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Friday, December 10, 2004

 

gullibility


it's fashionable in libertarian quarters to deride media conspiracy theories (which usually deserve deriding) by noting the massive expansion of media outlets proffered by the internet. by giving essentially unlimited choice to infomation consumers, the thought is that fraud and bias will be exposed.

overlooking the fact that precious few of us are wired, and fewer still do more than surf porn and ebay, this logic is, i think, fundamentally flawed.

mr bailey makes the charitable error of assuming that more information means a more skeptical public. this would be, i think, an outgrowth of the notion that people are rational consumers of information.

all evidence to the contrary. extremely well informed people are still only hairless apes with reptilian brain stems making most of their decisions for them. popular delusion remains the basis of democratic government in the age of mass politics. michael ledeen studies d'annunzio for a reason. in the end, greater freedom to choose is likely to mean greater freedom to choose what you wish to hear, reinforcing previous conceptions and delusions, rather than comparison shopping for quality of information.

and i would note similarly the matt welch makes an associated error (imo): that the proliferation of media outlets constitutes a proliferation of real information consumption.

this is all akin to saying that the proliferation of christian cults in the 20th century means that christian doctrine is better understood by more informed christians. clearly, imo, not so: there has been instead a proliferation of confusion, opinion masquerading as fact and outright disinformation such that no one knows anything -- even when they are certain they know something -- because truth and near-truth cannot be separated from rumor and falsehood. error and rumor are easily propogated convincingly on the internet. most people (being only animals) cannot critically evaluate what they're consuming; awash in data of varying quality, they assemble their own 'reality' to suit their inclination. the overwhelming tide of choice thus yields a haze of primitive mysticism similar to what the late romans fielded.

i think we are seeing in the blogosphere the beginnings of a paradox in which the death of informational gatekeepers -- ostensibly laudable to a individualist society -- reveals the animal character of the human being far more than the rational. we're likely to learn, imo, that institutional information was, though imperfect and even sometimes disastrous, at least usually trustworthy and ultimately preferable to the mystical fog of uncontrolled information.


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