Christian Long

Dan Dennett: Dangerous Memes

In TED Talks on April 25, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Reflection by JACKSON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Dan Dennett: Dangerous Memes

After I watched this video, I became convinced that we need an additional layer of education. First we need primary school, then middle school, then high school, then a full year of “How Not to Shoot Yourself in the Foot with Your Newfound Knowledge.” We need classes that teach use of knowledge (or lack thereof), just as much as we need gun use classes.

In my opinion, the most important part of this Talk is in the middle when he remarks that “Ideas are very easy to misuse. That’s why they’re dangerous. And it’s just about a full-time job trying to prevent people who are scared of these ideas from caricaturing them, and then running off to one dire purpose or another.”

This is an incredibly important point.

This point sums up the main reason that I detest sensationalists. When a group of people who want something to happen gets hold of a fact that might possibly pertain to what they desire, they will immediately begin bending the fact into a knot to suit their desires. Facts are simple, concise, and truthful. When facts are exploited, they lose all three of these qualities and are immediately poisoned by the mechanic of fact modification.

This needs to stop.

When media agencies receive a possible story, the first thing they need to ask themselves is not “How can we make this story popular, so that it will generate advertising and reprinting revenue?”, but “How can we convey the details of this story as truthfully as possible, so as to allow all sides of the story to be made clear?” The level of bias, sensationalism, and lack of subcutaneous truth in many news stories is appalling. It’s important to consider, too, that many people get their information from mainstream news. This means that most of the arguments that we make with our friends when discussing a certain point (politics, economics, the enviornment, etc.) are generally one-sided, since there is no two-sided information for us to base our arguments on.

It’s important to take into account how often this happens. One humorous article that, if you tend to get funny stuff forwarded to you from your friends, you many know about, describes normal events in language that warps them into seemingly alien concepts.
According to this email,

“Once every year, we grow trees in pots inside our house, then allow an obese man to enter our house through the chimney, which he does silently. Children wake up quite early in anticipation of this event. Following this intrusion (from which this character has made a stealthy escape), we travel to our planted tree, upon which we receive gifts and eat candy out of oversized socks – all in the celebration of a religious holiday generally known as Christmas.”

And this is simply an effect of modifying the language used to describe the holiday. This is what can happen when people get hold of ideas and don’t know what to do with them. When ideas are used to ill effect, it lessens the positive effect of education for all of us, and this practice needs to be quashed.


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