As we emerge from four years of disastrous Trump politics, fervently hoping for a modicum of normality in US politics, we find ourselves confronted with a growing phenomenon: the desire of many to live in a bubble of their own choice.
We saw this coming as the likes of Fox News
in the US fostered a cult of Trump followers, feeding them with a consistent diet of what they wanted to hear. They lapped it up and came back for more. Trump was their idol, a reliable source of intelligence. They needed no more. Rather than seeking uncontaminated truth, they sought only re-affirmation of their pre-existing views, their ‘truth’. Fox gave it to them in spades.
Herein lies an impending disaster. If individuals and groups choose to insulate themselves from what they don’t want to hear or know, what happens to our inherent sense of curiosity, to humankind’s constant search for truth, for knowledge, for understanding, for advancement? It atrophies and dies. The death of curiosity would herald the death of science.
Yet we know that is what is happening. So many do not want to wrestle with new concepts, new revelations, new facts. As Robert Kuhn so persuasively argues in his seminal book; The Nature of Scientific Revolutions
, the inclination of humans is to cling tenaciously to what they already believe, to ignore conflicting evidence no matter how sound. The classic example is phlogiston theory that asserted that substances that burned in air were rich in a substance named phlogiston; the fact that combustion soon ceased in an enclosed space was taken as clear-cut evidence that air had the capacity to absorb only a finite amount of phlogiston. The logical conclusion was that when air had become completely devoid of phlogiston, it would no longer be able to support combustion.
Despite steadily increasing evidence that the phlogiston theory was no longer tenable, believers adhered to it tenaciously, twisting and turning to find supporting evidence, even though there was none. The complexity of their arguments was astounding, but as ingenious as were their attempts to avoid having to concede that their theory was untenable, they eventually had to admit that they were wrong, As a radical change of belief became unavoidable, they experienced a profound yet sudden epistemological change that Kuhn labelled ‘a paradigm shift’, a term now in common use.
It was only when Lavoisier developed his theory that combustion was a reaction between the burning substance and oxygen, that the phlogiston theory eventually died from inanition.
Even while this piece was being written, we saw Sean Hannity of Fox News bad-mouthing newly- installed US President Joe Biden with these words: “Biden’s speech was ‘forgettable’ and akin to that of a high school president’s acceptance speech “from a guy who was desperately craving a nap.”
He went on to dismiss Biden’s calls for unity as “hollow” and “total and complete BS” and said he spouted “worn-out, liberal socialist cliches.” But that was not what really ticked off supporters of the new president. It was when Hannity called him “the weak, the frail, the cognitively struggling Biden” that even his sycophantic audience called him out. The major news networks raced to distance themselves from him, appropriately leaving him looking isolated and stupid.
Hannity lives in his own bubble, where he feels comfortable. Let’s leave him there to stew in his own juice.
It is a sad reality that more and more people are choosing a bubble in which to live where they are never confronted with facts that they simply don’t want ever to know about. They are content to wallow contentedly in a thick sickly soup derived from their preferred ingredients, lapping up their chosen diet of ‘facts’, no matter how implausible.
This is the world in 2021!