Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A democracy of ideas

Lately I've been doing something I probably shouldn't do, to wit: reading the reader responses to articles in the Yahoo! News.

I realize that this is a skewed sample -- but I will say, and I know it sounds harsh, that the average IQ of the responders seems to be in the range more commonly associated with shoe sizes.  And they seem to have no particular problem with trumpeting their stupidity in an international public forum.  I know that there are many, many topics about which I am ignorant, but I try my best not to make moronic pronouncements about them.  There's that well-known quote, variously attributed to Confucius, Mark Twain, and others -- "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it."

Well, that lesson has yet to sink in for many.  Take, as an example, the article that appeared today, regarding the fact that this is (thus far) one of the warmest winters on record, worldwide, despite some regional lows (such as the viciously cold winter eastern Europe has had).  Here are a sampling of responses, which I'm paraphrasing from memory, because if I have to go back and re-read the actual responses, I'll scream and wake up my sleeping family:

"Warmest winter my ass.  I looked up the record high temperature in my city, and it hasn't been broken since 1960.  If it's not happening to me, it isn't global!"

"It's all a lie made up by Obozo and company to get you to lie down and let them walk over you with their stormtrooper boots."

"So what if it is global warming.  The Arctic Ocean will be free of ice and we can use it for shipping.  It'll inconvenience the polar bears and penguins and the rest of us won't give a damn.  Bring it on."

And so on, for pages and pages. I could go on, but I won't; I think I lost several dozen brain cells just typing those three out.  However, I have to man up and write out one other one, which stood out for an interesting reason:

"Will you people wake up.  Global warming IS A LIE made up by the liberal tree-huggers to get you to buy into their agenda.  Wise up, or I hope you'll be happy walking everywhere you go, with no electricity for your house and the American economy destroyed."

I find this one interesting because I think it's illustrative of a tendency I see in a lot of areas; "I don't like this idea" = "this idea isn't true."  Clearly, this individual thinks that the result of a drastic decrease in fossil fuel use would be bad -- no gasoline for cars, no coal for electrical plants, and the hit on the economy from the collapse of the petrochemical industry.  From this, (s)he has inferred that global warming isn't happening.

I have no particular issue with someone questioning, from a scientific standpoint, the evidence for global warming (although I really wish people could get into their heads the difference between "climate" and "weather" in these discussions).  I also have no problems with debating whether the cure (reduction in petrochemical use) might be worse than the disease.  However, I didn't think it took a particularly advanced brain to recognize that the two aren't connected, except insofar as the disproof of global climate change would obviate the need to do something about it.  The point is, just because you don't like the solution doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist.  If you engage in that sort of thinking, you're just doing the adult version of "la la la la la, not listening."

In any case, I don't intend to get into the evidence for climate change here.  I really meant this more as a commentary on the way people think, and their tendency to feel that it's their god-given right to bloviate about topics regardless of whether they actually know anything about them.  Maybe that's the problem; people have the misapprehension that the word "democracy" extends to ideas.  Democracy is all well and good in politics; everyone has a say, and it tends to blend out the voices of the extremes.  However, "your vote is equal to mine" and "your rights are equal to mine" does not imply that "your ideas are equal to mine."  Your ideas might be better than mine, if you're an expert and I'm not.  If I jumped up and said to Stephen Hawking, "You need to listen to what I have to say about quantum mechanics!" I wouldn't be exercising my rights as a citizen of a democratic country, I would be a moron.

To quote Richard Dawkins: "If there are two opposing ideas, it is not always true that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It is possible that one person is simply wrong."

1 comment:

  1. I am a current Yahoo comment and Glenn Beck viewing champion, in that I can read/watch and not cuss, scream, or throw things. Arduous, yes, but I persevere. And too, like a monk meditating while standing one-legged on a wooden pillar, my resolve and patience increases with every passing moment. My wisdom as well. My intelligence? Not so much.

    The irony with this "Global warming IS A LIE" person, is that if you sat them down and asked them "Does the Earth's climate warm and cool naturally over periods of time?" They would say "OMG duh dude, shutup. You know what I was sayin'."