2019-02-28 The Curse of YouTube

I think The Curse of YouTube has arrived at last. More and more we meet people who believe shit they saw on YouTube. Incredible shit. Mental shit. Unironic shit. Things you wouldn’t believe!

I mean, the pre-historic astronaut stuff is entertaining. But to actually believe it? To believe something needs to be done about chemtrails but not against all the other dangers to our environment? All sorts of esoteric stuff?

Surely this is a sign of the mental retreat. A useful madness that makes people easy to govern, a frightening madness that makes people easy to excite, as likely to vote for a dictator and a fascist as it makes them likely to abstain from voting altogether. This is the opposite of a politically mature citizen. This is the opposite of what the enlightenment is about.

Anyway. This is happening in Switzerland, today. It makes me unhappy.

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Eine (etwa 50-jährige) Person mit angesehener Bildung/Beruf sagte vor kurzem & in vollem Ernst, die Mondlandung gab es nicht. Sprachlos...

– Chris 2019-03-01 17:41 UTC


Gehört irgendwie genau in diese Kategorie von Chemtrails, Flat Earth, Klimaerwärmung ist eine Verschwörung, chinesische Ärzte, die Tumore weghypnotisieren, Licht essen, und dergleichen mehr. Ist das eine Folge von YouTube, oder waren diese Leute schon vorher so‽

– Alex Schroeder 2019-03-01 22:44 UTC


Not to mention the Flatearthers and their efforts to explain everything in new and crazy ways as long as they can keep saying Earth Is Flat.

– Enzo 2019-03-02 11:43 UTC


I recently commented on a thread on Lasagna Social on the same topic.

It’s easy to make fun of flat earthers and to be angry at the stupidity. I am not exempt (as you can see by the page I originally wrote).

What’s more interesting, though, is how did this happen? I think the key here is a failing in our institutions, in our education system. It’s a bit like the terrible changes in technology for WW1. Going with Dan Carlin’s podcast of Hardcore History, for a brief moment in time, defence was vastly superior to offence and thus millions died attempting to storm machine gun nests. Offence and defence are in a kind of balance until something new develops. The new thing we have is YouTube and social media. We can share without gatekeepers, or with gatekeepers that value engagement and ads above all, and thus conspiracy theories abound. If they make you angry it means they are working. It’s like bad sexist ads. At least you’ll remember the detergent! Being angry means you’re engaging. And unlike ad-blocking and zapping and skipping we haven’t found cultural techniques to deal with the provocations and the stupidity and mal-memes.

And why are these stupid ideas suddenly so much better at convincing people? I think it’s because we have taught people the formalities of knowledge without teaching them the underlying structures. It’s like the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus test. The web page has all the trappings we taught each other would signify authority: calls to action, titles, spelling, menus, links to papers, maps, pictures, quotes, history, links, blogs, and on and on. But if you know one thing about octopuses it’s that they don’t live on land. And yet, some people will fall for it. They don’t know a thing about octopuses, but they can see the trappings of knowledge and authority on that page.

I see something similar going on with anti-vaccination, flat-earth, and all of that. We taught people to be sceptics but didn’t tell them why and how it worked. I recently had a discussion with somebody who wanted primary sources for the efficacy of vaccines. I’m not sure what for. That person didn’t seem like an anti-vaccination person but it still opened my eyes. My first reaction was of course: what the hell‽ Inoculation was invented before peer reviewed papers, just like the circumnavigation of the earth happened before peer reviewed papers. And then I realized: the demand for primary sources is an aping of the formalisms we taught each other would signify authority without understanding when these demands make sense and when they don’t, and what we should demand instead.

Anyway, something like that. We taught people to recognise the formalities of knowledge instead of making them knowledgeable.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-04 17:00 UTC


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