“Why is everyone so mean and stupid, and why is it getting worse?”
With this provocative and intentionally mean-spirited question, Robert Armstrong begins a spectacular article in last week’s Financial Times in which he explores the reasons for our contentious current state of affairs.
Presenting a variety of theses as outlined in 3 recent books on the topic, Armstrong provides a wide-ranging discussion that, he admits, does more to diagnose the problem than to remedy it.
In “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” authors Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach posit that the internet has provided us with quick access to information with which we can be deluded into a sense of mastery. Armed with superficial understanding of a variety of subjects, we know, as the saying goes, just enough to be dangerous. “People who think they know more than they do about something — the healthcare system, say, or global warming — are demonstrably more likely to have strong opinions about it.” When everyone is thus a self-proclaimed expert, there is less of an inclination to listen, and more of a tendency to debate and
In “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters”, author Tom Nichols bemoans the uber-democritization of knowledge in which the common man no longer defers to the expert because he believes himself equally qualified regardless of his level of education on any given topic. We, today, are subject to “a crazed egocentricity brought about by self-satisfied egalitarianism and know-nothing libertarianism…. The result is aggressive disdain for anyone who would presume to know more than anyone else.”
Finally, in “#republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media”, Cass Sunstein describes the danger of the echo chambers in which we have cloistered ourselves. “The ability to customise our informational environment, delivered by social media, makes it less likely that citizens will come across information that would change their minds or have chance encounters with perspectives different from their own.”
After such a thoughtful exploration of the causes for the crisis of civility and communication, the question remains – what are we going to do about it? We at Common Party have a few ideas on the subject. What about you – leave a comment and let us know how you think we can all be less “mean and stupid” and make sure it doesn’t get any worse.
To read Armstrong’s article, click here, or click on the image above.
Marc Erlbaum, Contributor