Mooney on Condorcet on the Explosion of Reason and Rationality

I’m interested in how the Internet serves to amplify human perceptions, to the point where we can instantly google up the information to prove or disprove factual assertions. Surely, this will have ushered in a brave new era of enlightened thought and rationality.

Or not. It turns out that the net is just as happy to serve up confirmatory swill to feed into our confirmation bias, and help us organize with like-minded loons to disseminate The Truth about lizard people or faked moon landings or geocentrism or whatever. More here and here.

This recent item from Chris Mooney tells an interesting story about the last time someone thought a revolutionary communications medium was going to usher in a new era of truth and rationality. It was Condorcet, back in 1794, talking about the Internet of his day: How the Printing Press Ensures Eternal Enlightenment (Or So They Thought in the 18th Century).

Sigh. Technology only gets you so far. The wetware remains a problem. PEBKAC, as we used to observe in tech support.

21 Responses to “Mooney on Condorcet on the Explosion of Reason and Rationality”

  1. knarlyknight Says:

    Nice summary JBC, especially: “Sigh. Technology only gets you so far. The wetware remains a problem. PEBKAC, as we used to observe in tech support.”

    I’d like to argue that the printing press and internet has got us quite far, despite copious anecdotes that illustrate the contrary. But aquiring data to support such an argument, assuming one could even figure out what data could be agreed upon to answer the question, is impossible. So to argue we’ve come a long way since 1774 and are continuing to advance as a species is a fools game, even if it is true despite sometimes taking two steps backward for every one forward (i.e. “torture” “repeal of habeus corpus” “extraordinary rendition” etc. ad nauseum.)

    We could continue to muddle along hoping things will get better in time through education, universal love as espoused by all Faiths, and mitigating the the degenerative & harmful thoughts of the masses by diverting their attention to pro-sports, Hollywood, & escapades du jour. I’m comfortable and happy with that as a plan “B” in case I’m wrong and things have not actually gotten better since the printing press.

    The other option is to explore the extension of the argument that “technology only gets you so far”. If people cannot keep up and choose internet garbage for their wetware data input then the Solution is obvious: in the short term introduce internet censorship with established corporate media controlling content, continue movement towards a Borg-like social structure in the medium term to support the long term goal of a full-on non-Theist technocracy. Add in some accusations of Lucifer worship and you’ve got the InfoWars that Alex Jones is fighting.

    Enk, lookout for foul smelling seagulls.

  2. enkidu Says:

    oh, he’ll be along shortly to sh!t all over this thread
    just can’t keep the wwnj crazy bottled up

  3. shcb Says:

    I’m just circling, waiting for the carcass to start rotting. Oops, that’s a vulture, bald head, ugly face, that probably is a better description anyway.

    Actually, I’m shocked anyone thinks the internet (or printing press) could be any other way. Maybe they aren’t surprised just disappointed. In a free society you take the chance someone will listen, you know someone else is going to talk.

  4. knarlyknight Says:

    we agree there shcb, that’s nice. And my seagull comment was not directd at you, it is a special term for a particular lunatic who we’ve not seen here for a while but is often conjured up at the mere mention of Alex Jones or lucifer.

  5. shcb Says:

    I just want to comment on this statement “I’m interested in how the Internet serves to amplify human perceptions…” I’ve always liked statements like that from a sort of out of body, third person perspective. They used to have commercials saying advertise in red to get noticed, but if everyone used red you won’t get noticed. So is the amplification of the internet (or books in the printing press days) just temporary? just a thought.

  6. NorthernLite Says:

    hey knarly. nice to see the Liberals finally doing their job and standing up to this government when they defeated the bill to scrap the long gun registry.

    i’m thinking they’re looking ready to lead Canada, you?

  7. shcb Says:

    By two votes :)

  8. knarlyknight Says:

    Yes, the Liberals finally got a little good press too. Sticking up for the police, on this issue that is so important to the police, has given Ignatieff mucho points.

    shcb, if it were two votes the other way, the registry would have been disbanded, the least impact of which would have been a slap in the face to survivors and family members of the victims at l’Ecole Polytechinique. We know Harper’s reaction had it been two votes the other way: mucho smug self-congratulations and patronizing comments about the inadequacy of his foes. I think many Canadian’s recognize or at least on some level can feel that Harper’s petulant refusal (to accept Parliament’s decision) is duplicitous and simply a self-serving political strategy.

    Harper continues his disingenuine attack on the high cost of the registry by failing to acknowledge that ongoing costs are relatively small and the high costs he cites include the start up costs. Start up costs are sunk costs and no longer have any relevance, except to the wwnj’s. Harper was trying to use this as a wedge issue, like gay marriage in the states, to divert the press from the issues that most rural people care far more about (as listed by Layton): “job losses in the forestry sector, retirement security, elder care, drug prices, the costs of post-secondary education, childcare and high home heating costs.”

    I don’t really care too much about the registry issue one way or the other, as long as acquisition permits and criminal record checks are maintained for prospective rifle owners, which iirc were not at risk of being disbanded. What disgusts me is Harper’s approach (the chronic Bush Jr. behaviour) and his emotional appeals to lower levels of intellect.

  9. NorthernLite Says:

    hey shcb, nice, you’re correct. two votes , 50 votes, whatever. democracy :)

  10. NorthernLite Says:

    Excellent post knarly, my feelings exactly. With all the problems we have I was a little more than bothered that dismantling the long-gun registry was top on the list for our returning MPs.

    Question to our American friends: We’re at the UN right now lobbying for a seat on the security council. We’re up against Germany and Portugal.

    What do you guys think?

  11. Smith Says:

    To be blunt, the US leadership doesn’t give a damn about the UN, so I’m not entirely sure why anyone down here would be too concerned about the composition of the Security Council. Our gov will do as it pleases, as should be painfully clear by now.

    Good luck anyway. I assume getting membership would be a point of pride. What do you think would change if Canada joined the UNSC? Would you see any domestic benefits?

  12. knarlyknight Says:

    I might be able to get a T-shirt that says:
    “Keep yer sticks on the ice!
    (Cda’s on the UNSC now.)”
    … but you can expect a better reply from NL.

    On the “Explosion of Reson and Rationality” and in re. to CNN’s headline: “– The House approves a $42 billion bill to aid small businesses. The bill now goes to President Obama for signature.” Can I ask you, Smith or shcb, how much aid did the banks and insurance co’s get over the past couple of years, and how does this $42 billion to small business compare in percentage terms to that? (Setting aside the question of whether or not America is a corporate/socialist land of corporations on welfare.)

  13. shcb Says:

    I think Canada is more relevant than Portugal on the world stage, they have certainly been a critical part of the War on Terror (god, I hate that term) Germany, eh. You got my vote. I don’t much care as long as some place like Iraq isn’t in there.

    The UN doesn’t much like us or Israel and we don’t much like them. It’s kind of like being a member of the PTA, you don’t really like being there but it is kind of your duty to show up. Tell you what, move the headquarters to Toronto and we can turn the building they are using now into a mosque and cancel the one near ground zero.

  14. knarlyknight Says:

    & that (shcb’s answer), in a nutshell, is the kind of thing I have come to associate with the term “American ingenuity” – sort of a brash, no nonsense, piss everyone off, quick fix to a problem that ultimately will create bigger problems later… hey, I know shcb was joking (I think) but it wouldn’t be funny if there wasn’t some truth to it.

  15. knarlyknight Says:

    btw, thanks for saying we’re more relevant than Portugal. I think so too. LOL.

  16. shcb Says:

    It looks like this is a combination of tax breaks and loans, it sounds kind of iffy to me, I like the tax breaks for new equipment, but I have a dog in that fight. In a perfect world with me king (I’m not even a dog catcher so take that for what it’s worth) I wouldn’t have any of these programs, but that isn’t the world we live in. On a whole this isn’t bad, some of this money is a projection over 10 years, if it creates jobs (I hate that term) it will probably produce 10 times that the $12b.
    I think most if not all the loans to the financial institutions have been paid off, and that is really what the Fed was created for, so that wasn’t all that bad, not good but not so bad.
    Yeah I was kidding about moving the UN (kind of).

  17. NorthernLite Says:

    Thanks Smith. I’m not sure we could change much there but for me, it’s important for 1) it is sort of a pride thing (Canada has grown up a lot) and 2) we’re like the 8th largest financer of the UN’s budget. It would be nice if we could be at the “big kids table”.

    I think the UN does a lot of good for children, disease and to some extent poverty but is absolutely miserable when it comes to preventing conflict. Which if I’m not mistaken was the reason for its creation.

  18. Smith Says:

    Oh yeah, the charity stuff is nice, but I don’t think the SC has much to do with allocating aid. The UN is a good humanitarian organization, but the SC aspect of it is worthless unless all the members agree to act in accordance with its decrees. If a country can blow off the UN and invade as it sees fit without any consequences, then what function does the SC actually serve? The UN could be a lot more useful if it had the ability to enforce its policies.

  19. knarlyknight Says:

    Yea! Now you’re talking Smith. While you’re at it, you should talk to Alex Jones about that.

  20. knarlyknight Says:

    NL –
    Harper bellyaching about his abolish the long gun registry defeat…

  21. NorthernLite Says:


    Smith, yes, the SC seems very useless now that I think about it. I’m almost thinking I’d (Canada) rather not be a part of it lol.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.