I don’t mean to be rude, but think a lot of you are stupid. Yes, stupid. I don’t say this lightly, nor do I exclude myself from the accusation, either. And it’s bothering me and I hope it’s bothering you.
How else do we explain the whole Raheem Sterling ‘thing’? It seems to me that a sizeable section of the British media is now really embarrassed about what some newspapers and their colleagues did to Sterling and what they have continued to do, as this knowing tweet suggests.
Sterling comfortably (and depressingly) bottom of the BBC player rater – again. They did all watch it, right? Now imagine watching it again without his running, trying to stretch Sweden, create something out of nothing
— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) July 7, 2018
We can be as critical of the press as we like; the real blame for its very existence lies with those who buy it, much less those who make it. If no-one buys it, then it stops. It’s our fault first, not theirs. The worst papers and websites remain the most popular. Why? Because they’ve worked out how to appeal to stupid people, or, more precisely, how to appeal to the stupid in us all. Yeah, me and you.
It seems easy for them to plant an idea in our minds, and then to let it grow and flourish into a full-blown psychosis by drip-feeding it every so often.
People want a scapegoat, want a hate figure, want somewhere to lay off their self-loathing, or any other darkness on the edge of their own psychological town. This press corps know that and set about selling their nasty cartoonish ideas of people like Sterling and before you know it, stupids are booing his name in a pub. Their mind has been controlled and they have reacted in the prescribed manner.
But my overriding worry is we are all becoming more and more stupid, almost without realising it. Okay, some of us spotted what was going on with Sterling, but what else are we missing in doing so? It’s impossible to keep on top of everything, impossible to apply intellect and scrutiny all the time. Easier to give in to all the delicious stupidity on offer, and my God there’s a lot of it.
We are all getting less and less able to discern truth from lies, fact from fiction and, more troubling yet, have stopping even caring. Look at us all, for God’s sake. We’re not sleepwalking into a dystopia, we’re walking there whilst texting, all of us staring at our phones for a brief hit of dopamine. Phone zombies of all ages everywhere walking through the streets staring at the device, oblivious to the world they are living in, ignoring the pleading eyes of their children, in order to check social media, their minds being reshaped, their wits permanently distracted, never appreciating the here and now, only the there and then: perpetually unsettled. If it sounds like madness, that’s because it is. Look around you, things have got weird, dude. It didn’t used to be like this, even recently.
And yet look over a shoulder at the phone and it is all superficial, all surface and no depth. It is designed to distract, but not to inform. Informing is too hard, too deep, requires too much thought and intellect. It is the art of slow cooking, compared to a Deliveroo pizza, drenched in the sweat of the underpaid. The old cliche meme ‘where shall we go to this weekend to look at our phones?’ would now puzzling. That’s just normal life now, isn’t it?
This isn’t technophobia or an appeal against modernity, it is merely a plea to raise our eyes to the sky, rather than to the screen. And to then ask what the feckin’ hell is this doing to us all? How, in an age of information, in an age of some much excellent writing and analysis, can so many people still be so ignorant as to fall for guff about a ‘footie idiot’ who is ‘THE source of frustration’ and then to thoughtlessly rage at him?
Now, if you’re a proper stupid who has been programmed correctly, your instinct now should be to call me or anyone saying this to you, a snob or an elitist and complain that you’re not stupid, actually you just read The Sun out of some sort of sense of postmodern irony or because you like puns. But such protest is merely the status quo’s anti-virus mechanism kicking in. You’re doing the work for the ‘keep-everything-like-it-is-don’t-question-anything’ cultural software that has been implanted in you.
I say this with confidence because I see it happening to myself and it is really, really scary. I’m trying not to become a zombie thicko. I really am. I actively try not to have my brains sucked out through my eyes, primarily by almost never using a smartphone and by not watching Love Island, whatever that is. But it is still hard to stop it happening. As an online worker bee, pretty much the majority of things in front of my eyes seems to be drivel unless I try very hard to make sure it isn’t, from those grotesque content ads, to sidebars of shame, to tweets from Nigel Farage. It makes me almost miss the good old days of Viagra spam.
It all has an effect on you. And it’s not positive.
I don’t actually know what intelligence is. I don’t think it’s much to do with education. You meet loads of well-educated thick people and poorly educated intelligent people. But whatever it is, we must ask what happens when a significant portion of us are not using our intelligence enough, have our brains in neutral too long, are heavily medicated, are wilfully ignorant and thus become mentally pliant and can then be controlled by ‘footie idiot’ type headlines? What is the result for society when we’re all distracted by content ads and social media come-ons?
Have we become the vassals of malign forces, twisted and manipulated to generate profits, twisted and manipulated to respond in any way that the powerful want and for whatever reason? It increasingly feels so.
That is what happened with Sterling. The message went out – ‘Hate this man’ – because there is money and clicks in such hate for such a person, and so plenty did. Flick the right switch and the army of the stupid is soon on the march. Nothing else explains what has happened. It is a sort of hypnosis. A debilitation of important human traits such as thought, compassion and empathy in order to feel good about sticking it to someone, or by confirming a pre-existing bigotry. Bam! Doctor Feelgood delivers the goods once again.
We all like to think we’re acting via independent thought, but I think this is increasingly naive. Rather, more and more we’re behaving like Pavlov’s dog.
This is all at the forefront of my mind because ‘The Teesside Vote’, the latest in my Nick Guymer series of crime novels, is about exactly these issues. I wanted to consider what the wash-out of these cultural tidal waves will be. How does it affect democracy to have an electorate that is so disengaged and so easily distracted, is unable to spot if they’re being manipulated or, in the doomsday scenario, simply does not give a damn if they are. Should people who boo Sterling in a pub even have a vote?
When given a choice between clicking on an article about, say, the need for tax rises to fund the NHS, and one with a picture of a bikini-clad woman, despite the fact that the internet is an infinite resource of female nudity with which to satiate your lust, more click on the woman and by a huge percentage. That’s why The Mail website is what it is. When I was running ads for t-shirts, more people clicked on one of a Pop Art-style drawing of an attractive blonde woman than on anything else.
We’ve become slaves to our dopamine receptors, forever searching for another injection from Doctor Feelgood, whether it be from someone clicking ‘Like’ on our post about our new haircut, or about our posting of some bile about a footballer’s tattoo.
And this is dissolving the tolerance for anything that requires more thought, so much so that I’ve noticed the response to my tweet which says ‘Look at this’ is huge compared to one which says ‘This might be of interest to you’. Three words versus seven. One a call to action, one a suggestion. That’s the stupidifying of society, right there.
And even though I’m aware of this, having studied it in detail to write the novel, I still find myself reacting in the same way, sometimes. Not thinking and instead going stupid by relying on comforting defaults. It is such a big bowl of sumptuous mental ice cream and hard to resist.
I’d like to be able to dismiss the Sterling debacle as just the bleating of stupid people, but I don’t think it is just that. I think it is symptomatic of something more profoundly disturbing and endemic to our lives today: the dumbing-down of all our minds to the point where we’re all just auto-responders who suck up what we’re fed and regurgitate it under the illusion it is original thought.
I’ve even begun to question the reasons for my long-standing antipathy to Glenn Hoddle’s co-commentary and have now become convinced that I just got an idea stuck in my head about him and have moulded everything to fit that, ignoring everything that doesn’t.
In short, I’ve gone stupid.
Can any of us really trust our reactions to anything anymore, in the onslaught of all this mind-altering technology and culture? Can we be sure we are actually using our intelligence and not just spouting someone else’s propaganda? I’m not sure we can. And that is profoundly worrying.
Or it would be if I wasn’t so stupid.