Don’t let hate stop your thinking

I am a mass media hater as much as anyone. I hate how it manipulates people through fear and soundbites. I hate how it dumbs down issues requiring thought and analysis to the detriment of accuracy. I hate how it proliferates through the enhanced sharing capacities we have today. And I hate how it leaves victims in the dust with no recourse or accountability.

The good news is that I am not alone. People are tired of being played to generate more clicks and ad revenues for an Estate that absolved its responsibility to maintain a healthy Democracy through an informed populace.

The sad news is that because of its legacy of negligence, the media has created a real problem. We’re numb to real crises. And the consequences could be significant.

The latest chapter in this is Ebola. A shock-weary society is fighting back against the hype, saying that we are unduly concerned. “More people die from flu and cancer than Ebola. Focus there.”

I joined this chorus. “Stop the hype” I told my mother, who routinely forces me to consult My sister (a nurse) joined arms with me in trying to stem the tide of what was (certainly in my mother’s case) media-induced paranoia.

Then – ironically via clickbait outlet BusinessInsider – my sanity was restored by (my) new favorite author, Nassim Taleb. Best known for Black Swan, Taleb is known for establishing pragmatic (though perhaps not intuitive) ways to think around risk, unpredictability and uncertainty.

Here’s a rare moment of me appreciating the conciseness of an ad-driven pub, allowing me to call out the salient bit:

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

The problem Taleb sees is that if there is not more urgent action in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea — to the point of restricting travel and other measures that may now seem like an overreaction — then there will be consequences here.

Thankfully we are not limited to BusinessInsider and can get a bit more analysis from the likes of Zeynep Tufekci.

In short, it’s not unfounded paranoia, despite the media’s self-interested position to generate it. And it’s not an issue of looking at gross numbers. It’s an issue of risk. I’m ready to put my media hate away if it means we can think and – better yet – act rationally. There are high stakes.

Humans aren’t rational – and that’s ok

The latest episode in the fierce drama unfolding between ride-renting services Lyft and Uber is certainly distasteful. It’s also puzzling. As my friend Rogo pointed out:

“Uber can’t be killed by Lyft given its far superior resources. And it makes no sense for Uber to actually try to finish off its smaller competitor”

…due to the regulatory battle which they share an interest in fighting together.

I am sure the Travis worshippers credit some insanely brilliant strategic design to this behavior and I look forward to learning what it is if it can help us see a picture more noble than the sleaze that has been exposed thus far. Barring that, I’ll defer to what many say is the source of such conscienceless, greed-absolving behavior: yes, that scourge known as “Objectivism.”

The irony is that for as much as this ideology professes rationality, it is basically a pretense to cloak and justify the basest of human selfishness. Even Rand herself inadvertently exposed how conflicted this pure-rationality paradigm is (when a lover rebuffed her advances – what, love in the realm of the rational? – she later dismissed his “ugly actions and irrational behavior in his private life”).

In today’s iteration of this immature, unsophisticated world view, greed and hubris appear to be compelling a CEO to behaviors that (ironically) just aren’t rational. This is all in the name of ‘winning’ and encouraged at any cost when there is a one-dimensional focus on monetary returns that ignores the complexities of legal and human frameworks that underpin any economic activity.

If this were merely a warped personal philosophy, I could move on. But it’s had (and sadly as we’ve seen this week, continues to have) too much impact for me to ignore.


What will it take, indeed?

The spate of gun massacres in the U.S. has triggered renewed controversy and outrage. Rightly so. A friend recently wrote a nice post, “What Will It Take?” Indeed. What will it take to meaningfully address this unthinkable problem of mass violence when a ridiculously absurd amount of evidence shows a correlation to the presence of guns and gun-related deaths (of humans, not hunting game)?

Given the contentious nature of rationally-ensuing discussions on gun control (see evidence and mortal impact of gun ownership cited above), many instead appeal to mental health reforms. Given it’s easier to get a gun than to get mental health care (note a widely-circulating post by a mother calling herself “Adam Lanza’s mother”), once again the evidence calls for a different answer. In fact, the mental health conditions cited by the gunman at Sandy Hook have in fact no correlation to increased violence. In fact, mental health seems to have zero impact on violence. Out, then, go the arguments for mental health reform…at least, as it pertains to reducing these inconceivable acts of violence.

Ok, perhaps humanizing the problem will work? After all, a central principle of those seeking to educate people about the holocaust is to communicate the horrors not by raw statistics or clinical facts, but rather through the lens of individual stories. These custodians of history seek to illuminate the horror through photos, letters, and testimonials rather than theoretical, abstract facts. I’ve witnessed this at Holocaust museums in Washington, D.C. and Jerusalem, as well as the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive devoted to sharing and extending these stories through the generations

The thinking is that no amount of facts or theory will impact people meaningfully; it is only through personal stories that people can begin to grasp the most dark and absurd turns of human behavior.

Alas, and tragically so, hoping that this insane pattern of outrage followed by inaction have cause to be concerned. Incredulously, public opinion remains unmoved by such tragedies. Studies by the Pew Research Center show that even violent public gun massacres such as the ones in Aurora, CO and Tucson, AZ have had no impact on public opinions towards how guns are obtained or regulated. And some are even calling for the press to refrain from reporting the names of the perpetrators, keeping the issue more abstract and nameless.

Thus, despite all the facts above which demonstrate our only lever to reduce such violence is gun control, the public remains wed to its antiquated notion of personal rights and loves the theory of the 2nd amendment more than the reality of the bloody impact that its anacrhonistic implementation has in today’s society.

So if not facts, if not humanity…then what, what will cause us to change this insane holding pattern of death, outrage yielding no change? Didn’t Einstein call insanity the act of doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results? Isn’t there a reason the rest of the world thinks we are on another planet on this issue? (If someone told me there was a society that allowed any citizen to own a weapon of scalable destruction, I would think they were crazy too…and then I realized, it’s us).

Those who fearfully clutch at freedoms crafted in an era of escape from armed militia  in today’s world — when civil liberties, due process and judiciary checks abound (as do the firearms and bloodshed they propogate) — mystify me. Now we live in fear that the person on the bus may have a bad day and whip out a rifle. Is this fear and death worth the “freedom” to personally own a death stick?

I’m too exhausted to play this out anymore, though. so I’m just appealing to what Joe did in the movie that keeps me relatively sane as the world grows more insane. I’ve decided to talk to plants. Please join me.