Monday, February 11, 2008
i am reading an imperfect but interesting book called the 'black swan'. i stick with it because it is based on something i believe is true about our world: that we like to tell ourselves stories about random events in our lives so that we can feel that we have the ability to control or predict those events in the future. see the stock market or long lines of people being forced to take their shoes off before getting on a plane. some of these stories do no harm and do seem to bring us some comfort. but we have to be careful of others that are more dangerous. and all of them are easy which is the most insidious part of the trap. i heard an example on 'meet the press' yesterday, i think it was there, though im not sure. somebody mentioned that there was still more sexism than racism in america. now that is a debatable point. i dont know if i believe that either way but i do know that the context in which it was said, talking about clinton vs. obama, implied something that does not seem true. obamas growing popularity does not mean that we are less racist than we are sexist. this is a good example of how easy these stories are to tell ourselves and often how neatly they immediately fit the data whilst how utterly simplistic and wrong they usually are. the black guy is more popular than the white woman therefore americans prefer blacks over women? amongst the many flaws in this thinking is the fact that in this primary election, white guys have consistently voted for hillary over obama. whenever i come up with a clever take on something that fits easily i become suspicious. the 'ease' of the fit is a good indicator that there is something wrong; something too lightly examined. ironically, it is these infectious oversimplifications that create our bigotry and sexism in the first place. life is rich and complex and almost always defies easy answers. at least that is my simple story for today and it seems to easily fit the data.