Persuasion in the Age of Why Not?

Believing that the world is flat is a thing these days, proving again the persuasive power of “why not?”

I mean, why couldn’t it be true? It looks flat to me, so the idea jibes with my personal experience. I don’t know who took pictures of the Earth as a globe floating in space (and floating on what, since space is a vacuum…or is it?), so they could be fake, as could all this nonsense about us orbiting the Sun (any fool can tell it’s the Sun that moves across the sky).

Who cares that every expert for the past few thousand years has so-called “proven” the earth is a globe? It all sounds like groupthink to me. And, if they’re so convinced that they’re right, why do they angrily attack other ideas as wrong?

I could make the same case for any other subject that used to be considered a fact.

Belief is as old as humankind, but the logic and rhetorical device of why not? is somewhat new, and it has made debate into a shouting match, and persuasion all but a thing of the past.

I blame technology, at least partially.

Each of us has deep personal needs for the universe to have meaning, suffering a cause, expertise its exceptions, and people their purposes.

Today, it’s far easier to find answers for these “whys” — mathematician John Allen Paulos once said that “the Internet is the world’s largest library. It’s just that all the books are on the floor” — and, once discovered, it’s easier to defend them (or never encounter alternate viewpoints whatsoever). Technology doesn’t cause this somewhat reflexive behavior, but it makes it more likely.

Once we’ve chanced upon the books we want to read, tech allows us to look up from the floor and gaze adoringly at that content on our smartphones; freed (and isolated) from the constraints of real, diverse community, we can only dig evermore deeply into what we want to see…

Read the entire essay at Medium