I’m busy writing my last essays for my MA at the moment and I am beginning to despair. I’m getting worse, not better! Just when I think I’ve researched something pretty well, my tutor takes a look at my draft and points out all the places I’ve made unjustified assumptions and subjective remarks. It seems I struggle academically to tell the difference between fact and opinion.
When I read Make Wealth History the other day (an excellent blog, by the way, written, judging by the UK, by a fellow Brit), I found I’m not alone. I’m just a pretty normal Briton, by the looks of things.
The post: Public Perception vs The Facts really shouldn’t have surprised me or shocked me. Yet I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m a keen amateur psychologist and I’m most fascinated by Social Psychology, yet it seemed unbelievable to me that people can be…well, so dumb, if I’m honest.
I’m going to assume, for once, that the statistics are correct. If the Royal Statistical Society can’t get such things right then we’re all screwed and I don’t think the blog author here could twist and contort the findings too much. So I’ll let the blog speak for itself. Have a read of it now.
Read it? Good.
So we’re left with the awful evidence – which is not far from what I’ve always found – that the British just believe, without thinking, what they’re told. And what they’re told is largely told by the gutter press. It makes me wonder if we should actually ban certain newspapers on the grounds of stirring up racial prejudice!
But it’s not just us Brits, of course. I’m certain it’s the same all over the world. Americans are often ridiculed (sometimes unfairly) for some of the things they believe are true. I’ve had more than one tussle with some who refuse to even consider Global warming as a real problem, for instance. I’ve also seen such gullibility in Bangladesh, where it can turn pretty violent. If I tell you that earlier this year, the face of one of the men convicted of war crimes was reportedly seen plastered across the moon, you might laugh and wonder how anyone could have believed it. But believe it they did and people went on the rampage around the country as a result, believing it a sign from God.
The fact is, we tend to believe what people and authorities we trust (like our daily newspaper) tell us – especially if we’re told it every day. And it’s that fact Adolf Hitler relied on. For years (I may have told you this before) I had the following quote on my classroom wall for all my students to read:
“What good fortune for those in power that the people do not think”
And he was right – people don’t.
Maybe, instead of Citizenship and Personal and Social and a bunch of other titles given to lessons in school that are universally hated by kids being taught stuff most of them already know, maybe instead we should teach them basic social psychology and train them in simple statistics? Imagine if we had a world where people could no longer be turned on a whim, on a headline, on a text or post gone viral? What if we had a world where even the humble worker in the field in somewhere like Bangladesh would raise and eyebrow when someone says something they purport as a fact. What if they put down their tools, whip out their mobile phone and say “I’ll just check the facts of that online…”
What a power for good that could be.