Your Weird Friend

Imagine your weirdest friend or acquaintance. That person who has some pretty “out-there” worldviews and opinions, lots of unusual interests, and maybe grew up in a bubble that’s pretty different from yours. They’re not a bad person, but they’re definitely strange. They also have a pretty high opinion of their own importance and intelligence. Lots of people know someone like this – if you don’t, just imagine it.

Now imagine a world where all of your information about things that happen outside of your own sphere of direct observation comes from this one person. Other than what you see and hear with your own eyes and ears, all the rest of your news and information comes from your weird friend. They decide what to tell you about, and they tell you about it through the lens of their own personality, experiences, and objectives.

That would be super strange, right? They’d only tell you what they thought was important, which would probably be very different from what you’d objectively like to know. You’d be getting everything filtered through their value system, all the narratives that surround the facts would be from their perspective (even if the facts themselves were faithfully reported), and all context would be dependent on the other stories they told you. You would have no way of knowing what else was happening or other perspectives; you wouldn’t even know there were other perspectives. Since you’d have no way of knowing what anyone else was interested in, you’d be led to believe that this was what everyone was interested in. And if your weird friend presented themselves as just someone giving you information, you’d never even realize how much of your worldview was being shaped to match that of this one very odd person. They’d become neutral in your eyes for lack of any reason to believe otherwise.

So if you’re imagining your entire worldview being shaped by your one weird uncle’s Facebook feed, that’s the idea. You probably think that would be very weird, indeed! But you only think that because you have a counterfactual to consider – you’re comparing this weird hypothetical situation to the world as it actually exists. But the point I’m making is… well, that’s the point. You currently live in that weird hypothetical. You just don’t know it’s weird, for exactly the reason that you’ve always lived in it.

The weird friend isn’t necessarily malicious. They might not be lying to you deliberately or intending to manipulate you. But they don’t need to! They’re just weird, and you’re getting all your info filtered through that strangeness. That’s all it takes.

However diverse you think your sources of external information are, they are not diverse enough to avoid this. They couldn’t be, unless you were getting your information from at least a few billion sources. Lots of information can be wrong, and everyone is essentially someone else’s weird friend with their own agenda. So diversify your friends more, trust each one less, and most importantly, don’t ever let someone else become the “neutral” source in your mind. There’s no such thing.

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