When I was a kid, my mom somehow managed to mostly spare us from having to go to the grocery store. But when we did, I was always amused by the tabloids at the checkout, and the completely absurd headlines and images on the covers. They were really into aliens in those days. I wondered who exactly was entertained by such silly things.
Later, when I got a little older, I learned that the silly things were taken seriously by some people. Maybe it was those goofy grandmas out there, bored, or maybe it was folks genuinely willing to believe that Walt Disney's head was frozen in a jar.
Of course, it didn't take a ton of critical thinking to see the absurdity of this. If any of these things were true, we would see Peter Jennings talk about it on ABC News, or see it in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The truth was definitely more obvious via critical thinking than the trust of its source.
Now, in 2020, a non-trivial number of people believe that there is a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, drinking blood, made up of Hollywood elites and Democrats, that are controlling everything and undermining President Trump. This would have been fine if the folks that believed this were hard to find, but they're not. Reporters find them and publish their accounts. A few years ago, some dude walked into a pizza joint armed, where he believed kids were being trafficked. You can't make this stuff up.
Back in the day, we discounted the "crazy" people who bought the tabloids and believed them. We gave them no more credence than that. The spread of the nonsense was fairly contained, and you had to actually buy the content. These days, the cost of obtaining that information is essentially zero, as it's fueled by advertising and social media, for which you are the product. That by itself shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? Well, it's like the X-Files... do you want to believe? If so, disregard critical thinking, and go for it.
You've seen plenty of this. A person posts a link online to a blog that was started last week, or by a lobbyist with a clever name like, "Americans For High Fidelity Freedom And Sandwiches" or some such shit. The source doesn't matter, because they want to believe. And the "mainstream" press? Well, they're naturally part of the aforementioned cabal, because the people I want to believe said so.
Cognitive dissonance and bias aside, what we're looking at now is the tabloids of the modern era. It may take a little deeper looking and critical thinking to sniff out bullshit, but not that much. We used to look at the old lady at the grocery store checkout as harmless, but this behavior now is not harmless. What's worse, some are willing to disregard this as a difference in opinion that we should just respect. We don't need to respect the beliefs of the modern equivalent of tabloid readers.
Reality, facts, observable truth, are still real. We have to get back to honoring that. All of the conspiracy theories about election fraud, in the same election that won back House seats and will likely retain the Senate for Republicans, are the alien baby headlines. It's not because I said so, it's because the facts and observable truth are right in front of you and basic critical thinking confirms them.
Let's stop pretending that there's something elite or uppity about critical thinking.