Last night, I happened on a long discussion on Facebook and my eye caught a particular comment on the story. The comment was to the effect that whatever had been posted was not only ‘nonsense but dangerously misleading’ but that he doubted anyone would actually listen to him, an expert in the field. He went on to say that using his expertise in such conversations had already “cost him friendships”. Several others had then made similar comments about how as a vet his friends were often more liable to listen to their neighbor, the village gossip, or his receptionist, than him. This is something I have written about before yet feel strongly about.
The decline of the expert opinion and its believability parallels in many ways the decline in respect for experience and the aged. Instead, we appear to have become a society fed a constant diet of myth and half-baked theory because we are gullible enough to believe it. Once upon a time, society respected its elders. With many decades of life experience, we valued their wisdom gained over those years. Not any more. Old people are well, old, smelly, slow and stupid. Who wants to listen to them? Similarly, with expertise except in this case the expert is biased, bought and rigid in their thinking and not to be trusted.
The problem with this is, if I may be blunt, humanity is in decline going round and round in ever decreasing circles to destination stupidity. Once, many childhood diseases were largely a thing of the past, then someone with an agenda decided inoculation was responsible for a myriad of issues, out on social media it goes and now… all these terrible diseases are back and many parents will argue until their blue in the face that they read or heard that vaccinating your child is a bad thing to do. Even if their doctor tells them the opposite, they would rather believe what they read or their neighbor told them. They are being lied to and they believe it.
This is just one example there are many, many others.
Let’s be clear, I am not sanctioning belief for the sake of belief here. Asking questions is always good. Getting a good education around any issue that worries or interests you is also good but the source should count for something. People with years of experience and expertise through learning got their because they cared to. Their viewpoint is of more value than the blogger who writes with a lot of angst but no actual knowledge.
The Facebook post was about Ebola and an American who had been to Kenya who resigned her job as a teacher after facing a lot of parent pressure some of which verged on the side of hate mail and threats. You see, most of these parents had no idea how big Africa is and wouldn’t know that Kenya is nowhere near Liberia and Sierra Leone. She had been in Africa – that’s enough as Africa is where Ebola is. Actually, Kenya is 1.5 times the distance from Sierra Leone as New York is from LA. There was no risk of Ebola at all but someone started a social media campaign and this poor lady felt compelled to resign as a result.
Social media is a good thing in many respects but it is helping in a decline in critical thinking. Memes and stories get passed around and somehow people are gullible enough to believe the most ridiculous of stories. If an expert suggests that these stories are in fact nonsense, they are verbally insulted and bullied. We no longer value expertise that education brings nor the wisdom that comes with age. Instead, somehow we place more value of the crowd. That nebulous, often anonymous mass of people who have no expertise and little wisdom. Could it be that our ego wants us to believe that we really are experts and can make good decisions on everything? Do we dislike experts and expertise?
Would you really hire me to do your plumbing and not listen to me on matters involving geology?
If this trend continues there are troubled times ahead. Sheep are easy to manipulate. Critical thinkers are not.