Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Rise of the Gutless

Every new thing, idea, work of art - everything - is hated, disliked or opposed by someone.

Everyone has their reasons or excuses for their opposition to their thing of choice, but it seems to me that in the howling wilderness of the online world, and increasingly in what used to be "main-stream" media, the well-reasoned middle ground is disappearing. The extremes of the spectrum get all of the airtime; reasoned debate and examination of the evidence are drowned out in the din. Every issue must be seen as a clash of ideological opposites, a faux "balance", if you like, that results in a news-tainment format of people shouting at each other on the TV, twitter sniping, and wars of words carried out in the battlefield of the blogosphere. And the bitterness becomes an echo chamber. The comments on blogs and media sites, and the re-tweeting of loyal followers create little ecosystems of groupthink. Isolated bunkers of closed minds.

An overload of information, and more importantly misinformation, results in an unconscious filtering. Have you ever noticed how in comment threads or conversations, the preponderance of links and quoted "facts" seem to support the contention being posited? And the corollary is that if you find a site promoting an alternate view, you find a similar situation in mirror-image? With the adjunct of supporting sites linking to each other as sources, it becomes a technological version of the circular argument. On both sides, but nobody seems to be reading the other side.

There appears to be no time for reasoned debate any more. On any issue, a position must be staked out early, and defended unto death. This is not decisive; in most cases it is a knee-jerk of ideology. In the political sphere, this usually takes the form "the other side is fur it, so I must be agin' it". My party right or wrong.

Which leads me to the rise of the gutless. In politics, in public debate in general. It is not a weakness to have a change of mind - to be swayed by reason and evidence. It is similarly not a weakness to wait a while to stand by a decision while alternatives are analysed and investigated. It is not a weakness to admit you are in error. However, this is almost universally not the perspective today. But even worse, it is assumed to be courageous to never admit "I don't know".

And so as not to be seen to be "weak", the gutless stand by a staked out position, assailed by evidence and argument, and call it courage. They plant their flag, then retreat to the bunker, impervious to the world, with their echo chamber secure inside resonating with reassuring sounds of how right we are and hang the rest.

I think it is alright to not know. As long you keep an open mind, listen to reason and evidence, you may one day know. Or not. It is fine to change your mind, to be swayed by the power of argument and debate. It is fine to stand by your decision, too. But you need to know your biases and your reasons.

I think the world needs to slow down a bit and think. Then talk. Then think again. It has to be better than just shouting, at ever increasing volume.


  1. It used to be mostly the religious types that were like this but these days, intelligent TV, radio etc has nearly disappeared from Aussie TV. It's certainly disappeared from American TV. They are catering to the loudest voices which are usually the lowest common denominator.

  2. @Dana

    Yes, the shoutocracy has arrived. No discussion, no real debate. Just stating your point, and then stating it again at greater volume. Of course, it is a mutation of the political process of making up the day's talking points, and stating them over and over, irrespective of the question.