Friday, January 13, 2012

Internet dumbth goes viral again—UPDATED

If there's anything the Internet excels at, it's in spreading bad history, bad science and complete absence of common sense in catchy, fun ways.

Consider Jefferson Bethke's poem "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus".  Several people have already written takedowns of Bethke's trope-laden blather; while I especially recommend Fr. Andrew Damick's thorough fisk, I can also point you to Marc Barne's smack upside the head, Joe Heschmeyer's comments and Marcel LeJeune's analysis of the false dichotomies Bethke utilizes.

Unfortunately, reading intelligent commentary isn't as fun as listening to lyrics set to a phat beat, so all the written remonstrations exposing Bethke's baloney are like obese men running up a hill to catch a bus they've missed (I'm obese myself, so I can use that simile).  And Bethke's poem will be passed around on Facebook and MySpace, where the uninformed can cheer over it like a throng of pre-teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert, while us poor, traduced "religious" types will be left to shout in the social-network wastelands in righteous futility.

Occasionally you find exceptions.  For instance, "Fear the Boom and Bust" is a rap anthem that pits economic theorist F. A. Hayek (Austrian school) directly against John Maynard Keynes in a way that's both fun and educational.  But examples like this are rare.  Too often, the excuse "It's entertainment!  Why do you take it so seriously?" is propounded to let addled and meretricious thought (not to mention deliberate social engineering) loose into the "Information Superhighway", where it can infect the unwary and replicate its noisome message like a social Captain Trips.

If there's just one thing to find annoying about Bethke's poem, it's its reliance on the "religion causes wars" myth, a pseudo-fact that desperately needs its head cut off and a stake driven through its heart before it can create other undead.  But wait!  There's more!  There's its idea of "religion" as something pertaining only to formally organized worship (dumb), Bethke's deliberate cherry-picking and distortion of Scripture (dishonest), the "Heaven and Hell as social control" meme ("You're not the boss of me!"), and the idea that getting rid of formal church structures and moral teachings will somehow cure the human race of hypocrisy (naïve at best).  Bethke, to put it metaphorically, is the love child of Tammy Faye Messner and Richard Dawkins.

Oral tradition, it seems, has not gone away.  But instead of the old and wise instructing the young and innocent, it's now the young and dumb passing on "dumbth" to other young and dumb in a never-ending circle of transmitted ignorance that makes a mockery of the term "Information Age".  "Viral" is too apt a name for this process.

Update: Later the same day
I'm aware the above reads little better than a fussy, elitist rant.  Yes, I have temper tantrums.  But it's fair to point out that the only reasonable antidote to Internet dumbth is for educated people to make YouTube videos that are similarly catchy and fun, like the "Hayek vs. Keynes" clip I mentioned before.  My only qualm is that doing so will inevitably "dumb down" complex topics.  Education, I believe, should always strive to bring people's knowledge and wisdom up, not settle for a "good enough" level of nominal knowledge or attempt to achieve a fictional parity of outcomes controlled by the lowest common denominator.  But perhaps education simple enough to understand yet complex enough to inform and enlighten is a more realistic goal, one that can be achieved through means of "info-tainment".

Update: January 14, 2012
Thanks to Frank Weathers at Why I Am Catholic for finding this YouTube answer to Jefferson Bethke.  Production values may be not as good, and he's no rapper, but he's right in Bethke's face!