Neal Gabler, in a New York Times article, claimed, “ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world.” Grabler also argued that the cause of the reduction in the quality of ideas is that we are simply choking on the vast amount of information available to us. This may be so, but there is another way to think about this.
Another way to think about it is that it’s not so much that ideas aren’t what they used to be, but rather it is that the context within which the ideas are presented isn’t what it used to be. That is to say ideas make sense in relation to the context within which they are presented. Today our societal context is replete with ideological views and an entrenched life deadening view of what’s important. In this context when ideas challenge the system of belief and go beyond current habits of thought of a large number of people (particularly those in authority positions) they are dismissed out of hand. Since ideas make no sense in relation to the ideology or accepted view they are seen as nonsense.
Even Gabler spoke to the widely accepted belief that material gain is the primary standard for value assessment of behavior when he stated “thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding.” Seemingly we care only about what’s in it (materially) for me! Correspondingly, since the things acquired we call mine never seem to be enough, we can’t help but to be consumed by thoughts related to acquiring things of extrinsic or outer value. We don’t care so much about an idea, unless we can use it to turn a quick profit.
It appears that we’ve expunged everything intrinsic from life with our adherence to material self-interest maximization as the guiding principle of behavior. Living in a societal culture that holds material gain as supreme, we lose touch with our creative spirit. We are so attached to and paralyzed by the (old) thoughts we’ve been pursuing that of course ideas don’t provoke new thinking, they just cause most to recoil and defend the old!
So what we have is a self-imposed crisis of will. Unless the assumptions and beliefs that we’ve tacitly learned, to which we are uncompromisingly attached, are subjected to critical thinking in the face of new ideas we will forsake all opportunities that lie before us.
Information is not Knowledge
The news industry, or is it the newstainment industry, is not so much interested in maximizing the delivery of valued news toward improving the people’s understanding as it is in maximizing profit through entertaining eye-catching headlines that feed the idolatry bent egoistic populace. As Gabler noted, “we have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves.” Correspondingly, we are concerned primarily about inflation, of our wealth, our self-image, and even the number of Facebook friends.
Gabler claimed “… we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy.” However he argued, “the real cause may be information itself” suggesting that we are inundated with information and thus choking on it. But information is just that, information.
Even though we may have oodles of information at our fingertips this does not mean we are interested in developing understanding and challenging what is assumed fact. Transforming information into knowledge requires critical thinking and an associated interpretation. If we unable to critically think about assess and evaluate information then of course we would choke! It requires chewing on the information for a while and not simply swallowing whole what is given.
In fact having the ability to think critically and having access to a wealth of information would increase the likelihood of ideas emerging. More accurately, thinking critically is an antecedent to creative thinking and the emergence of insight and ideas.
Correspondingly, another view of this is that we’ve devolved into an incurious society of people with a general undeveloped ability to think critically. This inability is likely because we’ve developed such a habitual-way-of-being that we are incapable of letting go of the very thoughts/beliefs to which we’ve become so attached. Detachment from our thoughts is necessary in order to explore ideas that might challenge the very thoughts and beliefs we faithfully hold. In this sense belief trumps fact and fresh (new) thinking is quelled!
So it is not that people are choking on the information thus decreasing the spark of ideas. What we have is habit of thought inhibiting critical and creative thinking and shutting out the opportunities that lie in other new ideas.