Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Escaping the Echo Chamber

One of the many things that drive me up the proverbial wall nowadays is the relentless drumbeat of obnoxious, empty noise generated by people who are mad as hell. They're not quite able to explain just why they're mad, or how they'd fix the issues that make them mad, other than in the most generic and unfocused of terms, such as:

"We're gonna take the country back!";

"No new taxes!";

"If I don't see a birth certificate, I don't believe he's an American!"; and,

"How's that hopey-changey thing workin' out for ya?"

It's much easier to shout slogans and parrot the words of others than it is to think for oneself. That blinkered outlook been made easier by the balkanization of ideas brought on by the proliferation of narrowly-focused cable TV channels and hyperpartisan blogs and websites. No matter what you want to believe - whether it's the threat of nasty aliens in UFOs, the danger of one-world government, or even the utter horror of one-world government imposed by nasty aliens from UFOs - you can find plenty of people with networks and blogs that will reinforce your ideas and convince you that you are absolutely right ... and if all you ever read or listen to are those people who reinforce your ideas, you lose the ability to think for yourself and evaluate whether or not those people are full of ... um ... well ... stuff.

This effect has been called the "echo chamber," because of the tendency of crazy ideas to reverberate between the walls of like-minded people.

Yesterday, I found a wonderful article by William Saletan that summarizes my thinking on this issue better than I could have done on my own. It's on Slate.com, and you can read it here: Bubble Think: How to Escape a Partisan Echo Chamber. In this article, Mr Saletan offers ten simple, yet obvious ways to help you avoid the dangers of partisan groupthink:

1. Treat insularity as a weakness.

2. Don't be a sucker for conspiracy theories.

3. Never define yourself by an enemy.

4. Don't outsource your beliefs to your allies.

5. Seek wisdom, not just victory.

6. Distrust polarization.

7. Look in the mirror.

8. Beware abstraction.

9. Test your theories.

10. Overcome your urges.

Read the entire article and think about whether you are caught in a partisan echo chamber that keeps you from asking the questions to which you need real answers, not mindless slogans and narrow-minded claptrap.

It's more important now than ever. The country and the world are facing enormous problems, and nobody out there has all the answers. You need to listen to everyone, filter out the mental sludge, and make your own judgments.

You all know Bilbo's First Law: Don't let anyone do your thinking for you. And we might now add a corollary to that law: The louder they shout, the less they know.

Take a few minutes to read Mr Saletan's article and think seriously about the 10 rules for avoiding groupthink.

Applying them wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Have a good day. Do your own thinking.

More thoughts tomorrow.


1 comment:

Mike said...

I think #9 was the best.