Jan 19 2009

When is too much information, too much information?

Jamie Barrows


I read an interesting rant over the weekend. It’s titled "Is this the better world you were talking about?" And the main theme seemed to be the information glut that we are daily exposed to. And the point seemed to be that the information glut is causing more harm than good.

I’ve written about information overload in one of my posts before. But other than claiming I need to be better at dealing with it, I am pretty strongly of the opinion that more information is better than less.

The author of the article makes the point that a huge amount of the information out there these days is exaggerated or overreported. And he’s right. A lot of it is just exaggerated opinions and fearmongering. Bias and sensationalism is rampant in our news media. But is that really a difference from the past or a problem that needs to be fixed? As I posted in one of my posts over a year ago, I don’t see that as an issue. ALL NEWS is biased by the opinions and beliefs of the reporter. That holds true no matter what the medium (TV, Newspaper, Radio, Internet, etc.) is. As long as you can identify the bias of the reporter and know that it is there, you should be able to get the facts out of the story.

And as for being overwhelmed by the information, it isn’t all that hard to just turn off the TV, or not read the article. If the weather channel is giving you too much information, just don’t watch it. If you are constantly getting sucked into the conspiracy theories of fringe groups, stop listening to them.

The way I see it, it’s just a question of developing proper filters. People need to learn how to filter out the fringe extremist groups and make sure they get their news from multiple sources to recognize and counteract the bias present in any one source. They need to be disciplined enough to turn off the news feed if it is taking over their lives or becoming an obsession.

There will always be those people who can’t or won’t develop decent critical filters, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off with less information. If you look at history, you will see that in almost every repressive society, much of that repression was accomplished by a strict control of information and the means of communication. That kind of control, in our information rich and information overloaded society,  is no longer possible.

These days we have true freedom to express our knowledge and opinions. And the luxury of being able to choose our sources of information and control the quantity of the information we receive. I don’t think I would want to give that freedom up or go back to the days of limited information.

Would you? Is there such a thing as too much information?

Jul 31 2008

Freedom of speech

Jamie Barrows

I read a quote this morning that I thought was really relevant to our current society and culture. The quote goes like this.

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”
– HL Mencken

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about “hate speech.” The main theme being that modern society should not tolerate or accept “hate speech.” And to some extent, I agree. I often cringe when I read or hear some of the things that people say. The hurtful and misleading things they say aren’t right, and they really shouldn’t be tolerated by the main stream of our society.

But unlike many who are calling for laws against this kind of thing, I don’t believe that laws are the way they should be handled. For one thing, laws won’t solve the problem. The racists, xenophobes, and intolerant people will still be there. They will still be around and will still be racist and intolerant. For another, who gets to decide what is defined as “hate speech.” Anyone can be offended by anything. So who gets to decide what crosses the line when it comes to free speech?

Freedom of speech, even for racist or hateful people, is far more important than not being offended by what someone says. As the quote above implies, once you start restricting what people are allowed to say, you will end up with laws against anything you say. While it’s never been my intention to offend, I’m sure there are things I’ve said on this blog that have offended people. So if we start restricting the speech of people like NeoNazis(who’s speech we all would agree is offensive and wrong), how long before this blog and others like it are told what they can and can’t say?

As the quote says, I don’t like having to defend the rights of people who are hateful and wrong, but I find myself having to defend their rights in defense of my own. I don’t think we should tolerate or accept hate speech, but I also don’t think we can ever outlaw it or be free of it.

Oct 22 2007

Is freedom of religion under attack?

Jamie Barrows

Stained Glass

We have a concept in modern Western culture called “Freedom of religion.” It’s not a concept that has always existed in Western cultures, but rather something that was painfully grafted on. Hundreds of wars have been fought over this concept, and millions of our ancestors have died fighting over it.

It’s one of the most basic freedoms a person can have. The right to decide for yourself what to believe about God. It is not something to be taken lightly. And that right isn’t something that should ever be taken away. But lately some very vocal and highly respected voices are being raised against our freedom.

Today’s attacks on religious freedom aren’t coming from the same groups and areas that they have in the past. Historically, attacks of freedom of religion come from religion itself. Other religions, or sects within a religion will attempt to impose their beliefs on everyone. We are used to that kind of attack and are quick to condemn it. But these attacks aren’t coming from that direction, they are coming from the secular side. The anti-religion groups.

You might say that that is nothing new. After all, secular institutions and organizations have long been against religion. Particularly Christianity. And that is true. Secular Universities and colleges have long taught that religion is outdated and wrong. Atheist organizations have openly attacked religion and a belief in God. Nothing new there. What’s new is that the attack has begun to change from an attack on religion’s tenets and beliefs, to an attack on the right to even believe those believe those things.

Increasingly the message is that tolerating religion in modern society should not be done. And that religion, in any form, is harmful and detrimental to society. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this video of a lecture given by Sam Harris. He is working on a doctorate in neurology at Stanford University and is also the author of a book called “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.”

The video is kind of long, and a little dry at times, but worth listening through to the end. Here are just a few quotes from the video that jumped out at me.

“Faith is a sign that there is something wrong with your mind. It is a sign that you cannot be trusted”

“They[speaking of Christian beliefs] are really the responses of a madman or an idiot”

The message of his video is that religion should not be tolerated by modern society. His book contains much the same message. If he was just writing a book that said this, or just giving lectures on it, I wouldn’t really pay much attention. After all, lots of people write all kinds of things that aren’t good. Most of them are ignored by the mainstream. But what is scary is that he and others with the same message, are getting a lot of attention and respect in our educational institutions and media.

You say, so what? So what if atheists and agnostics believe that religion is harmful. They don’t believe in God anyway. So it isn’t much of a stretch for them to believe that religion is harmful to society. The problem is that in the past, religious freedom was something they would have fought for just as hard as you and I would. Because it is the right to believe whatever you want to believe that has allowed atheism to be a viable and acceptable world view.

Now, influential atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are telling other atheists that tolerance of religion itself should not be tolerated. And people are paying attention. If religion is not to be tolerated, then how much longer will it be before people start calling for laws prohibiting religion. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t calling for laws against religion now, they are just calling for intolerance of religion. But it does logically follow that if something is harmful and not to be tolerated, then it should be outlawed. That’s why I’m worried.

Is there anything you or I can do about it? Well not much. They have every right to say these things and believe them. Just as you and I have the right to say and believe what we believe. The only thing you and I can do is make sure that the right to believe what we want to believe isn’t taken from us. How do we do that? By exercising our right to vote. And by making sure that those we vote for will support our right to believe what we want to believe. No matter what that is.