“Legioni di imbecilli”

“Legioni di imbecilli.” That’s how Italian author Umberto Eco recently described social media users and their opinions. The man has style.

Keep the phrase in mind, particularly on social media where, in Eco’s estimation, the Internet has “promoted the village idiot to the bearer of truth.” Although Eco’s observation may seem arrogant and condescending, I think that the idea animating it is rather humble.

“Know-it-all” is a common stance. Being more oriented toward uncertainty and discounting claims about the unknown are rarer qualities. In the opening to The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes Umberto Eco’s book collection as an “anti-library.” The most valuable titles are those yet unread. They contain depths yet fathomed.

The same could be said about the Internet when information is approached with the skeptical mind of a scientist. Everything must be tested, or as physicist Richard Feynman said, “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Eco said that idiots making drunken comments in wine bars don’t do too much damage to the community because they can be “quickly silenced.” The Internet has taken away this natural restraint.

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