Most of the smartest, thoughtful people I know have abandoned social media over the past few years. Maybe they felt addicted, bored, tired of the news, or out of touch. But you know what seems to be the common factor that put them over the edge? Stupid, opinionated people.
I specifically say “smart” and thoughtful” because some smart people can be elitist assholes, and I specifically say “stupid” and “opinionated” because some stupid people can be inoffensively pleasant. I don’t believe all stupid/opinionated people are lost causes, they just make the internet (and world) a worse place. It’s not their opinions, it’s their confidently uninformed opinions. It’s the fact that they’re capable of learning, but don’t. It’s that they spend no time researching subjects before developing strong opinions about them. It’s people who freak out when criticized, ignore evidence that contradicts their biases, and type loaded sentences into google to get the results they want. People like this feel opinionated on everything because of their ego, but rather than be introspective, admit ignorance, or take the hours (or YEARS) of work to learn, they just project their insecurities onto everyone through word vomit, lash out or plug their ears once corrected, and demand you do the work for them.
Because the stupid/opinionated people outnumber the smart/thoughtful people at least 100 to 1 online, the smart/thoughtful people easily get overwhelmed and give up engaging (or become assholes). Stupid/opinionated people have no problem being assholes. They love rolling around in the mud. They’ll sling it all day. And they make the temptation to join them irresistible. But people who are smart/thoughtful attempt not to play that game. They take a step back to evaluate the optics and how to rhetorically approach a given situation. You see, the onus falls on them to tiptoe around stupid/opinionated people to avoid (1) setting them off, (2) ruining potential relationships, and (3) coming across like a know-it-all jerk, even though the same courtesy will never be returned. This is exhausting and not rewarding because chances are, it doesn’t matter how thoughtful you word something to a stupid/opinionated person, they’ll react the same way. It can also be ineffective in a political sense because facts, nuance, and decency don’t matter to them. It’s like one person is spending hours painting a mural while another person is dumping buckets of paint onto a canvas, expecting them to be appreciated equally, and when they’re not, they start lobbing paint everywhere. Stupid/opinionated people have no regard for how stupid they are because no one thinks they’re stupid. That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect, baby.
This reality sometimes frustrates me to the point of giving up on civil discourse all together, and I’ve always just been an average guy. There are some areas I feel that I have a well-rounded perspective on and countless more where I feel stupid. I can’t imagine how frustrating this is for smart people. See, when I don’t know something, it usually doesn’t take much for me to admit (unless I’m in the middle of slinging mud myself). When I get asked questions I don’t have answers for, I just say I don’t know, or wait until I’ve done adequate research to respond. I usually don’t make shit up, even though I absolutely could. I’m a great bullshitter. I was mediocre in school and adapted to spew nonsense in attempt to convince people I was smarter (still doesn’t work on my wife, unfortunately). But critical introspection is something I learned over time. It’s obviously never perfect, I can still be opinionated when I shouldn’t be, but I think about it often. Stupid/opinionated people never reflect like that because they’re too arrogant to see how stupid they are, and even if they accidentally stumble upon a moment of introspection, they just use it to reinforce their preexisting biases.
The internet not only amplifies people’s stupid behaviors, but it shines a light on how stupid people always were. Reading someone’s baseless thoughts about some conspiracy, a reactionary hot take on social justice, sharing factually wrong information, or them lashing out over nothing online isn’t some fluke, it’s a look into how their mind works. Most people are uncomfortable having difficult conversations in real life, so social media becomes their playground. They see something in the news and like clockwork, have to spill their mindless opinions about it. They read about something for the first time and immediately think they’re an expert. Of course, most people are average and inoffensive day to day, but the internet panders to our worst drives. It can easily make an average person smarter or stupider, depending on the context.
I know this will come off condescending to some people. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and have shared these thoughts with friends. I wrote this post last night and spent all morning thinking about the optics. I thought about who might take offense and how it could paint me as cynical or self-righteous. But I also remembered how that thinking process is never reciprocated by stupid/opinionated people. They don’t think twice before saying ignorant, careless shit. And they certainly don’t think about how there are thoughtful people out there who struggle finding ways to express their thoughts literally because of them. Because they never would. Because they’re stupid. And whoever they are, they probably gave up reading this after the first paragraph anyway. But let me repeat myself: I don’t think most stupid/opinionated people are lost causes. I believe if you give anyone (within reason) the tools and time to learn something they can become proficient at it. The problem is that most people don’t think they’re stupid and some wouldn’t want to take that time even if it was gifted to them. Life is hard enough so why waste time thinking when you can just eat your propaganda every day in peace. You can disagree with me or think I’m an asshole or even think I’m stupid. I don’t care. I’ve probably taken more personal attacks and critiques in my life than most people ever will (thanks twitter). Luckily I have loved ones who keep me in check.
And as negative as this all sounds, I’m a glass half full kinda guy. I hate giving up on people. I like hope. I try to stay positive, but the material consequences of stupid/opinionated people weigh on me. Because I care about the issues I publicly talk about — they aren’t just for aesthetics or to make me feel good. So when I take time out of my life to study something and share my thoughts, only to have some dumbass be like “lol don’t care,” it sucks. It’s discouraging. And I can’t imagine how that feels for thoughtful experts who dedicate their lives to specific subjects. So for the love of god, if you wanna share opinions, please do the work. Don’t feed into the outrage cycle unless you understand the outrage. If you’re mindlessly consuming information that makes you feel vindicated all day and think that gives you special insights, please stop. Because you’re making the internet and the world a worse place. You don’t need to post your opinions about everything, or anything for that matter. Just mumble to yourself while watching the news and go to the grave thinking about the good times in high school like a normal person.
Most of the smartest, thoughtful people I know are inactive on social media, but a few have stayed. And they’re the only reason I stay sane when I log on (well, them and the memes). Anytime I see someone make a smart, thoughtful post I smash that like button — even if I disagree. Because every day more smart/thoughtful people are deleting their accounts and letting the idiots run public discourse. So to any smart, thoughtful folks out there: be encouraged. You’re doing amazing, sweetie. You’re doing the work and people appreciate you. Social media, and the world is better with you in it. If stupid people are exhausting you, just unfriend them or mute them or ignore them! Don’t give up trying to be critical and thoughtful. No one is forcing you to exhaust yourself by catering to their stupidity, which usually results in an endless cycle of misery anyway. Do what you can and if you find yourself rolling around in the mud sometimes, it’s cool. We all do it. I’m sorta doing it with this post. Even though I try not to personally call people stupid, I think it’s ok to acknowledge stupid, opinionated people exist and they make life harder and we all need to get better at handling them, lest they inherit the internet.
TL;DR stupid/opinionated people ruin social media and pressure smart/thoughtful people to leave and it sucks but we can’t let them win