It is the Age of the Internet, and people with access to it can share and gather information from all around the world instantaneously, something impossible before the advent of computer-mediated communication.
Unfortunately, it is also the Age of the Trolls and their strident, stupid comments that serve no purpose but spread lies, foment conflict, and instigate and encourage bullying and harassment.
It is dismaying to see the collective ignorance of many about the most basic facts. Facts that could have been looked up on Google. Facts that are being taught in schools but seem to have slipped through the sieve-like brains of these rabble-rousers.
Facts cannot be altered. They exist regardless of whether one chooses to believe them or not. Moreover, factual phenomena and situations will have consequences, effects, and outcomes. For instance, denying that climate change is an actual phenomenon can retard efforts towards reducing the human activity that is causing it.
Only recently, the insistence that a proven megalokleptocrat deserves interment in sacred ground caused an outpouring of resentment and a protest action participated in by thousands, with others certain to follow in the future.
Anti-rationalists who oppose views and opinions contrary to their own even if the former are based on fact and reason, shout them down to drown out the sound of truth so that their own views may be legitimized and validated. This is denial, the refusal to accept reality or fact.
“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,” said science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
He was referring to a “cult of ignorance” in the United States, but he might as well have been speaking about the Philippines and what its people have come to despite decades of valuing and promoting education. Filipinos are largely now a people who cannot or refuse to reason, who trample on the facts staring them in their face.
There are those who have a personal agenda to promote; these are the agents provocateurs tasked to incite others to perform rash acts, such as having a squad of young people sport armbands and hold up signs against a crowd of protesters, in imitation of the discredited and detested Hitler Jugend. They convince their audience that their version is gospel. This sort of manipulation is nothing less than treachery and betrayal, when the truth is distorted to mislead people to advance someone’s self-serving scheme.
What is also appalling to observe is the decline of critical thinking skills. The polemical writings of a certain popular blogger-turned-columnist are a good example of this all-too common inadequacy. Some facts are false or twisted or simple not checked for accuracy, the words of others taken out of context or outright misunderstood, and issues misinterpreted and exaggerated to bolster the agenda du jour being touted.
Another effect of this lack is the inability of quite a few Filipinos to recognize false news and parody or satire when they read it. Thus the flooding of Facebook timelines with reposts of “The Onion” or “Borowitz Report” -style articles, notwithstanding that many such sites have a disclaimer: “for entertainment purposes only.”
Then there was that time a couple years back when a veteran columnist and author who writes for the same paper as Blogger-Columnist wrote about a satirical item as if it were straight news. Journalists call it nakuryente—falling for a hoax. Had she been having a bad day? Was her age taking a toll? The takeaway is that discernment is difficult enough even for those used to reading, writing, and thinking regularly. How much more likely then to make mistakes are those unused to exercising their critical function, if any?
Ignorance, denial, ulterior motives, and lack of critical thinking skills have contributed to the dumbing down of our country. What’s important to realize is that ratiocination is not, and never has been, exclusive to the elite or educated, despite perceptions to the contrary.
The shift toward a herd mentality of many members of this society and this government is alarming. It has given rise to an anti-intellectual movement that assails points-of-view that challenge the mob’s beliefs with nothing more concrete than schoolyard nya-nya-nyas or worse, threats of bodily harm. It is creating a country where facts and truth are deemed malleable in line with the prevailing policy.
In this Age of Internet Trolls, it would be well to think before clicking, to research before posting, to fact-check before commenting. Don’t be stupid. Think.
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Follow her on Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember