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The Stupidity of Crowds

The Dr. Seuss librarian protesting the First Lady certainly got some attention, with at least a few librarians, and probably a lot of non-librarians, thinking she stepped over some line and should be fired or something equally drastic.

That was the gist of a couple of comments I didn’t approve because they seemed to come from overwrought fanatics. Calling for people to be fired because of something legal on the internet is a contemporary disease and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

It’s particularly galling coming from librarians who supposedly believe in intellectual freedom, but as I’ve noticed over the years that intellectual freedom usually just includes the freedom to think like the crowd.

Good grief, let’s put things into some perspective.

Should she have written that letter for Hornbook, and should Hornbook have published it? I would have said no, at least not in the form that got published. It was weird.

The thing is, there were much more politic ways to get the same point across without the weirdness about racist propaganda and the “phenomenal children’s librarian” at the Library of Congress.

Was she an embarrassment to the profession? That’s hard to argue when librarians have been embarrassing themselves for so long.

It’s not surprising that so many librarians praised her action. The elected council of their main professional organization has routinely embarrassed themselves by voting for political resolutions on which they have no particular expertise.

The Office of Intellectual Freedom refuses to distinguish between censorship and some rube challenging a book. If you don’t find that embarrassing, then congratulations. You’re part of the librarian crowd.

Librarians love to get political, even though there’s no evidence they have any better grasp of the complexity of politics than any other profession. They’re certainly no experts, so who cares what they think.

Nobody, usually.

One could argue, I suppose, that Trump supporters won’t be library supporters now. It seems like an awfully big leap to believe that Trump supporters who were already library supporters would suddenly stop being because of one school librarian in Massachusetts, a state Trump didn’t win anyway.

Over the weekend someone who is almost certainly not a librarian tried to leave a comment on my post about Semiliterate Rubes. The comment was barely literate, and was about how that post was in support of the Dr. Seuss librarian.

It seemed to come from a semiliterate rube who admitted to Googling the subject, presumably to find more places to leave ridiculous comments and feel validated by society. The commenter probably did not feel validated by a post making fun of semiliterate rubes. and lashed out in anger.

It was a typical internet comment of the kind that keeps those of us with good sense and an unwillingness to be sucked into stupid arguments with trolls from reading internet comments.

I ran across a tweet on one of those ridiculous “Twitter went crazy about” “news” stories about this matter. One of them was from some guy who in 140 characters equated this librarian with “the left,” equated the left with the Democratic Party, and then suggested that the Dr. Seuss comments were insane and the reason the Democratic Party was “dying.”

Obviously he doesn’t know much about politics, or he’d know that the Democratic Party has been a target of the American left for quite a while. Maybe he’d never heard of Bernie Sanders.

And anyone who could make such ridiculous leaps in logic in the first place must be really stupid, or so blinded by ideology that he can’t think straight. Maybe both.

Either way, it’s the sort of tweet that reminds those of us with good sense and an unwillingness to be sucked into stupid arguments with trolls why we avoid Twitter, home of bots and monsters.

Those people aren’t library supporters. They’re probably not readers. They’re just people who are caught up in their echo chamber and want the world to listen to them even though they have nothing worthwhile to say.

They’re part of the crowd, and they have a mob mentality. And the crowd, despite all the nonsense we’ve been fed by members of it, isn’t wise. The crowd is stupid. And joining the crowd makes otherwise smart people stupid.

If you’ve gone on Twitter or Facebook to demand harsh action regarding a foolish happening on the Internet, and you find yourself amongst a lot of people who agree with you, then you’ve been part of the crowd. 

That counts for librarians as well. Librarians also form internet crowds from time to time. They manufacture some outrage for something that hasn’t the slightest effect on their life, and then they take to Twitter and complain a lot.

Fortunately, they usually don’t do it in their official capacity as librarians, just in their unofficial capacity as people who don’t know any more than most other people but really want to express their manufactured outrage on the internet.

In this case, the recent crowd that I’ve seen the most evidence of aren’t librarians, but they do display all the partisan blindness of the original letter, and the original letter was nothing more than a weird entry into the crowdsourced hatred of Donald Trump.

If you view everything through the lens of politics to the point where you make ridiculous statements because they suit your ideology, then you’re not worth taking seriously, and the only people who do take you seriously are members of your own or a different crowd, the former praising you and the latter condemning you.

The problem here is why should we take the partisan hackery any more seriously if it’s from one crowd rather than another? Among sane people, how is this anything more than a ridiculous event that we can all find some amusement from and then move on?

What was amusing about the Dr. Seuss letter was how weird it was, how blinded by ideology that it bordered on incoherence.

But that’s exactly what the crowd is like, too. The social media crowd can’t stand back and view any matter dispassionately. Everything requires it to manufacture some outrage over random occurrences that have no effect on the individual members of the crowd whatsoever.

If you genuinely get upset over a tweet or a Facebook comment or a blog post that has no actual effect on you, if you get irrationally angry over free speech if it’s speech you happen not to agree with, you need help. If words in the internet ether have a visceral effect on you, the problem isn’t the words. The problem is you.

This wasn’t the President tweeting about nuclear war with “Little Rocket Man.” Nuclear war would actually affect you. Even those tweets are just distractions from the President’s evil plan to spread racist propaganda through gifts of Dr. Seuss books.

On the other hand, everyone will move on soon. With rare exceptions often involving the word “Benghazi,” the crowd has to find something new to be outraged about or it gets bored.

Soon enough another silly thing will come along that people will overreact to. I can’t wait, because I need something to write about.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    So much yes.

  2. Libertarian Librarian says:

    I think what exacerbated the situation was that the “letter” was published on what has been a standard in children’s and YA literature. The fact that she was also recently hailed by School Library Journal as a Hero of Family Outreach signaled that she should be an advocate for all children and families. Mix the self-righteousness of a true believer and general rudeness and we had a nasty new SJW in town.

  3. Robin Henry says:

    It’s nice that there are a few people still around with a little sense. I am not sure why everything has to be political right now. And I really wanted to ask if the librarian in question actually had a collection development policy that would give her real justification for refusing Dr. Seuss…
    But we all know she as just using her refusal as a platform to get her 15 minutes of outrage.

  4. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was much ado about nothing. The First Lady gave a donation of books to the library, and the librarian decided to be PC about her refusal. The First Lady rose above the fray and the librarian et. al chose to double down on their PC and make a mountain out of an anthill.

    Personally, I like Dr. Seuss and I have fun with it from time to time by doing overly dramatic readings of the various stories.

  5. Weepy profession, our own worst enemies says:

    Generally, if an employee “pops-off” on a customer, they get fired. I feel no shame here for advocating that someone living of off taxpayers should be treated the same. Again, she willingly violated several basic principles that define who we are. Going out of one’s way to write a letter dissing a donation is beyond justification. Only librarians would think it not a big deal.

  6. Raymond Perez says:

    Totally agree. One of my co-workers and I were just talking about how mass shootings immediately become political. Nobody can talk objectively about these things without bringing in their personal political/social views.

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