One of the great ironies of the 21st century is that our society currently enjoys an evolving internet driven revolution of social media and mass computerisation, that is broadly believed to be at the vanguard of the so called “Information Age”, and characterised by unprecedented access to and dissemination of knowledge, and yet there coexists such a conspicuous level of general factual ignorance among the greater mass of humankind, including ironically among those supposedly highly educated denizens found within the affluent classes in most, if not all of our “advanced” Western democracies. This lack of insight, understanding and analysis is particularly notable on many topics of the utmost societal significance, whether it be in matters of considerable scientific, historical, economic or geopolitical importance. To consider the reasons for such an ever-widening gulf between the level of education administered to the broader populace and their actual, demonstrable acquired knowledge, or even more so in their lack of pragmatic problem solving ability, one should attempt to cast a jaundiced and non-partisan eye upon some of the factors that may be responsible for this superficially incongruous situation.
When ascribing blame for the apparent institutionalised ignorance and intellectual laziness found within our society, one should acknowledge that human beings are first and foremost herd animals who look to authority for guidance, particularly when confused by too much information they do not fully comprehend, or else in a state of anxiety or fear that weakens their resolve for independent thinking and problem solving. The modern world is marked by a bombardment of information, much of dubious merit or objectivity, the sheer volume of which overrides the ease of its accessibility. Additionally, biases inherent in the design and application of such tools as the ubiquitous Google search engine, and other “democratically” formed knowledge databases such as Wikipedia, have played a role in skewing the provision of such information to those who would seek to obtain a comprehensive understanding of any subject, especially those subjects that fall into a category where there is a degree of controversy, or even minor uncertainty, beyond the mainstream “accepted” or received wisdom. One might persuasively argue that this democratisation of knowledge in fact renders the flow of information to be more readily amenable to manipulation and deception from political or other external influences. Therefore, it might be fairer and more defensible to describe the new millennium broadly speaking as the “Disinformation Age”.
“Herd mentality” is a vestigial and innate weakness of our cognition that lies deep within the core of our DNA, and may well be the greatest (and quite possibly insurmountable) limiting factor in the further advancement of humankind. This weakness entrenched within mankind’s cognitive responses has been ruthlessly exploited through the ages by religious leaders, monarchs, despots and dictators, and by governments of every political stripe, in one way or another ever since the dawn of humanity. This is further manifest in the extreme social prejudice and recrimination directed against those “heretics” who hold firm opinions contrary to accepted norms, such that vigorous debate, let alone disagreement, in a social context is totally anathema, to the ultimate point of marginalising or completely ostracizing those whose beliefs may be even slightly controversial to the collective majority, no matter how well argued or rational that opinion may be.
With the possible exceptions of the aftermath of a complete global economic meltdown or global thermonuclear conflict, I believe our tendency to default to our instinctive herd mentality would be the most important single factor on the prospective path to widespread serfdom, to our inevitable moral and intellectual decline, or even to untimely global destruction. As a consequence of this tendency, the unfettered freedom to express one’s beliefs and opinions openly, the ability to access unbiased and authoritative information, and the preservation of the rights of the individual within our society needs to be most vigorously and tenaciously guarded, with liberty and diversity of opinion needing to be nurtured, fostered and cherished if mankind is to continue to flourish into the coming millennium and beyond.
Such diversity of belief, freedom of opinion and the unfettered ability to express non-mainstream views is of paramount importance in the perpetuation of a truly progressive humanity, particularly as history is littered with examples of singular individuals prevailing in the clash of ideas over an erroneous paradigm uncritically accepted by the majority. In the field of science for example, were the ideas of Newton, Einstein, Faraday and Rutherford successfully suppressed by a willfully ignorant or intransigent scientific establishment, the advancement of our understanding of the laws which govern the universe would have remained stagnant, and the foundations of physics, the atomic theory of matter, and electromagnetism would be rudimentary at best.
Some of the greatest discoveries or paradigm shifts in the history of human endeavour have come through the free exchange of ideas between polar opposites within the intellectual sphere, where the truth eventually prevails through weight of evidence and compelling argument in an environment conducive to the clear exposition of contrary hypotheses within an open and objective forum. Historically this has been far from the norm, but I would argue that this tendency toward closed mindedness and stubborn adherence to falsehood has become more prevalent since the mid to late 20th Century, due at least in part to a gradual erosion and dissolution of established principles that govern the analysis of data, the use of appropriate logic in argument, and the rigourous testing and re-evaluating of hypotheses.
One reason for this apparently incongruous trend developing in so advanced a civilisation is that it has become increasingly apparent to objective assessment that education in Western culture has fundamentally and deliberately shifted emphasis over the last 50 years, due to a pervasive false doctrine of social constructivism and relativism. This ideology, which has undercut the critical thinking skills of recent generations of secondary and tertiary students, has led to an ever-dwindling knowledge base, a move away from objectivity to subjective and emotive reasoning, and a propensity to redefine history and scientific principles in the sociopolitical context. This relativistic approach asserts that there is no truly objective reality, so that by extension history can be revised in light of current social norms and mores, and that scientific merit is related to arguments of morality or political expediency rather than rational methodology. The pliability of this alternate version of reality is therefore free from the bounds of evidence, accuracy, reproducibility or empiricism. As such it is readily molded or manipulated to suit various political or sociological agendas, regardless of their objective merit or validity.
Revisionism in the context of history, for example, should not be arbitrarily applied according to the fashionable majority opinion of the day, but rather is necessarily overturned purely by the weight of evidence, which should be assessed dispassionately and without bias. On the other hand, Climate Science clearly demonstrates that this social constructivist ideology has even begun to erode long established traditions of scientific method, where contrary observations are ignored, data is not transparent and is manipulated and skewed to confirm a hypothesis, while falsifiability criteria are either obscure or non-existent. This is justified in the corruption of the outwardly noble cause of sustainability and environmentalism, even though the morality of the consequent actions and effects of this ideology is dubious at best.
The widespread corruption of our societal institutions, from government to the judiciary, to academia and the mainstream media, is readily apparent to acute observers and has served to erode the confidence of the wider community in the pillars and foundations that were once pathognemonic of Western society. This has particularly undermined the initiative of present day youth to engage productively with society through constructive and independent activity, negated development of critical thinking skills to analyze data and formulate non-mainstream opinions, and demoralized those who attempt to rise above indoctrination to maximize their own personal intellectual capital to the benefit of all.
A complicit and compliant mainstream media in particular has much to answer for in propagating and perpetuating a statist and shamelessly authoritarian cultural doctrine, which has its roots within a monocultural and dogmatically leftist academia. By offering such simplistic rationales for mass public consumption, fashioned as they are around stereotypical themes of gender, race and class distinctions, the media manufacture a narrative that serves to widen divisions between various interest groups and broader Western society, largely resulting in the promotion of perpetual victimhood and an unearned sense of entitlement. This ultimately leads to further entrenching of any existing social divisions, encouraging unjust scapegoating between various groups, and often exacerbates rather than alleviates the social injustices against which they allegedly seek to mitigate.
The net result of the concerted efforts of this false relativistic approach, perpetuated by these so called bastions of society, is to unravel the fabric that binds our Western culture and civilisation. This is further exacerbated by distracting a naive and unsuspecting youth through an unhealthy obsession with fame and celebrity, and by promoting frivolous diversions and aimless acquisition of gimmicks and gadgetry, while inculcating an absolute disdain for intellect, considered but non-mainstream opinion, factual knowledge and even independent thought. The lessons of the last century, where failed socialist Utopianism caused the deaths of untold millions of people, thus increasingly fall upon deaf, or at least disinterested, ears within this societal demographic. Whether by accident or design, malfeasance or stupidity, the fate of our future generations is left in the hands of those least intellectually capable of assuming the responsibilities bequeathed to them. It is not a legacy of which to be proud, nor does it inspire any confidence that those charged with guiding us into an uncertain future have been given tools adequate for the tasks they may be required to undertake, and whether we are destined as a result to capitulate to an at least authoritarian, if not totalitarian and dystopian future.