imho.

Demetrius said...

I Googled "Ignorance" and got 71,300,000 results, about. But I am not much the wiser.

James Higham said...

As always, AKH.

A K Haart said...

Henry - thanks. Age does seem to clarify things but sometimes I wish it wouldn't.

Derek and Roger - I sometimes see it as a signal to noise issue. The signals are richer, more revealing and more easily researched but are much the same as they always were. The noise is much greater but also richer and more plausible.

In spite of the fact that research has become far easier with the internet, it is still necessary to spot the signals within the noise. Older people already know where they are but that advantage may die with us.

Demetrius - no, it's a big number but they usually are with Google.

James - indeed.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Another factor you don't mention is that we've all got a whole lot richer.

So much so that we can afford, more or less, to have six million people (or however big the public sector is now) doing nothing very much of value, so gossip and idle chat is so much easier.

Fifty years ago, never mind two hundred, most of these people would have been too busy trying to make a living, or even just surviving.

A K Haart said...

WY - that's a good point - it must add to the noise.