Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Age of Ignorance

Those of you who are my Facebook friends may remember Massimo Pigliucci's thought-provoking article I linked to last Monday - Ignorance Today. As we suffer through an era full of self-important, self-styled experts and mental midgets who shout loudly about things of which they know nothing, this description of "the paradox of ignorance in our era" by Mr Pigliucci is worth pondering:

"...on the one hand, we are constantly bombarded by expert opinion, by all sorts of people – with or without Ph.D. after their name – who tell us exactly what to think (though rarely why we should think it). On the other hand, most of us are woefully inadequate to practice the venerable and vital art of baloney detection (or, more politely, critical thinking), which is so necessary in modern society."

We live, sadly, in a time in which we are awash in information. We can Google up the answer to any question in a few seconds, and tune into any one of thousands of TV shows, radio broadcasts, and public forums in which opinionated talking heads shout past each other, unwilling to give any intellectual ground because they're so convinced not only of their own righteousness, but of the essential wrongness of everyone else. We have access to vast amounts of raw knowledge, but no longer have the ability to sift that think critically about what we hear and separate the vital informational wheat from the chaff of BS.

Birthers, hard-core religious fundamentalists, Donald Trump, Tea Party zealots, Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi - we're surrounded by people who endlessly bloviate, but don't quite seem to know what they're talking about, or to understand the implications of what they say. Expressed another way, we're becoming a nation of pancake people - people who read widely (usually on the Internet), but have no depth or context to what they read. While I often describe myself as a fountain of useless knowledge (which I'd be amazed at the wealth of trivia I can call up), I try to put that information into a usable framework and connect it with other information to generate real, useful, actionable knowledge.

We don't learn to do that any more. As Mr Pigliucci writes,

"...the need for critical thinking has never been as pressing as in the Internet era. At least in developed countries – but increasingly in underdeveloped ones as well – the problem is no longer one of access to information, but of the lack of ability to process and make sense of that information. Unfortunately, colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools are unlikely to mandate introductory courses in critical thinking on their own. Education has increasingly been transformed into a commodity system, in which the “customers” (formerly students) are kept happy with personalized curricula while being prepared for the job market (rather than being prepared to be responsible human beings and citizens)."

Bilbo's First Law says never let anyone else do your thinking for you, but perhaps it also needs a corollary: don't forget to think.

You'd be amazed at what ass-clownery you can recognize - and discount - when you do.

Have a good day. Think. More thoughts tomorrow.



Gilahi said...

I'm glad you thought of this. I read it here so now I don't have to.

Gotfam said...

Have you seen the movie Wall-E. Yes, it's a movie. And yes it's a kids movie...but I get this feeling you'd like it.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I learned a new word today....thank you. Bloviate. how did that one get by me?

Great post as usual.

Mike said...

I've been noticing every once in awhile the politicians claim their opponents are 'bloviating' while they themselves bloviate.

KathyA said...

Well, by George (er...Bill) you've taught me something!!! "Bloviate" was not in my repertoire and what a wonderful word it is! And I see I'm not the only one!