Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Diversity and Judgment

James Surowiecki's argument about the remarkable Wisdom of Crowds depends on the crowds being diverse. The kind of diversity that matters is that the members have a variety of experiences. That way, the errors made by some individuals with certain kinds of experiences are cancelled out by the errors of other kinds of individuals with different kinds of experiences. The result, by Providence I think, is likely to be more accurate than the judgment of any one group -- even the experts.

The diversity that counts is a diversity of experience. Crowds that merely look different, but think alike, don't count.


Anonymous said...

So is it experience or is it thought that makes for diversity? I have a close group of friends and we think alike - same religion, same moral values, same politics - but our experiences - childhood, education, employment, financial status, etc. - are vastly different.

Gruntled said...

This is a great question. I think thought becomes its own culture, and people from many different backgrounds can become more similar as they think together. Still, we draw upon our experiences through life. Both together make us, and our social groups.

Marty said...

The diversity that counts is a diversity of experience.

All the more (obvious) reason to reject same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting.

There is little diversity in a "two mom" household -- can a boy really learn about fatherhood from his "uncle"?

Virginia said...

Marty, do you have a best friend of the same gender? Are the sum of your experiences identical to his/hers? Assuming that two women or two men are basically identical in terms of life experiences is absurdly narrow-minded.

Your comment is also offensive to every man who has grown up without a father (for whatever reason) and to the mentors - uncles, grandfathers, pastors, teachers, et al - who guided his journey to maturity.

Marty said...

Virginia, every boy who grew up without his own father knows deeply and painfully what he has missed. And yet he is grateful to his uncle for the sincere compassion he has been shown.

You can ask him for yourself whether or not an uncle is a suitable replacement for a father. I think you know how he will reply.

Marty said...

PS: Virginia, when you say "...every man who has grown up without a father (for whatever reason)..."

Think for a moment about all of the reasons a boy might have to grow up without a father. Those reasons all have one thing in common: they are all tragic.

Is the reason "because mommy cannot love a man" any less tragic than any of the others you can think of?

Virginia said...

Marty, I did not claim that an uncle, pastor, etc, is a father substitute, or that it makes the situation of growing up without a parent any less of a tragedy for all involved. My argument is with your suggestion that two female (or male) partners do not have differing experiences and thus cannot offer a rich tapestry of life to their children.

Your snide comment "because mommy cannot love a man" reeks of homophobia, and no, I do not think it is a tragedy. A loving partnership is, I believe, the very opposite.

Marty said...

Virginia, I'll repeat a question I've asked before, make a comment, and then give you the final word.

Question regarding the diversity of experience offered by "two moms" or "two dads": What will these two mothers have to offer when their 13 year old son locks himself in the bathroom for hours at a time, and/or when they find porno under his mattress? Similarly, what will two dads say to their daughter as she experiences her first period, or is nearly date-raped by the boy in the first question? Their experience in these matters is decidedly one-sided.

Comment: You do not consider it a tragedy when a child loses a father IF the reason is because mommy is gay? What other non-tragic reasons can you think of that make fatherlessness acceptable?

I'm far from homophobic, but I'm not so homophilic that I can so easily excuse the spiritual abuse of a child in this way. Mom's bias against men is a pitiful excuse for telling a boy he has no father... only an extra (redundant) mother.

The floor is all yours.

Virginia said...

Like any family, those two moms and two dads do whatever they must to take care of their children. They summon up their courage, push past any awkwardness, and have a frank discussion. They use whatever resources are available to offer assistance and support - because that's what a parent does.

And perhaps at some point they have to say, "You know, I've never experienced this before, but I love you and I'm going to help you as best as I possibly can. We will get through this." That doesn't make the couple unfit to be parents, nor is the situation inimical to same-sex couples. The point I've hoped to make from the beginning is that experience relies on so much more than gender.

Suppose a heterosexual couple has a child who abuses drugs, or is dying of leukemia. The parents may have no experience with substance abuse or terminal illness, but they do whatever they must to support their child, regardless of difficulty.

In your own example, who is to say the one of the boy's mothers wasn't caught with pornography as a teenager? Must the date-raped girl have a date-raped mother in order to get the help she needs? Perhaps one of her fathers has been a victim of sexual abuse. Does his experience matter less because he is a man? Men and women are different in many ways, but it is impossible to divide the entire spectrum of human experience neatly by gender, and thus distribute parenting roles respectively.

We live in a pluralistic society with room for multiple ideas and many kinds of families with unique experiences. We can argue all day about whether one kind is superior to another, but none of them should be rejected outright. There are too many subtleties, nuances, and circumstances to be so derisively prescriptive.

Thanks very much for the debate.

Marty said...

Thanks, and the point I've tried to make is that gender supplies a great many unique and irreplaceable experiences. Remember -- the topic of this post is diversity.

Also, I never implied that anyone was "unfit to parent".

"We can argue all day about whether one kind is superior to another, but none of them should be rejected outright."

Not even I, cold hearted bigot that I am, would want to make same-sex parenting illegal, but surely we can all agree that diversity is superior to sameness. Kids deserve both sides of the parenting story.

Thanks for the debate as well, although I wish you'd answered any of my specific questions.