How to Question Everything

confirmation, confirmation bias, idiocracy, election, opinionated, social media, clickbait, bias, sources

At some point in our lives, someone will inevitably give us the clichéd advice to question everything. As we grow into adolescence, we may begin to have a vague understanding of what exactly question everything really means. Yet, only a very few people are able to get down to the nittiest and grittiest depths of the question everything axiom, where the very ground beneath us becomes itself a question.

Conspiracy theorists are those who veer far off the path of the question everything mantra and into the realm of “factual information is purposefully hidden from us and nothing can be trusted, especially if it disagrees with what I [think I] know to be true.”

Others, though not as extreme as conspiracy theorists, have  such tightly held beliefs that almost nothing will ever change their minds. Humanity has an inherent revulsion toward being wrong, and many are doggedly opinionated believers whose very identity hinges on the veracity of the beliefs they hold. For these people, the realization that they may be wrong could span a wide range of emotions, everything from simple humility and/or humiliation to the utter loss of the very essence of the self. The easiest thing to do is to push that possibility aside.

Nothing illustrates these points more than a lame-duck presidential election year. I’ve reached several conclusions.

-Most people will vote along party lines regardless of anything.

-When those whose ideals about their candidate are so irretrievably shattered they will, for the most part, stop defending their candidate but continue attacking the other candidates.

-Most people have a penchant for desperately clinging to any and all information that proves they are right.

-Totally objective and non-partisan conscience voters are becoming extinct.

-Sensationalist media is malignantly implicit in making people lazy when it comes to fully educating themselves on our country’s political process, the ability to objectively discern for themselves the issues that matter and those that don’t, how to weed out fact from fiction, trustworthy and untrustworthy sources,  and the ability to take themselves off of autopilot and be an active and objective participant in the search for real information.

All of these aberrancies in human behavior are much more immediate threats to democracy than any individual political candidate. These are the problems that are fueling our downward spiral into Idiocracy, the consequences of humanity’s loss of judgment, the loss of free will and individual thought, the loss of the ability to self-educate and to find equilibrium from our own inner strength and intellect rather than depending on Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

In this vein, I am going to leave you with the following questions, not necessarily to be debated or answered definitively by the reader, but merely to be thought about. It is frightening that people seem to have lost the ability to think for themselves, that they rely on blatantly biased articles on blatantly biased websites, clickbait, unflattering magazine pictures, comedians, and sound bites to prove an opinion held with such ferocity that even if God himself appeared in tangible form and said “you are wrong,” they still would not believe.

To those who are either actively or passively interested in politics, political candidates, and the search for truth, especially those who share, post, or retweet articles on social media, reach out to friends and family through emails with links to information found online, or use information found online to debate politics face-to-face with neighbors, friends, and family, I leave you with these questions:

  1. When you come across an article online that confirms your political beliefs, opinions, or points or view, do you immediately find yourself excited and share it without a second thought?
  2. Do you ever look at the source of the article (the name of the website or the author of the article)?
  3. Do you ever conduct any independent research on the source of the article (website) and/or the author of the article?
  4. If you do, are you capable of recognizing when a source or an author clearly has a biased motive for writing the article?
  5. If you recognize bias, do you actively search for articles with an opposite leaning bias in an effort to gain a broader picture of the subject matter?
  6. Does it ever occur to you that the source and/or author’s bias colors the information represented as fact? Does it ever occur to you that the information represented as fact may, indeed, not be factual?
  7. Do you know how to not only fact-check information, but also attempt (as much as possible) to fact-check the fact-checking websites in an effort to discover if they themselves have their own biases?
  8. Have you ever felt absolutely, unequivocally certain about a particular opinion or fact, only to later find information that proved you wrong, and you actually changed your mind?
  9. Have you ever been taught how to properly source information and spot self-serving hyperbole, speculation, conjecture, and loss of context?
  10. Do you realize that for every single opinion or belief that can possibly exist, you can easily find someone in the world who agrees with you, as well as purportedly factual information on the Internet that would seem to prove you are right? (Flat Earth Society,FoodBabePsychiatry: An Industry of Death,Total Video Proof of Moon Landing Hoax).
  11. Do you know what confirmation bias is? Considering all that you have just read, can you retrospectively recall incidents when you may have unwittingly become victim to it?

I truly do have faith that the concept of an informed voter is still alive, but each time I see a careless piece of garbage sensationalism shared and reshared by those who proclaim it as gospel, little by little, that faith is chipped away. What I am suggesting is a call to arms that creates a nation of knowledge where the individual holds the power of truth and not the media.