Thursday, November 29, 2007

Consensus Reality

Okay, so this isn't going to be exciting, but I've got to mention a few things about the Internet that I still can't get my head around. These aren't complaints, but they are things that bewilder me and which I wonder if it's worth thinking about.

First, one good thing on the Internet- The Sartorialist.

Now for the weird things. I think the first would be the sort of ''consensus reality'' that the net creates. It seems to me that, if you're a person who believes that a third of all people are Martians in disguise, something about everyday social life will force you to realize that this is a minority opinion. But, I think with the Internet it's easier to find a whole lot of people who also believe that 33 percent of all people are Martians and become convinced that this is an opinion whose legitimacy is growing and whose time has come.

For example, I recently read a Zogby poll stating that 78 percent of Americans questioned believe that global warming is a problem that should be addressed as soon as possible. Now, of course, we all know how unreliable polls can be for determining anything. Yet I was gobsmacked by that survey because I had gotten the impression from reading blogs, message boards, and the like that roughly 70 percent of Americans firmly believe that ''global warming is a hoax perpetrated by algore and those asshole liberal climate scientists to take away our cars.'' In other words, I had fallen for a consensus reality that doesn't really exist in the real world.

Secondly, I've noticed that I myself avoid commenting on certain articles due to the tone of the other comments. Here's a funny, interesting article about something called ''Islamofascism Awareness Week'' by Scott McLemee. I don't entirely agree with his points, but I was tempted to comment on them and join the discussion. The I read the comments that are already there... Do you notice anything strange about those comments? Well, for one thing, none of them actually address the arguments made in the article. Oh, they discuss things like the evils of capitalism, whether Scott McLemee wants to surrender to terrorists, the genetic basis of evil, Stalinism, quite a bit on self-criticism within Islam, and even school busing; they're often very interesting in themselves, and a few come within spitting distance of the actual article. But they never actually respond to his points in any serious way. In many cases, you wonder if they even read the article at all.

So, I decided to sit that one out. What's the point? And, look, my point isn't to say that these people are stupid, because they're clearly not. But I wonder if there isn't another sort of consensus effect that comes from all of us lurkers who keep quiet because we don't think anyone else will care to listen.


Holly said...

Sad to say, you've probably hit on the consequence of reductions in genuine literacy. People read a headline, and believe they have apprehended the entire substance of the content. That's why most of the major news outlets regularly post REALLY EXCITING HEADLINES that link to something else entirely, or nothing at all. They believe that no one cares, or notices, and in many cases that is probably true.

I keep seeing rising statistics about women and abortions in the U.S., and it reminds me of the scene in Closet Land, where there's a piped-in voice reading statistics, and it eventually says something like "110% of women who wear black underwear are whores"...

Holly said...

ps, I made the mistake of going to the Islamophobofascism thing and reading comments. Second comment: Hitler & the Nazis. That officially renders the conversation over.

Rufus said...

Yeah, I might have been wrong in expecting closer readers on a higher ed website. That's probably an unjustified stereotype anyway.

I also get the feeling that a lot of people walk around with a handful of second hand arguments that they can't wait to interject into conversations. We all repeat our same old stories and opinions to some extent, but I hope I pay attention as well.

Hitler seems to be the beginning and end of some people's historical knowledge.

Ah, fuck it, dude. Let's go bowling.