Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Idiocy Lives On!

Some of us were once of the mind that the incredible explosion of information in today's electronic world would free us from idiocy. After all, the answers to lots of questions would be at our fingertips!

And, to some extent we were right. Any number of facts are at my fingertips now. I think of a question, type some keystrokes, and there it is - the answer. What is the population of South Carolina's capital? Got it. But it turns out that most of the important questions don't relate to easily retrievable facts. So, idiocy can still thrive in this modern era.

After church on Sunday I stopped to talk with a young man whose primary claim to fame is that he's a veteran of the first Gulf War. Almost immediately he informed me that he had been placed on a "terrorist watch list". I was shocked, and I asked, "How do you know that?". He replied with a straight face, "Because Glenn Beck said that the government believes Iraq War veterans are potential terrorists!" Actually, I think the guy was a bit proud of his new status as a potential enemy of the Obama administration, but I digress.

I'll be seeing the young man again, soon, and I plan to continue the discussion about "How do you know that?" There are any number of good reasons why putting all Gulf War veterans on a terrorist watch list would become general knowledge in a very short time. There are also some good reasons why doing such a thing would be preposterous from a management standpoint. In other words, it would be a dumb idea that would be almost immediately on the front page of every newspaper in the country if it was implemented. But this guy believed it because Glenn Beck said it, maybe. Beck-speak is more artful than the thinking process of most who listen to him.

In summary, having lots of information at our fingertips does not keep us from being idiots. Critical thinking is still a basic human requirement if one is to avoid living in an Oz-like world or being subject to the whims of every manipulative person who makes one a target. Testing assertions that seem important - such as being put on a terrorist watch list - is something that I'd put in the "critical thinking" bucket. Back to Critical Thinking 101, young man.

As an afterthought, I'd like to close by saying that having the ability to change your mind when presented with new facts is a most valuable quality. People who are not embarassed by new information that affects a previously held position, but who embrace the new and change their behavior or their plans as a result of it, have a competitive advantage over those who don't. When I say, "Thanks for letting me know", I mean it. Information is power, after all.


Ron Davison said...

This raises an interesting point. If in the past, pre-information age - new information made one smarter than in today's information rich world, knowing what filters to use to have LESS information make one smarter. It is not about getting new information but knowing how to assess information before accepting it.
This might be a bit like the problem with diet. For centuries we did not have to worry about children getting too many calories - only too few. Now that has reversed. Interesting.

ThomasLB said...

One of the things I try avoid is painting myself in a corner. Making declaratory statements like Glenn Beck and his ilk do doesn't leave any room for compromise, and here in the Real World compromise is a good and necessary thing. It's what grownups do to avoid wars and stuff.

(Also: I do not ever want to part of an "ilk.")