Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Lying for Justice"

Bradley Wright, in Upside: The Surprising Good News About the State of Our World, documents the many ways in which the world is actually doing pretty well. Which naturally leads to the question, why don't most people realize this?

Some of the reasons are psychological tricks we play on ourselves. One of the big reasons is that the media makes a living by telling bad news. But the one that made the normally cheerful Wright mad (and I agree with him here) is that advocates often lie. Even the advocates for good causes have an interest in making us believe that things are bad and not getting better. So when things are not really so bad, and when they do get better - which is the case in nearly every category of social problem that Americans worry about - the advocates "lie - for justice."

This is wrong, no matter what the cause. And if you are dedicated to solving a problem, finding out that things are getting better - or were not so bad to begin with - should be delightful news that you shout from the housetops.


Michael Kruse said...

I think sometime back you wrote about how six-day creation seems more intuitive because it is easier think of someone just making something than to imagine the enormous complexity and vast eons over which evolution occurred. Our brains simply aren't wired to intuitively understand this.

Similarly, it as only been in the last blink of eye (in terms of the history of the universe) that we have begun conceptualizing complexity of relationships that exist beyond our local tribe. (And those relationships have become exponentially more complex and interwoven in just the last few generations.) I can see the welfare of my tribe with my own eyes. How do I "see" the welfare of seven billion people?

I really think many people genuinely have a problem grasping the large contexts and seeing trajectories of change. There is a "parochialism of the present" that does not appreciate what has come before coupled with an inclination to fixate on potential threats (an important quality in the wild.)

In short, with sociology and economics, we are asking people to see the world in ways that are not intuitive.

gruntled said...

Yes. Sociology and economics, in particular, are sciences of dynamic human ecology - which I think is even more complex than the natural ecology. Still, it puzzles me why the challenge of grasping the complexity of the social world would make us see things as worse than they are, rather than better.