“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
The more power of knowledge that people are given, it seems, the less they can handle the responsibility.
Reviewing the Facebook chatter on a sick day home from work on a blustery Friday, and I notice one relative of mine is arguing at me about something politically patently false, using English that is barely decipherable.
But even more startling is the new rumor rippling across my screen and through the feeds worldwide: Katy Perry, the buxom pop singer, is really Jon Benet Ramsay, the dead child pageant queen. The logistics are impossible, the conclusion is laughable. But people are actually talking about this, and believing it. It ain’t just the trolls banging away at Cold War keyboards in frozenmost Siberia.
Flat Earth Truthers achieved the same level of virality earlier this year. A rapper starts insulting one of the most visible scientists of our time, claiming that the truth is that the world has always been flat, and you can fall off its side. (I don’t know if this person has taken a flight to tour internationally). It could have been a publicity stunt, but it was pretty convincing – and people vociferously backed him and his “right to free speech.”
Around the start of this new annus mirabilis, people drunk on eggnog spent ten hours watching a documentary about a criminal case in Wisconsin, called “Making a Murderer.” They immediately leapt to their keyboards and started crusading for “justice” – ignoring the fact that a jury and lawyers had spent years reaching a conclusion of the case, and that their Internet sleuthing was a bit less rigorous.
And it’s the same thing as the people who are politically furious in this country, who demand things that cannot be done with the system we have set up over more than 200 years to keep from killing one another – short of dissolving that system utterly.
Ignorance is strength, to borrow Orwell’s maxim. If you believe something hard enough, and you go deep enough in the Google search results, you can make anything possible and justifiable, despite the reality staring you dead in the eyes. You can shut out all the other voices, you can customize what your truth is – even if it’s complete and utter bullshit.
People potentially carry an entire civilization of truth, knowledge and discovery in their pockets, in tiny devices that link them to the rest of the world with the push of a button. The processing power is literally incredible. But it’s made clear the limitations of the other processor involved: the human brain.