Nietzsche was 35 years old when his constant headaches and stomach aches led him to abandon his professorship at the University of Basel to begin a lonely wandering life, seeking the sunny shores of the Mediterranean in winter and the serene heights of the Swiss Alps in summer. As he left behind his academic stage, his philosophical thinking became more original. Sharp. Challenging. Irreverent.
As a result, he saw trends in society that escaped others. In “Daybreak”, Nietzsche wrote: “A young man is surely spoiled when he is taught to appreciate those who think like him more than those who think otherwise”. His words from the late 19th century resonate today more than ever.
We live in dangerous echo chambers that feed back
Technology has amplified a very human tendency: confirmation bias. Social networks and search engines constantly reinforce the tastes and preferences of their users. Its algorithms follow a very simple idea: if you liked something, it is likely that you will also like something similar.
As a result, the supposed artificial “intelligence” shows us content similar to what we have already consumed. It offers us products similar to the ones we have bought and news related to the ones we have read. There would be nothing wrong with the idea, if it weren’t for the fact that it creates an echo chamber around us that continually feeds itself.
These algorithms reinforce our tendency to seek confirmation of our beliefs, ideas, stereotypes and values. They enclose us in a bubble of mutually reinforcing content, showing us primarily the messages we agree with.
In practice, we continually receive a pat on the back that makes us believe that we are on the right track. That constant positive feedback is nice. Of course! But it has a dark side: it makes us easily complacent and self-indulgent. It makes us believe that we are always RIGHT.
At the same time, those echo chambers keep us from thinking differently. They erase the dissent. And they reinforce our vision of the world. As a result, we can end up becoming more intolerant and rigid people. People unable to deal with the different, listen to different points of view and new ways of understanding life.
In fact, these echo chambers end up fueling extreme positions that border on fanaticism. The “reality tunnels” they create are so narrow that there is no room for difference and not even for dialogue. They lead us to close on the same thing and reject the different.
Nietzsche’s idea to develop our own thought
Nietzsche understood that living in those echo chambers was very dangerous because our own identity and the expression of creativity were at stake. If we let young people be guided by the trends widely accepted by society, which today would be the equivalent of likes or trending topics, we could witness the death of critical thinking and individuality itself.
In “Schopenhauer as Educator”, Nietzsche criticized the terrible tyranny of public opinion, which gives rise to “Pseudo men dominated by public opinion”. The philosopher criticized people who lazily hid “Behind customs and opinions”, yielding to the “Demand for conventionality” out of “Fear of their neighbor, who demands convention and hides in it”. Those who adhered to general opinion in this way seemed to Nietzsche more “Mass-produced products” than people.
Currently, globalization, consumerism, serialization and the attempt to impose certain unquestionable truths have created an iterated mass that closely resembles that which troubled Nietzsche in his time.
Public opinion and social networks can “hijack” thought. In fact, Nietzsche thought that “The finished form of these systems may attract the youth and impress the inexperienced, but it does not dazzle the cultivated.”
Thought that is not challenged tends to become lazy, as the philosopher claimed. For this reason, he considered that in order to grow we need good “enemies”, which means people who challenge us. Interlocutors who challenge our beliefs and points of view so that they force us to rethink what we believe in and even what we want.
Nietzsche himself thought that “Every belief is a prison”, so he set this rule: “Force yourself never to hide or suppress something that goes against your own thoughts… This is the essential requirement of honest thought” .
Today, with internet algorithms continually narrowing our sights and the media fabricating ideas and facts, we need to make a conscious effort to break out of that loop and seek new ideas. Ideas that make us reflect and encourage us to consider other points of view. We have to “Fight not to be absorbed by the tribe.”
In short, it is about detoxifying the mind from the virus of generalized opinion. Get away from mass-produced ideas and prevent thought from lazily following its path. So we can not only avoid the culture of the herd, but also find our own meanings. And that is a worthwhile journey because “No price is too high for the privilege of being yourself”, as Nietzsche said.
Hara, L. A. (2022) Por qué Nietzsche puede ayudarnos a eludir la cámara de ecos y el baldío intelectual del internet. In: PijamaSurf.
Nietzsche, F. (1999) Shopenhauer como educador. Madrid: Valdemar.
Nietzsche, F. (1994) Aurora. Madrid: M. E, Editores.