Friday, May 13, 2011

Attack of the Thought Viruses: Part 4 of the Democracy of Ideas

Each of us, at one time or another have been afflicted by a thought virus.  They started off simply enough, you were exposed to the thought virus, and it sounded interesting.  Maybe it came as a friendly comment, maybe it was something a co-worker passed along, maybe it was borne of a commercial, spawn of a website, or caught from a political add.  But it came from a source that seemed trustworthy enough at the time, and you gave this source the gift of your attention.  You lowered the deflector shield and let the message through.   You analyzed the idea under the scrutiny of your best BS-detection software, but this time, it just  wasn’t sensitive enough to detect this stealth threat.  And you took it into your mind, and then you passed it along.  You told someone else about it.  And like many a malaria-carrying mosquito before you, you became a vector of transmission.   Some time later, you realized that you had been taken for a fool. You examined the thought again and said, WOW HOW DID I EVER BELIEVE THAT?  And now your immune system is stronger for having had this experience.  You will not let something like that in again.  But its hard to really reverse all its effects.  And you already spread it.  And perhaps those that you spread it to have spread it further.  Its hard to get the cat back in the bag.  

 So we live with the consequences.  We haves shelves full of products that never lived up to their hype, and medicine cabinets full of placebos that bear high price tags and crafty disclaimers*.  Maybe you’ve spent more on gambling than you have ever meant to, maybe you voted for a candidate who actually did none of the things that you thought you were voting for.  Maybe by repeating gossip you contributed to tarnishing the reputation of someone you really care about.   Perhaps you repeated a joke that really wasn’t very funny.  Maybe you bought a product that you later recommended, mostly because it cost you a lot of money, and then only later could admit that well, it kind of sucked.  Or have you made statements that were racist, or sexists, when damn it, you are better than that?  Maybe you have talked up the virtues of a diet that was a total fail.  Maybe you’ve told a ghost story when deep down you know there just ain’t no such things as ghosts.   But most of these are fairly benign.  Thought viruses can kill.  In their most extreme forms thought viruses cause people to join destructive cults (and drink the cool-aid), get taken by con-artists for their life savings, or let their children die of treatable diseases while expecting a miracle cure.  

We cannot help occasionally being taken by thought viruses.  In our defense, they exist because they are so damn slippery and hard to detect.    It is entirely human to succumb to them now and then.  But they, like real viruses can be harmful.   And our personal wellbeing depends in no small part on our having the Cognitive Kung Fu to ward off the thought viruses.   But we are fortunate.  Over the last few hundred years…humanity has developed some really bad ass kung fu.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, that is they are generally speaking untrue in every way.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent any disease, or really lets face it, do anything at all.  

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