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So my friend's elderly mom, early 90s. . .
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Posted 3/27/2021 11:13 (#8918972 - in reply to #8918516)
Subject: RE: So my friend's elderly mom, early 90s. . .

39.48, -82.98

This has turned into a surprisingly interesting thread.

Touching on Steve's point, I think a lot of what we are seeing is a form of group identification. Humans are tribal by nature and we all seem to want to know where we fit into the big picture. In the past, you might have belonged to one highland clan or a rival faction. Then, there were the Hatfields versus the McCoys. Later, Browns fans versus Bengals fans.

Our (generally) two-party system is tailor-made for squaring off on different topics. You supported central banking, or you didn't. You wanted to abolish slavery, or you didn't. You opposed the large trusts, or you didn't. You preferred free trade, or you didn't. Partisan newspapers have fanned the flames since our inception -- and while they were read by what we would now call opinion leaders, they didn't have the reach or immediacy of the Internet.

Today, you can go online and find your new in-group within minutes. You can find one where the opinions and positions resonate within you on some level, even if you can't articulate exactly why. It just feels right, somehow. You can adopt the preformed ideas as your own, to Like, forward, Copy/Paste, and retweet to your heart's content. If someone challenges you, no problem. Your in-group has already done the heavy lifting of crafting canned replies to common objections.

Parroting all of this buoys your standing within your new in-group. Peers are impressed at your newfound adroitness on addressing complex issues and award extra credit for adding related talking points. You enjoy the admiration and double down on posting. It all seems so...effortless.

And that's because your total adoption of the opinions of others relieves you of having to do any actual thinking on your part. Step back for a moment and you will realize that there is precious little critical thinking in any of this. You no longer have to devote hundreds of hours, or more, of hard study in order to feel halfway conversant on a complex topic. Instead, people form online communities of mutual trust and repeat what others -- approved opinion leaders -- have said.

Okay, so maybe it's always been like this to some degree. But I think almost everyone has noticed the change in society since the ascent of social media. We are increasingly polarized, for example. At least part of the reason is that we can now spend all day wallowing in self-affirming bit streams, drifting further and further from any objective reality outside the warm and cozy echo chamber. On the rare occasion that a foreign thought intrudes, the immediate reaction is to attack the "other" -- not with a well-reasoned response, since the required analytical skills have long ago atrophied, but with invective that seems a bit over-the-top. This isn't simply a differing viewpoint, after all; it's now an affront to one's identity.

Is there a way out of this mess? I think there is. While social media and its willful followers march onward toward intellectual torpor, the natural, material universe still exists for those interested in such things. There is even a time-tested way to get to know it, called the Scientific Method. It doesn't dispense the Ultimate Truth, the way a market guru might about epidemiological topics, but provides a framework for testing ideas. Good answers yield to better answers in a never-ending process. This provisional nature may be unsettling to those who prefer only black and white, but it is honest. Science cannot provide immediate and eternal truths, because we can never know everything. And anyone who tells you otherwise is delusional or selling something. Or, perhaps, a little of both.

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