My son is a slacker. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s a boy or if it’s because he’s 14 or if it’s because of something we did wrong when raising him, but he’s always been this way. So last night, about 30 minute before I’d normally freak out about him not being in bed, he started working on homework that was probably due a week ago (why would a slacker do his homework, you ask – because his mother checked his grades).
He was working on an essay using the NPR theme, This I Believe, and he had half-assed it. His thoughts were scattered and unsupported. So we he got to the part of the assignment where one of his parents was to write a reflection based on what their student said in the essay, I told my son I couldn’t do that cuz he hadn’t said anything at all. So he fixed it.
His “belief” was that religion was the root of all evil and would eventually destroy society. Nothing surprising – both of my kids hate religion, likely a result of growing up in Utah. But what he was really getting at was ignorance. He mentioned in the essay a school mate who’s a flat-earther (WTF?), the ignorance that this kid spews, and how he (my son) doesn’t understand it. What my son missed, however, was the connection to his original thought: religion. And that the same ignorance that allows people to blindly buy stories that have no basis in reality (virgin birth anyone?) might also allow them to think you could fall off the side of the earth or that global warming isn’t real at all.
At 14, I couldn’t have taken that stand. I was brought up Catholic and forced to go to CCD like everyone else, learned the joys of skipping out early from mass (best if it was the Saturday afternoon folk mass). What I didn’t learn was to question what they were telling me. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I ever actually listened to what anyone was saying. But at age 14, I never really thought about the absurdity of a virgin birth, parting waters (Cecil B. DeMille, my favorite religion teacher, made it look so natural), resurrections and the like. I just nodded and kind of moved on to my own self-centered existence. Sometime after I stopped going to church, I came to realize these were all just fantastical stories with zero basis in reality, but it was never a conscious or conflicting effort.
Living in Utah, however, made me look at the ignorance associated with religion even more closely and realize that it’s never just tied to religion – it goes much deeper. Religion itself seems to require a willing suspension of disbelief. Tenets of most religions are laced with extra crazy talk and other-worldly locations and beings. For the thinking person, it seems like this would pose a challenge.
But who’s thinking?
We’ve become a society that demands instant answers – but really we’re not just looking for answers, we’re looking for a side to root for, a team to join. We pick a team that matches our opinions but we don’t spend a lot of time forming these any more. We just grab an opinion that kinda sounds good – especially if we trust the source. No reason to dig further. If it sounds convincing, it obviously is.
The irony to all of this is that it’s easier than ever to find all sides to an issue thanks to the internet. But we don’t look. Instead, we share the bias over social media, where it gets shared again and again and eventually no one knows where the thought came from. But most of us don’t bother to look it up, either.*
When was the last time you looked further into the facts that some friend dished out on Facebook? I’m as guilty as the next person of mistaking a shared claim for truth. Worst part: even when you do decide to search for the answer, you have to dig deeply, because odds are good your search results are skewed to reflect previous searches, which usually reflect your opinion. Yes, even Saint Google is preaching to the choir.
In truth, no message is ever truly objective (one of the things I remember from journalism classes in college). But years ago, audiences WOULD seek out all sides to an issue. Media outlets didn’t make me feel obligated to put quotation marks around the word “news” because they were truly attempting to report facts. Absolutely not the case any more.
I’d expect this from my son’s generation – the first to grow up with answers to everything imaginable fed to them in easily digestible bites. I’m appalled that my generation and the ones ahead of me are failing to look at the other side, too. We may be even worse offenders – older generations (45+) are the ones most likely to listen to the human equivalent of a bloated tic shovel volumes of bullshit into the airwaves. It’s so much easier to believe what you want to hear than to think for yourself, right? (FYI, millennials don’t get to skate by here blame-free: Fox News in 2015 was the top rated cable news outlet with viewers 25-54 [YIKES!] and the second highest rated cable channel with that demo overall. And here I thought everyone was watching Game of Thrones.)
My son’s essay eventually turned out okay and I was proud of him for being able to identify ignorance, even if he failed to apply it everywhere it fit.That will come in time – thinkers are by nature skeptics and he’s nothing if not skeptical of pretty much everything. As for his generation, eh, maybe there’s some hope there, too. If a self-centered, 14-year-old boy who readily tosses around penis jokes can pay enough attention to the world around him that he can spot ignorance and write about it, that’s gotta say something. Maybe when they’re my age, they’ll even be pissed off enough to do something more than blog about it, too.
*yes, I realize some people still like to look at all side of an issue and approach everything skeptically. Fortunately, since they’re mostly unemployed former journalists, they have all the time in the world to do this now.