“Get your facts straight.”
“Wealthy uneducated ignorant prick behind a keyboard.”
“wtf is hARD TO DO BASIC RESEARCH.”
These are a few accusations (by no means an exhaustive list) sent my way within a two-hour timeframe of posting for Being Libertarian. I’m not lamenting, or griping, or even angry over the state of affairs. I’m not going to resign myself to some smug superiority by claiming that it comes with the territory – because occasionally I really do get some things wrong (also, because of debate and the reality of newsfeed presentations, hateful comments grow the page more than passive pleasantries so I’m glad people say these things). I will only modestly state that it is interesting.
I will say that I find it an intriguing phenomenon to assume that someone who disagrees with us is ignorant, it’s not entirely a phenomenon I’ve been immune from, either.
Thomas Hobbes prophesied the entire political debate on the internet when he wrote:
“For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.”
We have full access to our own intellect and merely snippets of insight into someone else’s intelligence. When we encounter the opinion of someone else that differs from our own, we see the foundation of our own opinion and readily understand its strength. When we hear the contrary opinion, we don’t necessarily see the depth of understanding that went into forming it.
Perhaps there was no depth. Perhaps the person has no understanding. Perhaps the insulting internet poster is correct. From an anecdotal perspective, in areas I know well – finance and philosophy – most people who hold strong opinions don’t have much substance. I believe it was Thomas Sowell who said that the average person who thinks the corporate tax rate should be raised, couldn’t actually tell you what the corporate tax rates are.
Or perhaps there is depth. It’s difficult to know in advance of asking.
There’s a further added dilemma. As is the case with an unpopular religious view, or an unpopular political view, we necessarily believe ourselves to be in possession of some special knowledge that the rest of society lacks, and we probably further believe that the rest of society is in desperate need of this knowledge. We say to ourselves that if only a random member of society had this additional information, they would think as I do. Therefore the psychological predisposition for those of us in esoteric communities is to assume other people are ignorant and because we generally believe their ignorance is harmful, we get frustrated with it.
The internet has become the bringing into being for Myth of Gyges – myth has become fact. What a person would do with the power of invisibility has been answered with what a person would do with the power of anonymity. I’ve noticed the conversations friends have are much more civil, even on controversial topics, than conversations on pages where the interlocutors are strangers, who will never meet.
There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth being aggressive on. Being Libertarian regularly advocates for non-aggression, not pacifism. The only question I’d raise on this is whether or not our perception of someone else’s poor acumen is a worthwhile cause, leading to tearing them down. If not, let’s adhere to call for civility in discussion, and potentially learn from one another.
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