How the Internet gets inside us.
Our trouble is not the over-all absence of smartness but the intractable power of pure stupidity, and no machine, or mind, seems extended enough to cure that.
This essay from 2011 seems even more relevant right now, particularly in regards to the US general election, but also in so much of how we conduct ourselves in public, both here in Aotearoa and globally.
There is so much available on the internet - opinions, analysis, debate, comments, headlines, papers, summaries, tl:dr versions, infographics, quotes and news articles.
All of which is filtered, often uncritically, through our own biases and interpretations, and increasingly I feel our desire, our almost pathological desire to be valid, in this frighteningly complex world.
To remain valid.
We all have the ability to contribute, and so we do.
Validity begets vanity and vanity often, in my experience leads to stupidity. To paraphrase the iconic tagline from Monkey:
"the power of stupidity is irrepressible."
"It isn’t just that we’ve lived one technological revolution among many; it’s that our technological revolution is the big social revolution that we live with. The past twenty years have seen a revolution less in morals, which have remained mostly static, than in means..."
This aspect has been reinforced for me again recently, listening to people take snippets of information - that provide an illusory knowledge on a subject, combine those snippets with an unrelated topic - and connect dots in totally broken ways - making sweeping statements filled with spurious and illogical conclusions.
It is easy to see the visible power of the technological revolution but it's much harder to connect the power of technology to the political, economic, and cultural forces that surround that technology.
And to do so without any critical critique of the irrationality of human nature, and the "power of stupidity" ensures yet more stupid.
They say that information is power, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely - and with the internet, we possibly have the most powerful corruption of all.
The original quote from John Dalberg-Acton about the corrupting influence of power is:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
I think the greater context also brings greater meaning. Acton's points that power tends to corrupt, and that great men are almost always bad men - amplify the far more nuanced and subtle influences of corruption.
Corruption is not only an absolute. Whilst it does stand for fraud, bribery and dishonesty, in the old form of the word it means to decay - that is to change from the original form.
I wonder as we look at the internet - and if we consider it as one aspect of a social revolution - instead of being the only revolution - how much more would we able to consider and reflect on the decay of not just how we think, but in what we value about our ability to think.
If we are able to see that decay, for what it is, then perhaps we can recognise the power of stupidity in our actions words and thoughts - and be able to address and remedy them accordingly.
Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.