The Problem of Consensus

Having a very strong opinion about something while having people agree with you is intoxicating and a lot of motivation and energy can be derived from this experience. But having people agree with you does not make you right. There are many preachers that think evolution is a hoax and have large congregations of followers who agree with them. There are also many people on YouTube who think the earth is flat and they have hundreds of thousands of people who follow and agree with them. The problem is that having people agree with you reinforces the idea that you are right. It is also very easy on social media to surround ourselves with only people who think that we are right. I have experienced being deleted from many friend’s lists for merely questioning why a person would believe X. This is because it is easier to delete someone out of your life than it is to confront the reality that you might just be wrong. This is the problem of consensus: just because everyone you know agrees with a specific idea or belief does not make it right. 33% of the earths population (2.4 Billion) believe in the idea of Christianity while 24.1% (1.8 Billion) believe in the idea of Islam. It’s easy to say, “Well 2.4 billion people can’t be wrong” because the weight of the number is so much. But either one of these has to be wrong or both are wrong because both religions make claims about the world/universe that are incompatible with each other. So we can conclude that the higher the number of people that believe something to be true does not mean the higher the probability of that thing actually being true.

It’s actually rather easy when you do not believe in something to see that many people can agree that something is true even though it is not. Almost all of us have probably heard about the flat earth hypothesis and almost all of us would be shocked to know that hundreds of thousands of people agree that this is true. We can easily see that many people can believe something and even use the multitude of numbers that agree with them as some kind of qualifier for that idea. But the hard part is when we actually believe one of these things ourselves. Everyone on our friends list agrees with us and people we might know that could explain why we are wrong are exasperated with us. They find it annoying to explain to deaf ears; so they don’t. Social media has allowed us to like, follow and surround ourselves with only things or people that support our ideas. Following pages because we “like” them is usually just another way of following something that constantly reminds us that our ideas are right. This is an extreme form of confirmation bias. Liberals don’t follow conservative idea pages in order to expose themselves to other ideas in case they are wrong and Christians don’t follow Muslim Imams in case they are wrong about their religion. Unfortunately extreme situations like this would require extreme measures. I think the only way for people to escape the bubble they have created is to massively reduce their social media use. Experience tells me that reducing social media usage to “output only”, to post creative or business content and not consuming social media at all, can radically change ones perspective. Conversations change and looking at social media becomes a little like looking at the matrix. This space created by not consuming it allows us to see things clearly and see how we literally waste our lives on social media. We scroll for hours which offers absolutely nothing to anyone’s life all the while constantly confirming to ourselves that we are right about our ideas because everyone and everything around us shares the same beliefs.

Refusing to consume social media seems like the only measure that can be taken in order to escape the extreme confirmation bias and life wasting forced upon us by it’s usage. This is hard to do now but has a large return on investment in the long term; freedom. In an ideal world we would all be free to make our own decisions about anything of our own “free will” but what is free about being able to paint your house any colour as long it is a shade of red? Because you refused to acknowledge the existence of a rainbow.

 

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