Is a little bit of knowledge worse than none at all?

Just a quick post for today to sum up something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since first brooding over the term ‘NPR-American.’

Is it worse for a person to be a little bit informed than to be not informed at all? I ask this because I keep seeing and having interactions with people who are extremely confident in quite questionable if not blatantly myopic views whose confidents stems from a certainty that they are well informed people. Anti-vaxxers are the most obvious form of this (a group whose danger I called back in 2010), but that is almost too obvious now. Other groups would be NPR listening zeitgeist-chasing people who criticize foreign countries for having state-run news services without any acknowledgement as to what most media they consume is. An intense irony considering that the entire self-conception of NPR people seems to be being a kind of critical thinking cultural elite who is objectively informed about the world. Point out examples of them being low information voters and they will rage like you attacked their mother. Cable news and mass entertainment consoomers often believe themselves to be informed on the truth or at least able to make inferences about it despite being monstrously ill-equipped to do so. The disaffected, who I am normally sympathetic to, proportionally tend to slide into bizarre extremes that range from unproductive to downright insane.

Is this worse than the honesty of sheer ignorance? There is something to be said for the incurious who say ‘not my problem’ or ‘nothing can be done about it anyway.’ But those who aggressively try to insert themselves into discussions without doing the requisite learning to contribute as anything but a Rush Limbaugh ‘dittohead’ circa 1998 are dragging everyone, ignorant and learned, down alike.

To my knowledge, the phrase ‘Low Information Voter’ first became popularized in the Bush Administration, when Karl ‘Turd Blossom‘ Rove (the only member of that crew who did his job successfully) said he was explicitly appealing to such people with emotional buzzwords and knee jerk social, religious, and jingoistic causes. Democrats immediately latched on to the admission as proving the GOP was for stupid people (correct) but quickly showed themselves to be just as happy to engage in the same behavior with the rise of their own inverted form of evangelism, Russiagate, and ‘muh norms and decorums’ during the late Obama years on through the present. Guess they were for stupid people too.

Needless to say, if you believe that culture war largely exists to whip up mobs against each other (and redirect them away from actual centers of powers) as I do, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Low Information Voter is probably the single most anti-intellectual, politically dangerous, and all around miasmic segment of the modern public. Utterly mindless products of the media they consume, they amplify the most odious and corrupt establishment interests and do so without even drawing a paycheck. Their confidence and aggressive insistence on inserting themselves in discussions they are not equipped to handle does almost much damage to civil society as neoliberal austerity or the unchecked growth of the mass surveillance state. And the solution cannot simply be just more education, as the continual ideologically imposed rot of higher education is likely to make more of these people. The more that go through a university system that has given up all pretenses at being anything but an establishment laundering mill the more of this phenomenon will occur.

So we are left with some questions moving forward:

How can engagement with public issues be taken out of a place where the Low Information Voter is the primary driver of the discourse?

How can we increase the prestige of dropping out of having opinions entirely so that more of the ignorant choose that option instead?

What are the most effective ways to discredit official and reliable seeming sources that are anything but (high prestige legacy press, etc)?

What is the most effective way to turn away from the ‘get more people engaged’ model which has been such a disaster and pivot instead towards one of getting the interesting, curious and nuanced people engaged without the posturing rubes outnumbering them?

Should we consider the possibility that complex events and ideas being distilled into extremely simplified soundbites (the Voxplainer, for example) is actually a net negative for discourse rather than a positive triumph of public accessibility?

A turn of quality over quantity is desperately needed.

2 thoughts on “Is a little bit of knowledge worse than none at all?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s