Sunday, February 22, 2015

Don't read this article

I'm not sure why you're reading an article entitled "don't read this article". Maybe you're childishly susceptible to reverse psychology? Maybe you're so belligerent that you simply won't be told what not to do? Or maybe you're just curious as to why anyone would write an article called "don't read this article"?

Not reading articles

The reason I've written this is that I'm absolutely sick of people wading into the comments threads underneath the links I've put up on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page and making it absolutely and totally clear that they didn't even bother to click the link and read what the article said before they started spouting off about how shit and wrong it is.

What makes this behaviour so annoying is that I know that some 90% of people never (or very rarely) leave comments, even when they have read the article. This means that that those who leave comments without having read the article are part of a vocal minority. There's nothing wrong with being part of the vocal minority (in fact I'm delighted that so many people read my articles and then leave insightful comments), but there is something terribly wrong with people who are so opinionated that they yell their opinions without having even made a rudimentary effort to establish the facts about what it is that they're shouting about.

This habit of barging in with their opinions about the article they didn't even read is most commonly observed amongst UKIP supporters. Over the years I've found that you can't even convince them to read the article even when you use a link description goading them about the Ukipper habit of not reading the article.

Even if you say something along the lines of "If you leave a comment on this article about UKIP that shows that you haven't read it, you're only demonstrating to the rest of us what a confirmation bias riddled and belligerent bunch Ukippers are" - you'll still get a load of Ukippers showing up to write criticisms that demonstrate beyond doubt that they haven't bothered to read the article!

This trait of not reading the article before spouting off is most common amongst UKIP supporters, but it is not confined to them. In February 2015 I shared an article by Professor David Nutt about the way the UN is planning to impose a world-wide ban on the medical use of ketamine, even though it has proven and unique medical properties (it's the only anesthetic that does not cause respiratory depression).

The idea that just because some people use a substance to get high, means that doctors all over the world should be banned from using it for medical purposes is precisely the kind of ideologically driven nonsense that proves the irrationality of the "war on drugs". However many of the people who saw the link decided to wade in with their opinions on the recreational use of ketamine, and even to chastise me for "promoting drugs".  Had these people actually read the article, or even the article description where I explained that it was about the medicinal use of ketamine, there's no way that they could have construed my posting of the article as an endorsement of the recreational use of ketamine.

The Dunning-Kruger effect

This tendency for people to express opinions on articles they've not even read is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the proven theory that the less of an expert a person is on a subject, the more they tend to underestimate their lack of knowledge. Thus a guy who reads nothing but simplistic pro-austerity narratives in the S*n or Daily Mail (written in the vocabulary of a 10 year old) might think himself an expert on economic issues, whilst an economics expert who understands how ludicrously complex the global derivatives market is, will know that it's now so complicated that it's far beyond the ability of even a visionary genius to understand the entire financial system.

Essentially what people are doing when they express an opinion on something they've not even bothered to read is taking the incredibly pompous stance that they're such an expert, and their perspective is so inherently perfect that they don't even need to examine the evidence before they share their sage and ever-so-important opinion.

Long before the Dunning-Kruger effect was formalised, the philosopher Bertrand Russell said "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."

Intellectual laziness

There is nothing wrong with forming an opinion just by looking at the title of an article and the associated image, in fact that's the way that most of us determine which links we're actually going to click and read, and which we're going to ignore.

The problem I have with intellectually lazy people is that they make the perfectly natural decision not to read an article, but then decide to share their blatantly unfounded opinion that the article they refuse to read is "absolute crap"!

The thought process they undergo is something like this:

1. I'm not going to read that because I don't like what I imagine that it says.
2. Nobody else should read articles that say things that I don't like.
3. I'm going to leave a comment saying how crap the article is in order to dissuade other people from reading it.

This kind of behaviour is about as clear a demonstration of intellectual laziness as is possible.

I find people who are ill-informed slightly annoying, but it's understandable that the person who hardly reads anything other than flicking through the copy of the Daily Mail/S*n in the workplace canteen has got some pretty weird misconceptions (like immigrants being to blame for everything or George Osborne being a genius). Okay, these people should still probably understand that the newspapers are propaganda devices, and that they shouldn't allow themselves to be so easily programmed with right-wing propaganda narratives, but they can't really be blamed for their lack of critical thinking skills (that's a result of the top-down authoritarian education system we suffer in this country) nor for failing to come across independent information sources (even a reasonably successful blog like mine is a minuscule drop in the ocean compared to the daily circulation of the S*n or the Daily Mail).

There is a huge difference between being misinformed, and the sheer intellectual laziness of choosing to completely ignore the information you've been presented with, yet trying to form a counter-argument anyway. 

Hopeless counter-arguments
 How is it even remotely possible for anyone to believe that they've presented a coherent counter-argument, when they've refused to even read what the argument is?

The only way that it seems possible is if they are so fundamentally lacking in debating skills that they think that ad hominem (against the person) attacks, foul mouthed abuse, blatant straw man misinterpretations of what has actually been said, or a whole host of other common logical fallacies constitute debate winning tactics.

It is stunningly obvious that it's impossible to construct a rational counter-argument if you're unwilling to even consider what has actually been said. Yet some people are so afraid of reading things that might challenge their worldview that they will not only refuse to read it, but they'll construct ludicrous fallacious arguments against it in pitiful efforts to deter others from reading it too.

A simple rule

If you see an article that you think you're not going to like and choose not to read it, that's fine. It's just a manifestation of confirmation bias. I'm not judgmental about that in the slightest because I do it every single day when I decide not to read clickbait articles, celebrity culture drivel, above-the-line trolling or articles written by journalists with writing styles I find annoying, or opinions that I find offensive.

What I have a problem with is people who decide not to read an article, but then decide to express their opinion on it anyway. There's a simple rule that I try to follow, and it's this: If you can't be arsed to read the article, don't bother to offer your (worthless) opinion about what it says.


The problem I have in explaining my objection to the people who are this intellectually lazy, is that I can't explain why they should read things before they comment on them in the form of an article, because they clearly wouldn't bother to read it would they?

I was hoping that by giving it a "don't push this button" kind of title I might at least trick a few of them into reading it.

If you're the kind of person who doesn't angrily criticise articles that you've blatantly refused to read, and you feel like I've tricked you into reading this, then I hope you at least understand my reason for me doing this, and accept that the blame is entirely yours anyway, because I clearly told you not to read it in the first place!

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