Let the Idiot Speak!

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This morning I came across an article reporting Facebook’s sudden about face on the matter of whether Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan.  The established narrative was that this debunked, a wild conspiracy theory, and thus the social media giant took it upon themselves to protect us from this misinformation. 

Had you posted some speculation about the possible man-made origin of the pandemic prior to this it is likely it would be demoted by Facebook’s algorithms or removed entirely from the platform.  This, like questions about the election results or the Biden laptop scandal, deemed to be fake news by Big Tech monopolies, present a prime examples of why I oppose all censorship.

Their supposedly independent fact-checkers, who somehow never found the time to flag some false claims (including the Russian collusion narrative, that ‘kids in cages’ started with the last administration, and the myth that Trump praised white supremacists), somehow instantly debunked the New York Post’s big scoop in the weeks prior to the election.

Of course, the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, did issue an apology for this “total mistake” and yet long after it could impact the election.

All this to say that, no matter your politics or perspectives, these Silicon Valley elites did a rather poor job of playing impartial arbiters of truth and really can’t be trusted to police the national conversation.  Sure, maybe it was an honest effort, confirmation bias can make a fool of the best of us, they were relying on the experts, yada yada, but clearly they can be wrong and can be wrong again.

Wisdom of the Crowds

A few months back I had planned to write a blog on an interesting phenomenon called wisdom of the crowds.  

In an experiment, Sir Francis Galton, a statistician, had the visitors to a country fair guess the weight of a dressed ox.  He also had some experts independently assess the weight.  Many of the non-expert guesses were wild and yet, when taken collectively, as a mean average, do you know who came out on top?

That’s right!  

The crowd beat the experts and actually came within 1% of the true weight of the slaughtered animal.

Now this wisdom, when manipulated, say by someone claiming to know the weight, is no longer accurate.  And this is not to be dismissive of expertise.  There is certainly a place for doctors, lawyers and engineers, professionals, those who have spent years in careful study or ‘know the math’ so to speak.

Still, maybe just maybe we should rethink this idea that some kind of central body, especially in matters of partisan politics, should have complete control over what information is or is not fit for public consumption.  I mean, do you really believe that smart people are immune to things like group think, that there’s no echo chamber or chance that they miss something in their ‘expert’ analysis?

It is absolutely fact that well-educated people can get things wrong.  Remember that deadly collapse of a bridge under construction in Florida, someone in the FAA approved the 737 Max to fly before it was grounded after two plunged killing all board, surgeons sometimes remove the wrong leg and there’s a good reason malpractice insurance exists. 

Even the best of us make mistakes.  Add political agenda to the mix and there can be tremendous blindspots.  

A friend of mine suffers from a rare genetic disorder.  But it had gone misdiagnosed for years.  A local hospital even refusing to consider the possibility of a genetic cause by running tests.  Well, it turns out, a relative of his, a layperson, reading in publication about someone with the same disorder, put two and two together, my friend finally demanded the tests and that is likely the only reason he’s alive.

So why, again, should we blindly trust a small team of experts when we can open it up to the entire crowd?

Let the Idiots Speak!

One of the things that bugs me most about the whole censorship regime is that truth can come from complete idiots.  Yes, I get tired of crackpot conspiracy theories, critical thinking often seems to be in very short supply, and yet I would rather have the open conversation than to arrogantly assume that the unwashed masses have nothing of value to contribute.

First of all, as previously discussed, the established ‘expert’ consensus can be wrong.  The problem with experts is that they often have a very narrow focus and rely on other experts rather than research everything for themselves.  So, in other words, incorrect knowledge can be repeated over and over again, taken as fact, because everyone trusts their colleagues too much and sometimes, even after peer review uncovers the error, the myth persists.

For example, the Lancet, a renown medical journal, was forced to retract a study they published that came out against use of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment option.  How this got past their editors is anyone’s guess, but this shows the danger of relying too heavily on a few experts.

Second, idiots, being less knowledgeable, can be at an advantage as far as telling the truth as they see it.  Confirmation bias, as it turns out, is something that plagues the intelligent or those who are more able to rationalize their way around the problems with their perspective.  It is far less likely that an idiot will come up with wrong (yet plausible sounding) explanation which sways public policy in the wrong direction—like a PhD college professor could.

Third, children, who are idiots due to their lack of education, are less prone to functional fixedness, they often speak in an unfiltered way and have a fresh perspective that should be heard.  The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes describes this well, the child in the tale didn’t know what they weren’t supposed to say and blurted out the truth that the socially pressured adults refused to see.

So, in conclusion, the established ‘truth’ can be wrong, the child (or unsophisticated mind) can sometimes see through the knowledge others have, and therefore we should allow all to speak no matter how stupid they sound to us.  No, that doesn’t mean we should let the idiots lead or ignore the experts, but there is great danger in shutting even their incorrect and sometimes offensive ideas out of the conversation.

At the very least, nobody is safe when the tyrant king murders the court jester.  When the idiots can be silenced it won’t be very long before the powerful begin to use the label “idiot” for anyone challenging their authority, including you, and who will dare to speak up for you after that?

A Tempest in a Coffee Cup?

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One may think from the news coverage that Christians are out, torches and pitchforks in hand, looking for coffee shops to burn.  The story is that Starbucks isn’t exploiting Christmas enough and this lack of proper capitalization for a profit of holiday has offended the sentiments of the unwashed religionist hoards.

This fury seems to have originated with a humorous poke at a bland Starbucks holiday cup design.  It was escalated by a fuddy-duddy blowhard extraordinaire (aka Joshua Feuerstein) who, apparently not seeing the joke, posted a video that urged a movement to trick hapless minions of secularism (aka Starbucks employees) into saying Merry Christmas.

And, since then—like that bar fight where nobody knows which drunken idiot started it or why they are fighting to begin with—the story of angry Christians has exploded into a media fiasco.  But strangely the two main characters in this brawl do not seem to exist as much more than mythological creatures and that has led some to wonder if the whole ordeal is a fabrication.

Where are these offended Christians?

In my cadre of conservative Christian social media commentating friends, I have yet to see one who is offended by the Starbucks design.  In fact, of my coreligionist friends voicing an opinion, I have observed two main camps:

1) The Apologists, or those annoyed by other Christians who are offended by Starbucks cups and have taken to social media to scold these theoretical entitlement-minded embarrassments to the Christian cause.

2) The Sanctimonious, or those who are suspicious that this controversy is created by the liberal irreligious media and take their high horse to condemn those annoyed as being pawns in this imagined nefarious plot.

Then there’s one last group made of non-religious friends:

3) The Amused, or those who watch with a little gleefulness, are not overly suspicious of the media and have little trouble imagining Christians that feel they are entitled to special treatment or would become outraged over something as silly as Starbucks cup.

My own opinion is that the whole thing has gotten blown out of proportion.  It has likely only gained traction because we are already accustomed to the cultural wars that take place over issues similar to this.  There is usually a skirmish or two this time of year (whether arguing for and against nativity scenes or some other cultural expressions of Christianity) and this has primed our pumps to expect it.

I also do contend, again, that Joshua Feuerstein represents a small segment of the general Christian population.  There’s always those who are perpetually offended on behalf of their own tribe (look at the Halloween costume controversy at Yale and the chaos at Mizzou as examples) and yet whether or not these outspoken activists represent much more than themselves is an open question.  My own anecdotal evidence suggests that those outraged by the cups are, at the most, a fringe element even amongst fundamentalists.

What’s with the media coverage, anyhow?

If one wants to study the interplay of the media echo chamber and social media viral phenomena they should start here.  There seems to be a positive feedback loop at work in this where a one-man movement on YouTube, picked up by the mainstream media, was then sifted through the amplifier of social media and each step promoting more to add their own opinions.  This has gone through several cycles of growing in magnitude.  Even Donald Trump weighed in suggesting a boycott of the mermaid logo brand.

I do not think this is a media reporting this ‘controversy’ is a coordinated attempt to discredit Christians.  Professional journalists are not any different from the rest of us and will report on what is the latest buzz as we do.  In the age of social media the feedback loop is faster and the amplification quicker than ever.  By the time people start breathing again, we all feel a bit duped and start to wonder how the insanity got started.

Newsflash: All news is manufactured!

And, furthermore, we all participate in manufacturing news when we share about events that interest us.  We present a product of our own perspective whenever we tell other people about anything.  As a professional news reporter, we also select the facts we believe are relevant and omit those that seem inconsequential.  We carefully craft our words to reach our target audience and create a narrative based in our own worldview.

The adage “if it bleeds it leads” holds generally true.  We are drawn to controversy and this latest fracas over Starbucks cups has struck a cord or we wouldn’t be talking about it.  There are evidently enough perpetually outraged Christians like Feuerstein to make a premise of widespread butthurt believable.  He may be a crude caricature of us, but there’s a reason that he’s not taken as parody and that’s likely because he’s representative of a type of person we know does exist.

My decaffeinated analysis of the issue…

Yet, the bigger story is that most people (Christian and secular alike) are seemingly more offended by the controversy itself than the plain red cups that started it.  So maybe we should be careful not to get too carried away in our own outrage over the outrage that may or may not be an outrage at all.  There are plenty of people sharing dumb opinions (Bill Nye on abortion for example) and this is probably a good reason to reserve judgment until the facts are spoken.

Anyhow, for the record, the only problem I have with Starbucks is the inferior quality of their brackish liquid.  I prefer my coffee with milk, sugar, in a Dunkin Donuts cup and agnostic.  If that offends you, then please, by all means, do complain and start a movement or something—I will sip away amused as my blog views climb.

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)