I mentioned very briefly in my last post that my experience with Aegeanet, a forum devoted to the topic of the Aegean Bronze Age, so far is not all that it's cracked up to be. In all fairness, the problems that I observe on Aegeanet are sadly no different than what I've noticed on other forums of this nature in more than a decade that I've participated in them.
I hardly hide the fact that I'm a strict logician in scholarly matters. That is, if one must be faithful to something at all, I believe it should be Logic. Afterall, I've never seen an airplane built on Christianity, I've never seen a math problem solved with Islam, and when you're falling from 300 ft from the ground, Buddhism is never going to help you avoid the inevitable, although it may give you a calm state of mind before the boneshattering impact. While Aegeanet claims to disallow ad hominem attacks, it appears that this is untrue. Even when a message clearly has no academic value and makes the character of another member the topic, it's let through, as was the case with a message from Doctor Jack Dempsey who later went on to annoy me with private messages of vitriol. However, when it comes to these email forums, this is only typical and I don't lose sleep over it since unsubscription is just a click away.
The effective moderation of online forums is dependent on a healthy ability to recognize Logic from pointless nonsense. Without a rational and active moderator, most email forums are doomed to fail and what's worse, all its members' emailboxes are at the mercy of the moderator's maturity to recognize trollish lunacy from honest opinions. This is quite different from blogs where there is no membership and full helm-control is given to the contributor rather than the observer. Also the immediacy of email encourages short quips over more mindful input. Yet despite these advantages of blogs over email forums, bloggers too may be as irrational as they wish, even if it is a negative advertisement.
What always concerns me though is a much larger phenomenon that I feel this trolling and inability to debate is a symptom of: societal acceptance of irrationality as a valid philosophy. This is perhaps a particularly timely topic after a killer of a young Winnipeg man innocently enjoying a ride on a Greyhound bus was considered "not criminally responsible" for beheading his victim in plain view of all the other passengers simply because he was schizophrenic. As a result, despite the utterly disgusting homocide, he will not be given a record. To any rational person, it should be entirely irrelevant whether a murderer is insane or not, since any act of murder unmotivated by real self-defense (as opposed to imagined and delusional self-defense) is so clearly irrational. The real matter at hand should be the safety of the public. Hiding his criminal record from public perusal or allowing him to ever be set free again is quite obviously opposite to public safety. Yet bureaucracy always takes precedence over common sense in our crazy world and most citizens, convinced of their powerlessness, succumb to apathy rather than outspokenness and action, drawing increasingly within their own world of ignorance.
This page entitled You Fail Logic Forever lists many logical fallacies that we're bombarded with in media and society on a daily basis. It also references one of the biggest and most popular offenders of logic, Stephen Colbert of the hit TV show The Colbert Report. Of course, Steven Colbert exploits logic for a clear purpose: comedy. Good comedy afterall is nothing more than the provocation of a laugh from the audience by stating one clever absurdity after another. Steven Colbert happens to be particularly skilled at it. For those of us that are not cognitively impaired, we might take it for granted that we are fully able to discern the logic of a person's statements in matters of seriousness on the one hand as well as appreciate logical absurdities in matters of comedy on the other. Yet what if, for a growing portion of the public, the line between seriousness and comedy and between logic and the lack thereof is becoming difficult to distinguish?
Enter Dr Aric Sigman (BBC News: Online networking harms health) who believes that "websites such as Facebook set out to enrich social lives, but end up keeping people apart" and Baroness Susan Greenfield who claims that "social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity" (Guardian: Facebook and Bebo risk 'infantilising' the human mind). As a computer programmer with an Internet-free upbringing throughout the 80s, I'm convinced that it's important to consider how some people may simply be mentally unequipped to deal with the internet. Mentally unequipped because the only thing that can help someone navigate the digital seas of mass information and distinguish sense from noise is a strong sense of Logic. Since Logic is never taught directly in public schools, the school system doesn't detect logic disorders quickly and merely leaves it up to children to magically acquire a sensible understanding of consequence. Yet since most working parents have limited time to interact with their child due to the economic realities of our society and since media is now so all-pervasive, children are mostly left alone to fend for themselves. We already know that early stimulus, whether it be quick image-change in TV shows or the caress of a loving mother, can for good or bad radically effect a child's ability to concentrate later in life. (Read Toddler TV Time May Shorten Attention Spans [pdf] for the study involved.)
Now personally, I don't believe that this next generation is particularly different from previous generations just because of the presence of the new internet. I simply suggest that as civilization "progresses" and its associated bureaucracy becomes larger, so too does individual alienation, weaker attention span, and thoughtless conceit as a coping mechanism against society's encroachment on the individual. A strong grounding in the real-world and Logic is the one true means of reconnecting with the universe in which we live and overcoming this growing alienation and postmodern narcissism.