I would just like to return to the days of programming when people actually got paid to make shit up. Like stories. And dialogue. Stuff like character development. That’s all.
Not you of course! No you, my reader, I love and adore and would never insult that way. And I haven’t actually resorted to calling anyone an idiot, yet, but there have been a few moments when I was deeply tempted. So here’s the thing …
Once upon a time, I would have argued that nothing good comes from hurling personal insults, that calling someone an idiot isn’t an argument, and that devolving into name calling simply isn’t productive. Unfortunately, however, the internet—the comments section on many blogs in particular—has made me realize that sometimes the only thing left to say is, in fact, “You’re an idiot.”
You can’t force a man to open his eyes by screaming into his face, or even by gently pleading with him to at least take a peek at yours. Of course it still stands that calling someone an idiot isn’t making an argument, but sometimes making an argument is a waist of time and energy. Sometimes, rather than spending your efforts trying to persuade someone to open up to a new point of view, it’s just better to tell them to eff off instead. As much as I hate categorizing human beings, I have found that people can generally be pigeon holed into one of three categories:
1. Seekers of truth
2. The fools who think they’ve already found it
3. The smart ones who don’t bother looking for it
I strive for category three, but hubris, ego, and good dash of OCD always pull me back into category one. Category two is a bitch though. We all slip into it every now and then, but there are some people who really could care less about altering their own perspective of reality and insist instead on shouting it from the mountaintops and belittling anyone who sees the world through a different lens. I often find that these are the same people who claim to embrace individuality, free thought, acceptance of other cultures, and moral relativism. (Everything is relative and therefor acceptable as long as it doesn’t conflict with my world view).
You are probably wondering more specifically what inspired this little tirade, and sadly, it is no one event. It is more of a culmination of my own failed exchanges and quiet observations of how other people communicate in the blogosphere. I almost shared a link on my Facebook page yesterday to a ridiculous story about a man who was fired for fear his actions could have led to a lawsuit—until, that is, I read through all the comments. By the time I was done getting through the insults and the disdainful, condescending remarks directed at either specific individuals, amorphous entities, or archetypical human beings who exist only in the mind of the commentator, I was too disgusted to bother. The worst part is, like most of the people leaving the comments, I thought the firing was ridiculous, but by the time I got done reading through what everyone had to say about it, I didn’t even want to share a position with them.
Sometimes people think it’s okay to say horribly offensive and vile things just because they view a certain group as within bounds, so to speak. They say things that they would be mortally offended by if you made the same comments towards an individual or a group of individuals they happen to view as off-limits, for whatever reason, and yet, they act so above the outrage they receive in response to their statements.
Still others like to pretend that coming out and personally insulting someone or using vulgar language to do it is somehow more offensive or ignorant than the nasty vile things they themselves have said couched in the “civilized” vernacular of intellectualism. An insult is an insult, I don’t care how flowery or verbose you make it. Pretending you are above name calling or too smart for four-letter words while at the same time you’re spitting in another person’s face with pretty language doesn’t make you superior. It just makes you a pretentious asshole. (Oops—there goes my potty mouth again).
I don’t feel quite old enough to be reflecting on my golden years yet, but the truth is, I went through school during the pre-information age. I had one super-geek friend in high school who had a computer with a modem and he used to chat with people on these things called bulletin boards that most kids today have never heard of. It was a pre-chat room, pre-AOL, definitely pre-blog form of communication.
When I was in college, professors urged students to familiarize themselves with this new Internet thing and how to cite online references. I had a Juno email account and the only people I communicated with using it were my super geek friends and, for some strange reason, one of my big sisters who had discovered email. I hated the Internet. I found it slow and useless. It took twenty minutes to load a page, there was no Google, and the existing pre-cursors to search engines never returned anything even remotely relevant to what you were searching for.
I recently heard someone refer to today’s culture as over-informed. I liked the descriptor, but I would argue that today we are dangerously ill-informed while operating under the illusion of being well-informed. In college, one of my history professors felt the need to explain to us the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of information. It seems so obvious and simple, and yet, I think if we gave this lesson in elementary school, the world would be a remarkably different place. In journalism, the concept of not just citing, but evaluating your sources is absolutely central to the profession, and yet, so many journalists today seemed to have missed that part of the curriculum.
When I was growing up, being informed wasn’t cool (DYSU if you’re out there, I know you feel me on this one!) Kids who read were called nerds, geeks, and freaks. Jocks used to throw them in garbage cans. Only the truly super cool could get away with reading, and it had to be stuff like Ayn Rand or even Sigmond Freud so they could maintain that mysterious, anti-establishment, misunderstood genius persona like Motorcyle Boy in Hinton’s Rumble Fish. For the rest of us just trying to survive the social jungle that was adolescence, we kept our books in the closet and only talked about interesting stuff with the kids who got thrown in the dumpster when nobody else was looking. (I actually walked the fine line, and the only reason I didn’t get thrown in a dumpster was because I was the crazy chic who knew how to throw a punch. Well that and the Daisy Dukes. But that’s a story for another time).
It always aggravated me when people failed to distinguish between being informed and being intelligent. You can load a hard drive, or a parrot for that matter, with more information than I can fit in my little head, and it still doesn’t make either one smarter than me. Desktop computers do not posses the quality referred to as intelligence. If they did, there would be no use for terms like artificial intelligence or the resulting fear and hysteria they tend to generate. Again, when I was growing up, there was little need to differentiate. Typically the only people who bothered to collect data were the smart kids. The informed kids were the intelligent kids. Today, not so much.
I recently watched the hysterically funny new 21 Jump Street, which depicts this shift in teen culture. You can’t help but feel completely sorry for the old school jock who shows up to the new world high school and turns out to be the outcast. But the bizarro world satire rings true. Suddenly, being informed is cool.
Everybody today fancies themselves an expert. They think citing other blogs as their source of information is a valid reference. I’ve seen long strings of links pasted into the comments section all leading to stuff written by folks who are all getting their information from the same single source. Some people seem to have absolutely no idea how to evaluate where their information is coming from, unless of course it is the “mainstream media,” in which case they automatically write it off as not being credible, but slap a picture of Che Guevara on the virtual cover, and suddenly you have the gospel truth. There is no effort to trace back to the source of the source, and most of the people I find deeply entrenched in a position online certainly have never heard of primary, secondary, or tertiary sources.
The 10 different blogs all citing the same source of information would be tertiary sources. Wikileaks is a secondary source, and the actual physical document or file that Wikileaks feels free to circulate would be the primary source. Or in some cases it would still be the secondary source, and the source who made the statement in the document would be the primary source. Either way, citing 10 blogs that all reference Wikileaks does not mean that you have discovered the secret of the Illuminati or the master plan for the New World Order.
Here’s where I’m going with all this. Before I joined the Army, I spent the two years following September 11th (9-11 included) in a 24-hour newsroom. For those of you who are not familiar with newsradio, let me just say that cable news has nothing on radio. T.V. news is show business. Print and radio journalists are purists. Radio is non-stop news. I mean non-stop.
If you’ve never been in a newsroom, it’s an impressive sight. Picture six television sets all tuned into different news channels, all blaring the major networks (from MSNBC to CNN to FOX) and all the local stations all at once. Over all that noise, you have radio news coming over the speaker system. At least one copy of every major and not-so-major newspaper, from The New York Times to your local Alternative Newsweekly, is thrown on the print table. Almost everyone in the station is seated at a computer that has two or three news wires feeding stories to the assistants and the producers who are sifting through the deluge of information and trying to figure out what to put on the air. Most of those stories the public will never see or hear, not because there is some grand conspiracy to suppress the truth, but because it simply isn’t physically possible to get it all out there. There is just too much information coming over the wire.
In walks the Jerry Garcia news anchor lookalike, rockin’ a full head of crazy grey hair and a new tie dye T-shirt for every day of the week. If you think you’ve guessed this guy’s political bent or media bias, I’m gonna put up 10 bucks that says you’re wrong. After countless decades in the news business (probably beginning somewhere in the ‘60’s), this is the guy who has no problem looking you dead in the eye after 9-11 and telling you that he’s glad Bush won the election “because Gore wouldn’t have done jack shit about it.” Out walks crazy semi-famous news anchor while fiercely liberal, young, budding journalist scratches her head.
If you spend any length of time in this environment and you do not slowly begin to re-evaluate your own political assumptions, regardless of what your persuasion is, then you are a dogmatist, plain and simple. If you spend any length of time in a newsroom like this and you do not eventually come to the conclusion that you don’t really know half as much as you thought you did, then you’re an idiot.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have opinions, or even be passionate about them. I’m definitely not saying I’m smarter than anybody else. What I am saying is that it seems like all of a sudden, the world is full of pseudo-intellectuals and self-appointed experts. Everyone is so eager to outdo each other in the data pool. They are so eager to show off how much they know. I am the first person to say I don’t know much, but I’m smart enough to know the difference between information and intelligence. I’m smart enough to know that no matter how many hours I spend at the computer reading news stories and leaked documents that have been chewed up, spit out, and regurgitated by countless others before it ever even reaches my desktop, I will not have discovered the truth.
I may have some sense of it, catch some glimpse, some semblance of the bigger picture, but it will be so incomplete, so far removed from the primary source, it will never be anything I can draw any reliable conclusions from. And it is because I know this that lately, when I encounter someone who is not only so sure of themselves and what they perceive the truth to be, but is so sure of it that they feel it puts them in the position to denigrate, belittle, and talk down to anyone who doesn’t share the same world view as them, I’d rather not waist my time arguing with such a person. It may not be a very intellectual response, but these days, the only thing I really feel like saying to people like that is, “You’re an idiot.”