Letting Algorithms Do Your Thinking for You

The abstract-as-experience, fostered by the internet, may partly explain the modern explosion of unworkable theories of gender and sex, of racism, and of the general public’s complicity in oppression. These are spanking new. Outside university sociology departments, no-one had heard of them five years ago, but they are believed absolutely by earnest, well-meaning young people, who pronounce them as incontestable facts and integrate them into their self-defined, internet-enabled self-creation.

If apprehending data is the same thing as actually experiencing something, then that data can stand as its own corroborating evidence of the truth of a supposition. Your own personal encounters (experiences in that traditional sense) may contradict the data, but you are only one individual in a global population heading towards 10 billion. Your testimony is probably anomalous. 

So, spreadsheets of figures, cataloguing human life in various categories appear to have more validity and weight than someone’s actual in-the-flesh experiences and, as we spend more and more time online, can become a proxy for experience itself. Their convincing conclusions become the assumptions that colour our real-world interactions, if we can be bothered to tear ourselves away from our computer screens and have any. And these encounters, because they are framed in the categories chosen by the data compiler, will probably appear to back up their conclusions. 

It may be no coincidence that the most virulent iteration of Racial Justice activism took place during the Covid lockdowns, when everyone was stuck at home consuming Critical Race Theory, and the data selected by its advocates, and becoming more and more paranoid at what it seemed to imply. We were unable to get out on the streets and meet white people and be reassured that most of them were quite nice and not particularly racist. 

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