The other day, I was reading an article on a science website I frequent. It was about a very (very) rare medical condition called ‘fetus in fetu’ which means, essentially, that a person ends up with an undeveloped, unviable mass of tissue somewhere in their body which may, originally, have been a foetus – perhaps their own twin, absorbed by them in the womb, or perhaps a type of tumour known as a teratoma. The article described a baby girl, recently born in China, who was found to have two masses in her abdomen which appeared to be ‘foetuses’; luckily, the masses were removed and the child was fine. It was a fascinating (if slightly gross) article, which taught me something. I love it when that happens.
But, sadly, I then went on to read the comments.
I am, of course, aware that you should never read the comments (except on blog posts, naturally, where lots of lovely comments are left by wonderful and intelligent readers), but I regularly fall into the trap. I suppose I simply feel, when I read a great article, that I want to bask in the common glow of human learning, and gain from the insights shared by my fellow readers – but instead what I got was a truckload of ignorance.
And not only that, but willful ignorance, which is the worst kind.
The first comments were from people who were, to use that horrendous phrase, ‘calling BS’. I can’t stand this terminology. It’s judgemental, and a clear declaration that the commenter believes they are somehow superior in learning, training or experience to the person who has written the article, and superior enough to declare it faulty or flawed without, of course, providing reasoning, proof or any sort of argument. They’ve just decided it’s rubbish, because it’s something beyond their own sphere of experience, and therefore – of course – it can’t possibly exist. (As well as that, it’s just rude).
Then we had the crew declaring that anyone ‘stupid’ enough to believe the article was one of the amorphous group known as the ‘sheeple’. The definition of this demographic appears to change, depending on who’s describing it, but it seems to be anyone who believes something different to the person doing the commenting. It never ceases to amaze me how the people calling others ‘sheeple’ believe that they (the ones doing the calling) are the only true repositories of knowledge and wisdom. Based on what, I wonder?
There were people – brave souls – wading in among these commenters to supply links to other articles and proof and places to learn more, but they were shot down as soon as they dared to press ‘post’. Actually doing a bit of work, and learning something? No way! Readin’? Who needs it!
It depresses me that there are people whose worldviews are limited to what goes on inside their own brain – their own brain, a miraculous and wondrous organ, capable of changing the world, which they feed on a diet of hokum and make-believe, superstition and pseudo-science, conspiracy theory and reality TV, and which they then expect to work correctly and give them a balanced view of the world they’re living in. There are people who take pride in never reading a book, never reading a newspaper, never actually going out of their way to meet people who aren’t exactly the same as they are, and never thinking about anything for themselves. They have their beliefs, formed from the way they were raised, the communities they live in, and the conversations they have with the people around them, and anything beyond that is ‘BS’.
This is fine, I suppose. I don’t like to judge others for what they choose to do, believe or think, and everyone is formed and shaped by where they come from, who they grew up with and the prevailing beliefs of their communities. But when people oppress others for actually daring to read, and learn, and trying to improve themselves and the world, and when they attempt to destroy rather than build, I have to admit it angers me. It angers me, for instance, that people would rather expose their children to disease than take them for their immunisations, based on nothing more than a half-baked theory. It angers me that we forget, so easily, the things that have happened in the past and how hard our forebears worked to give us the skills to avoid the disasters that decimated them, things like diphtheria, which – as anyone who has read about it will tell you – is not a disease we want to see taking hold again. The reason we almost always have to read about it now, rather than experience it first-hand? Science.
But if some people had their way, science would be thrown out the window and superstition would rule instead.
Reading is important. Opening your mind to new ideas, experiences and beliefs is important. You don’t have to open it to everything, and you certainly don’t have to believe everything you read, but you’ll never learn how to filter the ‘bad’ from the ‘good’ if you don’t give yourself wide exposure to what is going on in the world. Thinking is not hard work – or, if it is, it gets easier with practice. It worries me that it seems fashionable, somehow, to remain entrenched in your own beliefs these days. Is it a defence mechanism? A way of shoring up in a world which seems under attack from all corners? A response to the vapid celebrity culture all around? Who knows.
Anyway. I’m ranting, on a par with the type of vitriol I try to avoid in other articles, so I’ll draw a line beneath this blog post and move on. Live and let live, I guess, is the message – and let’s not shoot down new ideas before they’ve even had a chance to get airborne.
Have a great week, everyone. Read well, and read often!