Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why's everybody else just so stupid ?

"Why're these trolls on FB and twitter so damn stupid ? I mean, how can they not see how bad this party is, how murderous these people are, or how absurd is that logic ? Mindless drones, trotting like sheep, to wherever they are herded. Would someone give them a link to that article, and tell them to do some damn research before shouting their mouths off."

If that's you speaking (and it is you), it might be well-worth considering that you (instead of, or in addition to the evil "other") suffer from something called confirmation bias. Plainly put, its the tendency to focus on only that information which confirms what you already think is correct, and filtering-out/ignoring things which contradict that position. But wait! You are too smart to fall for that, aren't you ? You are a rational person, someone who does proper research before choosing his position. You'll obviously change it when confronted with evidence to the contrary. Right ?

Well, the thing is, you probably won't. Not because you don't want to, but because you would've made it extremely difficult for yourself to ever see contrary evidence. And, why the hell would you do that ? Look at twitter, for instance, where you can "follow" important people, and get notifications whenever they post something. Who do you choose to follow ? Mostly, people who you like and whose view you already agree with. Who do these important people follow ? Again, mostly people who they agree with. How do you find new people to follow ? Either from the suggestions twitter provides you, or by being impressed by people whose tweets are re-tweeted by those you are already following. How does twitter know which people to suggest ? Often, it suggests people who are being followed by people who you are already following. You realize where I'm going with this, right ? You never set out with the explicit intention of ignoring other views, but here you are, overwhelmingly surrounded by people who all think like you. From where do you think you'll hear those other views now ?

Inside these "in-groups" of yours, you get high on seeing silly, illogical comments of the other side being incessantly mocked and torn apart by merciless logic. There is a certain guilty pleasure in hearing the other side being described as "bhakts", "AAPtards", "trolls" and the like, even if you don't use those words yourselves. Over a period of time, you develop disdain, not only for their opinions, but for anybody who professes to hold (or even casually endorse) those opinions.

Suppose you hear some news that goes against your deeply-held convictions (or some criticism of your favourite political party). The first thing that comes to mind is that there must be a backstory that justifies it, some piece of information that the "paid" media is hiding. The internet knows this too, and there is a huge market for articles that pander to this need of yours for self-justification. Against this tide of criticism, all you need is one article that justifies your stand (and rest assured, there'll always be one), just one reassuring voice that says that you were right all along, and you'll sleep that night knowing that you are the beacon of logic and rationality in this dark and gruesome world of gullible fools. And it often doesn't matter what this "refutation" is; the very fact that there is one, is enough to convince you that your enemy has been slain. Then begins your victory dance - trolling your trolls with your discovery, pasting its link in every possible comments section you can find, and then conveniently disabling notifications from those posts. After all, who has the time to hear their illogical justifications. You have a 9-6 job you see, unlike these [Mossad, CIA, Illuminati - insert your favourite over-arching villain]-funded trolls whose very job is to misinform people.

Another way it plays out is when the first time you even hear about the criticism, is when someone in your circle publishes a response to it. It so turns out that you are reading the response before the allegation itself, inherently biasing yourself against the original criticism, if you even choose to read it (and why would you, after it has been so magnificently deconstructed and rubbished).

Once in a blue moon, the glass shatters. You encounter a flesh and body individual who actually holds those opinions. Its when, with a condescending smile and a difficult-to-hide smirk, you set out to educate them, that you find that the arguments perhaps weren't as stupid as they were made out to be. The silly arguments that you were expecting were exactly that - silly, distorted caricatures of what the actual criticism was. And you never bothered to check! Such is the insulation, that people are often visibly shocked on hearing some rather common news - something that was never discussed in what is often their only source of such knowledge - their "in-group", for reasons that becomes quite obvious to them at that time.

Of course, none of this implies that you are necessarily wrong in your opinions, nor that sometimes, a position is clearly absurd and illogical. But it would probably be best to step out of your high castles once in a while, and trawl the lands of your heathen nemeses. After all, while criticizing others for their "herd mentality", you might yourself be getting herded by a far more subtle, and potent shepherd - your unconscious brain.

Image courtesy of artur84 at