Friday, March 29, 2013

Chaos and Order

I've been reading newspapers lately, especially the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (because I've got direct access to the papers). I'm more of a new news media person myself, but I can never really forget the time I spent reading our local paper when I didn't have access to the internet at a younger age. I naively and presumptuously read the newspaper thinking most of what they wrote was likely true, or at least reliable. I hold no more such illusions.

It makes me laugh, though, when I read comments from members of the old news corps drumming a beat against the new media. The new media is chaotic, they say. Unreliable. Disordered. Contradictory. The old way was better, they say: "...I think we were better off as a society when we had fallible but reasonable people sorting out what mattered and what you needed to know about it." 

I wonder if they even see the arrogance of their own position. They act as if they were the only people reasonable enough to sort the news and choose what was important. I do agree with them on one point, though: the new media is disordered, unreliable, and contradictory. Personally, though, I'd rather have contradictory reports that I can sort out myself than ordered sources convinced of their own superiority feeding to me what they've decided is important. At least the new media acts as if their readers are smart enough to analyze things on their own.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our own prejudices

A statement made in an article I read today got me thinking. The gist of the statement was: "Humans like to think they are rational, but that rationality is an illusion". While I was reading the article, I found myself picking apart it's arguments, finding weakness, prejudice, grandiosity, self aggrandizement, and other self promoting argumentative tactics. (Here's the article, you can decide if I'm correct yourself). There's a kind of arrogance in using logic to prove human beings are illogical, I think.

The thing is, though, I agree with the author on this statement. We are illogical, yet self-delusional beings often incapable of knowing what is best for us. We have our goals, our ideas, or desires, passions, loyalties, and we want those loyalties to be logically infallible. Upon closer inspection, though, each of those loyalties turn out to have holes - logical contradictions, unsupported assumptions, untenable conclusions, the whole lot. We are, in a word, fallible.

But does this mean we need to submit ourselves to laws limiting our freedom of choice? Do we need a micro-managing government to stop us from hurting ourselves? I might say yes if we had some non-human, objective entity with far more data processing ability that we have, but such is not the case. Our lawmakers are human, too, subject to the same prejudices, cognitive biases, and delusions as the rest of the populace. What guarantee do we have that their decisions are truly based upon anything more than prejudice? None.

I'm not privy to the inner workings of the cost-benefit analysis done in the higher echelons of government, but I can't imagine the decisions are any more rational than those made on a more local scale. I'm no economist, though. Take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gun Control Lunacy

I read an article in the New York Times this morning entitled: Saving Children From Guns. I'm no gun advocate, but neither am I a gun control advocate. Rather, I'm an advocate for data, and unsurprisingly, this article ignores data while attempting to use emotion to manipulate its readership. The article would have us assume accidental gun death represents the majority of accidental child death annually.

This statement is patently false. In 2007, of the 11,778 accidental child deaths in the nation, a mere 138 of them were due to accidental firearm discharge, and this is data for ages 0 to 19. Previous years give similar statistics. Perhaps, if the author wants limit accidental child mortality, he should focus on limiting child car accident deaths (6,638 in 2007) or maybe even accidental poisonings (972).

I surmise the author's real intention is to limit all gun violence, specifically homicide. but if the author really wants such a focus, he shouldn't use accidental child gun death as an emotional lead in for his argument. It's dishonest.