Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Uninterrupted Pipeline

James Fallows is peeved, and rightly so. He had a post up about how 15 past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize had protested the continuing detention of 2010 winner Liu Xiaobo by writing an open letter to the G20 heads of state, and he asked why some previous Peace Prize laureates had failed to sign it -- Al Gore, for instance, and Nelson Mandela.

And very very quickly, about a bazillion people wrote him pointing out that Barack Obama, 2009 Peace Prize winner, had also failed to sign.

Now, it's true that he didn't sign, but as Fallows points out, it would have been rather odd if he had signed, as the letter is addressed to all G20 heads of state, and Obama is a G20 head of state. And Presidents of the United States don't generally go around signing open letters.

But what really bugs Fallows is that many of these letters imply - or say outright - that Obama had failed to condemn Liu's imprisonment at all. And this is simply not true, as 2 seconds on Google would show anyone who cared to look. He called on China to release Liu on the very day Liu won the prize.

Fallows calls this a "combination of ignorance, lack of curiosity, and certitude". Personally, I think it's the same mindset that causes people to:

- say made-up facts about some aspect of the world when making conversation at parties and other social events, when in some dark corner of their minds they must be aware that someone who actually knows something about the topic might be listening. Of course, if you correct them, you're being rude.

- spout complete nonsense to a reporter when interviewed at a political rally, and then give the reporter their real name, when in some way they must realize that if that quote gets published, then it's going to be linked to their name on the Internet forever and ever and ever until the Sun becomes a red giant and swallows up the Earth in several billion years. Of course, if they say the same thing to your face and you correct them, you're a pedantic nerd.

It's not that these people are ignorant or misinformed. All human beings are; that's not the point. It's that they believe in having a direct and unimpeded pipeline between their reptilian hindbrain and their mouth. Any odd thought that occurs to them and makes them feel good (for example, because it picks on a public figure they don't like) gets vocalized.

And who are you to hinder their freedom of expression? What, are you trying to censor them?

I'm not saying I agree with this mindset -- I'm just trying to describe how it looks to me.

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