How We Pay People to Become Idiots
A feedback loop: when consuming media people follow the path of least resistance (i.e. the least amount of effort needed to get the most perceived gains), which is why a short, sensationalist article will get more views than a long essay—the former satisfies the reader’s curiosity in a few seconds (though never satiating it) while the latter requires considerable effort and time for an unknown gain. And so, in order to meet this “demand,” those who could have been journalists turn into hacks, churning out vast quantities of junk, which in turn dilutes the reader’s average attention span and creates more “demand” for this low effort content.
But the reader isn’t the only one who suffers (who, after all, is free to read whatever he likes1). The “journalist,” or the blogger, who is paid to produce this nonsense, has to actually fill their head with even more nonsense than the reader. The hack is being paid to pollute his own brain, to cripple his own mind—he is, in essence, being paid to become an idiot.
The effects of dangerous manual labor are obvious in the permanent injuries caused to the body as a result of accidents. The effects of sedentary work are likewise obvious in the gradual damage sustained by the body: weakened muscles, frail bones, a feeble heart, corpulence. The effects of ceaseless idiotic “knowledge work” on the mind are largely ignored. A mind devoid of silence, filled with the ceaseless, incessant clatter of daily informational ephemera, covered with a thick haze of trivialities, scandals, and scoops, making contemplation impossible, fragmenting its thoughts, and shutting out any possibility of it constructing the rational and beautiful forms that are the zenith of our civilization—its literature, its art, its philosophy, its religion. Fragmented, atomized, and confused, the mind ceases to be a carrier of civilization, transforming into a little cell that is part of a massive, blind, merciless process. We worry about the potential consequences of artificial intelligence becoming sentient, but what about the danger of our own intelligence becoming artificial?
Free at the level of an individual. At a collective level—that of a culture—there is no choice since popularized works are assimilated into a whole, becoming an inseparable part of it. Works are popularized either through a free market, in which the crowd decides what it wants, or by an authority, which decides what should be taught and distributed, e.g. USSR central planning. Because a familiarity with a subject changes one’s understanding of it, developing one’s taste, the authoritative approach will not necessarily produce results that the public will reject, as long as the selection is sincere (and this is a big ask). Changes in culture in turn affect and mould the individuals born into it, shaping their future choices. Thus, a free market—with its perceived absence of choice—is actually also a choice, the consequences of which are reflected on the culture as a whole. ↩