Can you recognise human? Rules of engagement for a culture war.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”Carl Sagan, Cosmos
One of the great joys of social media is the opportunity to see how other people think. Viewing the posts of a larger number of people than we would ordinarily speak to in a day (or even a year) gives a fascinating but disturbing insight into others.
The algorithms will work out what we like and what we respond to and start an endless feedback loop of posts and ‘information’ that reinforce our view. Before we know it, we are in a bubble, happily convinced that we are at the centre of the world that is normalized around us. Other people are experiencing the same normalisation around ideas we may never have considered.
One way to avoid this is to seek out sources of information and ideas that we do not agree with. People have adopted the idea that the only purpose of social media debate is to attempt to change another person’s mind. From religion to economics, to politics, I am constantly confronted by people who say:
“There is no point us talking since we disagree and you will not make me change my mind”.
But I am often trying to see if I need to change my mind not their mind. This insistence on only having a dialogue with people we agree with not only reinforces the ‘normalisation bubble’ but leads to further problems.
The first is that it is difficult to change one’s mind about an idea without having a conversation or debate with someone who holds an entirely different view. It is difficult to explore information that contradicts what we already think if we cannot talk about it with people who have different views.
The second is that it is very hard to get anyone to share their process for deciding what to believe. This is partly because a lot of these processes are forgotten once we conclude, and partly because we are all prone to believing what is repeatedly placed in front of us is true.
This is even more likely if it is presented in a way that triggers strong emotion in us.
When I ask someone “How did you know that is true? “ Or “What data did you consider when arriving at your conclusion? They will often get really angry and say “It is just true” or “Just Google it”. This completely ignores the fact that Google also has a learning algorithm and will return searches that more closely match the sort of thing you clicked on before.
So Google is an active part of the ‘normalisation bubble’.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”Mahatma Gandhi
If I search for something using the same phrase as you do, I will not get the same results as you. If you don’t believe this then try searching for something you believe strongly for (or against) and then go into the anonymous mode in Google and use the same search and see the difference. Google is like a supportive friend trying to make sure we see what we like before we are faced with information that may contradict or disturb us.
YouTube uses the same methods. If you pick up a video from your anonymised search and start chasing down the suggested videos to follow, you will be faced with a bewildering array of opinions, presented as if they are fact with very little supporting data or ways of checking them or the person expressing it.
No wonder we are all bewildered by how other people have such ‘obviously stupid’ ideas. We are all being subtly fed information that will use our emotions to guide us through to extreme positions.
The “InfoWars” is sadly spilling out into the street. We must take stock and learn to recognise the humanity of people who disagree with us. We are all being played by an algorithm designed to make our lives easier by pre-digesting the massive content of the internet for us. The supportive friend has turned into an evil librarian feeding edited reading lists to people who are trying to find out what is going on in the world.
It is time to teach ourselves discernment and demand some of those books on the back shelf that are not being promoted. And it is time to take a deep breath before that evil librarian gets us all to set fire to the building.
Mavericks are uniquely qualified to start this work because of our inbuilt abilities and tendencies.