The people we call idiots aren’t idiots

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Cory Doctorow has a nuanced take on the rise of beliefs such as flat-Earthism.

The modern way of knowing things for sure is through formal truth-seeking exercises.

…For these systems to work, they need to be fair and honest.

But 40 years of rising inequality and industry consolidation have turned our truth-seeking exercises into auctions, in which lawmakers, regulators and administrators are beholden to a small cohort of increasingly wealthy people who hold their financial and career futures in their hands.

…Why don’t we agree on the urgency of climate change? Because of a moneyed conspiracy to make us doubt it. Why did we let a single family amass riches greater than the Rockefellers while peddling OxyContin and claiming it wasn’t addictive? Because of a moneyed conspiracy. Why do some 737s fall out of the sky? Why are our baby-bottles revealed to be lined with carcinogenic plastics? Why do corrupt companies get to profit by consorting with the world’s most despicable dictators? Conspiracies.

You can see the link: we say vaccinations are safe, because they are. But we were told for a very long time that all kinds of things were safe, and they were not.

I’m not immune to this. For example, having seen the way certain newspapers print lies and misinformation about subjects I know in depth, I find it hard to trust their reports on anything else. If they are demonstrably lying about X, why should I trust them about Y?

In extreme examples, we start believing extreme things. Doctorow:

We can never be sure whether our beliefs are true ones, but unless we can look where the evidence leads us – even when it gores a billionaire’s ox – our beliefs will tend toward catastrophic falsity.