May 31, 2011

I saw an interesting poll on Facebook… I know, that has to be the single worst place to look to for insight, but there was something very revealing on it… the poll question was to answer the following mathematical equation:

10 + 10 x 0 = ?

Now, the answer is 10, but about a third of people answered 0. It’s a perfectly understandable mistake… tons of people know that anything times zero is zero, but they forget that multiplication is always done before addition, so it’s actually 10+(10×0). What makes it worse is that a calculator will give you the wrong answer. But the correct answer is 10.

What I thought was revealing was the comments by the people who got it wrong, who noticed that 70% of the people polled gave the correct answer, 10. Overwhelmingly (actually, unanimously among people who commented), they pointed to it as proof that 70% of people are stupid, commenting with things like “what’s wrong with the world” and “this is pathetic” and “how sad that people don’t know basic math.” They truly believed that they were the mere 30% who knew correct math, and it never occurred to them that the majority of people may be onto something.

I only mention it because it’s such a pure instance of a lot of “debate” that has been in the news lately, and I think it explains a lot. A solid minority of people (I’ve pegged it at 26%) honestly, truly believe that they have all the right answers, and the fact that a vast majority of people disagree with them only proves that a vast majority of people are wrong. It’s the only solution.

I actually think those people have always been around, but they haven’t had a forum until the internet came around. When we got our information through schools and newspapers, there were people who took a greater world view and determined what was true and what wasn’t. Now a minority of people can access other people who share that minority, and band together. Even on the internet, they’re just 26% of people, but if they spend all their time on websites that cater to their world view (and 26% of people is still hundreds of millions of people in the English-speaking world alone), it looks to them like they are a massive force to be reckoned with.

It may even look like that to the other 70% or so of us, and lead us to conclude ourselves that humanity is in trouble, but if we continue to be aggressive in demanding intellect and reason in everything we see, and ignore the anti-intellectualist resistance force who attack us as elitist or naïve, we still have numbers that they never will. They may have never been as vocal and as powerful as they are today, but they’ve always been just 26%.