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The social media and the flight of reason


Recently, a friend of mine who I otherwise hold in high regard, sent me a message on WhatsApp. After reading the first two sentences, I fired him a response: that the statement was wrongly credited to the so-called author; that there was no way she could have written that.He responded by saying that somebody had actually informed him that I was correct. Then, why post something you already knew is dubiously credited to someone else? His response? That some of the points contained in the piece are valid!

I couldn’t just understand such logic. Now, how do you make a valid point in a fraudulent way? How do you give credit to someone for what he/she didn’t write, especially a piece that is dripping of mischief?

These are the days when people sit in the comfort of their homes, cook up stories or opinions, ascribe it to someone else and push same into the wider world through the Internet. The sad part is that people rush to embrace such dubious messages and propagate same.The gullible come from all ages and all classes of people. You would ordinarily think that age and experience should make people to be cautious in embracing certain information. Sadly, that has not been the case.

It is amazing how people display their ignorance on issues and yet are so eager to jump into the fray. And they do so with very strong opinions. People barely read messages before forwarding them to others. Not for them a time to digest the information therein and reflect on the implications.
Many group platforms have become toxic sites primarily because of this. Many members simply forget why such forums were established in the first place, and then proceed to convert them to their pet campaign projects. And in such instances, they fail to take cognisance of the political, ethnic and religious sensibilities of others on such platforms.

This is why on a platform meant for the welfare of an estate, for example, people will be spreading insidious sectarian messages, even when it is clear that membership of such platforms is composed of people with diverse ethnic, religious and political backgrounds.They spend a considerable amount of time ventilating their prejudices. They do not see the impropriety of running a campaign of calumny against people who may never see what they wrote about them, let alone be given the opportunity to put their own views across. It is even worse if the persons being discussed are from an opposing political camp or from “enemy” ethnic or religious groups. Our self-righteousness makes us incapable of understanding that we do not have a monopoly of good character and behaviour.

This jaundiced outlook on life has also made it difficult for many of us to enlarge or increase our circles of relationships. You claim to be a Christian, yet you find it difficult to attend a wedding ceremony in another denomination. It is the full display of the silly notion of My God is holier than yours.

Facebook in this part of world has become a platform for fighting all kinds of phantom and incendiary wars. Without thinking, people now gleefully sow divisions along political, ethnic, religious and even racial lines. Living harmoniously with neighbours has become an impossible proposition.Politics has become a hate-filled endeavour. People no longer disagree on issues based on principles and ideological disposition. Whatever you stand for is unacceptable. I will oppose you even before I understand what you are saying. It doesn’t matter even if what you are trying to accomplish is for the common good. I am duty bound to oppose it, just for opposition sake.

The social media have also exposed the underbelly of gullibility of many of us. We are quick to believe most of the things sent to us, especially those things that portray us in bad light.It is a measure of how much we lack self esteem when we believe and spread derogatory messages about ourselves as a people. People run down our country and our race and we gleefully spread such messages.

Which is not to say we cannot do better than where we are as a people. But many of the messages we share with friends and relations are actually designed to reinforce long-held prejudices and stereotypes by the authors.You look at a man who is hungry, and you conclude that he is lazy. You have not bothered to find out how he got to his present condition. Has he always been hungry? Did he lose all his money to robbers or fraudsters? Did he have the opportunity to be educated? Etc. Yet, we jump into conclusion.

We desire that people should read. But what do we read? Do we read things that edify us or that cause acrimony? Do we invest our energies in building a better society or tearing down the fragile fabric that hold us together?The choice is for us to make: to nurture and grow a culture of understanding and reflection or live in our own familiar and comfort zones. These are zones in which our ignorance and prejudices are reinforced by equally ignorant fellow travelers.

The new technologies of communication have become the chief culprits in the mental and intellectual laziness that predominate our thought processes. With so much information available like never before in human history, yet ignorance has taken centre-stage in the affairs of man. People have become more insular and ethnocentric in their dealings with their fellow men. The sovereignty of countries has become threatened by the sheer weight of ill-informed opinions and crass prejudice.

Long ago, I read the book, “Straight and Crooked Thinking” by Robert H. Thouless. First published in 1930, the book is appropriate for all times. It describes, assesses and critically analyses flaws in reasoning and argument. The basic principles set forth in that book have guided my thought processes over the past decades.

Many so-called populist movements in many climes have their foundations rooted in crooked thinking. It is the belief that there is an El Dorado by the corner when the people move in a certain direction. But the history of man is the history of struggle and incremental improvement in the quality of life. Communism and Capitalism did not change that. And it is not about to change.

It is this flight of fancy (the abandonment of reasoning) that makes people to think that if they spend all their time praying without even venturing to do things, all will be well. That is why our country has since become a fertile ground for pastors, prophets and shamans of indeterminate pedigrees. We believe what they tell us, even when the evidence before us contradicts them.

United States Senator John McCain surely had in mind the abandonment of reason in our generation when he said last July: “I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to co-operate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”And in Nigeria, there are legions of people who make the incapacity of our governments their livelihood. It is time to withdraw the oxygen they rely on for their campaigns of mischief.
Ohwahwa wrote from Lagos

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