Posts Tagged ‘cracked.com’

Opinions

April 21, 2014

Not long ago, I was reading an article on Cracked.com titled the 4 Most Useless Pieces of Advice Everyone Believes. Like many Cracked articles this one combined humor with serious observations about life. Number two on the list is “You’re entitled to your opinion. As always when I quote from Cracked.com, please excuse the language.

Being entitled to something is saying you have a right or claim to it. There is justice in you having this thing. And what could denigrate that idea more than someone being entitled to a chucklefuck stupid opinion?

The modern world is rife with people convinced that their opinions are important and valid when, sadly, that just isn’t true. For any opinion to be valid and important, it needs to be informed, and good God do few people aspire to that.

I’ve said before that everyone will have an opinion — that’s inevitable — but you should reserve your opinion until after you have informed yourself on the matter at hand, and you should only respect the opinion of others if it passes that test.

I wish the writer would have taken his own advice. Everyone does indeed have a right to their own opinion, informed or otherwise. The question is whether you should pay any attention to what a given person has to say on a given subject. If a person has shown himself to be knowledgeable about economics or physics, then their opinion is worth listening to on those subjects. That same person’s opinion on history or entertainment may not be worth listening to.

The writer gives several examples of what he considers to be bad opinions that are self-evidently so wrong that only someone  ignorant could possibly hold them. The trouble is that each of these opinions is not self-evidently wrong and could be defended.

For evidence of this, please refer to people who are “not racist but raised to believe you stay with your own kind.” That’s their opinion. Other people have an opinion that gays shouldn’t get married. That the Earth is 6,000 years old. That climate change doesn’t exist. That women who lead you on deserve to be raped. These opinions are not informed. There is no logic behind them, no foundation on which to base them.

Three of these; people should stay with their own kind, gays should not marry, and women can deserve to be raped are questions of values rather than facts, or what ought to be done rather than what is. You may believe some or all of these statements are morally right or wrong based on the basic values you uphold, but they are not statements that can be shown to be true or false. It may be a fact that people prefer to associate with people who look like themselves, or that gays would like to marry, or that a woman may lead a man on but whether or not people should only associate with their own race, or gays should marry, or a woman who leads a man on should be raped cannot be facts and cannot be decided by observation or debate.

This is why such questions are so hard to resolve, at least when dealing with people with different cultures and values. There are few people in the United States who would say that a woman could ever deserve to be raped. In Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, people may have a different view. Nearly everyone agrees that slavery is obviously wrong. No one in ancient times thought that there was anything at all wrong with slavery.  This is not to say that we should adopt a position of moral relativism.Some things are right and some things are wrong. There is a difference, however, between right and wrong, and true and false. The one is easy to decide. The other is a little harder.

Whether or not climate change is occurring is a question of facts. One fact is relatively easy to discover. Obviously, the Earth’s climate has changed drastically throughout its history. The questions of how the climate is changing right now and to what extent human beings are changing the climate are harder to answer. The interactions of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate are extremely complex and not well understood. The question of what to do about any changes in climate is more of a matter of ought than is. It is believing that the science is settled and that the debate is over that is uninformed and illogical.

Geologists believe that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old. They have good reasons for believing this and there is a general consensus among the scientists that have studied the matter that the Earth is that old. People who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old may not be very knowledgeable about geology or  may believe that their interpretation of scripture is more authoritative than the theories of geologists, but they are not stupid or ignorant, as the writer seems to believe. They may be very knowledgeable and sensible on many subjects.

At the same time, believing that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old is not really a sign of superior intellect. I doubt very much that many of the people who believe the Earth so old have actually investigated why geologists believe that the Earth is so old or how they came to determine the age of the Earth. If a person believes that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old, that belief may be correct, or at least in line with current thinking on the subject, but they can hardly take credit for believing what they were taught in school without questioning. If they were taught the Moon was made of green cheese,  they would believe that too.

What seems to be happening here, besides poor thinking skills on the part of the writer of this piece, is another example of a trend that is becoming more noticeable recently, the tendency by leftists to declare that all debate on a given subject is over, in favor of the left wing position. Anyone who does not take the orthodox leftwing position on the subject does not simply happen to have a different opinion or is not simply mistaken about the facts, but is upholding a position that is so devoid of logic and decency that they shouldn’t even be allowed to express it in public. Their opinions are so noxious that they need never be listened to and ought never to be permitted any forum in which to express their hateful views. Thus, someone who opposes the idea of same-sex marriage does not simply value traditional ideas on marriage or have sincere religious views. All good people support same-sex marriage so that person can only be a hater and a bigot. Someone who does not believe that human beings are primarily responsible for changing the climate cannot have come to that  conclusion by examining the evidence. They can only be an either an ignoramus or in the pay of Big Oil.

It’s hard to imagine that this sort of casual disrespect could make our political discourse more civil. It is more likely to have the reverse effect. If your opponent is not simply a human being with different ideas but either the Devil or a complete idiot, you need not try to reason with them or try to understand them, or even treat them with minimal respect. You are more likely to seek to destroy or ruin them.

But, that is just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Speeding

January 24, 2014

I have mentioned before that I have found Cracked.com unusually informative for a comedy website. Not too long ago they ran an article on Five Ways Your Brain is Turning You into a Jerk. Number three on this list refers to Time Saving Bias, the idea that if we drive above the speed limit we are saving a large amount of valuable time.

We all know that driver: the one who’s constantly speeding like she’s a heart surgeon zipping back and forth between two patients she’s simultaneously operating on in different cities. Please excuse the language.

Now, here comes the twist: There’s a good chance that driver is actually you.

If you’ve ever found yourself driving like an asshole, it could be simply because you are an asshole. However, there is another, stranger explanation: Maybe you do it because your brain prevents you from understanding the very concept of time. Time-saving bias, a very specialized bastard trick of our cranial command center, scrambles our ability to estimate the time that can be saved by increasing speed. Basically, your brain is poker-facedly explaining that driving faster will turn you into a Time Lord, and you’re happy to comply in case it’s telling the truth, because who wouldn’t?

The routine misestimations caused by time-saving bias are more common (and extreme) for some people than others, and often lead to speeding and — by extension — all the assorted shithead antics that follow when you wipe your ass with the speed limit.

Scientists are still attempting to wrap their heads around time-saving bias and how large of a part the phenomenon plays in the brain’s already impressive arsenal of traffic sabotage.

After reading this, I wondered just how much time I actually save by driving fast. What if I had to drive for sixty miles at a constant speed of sixty miles per hour? I would be driving at one mile per minute so it would take me one hour, or sixty minutes to reach my destination. But, what if the speed limit on the road were 30 miles per hour? Well, then I would be driving at only one half a mile per minute so the drive would take 120 minutes or two hours. If the speed limit were 55 miles per hour, I would be driving at about .917 miles per minute so the drive would take about 65 minutes. If I were in a hurry, I might drive 65 miles per hour, or 1.08 miles per minute so the trip would take only about 55 minutes. Five minutes either way doesn’t seem like a lot.

I sometimes have to drive from Madison to North Vernon as part of my job. The distance between the two towns is around 27 miles. The road is not straight but has several curves and it goes through the small town of Dupont, which has a lower speed limit. It usually takes me about 35 minutes to drive from Madison to North Vernon. Suppose that is the time if I drive an average of 55 miles per hour. How much time do I save by driving faster? If I go 60 miles per hour I am driving 1.09 times faster so the travel time should be .9167 times shorter or about 32 minutes. If I decide to risk getting a ticket and go at 70 miles per hour than I am driving 1.27 times faster so the travel time should be .79 times shorter or about 28 minutes. Saving five to ten minutes doesn’t seem to be worth the risk of being stopped and made to pay a fine.

So, now that I have run the numbers and seen that speeding doesn’t really save that much time, am I going to stop speeding and obey every speed limit? Of course not. If I am going 5 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, my brain is telling me I am traveling at warp speed and who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise?

 

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The Triumph of Capitalism

December 23, 2013

Cracked.com is a humor website that besides being funny is also surprisingly informative. You can learn all sorts of interesting facts from the writers while laughing. One recent article listed five amazing pieces of good news that nobody is reporting. News reporting usually focuses on dramatic events and these stories are happening in the background without anybody really doing anything, so they tend not to be noticed. I remain a little skeptical about number 5, we are closing in on world peace.

This one seems laughable — mankind has gone from fighting with swords, to muskets, to machine guns — right up to the modern era of poison gas and nukes that can murder every human on the planet in minutes. Mankind’s technological growth has been marked mainly by increasingly efficient ways to slaughter each other.

Sure enough, the 20th century had to have been the most violent in human history. Two world wars, conflict in Southeast Asia, constant war in the Middle East — and those were just the ones that America was directly involved in. At the beginning of the 21st century, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and rumblings of war with Syria, it seems like the world is a pack of rabid dogs about to pounce on a Snausage pinata.

The Good News:

Even with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first decade of the 21st century saw the number of annual battle deaths at its lowest ever in history.

Professor Joshua Goldstein put it best: “If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that’s because there’s more information about wars — not more wars themselves.” Overall, we’re in the midst of an unheard of “long peace,” as no major powers have clashed since World War II, replacing them with smaller wars that historically would count as skirmishes — the U.S. lost 3,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, which is terrible, but during the American Civil War, 4,700 troops were killed on one side of one single battle. Here it is in graph form:

Via Wsj.com
Sans screaming.

OK, so maybe this is just a temporary breather after the bloodbath that was the previous century? Nope — it’s part of a long-term trend. As crazy as it seems to suggest it, the past couple of hundred years have been the most peaceful in world history. That’s including the world wars.

Yes, in absolute numbers, more people died violently in the 20th century than in any other century — but that’s because there are so many more people now. The chances that a person living in the 20th century would die violently were about 3 percent. That’s a historically low number — it was five times higher in prehistoric societies. In tribal societies, war was a daily occurrence — just the process of everyone settling down into large-scale governments, even violent ones, was an improvement. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors could see us now, they’d be confounded by the complete lack of annual head smashing and face stabbing (if you ever unfreeze a caveman, show him our violent video games — he’ll go nuts for that shit).

And it’s not just war, it’s all violent deaths — in 14th century England, some cities had a homicide rate as high as 110 per 100,000 citizens. London’s homicide rate in 2012 was just under 1 per 100,000. And we’ve previously talked about how violent crime is dropping to historic lows, even in the gun-crazy USA. No matter how you break it down, violence is slowly going out of style.
Maybe, but they were making similar statements back in 1913 and the international situation today is frighteningly similar to the situation just before World War I.
But I am more interested in the last piece of good news they present, number one, world-wide, poverty is dropping at a shocking rate. Please excuse the language.
For decades now, we’ve watched commercials that feature some retired actor stumbling through some impoverished village in some undisclosed location to make viewers feel bad enough to donate money. Considering that we’re mired in a worldwide recession, it’s a sensible question: “Does any of this shit even make a difference?”

Yes! Even though lately it seems like the whole world is in a race to the bottom, the poorest of the poor are actually climbing out of the financial shithole. From 1990 to 2012, the number of the world’s extreme poor was cut in fucking half. In case you were wondering, that would be the first significant global decline in extreme poverty.

Ever.

Not bad, right?

And these aren’t just statistical tricks here — when they calculate this, they’re not just counting income, they account for total living conditions — infrastructure, schools, access to clean water, everything. A billion people have that stuff for the first time. And what’s really encouraging is that this all happened three years ahead of the official estimates, which pegged 2015 as the soonest such a lofty goal could be achieved.

So how did this happen? International aid helped, but the big jump has been in the increased participation of previously isolated countries in international trade. You know how people are always complaining about how “they’re shipping our jobs overseas!” Well, this is where they went — to people who previously had no jobs at all. And that boom that swept across China and India is expected to continue in places like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Rwanda — all of the places you previously only heard about in the context of heart-breaking ads begging for donations. If things continue at this pace, countries like Nepal and Bangladesh would likely see extreme poverty shrink to near-nonexistent levels.

What is the cause of this amazing reduction of poverty all over the world? The expansion of international trade and also the expansion of free market economics or capitalism. No system of economics or politics made by human beings is perfect and capitalism does have its flaws. Nevertheless, the expansion of free market reforms has been responsible not just for a reduction in absolute poverty but also for the rise of a middle class throughout the developing world. Countries like India and China, where the great mass of people have known nothing but poverty and near starvation now, at least, have a chance to live with some small degree of prosperity. For the first time in human history, the obese outnumber the starving.

Yet capitalism continues to be maligned as a system that enriches the few and impoverishes the many. Why is this? Are the critics of capitalism simply ignorant of these facts? Perhaps. Or, it may be that many of the fiercest critics of capitalism prefer to see the poor stay poor. Capitalism has a way of disrupting hierarchies. In a free market; the ambitious, the inventive or the hard-working can rise. The lazy or foolish can sink, even if they belong to an old family or a special caste. It is perhaps no coincidence that the defenders of the idea that the markets must be controlled and regulated tend to be those already on top. Think of how many grandchildren of successful industrialist embrace various forms of Socialism, or how successful European firms didn’t have a problem with Fascism or Nazism, or even Democratic Socialism. The biggest supporters of Big Government tend to be Big Businesses. As long as they have a hand in setting the rules,they can set them to their advantage. And, if you advocate the redistribution of wealth, you have many opportunities of redistributing wealth and power to yourself and your cronies.

I am a defender of capitalism because I am a defender of freedom, and because I would prefer that the poor not starve. As a system defined by the free exchange of goods and services, capitalism is the only economic system that promote freedom. Other economic systems such as Socialism or Feudalism are based on the forcible taking of goods and services from those that produced them to those deemed deserving by some elite. That way lies slavery and poverty.

 


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