[ExI] Are Social Media to blame for USA political hatreds?

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Wed Oct 14 20:55:16 UTC 2020

On Sun, Oct 11, 2020 at 11:10 PM William Flynn Wallace via
extropy-chat <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:
> Well, none of us is unfamiliar with the confirmation bias.  That is the main
> result of Facebook's giving people what Facebook thinks they want:  more
> of the same.

I bet people would seek that on their own. Facebook, etc. simply makes
it easier and takes much of it out of the hands of the user. But I do
wonder if in previous times there wasn't more friction between one's
personal bubble and those of others. Of course, it might be that many
have lived through a special time -- the time of mass media where most
people got information from a few centralized sources regardless of
their preferences. Before that, there would be local bubbles because
of geography, class, and economics and, after it, there's our time.

> Another factor that should, but seemingly does not play a big role:  skepticism.
> The bigger the difference between and among news sources should cause us
> to be more skeptical than usual, and maybe that is what people like us do -
> people trained in being careful about concluding anything based on contradictory data.

Well, a fundamental problem is news if it's up to date should be full
of errors anyhow. A friend of a friend who's a journalist repeated the
old saw to me that the 'news is the first draft of history,' and I
repeated back to him what Hemingway supposedly said about first
drafts: they're shit. :)

Add to this, news is infotainment. Read the works of Neil Postman, for
instance. News rarely gives us much in the way of knowledge and mainly
tries to keep your attention. This explains why bad news and conflict
are the usual fare regardless of the state of the world. (Is violent
crime increasing, decreasing, or the same? Watching the news will
almost never give the impression it's decreasing -- even though it did
from the mid-1990s until about 2015 or so. In fact, that should've
been the big news of the 1990s.)

> The more I read about the polarization of opinions, the more I think epistemology
> ought to be taught as early as possible in schools.  Scientists think differently.
> I wrote on Quora about arrogance the other day:  I mentioned Einstein, who was
> very careful, almost timid, about his theories. Tentative.  Just the way one should
> be with startling new ideas.  Bohr as well.  Newton said that he stood on the
> shoulders of giants.  Scientists, mathematicians and others close to these fields
> think in ways that the average person does not, but should.  Teach ways of thinking
> and believing in schools.

Darwin would be a really good model here, especially since he
tirelessly documented criticism of his ideas and tried to answer them.
Of course, that wouldn't fly too well with many school boards in the
US. And therein lies the rub. In the US, many people don't seem to
want their kids (or any kids for that matter) to be taught to think in
ways that might bring Christianity or history or American traditions
and exceptionalism under scrutiny.

It's also not like this hasn't been tried before. I used to read up
more on education reform and there've been attempts for over a century
now to reform schooling to make better students or -- gasp! -- better
citizens. (Gasp on the latter because the US public school system was
partly put in place to homogenize the students immersing them in a
national culture the elites preferred -- not to make them independent
thinkers or any such nonsense.)

> Spike might enlighten us on how to go to school board meetings, which I assume
> are open, and have some influence on what is taught.

One thing I noticed when I was in grade school was that teachers, in
general, didn't like to be challenged. Nor did they readily admit
error. Sometimes this seemed along the lines of they were teaching
materials aimed at a test and that any deviation from that was a waste
of time. In which case, a premium isn't put on being curious or
critical -- or at least only curious or critical in a very limited

By the time I was in high school, and a tiny bit more knowledgeable
about the world, I also noticed almost all teachers didn't have a
degree in what they taught. The two exceptions that I recall were a
biology teacher and a math teacher. They both had degrees in their
field in addition to whatever was required to become a teacher. This
might not be a big worry. After all, people can learn much without a
degree and nothing stops a teacher from simply reading journals, doing
online research, and the like to keep up with what they're teaching.
(And there's also a difference between teaching the rudiments of a
field -- say, getting some basic physics concepts down like classical
physics at a simple level -- and knowing the cutting edge and teaching
that. The latter might hinder many beginners who don't have enough
background to understand major controversies or the cutting edge of a
field. Also, there's simply too much to master and learn. My
background is in math, but there are huge swathes of mathematics that
I don't really understand and probably wouldn't even if I pursued an
advanced degree and were working in the field. It's simply too big a
field for any one person to know all about much less to help others
learn about.)


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