5 Human Flaws That Prevent Progress and Keep Us Dumb
Look, we all have the same dream: building giant spaceships and living out among the stars, playing zero-gravity beer pong until the universe ends. It's not gonna be easy. It's gonna take a bunch of risks and hard work. But once we're out there, drunkenly giggling as our friends try to vomit into a zero-G toilet, we'll know it was worth it. The problem is that we've erected all these barriers between ourselves and new ideas, so anytime someone tosses a ping-pong ball of knowledge at the floating beer-sphere that is our brain, we open our mouths and spit out a bunch of confused chimpanzees, frantically batting the ideas away and squeaking like a bunch of lunatics.
Those chimps are a metaphor. A metaphor for things like ...
Assuming It's All About Us
It ain't no secret: The Internet loves getting angry. Whether it's over human rights violations, bad movie reviews, or people who say video games are racist, the entire Internet loves to get its rage-pistons a-pumpin', except really it's just those last two, isn't it? Movies and video games make people really mad; real-world inequality makes people want to go to rallies and pick up trendy new Facebook profile pictures.
"Global problems are my favorite type of social gathering."
Of course I'm generalizing. A lot of people out there genuinely do care about real issues, and a lot of the "angry" Internet comments about how racist or not-racist The Jungle Book is are just in good fun, but it's weird that I can so easily compare the two types of rage. I have no idea how to objectively measure this (are any of you scientists? Can you science this for me?), but if one is more common than the other, it's not by much.
Why? Because one of those things seems like it's about us. If someone tells me that they don't like my favorite movie, then it's easy to ignore it, but if they tell me that my favorite movie is stupid, I can't help but feel like they're saying I'm stupid for liking it. It's a natural response, because I'm kind of a narcissist. But then it gets even worse if they think my favorite movie is racist, because being racist is even worse than being stupid. Ever hear the term "SJW"? It means "social justice warrior," and it refers specifically to people who point out racism or sexism in movies, video games, and other pop culture. Those people are considered worse than other types of critics because instead of just pointing out that a movie has flaws, they're accusing people who like it of being awful.
Except they're not, of course. If someone points out that the alternator belt in your car is slipping, they're not accusing you of being some kind of mustache-twirling, white cat-stroking supervillain for having car problems. They're not accusing you of anything. They're talking about your fucking car.
Then who is the bad guy? Well ...
Looking for a Bad Guy (When There Isn't One)
OK, if we're not the assholes just for liking something terrible, then who is? The people who made it for us? Yeah, probably! Fuck those guys! They're trying to turn us dumb! Let's murder all of them!
See? They're all still smiling. Rallies are just really fun, man.
No. It turns out that just like how something isn't necessarily your fault, it also isn't necessarily anyone's fault -- but even though no one is at fault, it's still a freaking problem. As I've pointed out before, racist video games aren't racist because people who make games are KKK spies who've infiltrated the industry; it's because appealing to racism is a lazy and effective way to make your game work, but even though it's not an evil plot, it's still shitty. Systemic poverty and oppression aren't necessarily the fault of rich people, who were just acting with the combination of skill and luck that their characters rolled in the great tabletop game of life, but it's still shitty. Hell, even climate change, which is fucking up our planet, isn't the fault of everyone in the past hundred years who polluted or drove a car, because the majority of them either didn't have any concept of what they were doing or didn't have any options.
"Now that we got our food donations, we can afford a $41,000 hybrid SUV to reduce our carbon footprint!"
Of course there are bad people in the world who put their own well-being ahead of literally everyone else, but they're pretty rare. The even scarier reality is that most of the terrible shit in this world isn't any one person's fault, it's just a combination of complacency and sheer bad luck. But those things are still shitty, and we still have to work to fix them, or we're all gonna be killed by climate change and racist video games (some of these problems are bigger than others).
Finding One Irrelevant Flaw and Dismissing the Whole Thing
Think about the last article you read online that made you angry -- if you're anything like me, it was about how terrible the upcoming Power Rangers movie is going to be and incorrectly identified Kimberly the Pink Ranger as having a relationship with Tommy the Green Ranger when Kimberly's heart has always belonged to me. In fact, that lapse in logic was so egregious that I was unable to read further.
In a fit of rage, I forgot how to use chairs.
That didn't really happen, and that article doesn't really exist, but it illustrates an important point about how our brain works: We are way more picky about ideas we don't like than ideas we do. If the article had been about how the new Power Rangers movie is going to rock (it totally is, you guys), then I would've forgiven the author for not knowing about my relationship with Kimberly because, after all, it only existed in my brain. And even if he could see inside my brain, I was like 8 at the time and my understanding of sex probably wouldn't have been recognizable as anything like sex. Ha! I was so naive.
Not like today. Today, I totally know what sex is.
The Man made me blur it out, but you and I both know what's going on there.
This is pretty irrelevant when applied to stupid movie reboots of stupid '90s TV shows, but think about how creationists talk about evolution, or stupid people talk about climate change: They find a tiny, irrelevant weakness ("Climate change is just a theory!" or "Bananas exist!") and use it as an excuse to ignore the whole idea. This kind of gut reaction non-thinking is having a real impact. And if we don't catch ourselves doing it, we'll end up ...
Arguing on the Internet
It seems like the greatest advantage the Internet age has over the long-lost days of print is that writers can now interact with their readers. Back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, if you read something wrong or that you disagreed with in the newspaper, your only recourse was to either write the editor a letter that they may or may not ever actually see or quietly seethe out your rage in your living room, perhaps while smoking a Sherlock Holmes pipe made out of a velociraptor skull (I am so, so bad at history). But these days, it's easy to just post a comment -- even if the discussion becomes a rage-spittle-filled frolic through the halls of murder-threats, adding more views to a discussion always makes it better, right?
Just like how playing rock music over an orchestra means even more music.
No, because reading angry comments actually makes you dumber, and as if that wasn't bad enough, listening to people complain also makes you dumb. If you read an article about Power Rangers (I seriously can't believe they're doing that, it's going to be so rad, you guys), it doesn't matter what you believed or what it says. Angry comments, whether you agree with them or not, make your brain get stuck: You become either more stubbornly wrong or more obnoxiously right. It turns out that the worst part of picking a fight online isn't, ya know, the fact that you end up fighting online; it's that you're ruining the conversation for absolutely everyone else.
Am I saying that all comments are terrible? God, no, of course not. Nothing is always terrible, except a bottle of scotch that you paid less than $25 for (depending on what state you live in). But if you flip out in comments and type angry words at the author or other readers, yes, you're actually making the world a worse place, please stop.
We're all counting on you.
Thinking That Human Nature Is Easier to Change Than Anything Else
Whenever you hear people complain about the rise in divorce rates, the assumption is always that it's a problem with "people these days." Typifying the issue (I went to college) is the un-relationshipping of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who have the gall to call their "divorce" (which is such an ugly word) a "conscious uncoupling" (which sounds like something I'd be told to do during an acid trip). Due in no small part to the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow is, ya know, who she is, the idea of "conscious uncoupling" has become yet another hilarious joke in the punchline of her existence, and another indicator that love is dead, because modern people are a bunch of divorce-happy roustabouts without an ounce of integrity coursing through their drug-addled, whippersnappery veins.
It's another "people these days" problem, which is a helpful phrase because it indicates that the person speaking hasn't put any fucking thought into what they're saying. The reason people are the way they are is, at least partly, because of the society they grew up in, and marriage itself is a huge part of that. So is marriage the reason for divorce? Ha! Kinda. Or maybe rising divorce rates have less to do with the fact that people these days suck and more to do with the fact that people are outliving their relationships.
"No passing judgment unless you've also spent 40 years fucking only one person."
Once upon a time, people got married, had kids, and then their bodies died from the exhaustion of getting married and having kids. But these days we have penicillin and Red Bull, so we're living for-goddamn-ever. Some relationships just aren't standing the test of time, not because they're bad relationships, but because the time-test just had a hell of a difficulty spike. That's not a bad thing, it's just a thing. But marriage has been about "till death do you part" for so long that we've decided it would be easier to change unhappy people than it would be to change the institution of marriage -- even though we originally came up with marriage to be a thing that made people happy. So maybe we should start letting people have more than one long-term relationship in their life without labeling all but the last one as "failed."
What's this belabored point I'm getting to? The idea of "conscious uncoupling" is the most insanely fine thing I've ever heard of. I can't even conceive of a perspective that makes it bad, aside from the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow is using it.