Having too much information can cloud our judgment, especially around big decisionsby AC Grayling / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
In a world where a ceaseless barrage of information, opinion, advertising and spin makes not for clarity but confusion, it is inevitable that people will fall back on what their guts say to make decisions. The relentlessness of the news and opinion cycle is exhausting, and it gives people an uncomfortable sense of being manipulated by interests whose real agenda is unclear.
You would think that having more opportunities to be informed would have the opposite effect: that it would result in an education, by richness of resource, of informed opinion. Instead, the constant bewildering roar has a dumbing effect, a thought-numbing and distracting effect, which does no-one but the demagogues any good.
I once occupied a house in the Tuscan countryside next door to the kennels of that region’s principal group of hunting hounds. They howled and bayed all night and day, egging each other on in alternating waves of excitement and anxiety. Sleep was not possible, the baking days were made hideous by their uproar. The person who let the house to visitors had not mentioned them in the advertisement, and was deaf (perhaps understandably, after herself being exposed to all that bruiting) to remonstrance. It quickly became impossible to think, or even care, about anything other than escape. Thus it is today with what was once called “the public conversation.”
Even in less dramatic times than the present, the urgency of news and comment media to be doing something, anything, to hold our attention, requires them to keep up their howling. For opinions to be heard, contributors need to shout more loudly than the surrounding hubbub, and at the same time have to make their messages simpler and briefer. All is therefore a yelling of slogans and summaries. What was once a public conversation has become the bellow of a crowd: and the decisions of that crowd have become worse as a result.