Reading Charles Tilly’s book on how we explain stuff has lead to buzzing in my head about conventional wisdom. We all have lots of these conventional bits of wisdom we use to explain things. For example: Question:”Why do they do that?” Awnser: “For the money.” We collect these into little internal FAQs. That Q&A is taken from the booklet labeled ‘rational economic-man.’ Each of the booklet we collect is self consistent.
Together these Catechisms let us move quickly through our days. It’s a very effective heuristic. It’s always comforting to be able to explain the world. It makes it seem safer.
Trouble arises when these rules of thumb are wrong in material ways. That “in it for the money” rule is unlikely to be useful in social spheres, for example. Distance helps to reduce the chance that a mistake will have consequences. If you’re a Fortune 500 company you may not occupy any social sphere and the rule above will do just fine. Living in the US a poor explaination for why HIV infection rates are 27% in South Africa is less likely to materially effect your life.
These days people like to go on about how the world is getting smaller and how the boundaries between spheres, particularly geographic ones, are getting thinner and thinner. In so far as that is true the risk of living with a consistent but flawed Catachism is increasing. There is a rising tension between a Reality Based v.s. Faith Based scheme for moving through your days. Which is a huge pain in the neck! Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the time to get through a day deriving each action from first principles.
Hans Rosling knows stuff, based on facts, that won’t fit your default rule book. For example how do explain the 2% HIV infection rate in Sudan v.s. the 27% rate in South Africa? Did you know that electricity is good for infant survival rates independent of income?
An evidence base world view requires five thoughts at the same time: 1. World is getting better and better, 2. but at the cost of climate change, 3. and billions still live miserable lives in poverty 4. and in the last decade life got worse for 100 of millions, 5. but as the world is stupidly managed, we have many opportunities to fix the world for the grandkids!
Go forth, read and subscribe.