A person who is connected in today’s world is a person who is constantly bombarded by information, far more than most of us can honestly make sense of. Much of it is neither exactly true or false, but simply a perspective that is alien to us.
A large number of unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the situation and will say just about anything without taking the time or energy to even care whether it is true or false. As we develop the skills to navigate the constant stream of information that comes our way, I think it’s time that we all have a Zero Tolerance policy towards (CowPuckey).
To start, if you have not read my previous essay On (CowPuckey) I present the definition of the problem there. The short version is that some con artists will say whatever they think will give some advantage over other people. We all know that when presented with a potential deal that, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But in politics these days we often are presented with ideas and factoids that sound too stupid to be true – and they usually are.
Why has (CowPuckey) become so endemic? I believe we simply have excess media space to fill. People generally want to fill these channels because it gives them either money, power, or fame. These speakers, as humans, have all the usual human frailties, including denial and laziness. The first thing I believe we have to remember is that all of this information is just a connection between people that otherwise wouldn’t have any contact at all. We may not know much about their motives or perspectives, but we can be sure that they are humans.
The skills needed to navigate this have not been fully developed. What I find attractive about Citizen Journalism is not the idea that everyone can be a reporter, but that being a reporter can help people to understand how to better consume the information surrounding them. It seems to me that the only real skill that you need to be a journalist is to have a good (CowPuckey) detector – something we all need.
If we can establish that we’re all people and that we’re in a situation where we need to be able to tease out an honestly unique perspective from pure (CowPuckey), I think a little common sense and common decency will go a long way. It’s worth repeating over and over again – if it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is.
A Zero Tolerance policy towards (CowPuckey) begins with simply ignoring the TV shows, blogs, politicians, and everything else that violate these basic principles. That may sound ignorant or arrogant, but turning off this noise is the first step toward getting some time to think. If a person is giving you nothing but (CowPuckey), you will probably emerge from the experience less informed than when you started. By that standard, most of today’s media and many politicians are not actually increasing people’s awareness, they are decreasing it. Better-informed people pay no attention to it at all.
The next step is to stand up to (CowPuckey) directly. I know that there are a lot of well-meaning people out there who have tried but have made terrible strategic mistakes that only legitimize the (CowPuckey). As an example of how to do it right, see “Tomorrow’s spam today” written by one of Minnesota’s finest journalists, in every sense of the word, Bob Collins of MPR. The short version is that a senior center thought that taking Federal money meant their clients could not pray aloud before meals without violating separation of church and state. Simple, and wrong, enough, yes? Where this becomes pure (CowPuckey) is when a very human error is used as proof that government is oppressive and out to squash religion. It fails the “Too stupid to be true test” quickly.
I like this example because many people might earnestly respond by citing lengthy Federal regulations and case law to prove that the person who made the original decision was wrong. That would only engage the (CowPuckey) and carry it forward into something that appears to be a legitimate discussion. Read how Bob Collins handled it to see what a true Zero Tolerance policy looks like – actively calling the (CowPuckey) for what it is and making the human connection that is often missing.
We can all join in the Zero Tolerance towards (CowPuckey). We need to minimize our contact with infotainment that actually renders us less informed. We can also call (CowPuckey) just what it is. To do any of this, however, we have to start by remembering that we are just people and we all need some time to think if we are going to make sense of the tremendous connection we have with our world. If it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is.