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Why are stupid people increasingly gaining influence over others?

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mikeg

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People are as a mass more educated than ever, so you'd expect the quality of public debate to be getting higher - In particular in politics and the media. The compulsory reservations thread got me thinking of this:. Increasingly fake news,populist demagogues, celebrity trash culture and irrational argument are however on the rise.
Who and what is responsible for this? Personally I think that one aspect of education missed out upon is critical reasoning. It wasn't taught in any great level when I was at school until A Level General Studies and even then not to a massive extent until University. Yet how can we expect people to make key decisions as rational actors if they do not have these toolkits available?

Another sector I blame is the media, increasingly market driven. In the good old days when I was a boy, not too long ago, there were only four channels available to most,which all had a strong public service remit. Now it's all about chasing ratings and giving the viewer instant satisfaction. I'm not a believer in mass censorship or rolling back technological progress here though. But we do need to up standards somehow, to promote truth and reason and intelligent discussion.

Has anyone else any idea why it is we are in this mess and how we get out of it?

We've had mass democracy with reasonable policies before (be they left, right or centre) and there was a time when policymakers were more likely to give way to experts rather than tabloid newspapers and their ilk, which ironically seem to become more influential even as their sales decline.
 
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JohnMcL7

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I'd say without doubt social media is primarily because while anti-science and conspiracy theorists have existed for a long time, the social media platforms have hugely amplified their reach. I agree about the media also being to blame and there's a comment I liked that if one person is telling you it's raining and one person tells you it's not, your job as a journalist is to stick your head out the window and see for yourself whereas now it's often just one side is reported and that's it.

Through much of school I do remember being encouraged to find answers for yourself through experiments, proofs or your own reading but I think critical reasoning is something that's difficult to teach. When I was younger I was more persuaded by conspiracy theories whereas nowadays I'm much more cynical which I think comes down to age and experience. I've been watching a number of flat earth debunking videos recently and there's a noticeable pattern than most (certainly not all) of the people producing the flat earth videos are older males with absolutely no understanding of maths or science which makes me wonder is cause of this poor teaching of STEM subjects? I was keen on maths and physics when I was younger but looking back it was taught in a very dry boring way that seemed to turn off plenty and even more recently I've been involved in maths courses and tutoring days through being a STEM Ambassador and still don't think it's taught very well. That said there is a certain mindset to those that are anti-science to reject anything official no matter how ridiculous the alternative is and that's not easy to change.
 

mikeg

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Interesting re STEM subjects, only recently has the need for more STEM gained more exposure. Perhaps something to give hope for the future. I too was interested in STEM as a lad, although the first three appealed to me more, I've later come to appreciate the last letter, particularly decision mathematics which I took as a module in AS level and statistics, of which I am more self taught and still have huge gaps in knowledge. The STEM subjects that really turned me off were the practical ones that I wasn't likely to use and had little theory either: Metalwork, Textiles, Biology also seemed the least fundamental science and was also my least favourite... And I say that as someone obsessed more with social science these days! Not that the above post was related to that,more an anecdotal rant to which I should know better to post but it's late and I'm in a grumpy mood (no excuse I know!)

Physics is an odd one, I did a year at uni and a level and GCSE really don't prepare you enough for it. At GCSE I called it 'advanced common sense' but I have a very odd definition of common sense by my own admission.

It's difficult to know what should be taught more at schools to be honest and what to teach less of. I'd drop most of what was in the IT curriculum when I was a kid and teach more informatics. But everything else I'm probably a more man, when in reality there's only so much you can teach. STEM, citizenship and foreign languages at an earlier stage would be my priorities. I'd probably reform RE into social science with an option to specialise in RE later on, at my school we did SRS (social and religious studies) until GCSE. But it still felt a little too heavy on religion and not enough other social matters.
 
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Mcr Warrior

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What's STEM?
Think in this context that it means Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

So, academic subjects such as...
  • Biology.
  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
  • Design and technology.
  • Mathematics.
  • Information and communications technology.
  • Computer science.
  • Economics.
and maybe also Geography.
 

Welly

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Even back in the 1980s, there were way too many stupid people working as teachers in UK schools - at the time it was possible to become a teacher if you had a gob and a pulse!
 

birchesgreen

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The change came when being ignorant about how the world works went from being considered shameful to something which was lauded.
 

Strat-tastic

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Think in this context that it means Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

So, academic subjects such as...
  • Biology.
  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
  • Design and technology.
  • Mathematics.
  • Information and communications technology.
  • Computer science.
  • Economics.
and maybe also Geography.
OK thanks :smile:
 

alex397

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It does amaze me how you can look up an answer for something in seconds online, yet so much ignorance is everywhere. Of course, it’s now easier to look up facts, but this also means it’s easier to look up fake news or conspiracy theories.

It is also surprising how there are many people who have little or no knowledge of politics - something that affects our day to day lives. And especially as we are lucky to live in a democracy, when there are lots of people across the world fighting for that basic right.

Something which is making me cringe at the moment is people saying they won’t be voting Labour in the local council elections coming up soon as they are fed up with the council, because our local MP is Labour. It’s astonishing some people are unaware that the local council is Tory-led, as well as the county council. This is just an example of the very poor education about politics!
 

tbtc

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1. People have always had a lot of these thoughts - it's just that until social media came along, we didn't know what they were thinking - now, their internal thoughts are there for us all to see - I'm glad that I remember my grandparents' generation the way that I do, rather than seeing all the dumb memes/ petitions/ rants that they'd have shared online if they'd been around nowadays (same with a number of celebrities who died rather than tarnished their reputation by tweeting their increasingly reactionary views as they got older). I've had situations where I've "friended" a colleague I've respected and then found that their Facebook feed is littered with scams that they have fallen for or memes that show they are fairly gullible (or sharing an appeal for a lost dog that turned out to be in Arkansas five years ago) - I'm sure a number of colleagues thought I was okay until they saw how dire my opinions were too, I hasten to add!

2. Social media encourages echo chambers - following who your friends follow just means that you are stuck in a bubble following people you agree with - you can get browser attachments that show "good people" in green and "bad people" in red, so that you know what voices to listen to, you know what to think and who to agree with. When I read two national newspapers a day, I used to see a range of opinions and articles that I could make my own mind up about, I would read a number of stories about things that I wouldn't have gone out of my way to find out about but since they were on the page I'd find myself absorbing news about an Italian election or a hospital in Bristol or a lower league football team's new manager - I used to be able to keep up with trends in music by watching Top Of The Pops (where a selection of songs in the charts were represented) but since you select the news feeds you want to follow these days, you only get the things you previously cared about, you select your own specialist radio station or spotify playlist so you only get songs from your favourite genres - people don't have the same broad range of knowledge any more, they just have an obsession about a much smaller range of things. I have a "list" on Twitter where I see what people I may strongly disagree with are saying (whether Nigel Farage or Owen Jones), so that I am at least aware of what people outside my "friends" are saying - you need to know what people unlike you are thinking - but the trend is to only listen to voices you agree with - which is why things like the large Corbyn defeat came as such a shock to a number of "believers" since as far as they were concerned he was incredibly popular (not realising that it's more that their friends were predominantly selected from other people inside that bubble). If you obsessively focus on one thing and have friends with the same obsessive focus then you may well think that this matters to everyone else (which is why some re-opening campaigners are sometimes in for a nasty surprise when their daydreams meet reality)

3. Social media rewards groupthink. People want to belong to a tribe (especially as we no longer have the same family ties or religion or long term neighbours - we want to feel that we "belong" somewhere, so we do it online). It's effectively a game where people are rewarded by likes/ retweets/ shares, your endorphins kick in when your phone notifies you to tell you that another person has clicked to agree with you - you feel validated by the number of positive interactions that you've had. You have a particular view on a complicated issue (say Palestine, for arguments sakes) - your social media feed is selected for people who have the same view on Palestine - if you say something about Palestine that chimes with the groupthink then you'll get dozens of likes/ retweets/ shares/ amplification - if you say something a bit more nuanced then you'll anger that crowd - they'll unfollow you, they'll seek validation from the group by being seen to performatively argue with you - you'll be ostracised. So you know that they only way to keep swimming is to read the room, preach to the converted. When something like the NHS pay announcement comes along, you could try and be constructive by saying something like "well, given that inflation is only 1.6% then a 1% pay rise isn't that terrible and many people in the private sector have lost their jobs or are still on a part-wage furlough, so maybe it's understandable" but you'll get a lot more reward/ validation for saying things like "ITS DISGUSTING THAT WE ONLY GIVE OUR HARD WORKING NURSES £3.50 WHEN FOOTBALLERS GET PAID A MILLION POUNDS A WEEK". Both arguments have elements of truth but why would you antagonise your friends by saying things to provoke them?

But how do we get out of this mess?
 

swt_passenger

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The change came when being ignorant about how the world works went from being considered shameful to something which was lauded.
“I was no good at maths at school, but now I’m an expert in <insert difficult scientific topic>“... o_O
 

stj

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For far too long youngsters have been expected to go to university after leaving school despite not really being up to it
hence end up doing a soft subject we now have loads of them in the system now doing soft jobs in public services,media etc
and not being up to the job!
 

birchesgreen

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For far too long youngsters have been expected to go to university after leaving school despite not really being up to it
hence end up doing a soft subject we now have loads of them in the system now doing soft jobs in public services,media etc
and not being up to the job!
I disagree, these aren't the people to worry about.
 

Master Cutler

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Social media has become the modern Plato's Cave and has such a profound impact on our every day lives we are all unwittingly drawn in by it.
Unfortunately, social media is now here to stay and will continue to creep ever deeper into all of our lives.
We start to believe what the shadows want us to see.
It's nothing new though;

ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE MEANING​

What is the Allegory of the Cave?​

Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave" is a concept devised by the philosopher to ruminate on the nature of belief versus knowledge. The allegory states that there exists prisoners chained together in a cave. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners are people carrying puppets or other objects. This casts a shadow on the other side of the wall. The prisoners watch these shadows, believing them to be real.
 

Ianno87

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For far too long youngsters have been expected to go to university after leaving school despite not really being up to it
hence end up doing a soft subject we now have loads of them in the system now doing soft jobs in public services,media etc
and not being up to the job!

What "soft subjects" are those? Things like media studies are often a subject of ire, but do teach skills like critical thinking and analysis.
 

61653 HTAFC

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“I was no good at maths at school, but now I’m an expert in <insert difficult scientific topic>“... o_O
To be fair the way maths was taught in my day, along with a rather hostile learning environment, didn't lend itself to gaining a good understanding of the subject. I'm no maths genius, but I'm not as bad at it as I thought I was when I left school having scraped a C.
 

Ianno87

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To be fair the way maths was taught in my day, along with a rather hostile learning environment, didn't lend itself to gaining a good understanding of the subject. I'm no maths genius, but I'm not as bad at it as I thought I was when I left school having scraped a C.

Maths is a subject where the sense it makes very much depends on how your brain is "wired up". Different teaching styles are needed for different people.
 

Mcr Warrior

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Maths is a subject where the sense it makes very much depends on how your brain is "wired up". Different teaching styles are needed for different people.
Did o.k. with maths up to a certain level, but couldn't ever then get my head round stuff like calculus, differentiation, derivatives, integration and imaginary numbers. :rolleyes:
 

DarloRich

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Becuase ignorance and stupidity are celebrated as a virtue and given false equivalence to education.

The ignorant and stupid are easily directed to think how others want them to and lack the ability to see they are being manipulated.

Time was ignorance was shameful. Now it is encouraged. I ask why? I suggest you all ask why.
 
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mikeg

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In the words of the Kaiser Chiefs, it's cool to know nothing.
I'll stick with Browning: Ignorance isn't innocence, it is sin.
 

alex397

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I have noticed that a lot of well educated and critically thinking people are delaying having children, or questioning the idea of having them at all for a variety of reasons. Therefore these people are not passing on their wisdom and knowledge to their own children. I’m perhaps entering conspiracy theory territory here, but I do feel that could be a reason why society appears to be dumbing down.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have children by the way, but that more people are choosing not to.
 

RuralRambler

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Despite all the decades of "reform", I really don't think schools have moved on at all from the 70s. We seem to have spent 50 years re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Lots of initiatives, lots of change, but it does seem to be one foot forward, two back.

My son has just gone through his secondary school years (now at Uni). I was very surprised at the whole thing, right from the open days before he chose which school to go to, through the early years, then GCSE options, the A level options, - it was all pretty much the same as when I was going through it in the 70s. Yes, there are slightly different subjects (i.e. RS is now REP etc) woodwork/metalwork is now design/tech, cookery is now food tech, but that's really little more than name changes. The "core" subjects are basically the same, not only the same names, but also the same content, same exam style, etc. My son didn't even get the chance to do "IT" - the school were in transition from the ECDL to computer science and his year ended up doing neither. Pretty poor in the 21st century for a secondary school not to do any formal IT teaching! Oh, sorry, there was one big change I forgot - the teachers now use white boards instead of chalk on black boards and they do their "scrappy" worksheets on photocopiers instead of the purple inked gestetner duplicator - but those are really the only changes I could see. My son even had one teacher with a brown jacket and elbow pads!

I just don't think school is relevant for the modern society. Nearly half of pupils leave without a "good pass" at Maths and English which is a travesty after 11 years of compulsory so-called "quality" education. If they can't get half marks (or less) in the core basics, then it's no surprise there are so many numpties on social media!
 

brad465

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I would say this video presented by George Monbiot after the US Capital Riots (where conspiracy theorists did their worst), sums up a lot about what's going on here, especially how the mainstream media now look for "spectacle, not substance":

 

Tazi Hupefi

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This ship is now sunk in the developed world. It's not reversible either in my view, as technology allowing mass, largely unregulated communication continues to evolve.

The inmates have well and truly taken over.

Although I suspect the idiots have always been there, only now they are more noticeable and can spread their idiocy to others more effectively.

People are also far less inclined to put in any genuine research or to consult a qualified expert, e.g. in law, because now anybody can portray themselves as one. Why hire a solicitor to represent you, who's now obviously "in on the conspiracy and part of the system", when a Sovereign Citizen / FMOTL website will sell you an expensive download or book telling you the magic words that lets you opt out of the law, because Magna Carta says. Even when they are then invariably jailed for contempt after trying to arrest the local judiciary, it's only because the system was out to get them, not at all because their wacky belief is wrong. When I was young, these people would be taken to an asylum, not allowed to simply walk back into society. All for freedom of expression, but too many people can't distinguish fact from fiction, or maybe worse, they can, but still choose the crackpot option. Obviously not just in law either, it's in every area of life.

I regularly feel like everyone else is in some sort of parallel universe, and I'm truly baffled at times. Even makes me wonder sometimes whether it's me who's cracking up. Life is now a cross between The Matrix and The Truman Show.
 

Bertie the bus

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I think the whole premise that stupid people are increasingly gaining influence over others is wrong. As has already been pointed out in the past strange people didn’t have a platform and the only people who knew what they were saying were acquaintances. Then social media arrived. However, social media as an influencer is totally over hyped by the media, who love it because it is an endless source of easy stories for lazy journalists. You can see just how over hyped its influence is by all the stories of anti-vaxxers and how they were influencing large numbers of people to reject the COVID-19 vaccines. The take up is currently running at about 95% which is hugely more than anybody anticipated, most assumed around 70 – 75% as per the annual flu vaccine, so although the media never shut up about it the vast majority of people have either not seen the nonsense or just ignored it.
 

Bevan Price

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This ship is now sunk in the developed world. It's not reversible either in my view, as technology allowing mass, largely unregulated communication continues to evolve.

The inmates have well and truly taken over.

Although I suspect the idiots have always been there, only now they are more noticeable and can spread their idiocy to others more effectively.

People are also far less inclined to put in any genuine research or to consult a qualified expert, e.g. in law, because now anybody can portray themselves as one. Why hire a solicitor to represent you, who's now obviously "in on the conspiracy and part of the system", when a Sovereign Citizen / FMOTL website will sell you an expensive download or book telling you the magic words that lets you opt out of the law, because Magna Carta says. Even when they are then invariably jailed for contempt after trying to arrest the local judiciary, it's only because the system was out to get them, not at all because their wacky belief is wrong. When I was young, these people would be taken to an asylum, not allowed to simply walk back into society. All for freedom of expression, but too many people can't distinguish fact from fiction, or maybe worse, they can, but still choose the crackpot option. Obviously not just in law either, it's in every area of life.

I regularly feel like everyone else is in some sort of parallel universe, and I'm truly baffled at times. Even makes me wonder sometimes whether it's me who's cracking up. Life is now a cross between The Matrix and The Truman Show.
Whilst not disagreeing, I think that many "ordinary" people do not hire solicitors or consult experts simply because they cannot afford them. In the hopefully unlikely situation that i found myself in court, there is no way that I could afford a barrister to represent me.
 

GatwickDepress

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For far too long youngsters have been expected to go to university after leaving school despite not really being up to it
hence end up doing a soft subject we now have loads of them in the system now doing soft jobs in public services,media etc
and not being up to the job!
I'm not really understanding your argument. From the sounds of it, people are going to university and getting jobs? Usually people are complaining these so-called 'soft subjects' are unemployable! Not everybody wants to become an engineer or a physicist.
 
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