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.

Smile And Nod

I learned the value of this Standard Operating Procedure from a colleague of mine at Schwab. It entails never pushing back regardless of how unreasonable the request, and only later surfacing the constraints. That way you become the invaluable go-to person and never get pegged as a naysayer.
This morning I embraced the SAN SOP when I agreed to join my friend’s running group.
Let’s clarify: I run. I just don’t do “endurance” runs. But, I figured, how hard can a little extra distance be?
Only in the car – en route, committed – did John throw out these remarks:
  • “If you studied the trail posted online…” (“study” the trail? ah…right…)
  • “The grade ascends consistently for the first 6 miles.” (note the use of “first”)
  • “There is an extension option because the main course is only 11 miles.” (note the use of “only”)
  • “The fact that it’s trail running sort of selects out who will be there.” (I had no idea what this specifically referred to, but got the sense that trails must be scary)
Smile And Nod. Smile And Nod. No problem!
But, in merciful face-saving fate, the Running Demon of Sun*Sans*Shade led even the “ultra” runners to condescend to their own humanity and join me in stopping at various points along the way.
So really, I am just like them. I could do a 50K in my sleep. Dreams, that is.
This is not me.