By Mel Harkrader Pine
The New York Times op-ed article below uses the controversy over Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker’s recent eight-minute talk as evidence that social media is making us dumber. The Daily Wire, on the other hand, blames the “idiot left” for getting Pinker’s message messed up.
While I agree that idiocy is a fair term for the controversy, the right also had a hand in generating the flap. But I don’t blame social media, either. As someone famous once said: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars…” I blame tribalism, or maybe the sub-tribalism writer Jesse Singal mentions in the Times article.
Here’s the story: Pinker made the not-very-startling assertion that facts need context. If there are facts that can’t be spoken on campus (gender differences, for example, or racial disparities in crime rates) because of left-leaning political correctness, then students may be surprised when they learn them and recruited into the alt-right.
He also said some smart and media-savvy people gravitate to the alt-right.
That led to Pinker’s being hailed as a hero by the right and as a traitor by the left. True, selective editing of the video contributed to the distortion of his message, but it would have taken only eight minutes to hear what he really had to say. Not listening to it, and not making an effort to understand his point, is where the idiocy comes in.
His argument applies in our liberal religions, too. If we can’t cite facts, we also can’t provide a loving context for them. Consider whether his talk might be relevant to your church.
Copyright 2018 © Mel Harkrader Pine
The problem with facts and context is that it interferes with the ability to immediately characterize something. We are engaged, as a society, in a “rush to judgement” on everything. There is a need to immediately make a call – acceptable or not? Learning the context makes it more difficult to make this quick judgement.
For instance, I am most supportive politically of policies which increase jobs for American citizens. This leads me to oppose illegal immigration. When I mention this to others, the immediate reaction is to call me a racist, for various reasons which are factually incorrect. Rather than asking “what is the long-term impact of a policy?”, today the policy is considered for 10 seconds, it is placed into a bin (“racist”/”not racist”) and the person making the comment is considered (“OK”/”not OK”).
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I don’t completely blame social media, but I do think Facebook and Twitter have made our attention spans shorter. So people don’t want to take the time anymore to read or listen for context–we want our information presented to us in simple sound bites. It’s a sad–and dangerous–way to live.
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That is certainly true. In addition, Twitter certainly and FB to a degree make the context impossible to consider. You cannot indicate the facts which change the interpretation of an event in a 288 char tweet. And with FB, while you can link, FB conceals this and forces you to click “additional text” or such.
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