I have been thinking this morning about the internet and how it allows everyone who so desires to find a group of like minded people who will never challenge his or her pet beliefs.
So, if one happens to think the sky is not typically blue, but forest green, one can with ease find at least a few thousand others who share the same belief. Somedays, I even suspect no one today is any longer capable of coming up with an idea — no matter how off the wall that idea is — that cannot find a following on the internet. That is, the internet has made it very easy to be both grossly wrong and have a like-minded support group too.
Of course, the ability to isolate oneself from dissent — from any reality checks — is not a new thing. Nor is it a new thing to be able to find a support group of like-minded people. Yet, today, the internet has made it easy to do both. And, because doing both has become much easier, doing both has become more likely.
Support groups are important because, among other reasons, people in support groups routinely feed off each other. Like sports fans, they can feed off each other’s enthusiasm. And, they can also feed off each other’s ideas. They can ramp each other up.
In the absence of any reality checks from dissent, someone with a bad idea and a support group can easily go from, “The sky is forest green”, to “The sky is forest green and in it live elves”, to “The eternal and unchanging sky is forest green and in it live elves”, and so on. There seems to be no limit.
Truth is not universally important to most of us. (Perhaps ironically, believing we know the truth is nevertheless crucially important to most of us.) Instead of being universally important, it is merely locally important: Typically, we have areas of our lives in which we are careful to establish truths, and other areas in which we are more or less indifferent to truths. The same person who believes the sky is forest green might be a complete realist when it comes to driving a car.
I suspect that, when establishing the truth is really not important to us, we tend to choose our “truths” according to their entertainment value, or by the pleasure they give us, or by whether we find them otherwise in some way rewarding. If that’s indeed the case, then in the future will we see a world in which nearly everyone has an internet support group for his or her half dozen or so bad ideas?