Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Blind Men & The Elephant

People see what they want to see, based on their expectations and filters.

There is an ancient parable which originated in India, that was taught to us in school.  It is an interesting parable, in that it illustrates how our perception of things is altered by our experiences and prejudices.   The parable, which I am sure you have heard of, goes something like this:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
What got me thinking about this is how people perceive the current pandemic crisis through the lens of their experience and prejudices.  Everyone, it seems, from all walks of life, imbues the crisis with their own personal politcal prejudices.

For example, the far-left "Democratic Socialist" sees the pandemic and cries, "A perfect example of late-stage capitalism!  The so-called free-market economy simply doesn't work! Otherwise, there would not be shortages of masks and other 'PPE' supplies, as well as ventilators!   Clearly this virus is a sign that we need to move to a socialist model!"

Of course, the Socialist doesn't acknowledge that within a few short weeks much of these shortages have been alleviated - because the free-market, when left alone, will fill a void. Trying to control prices and prevent "gouging" only insured that more people hoarded supplies, as there was little incentive to sell at pre-virus prices.   And of course, in a Communist system, supplies are always in short supply, as evidenced by the empty shelves in Cuba and Venezuela.  And no, Russia and China are no longer "Communist" countries, particularly Russia.

The Democrat, on the other hand, doesn't see this as a condemnation of capitalism, but a condemnation of Trump and the GOP. "Trump botched the response!" they cry, "and the Republicans are more interested in profits than people!"

Perhaps.  Perhaps not.   It is hard to say how Hillary "would have" handled the crises differently.  My take is that people would not go along with "lockdowns" and isolation - as well as the loss of their jobs - in the early stages of this epidemic.  It is human nature that we don't respond to a problem until it reaches crises proportions.  People were sounding the alarm about Hitler and Tojo for more than a decade, and yet even after war was declared in Europe, we refused to get involved - until Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor.   Sometimes it takes a crises to get people to act.

I would hope Hillary would have handled this better - Trump seems so damn incompetent and incoherent that anyone, it seems, could have handled the crisis better.  But I guess we'll never know, and I am not sure an epidemic is a chance to make political points.   That, however, doesn't stop...

The Republican sees this all as an indictment of Obama-era policies.   Apparently, Obama was suppose to leave a set of instructions on what to do in case of a pandemic, typed out on a sheet of paper and taped underneath the center drawer on the President's desk  (Has Trump bothered to look?  Probably not!).  Not only that, Obama apparently used up the nation's supply of N95 masks as party favors for White House soirees.

Worse that that, Nancy Pelosi is trying to push though trillion-dollar spending packages with all sort of Democratic "wish list" spending attached (well, OK, maybe that is sort of true, but in her defense, she knows it never will see the light of day in the Senate or survive a Trump veto).

This whole virus thing is the Democrat's fault - and China!  Yea, China, too.  Maybe even Hillary had something to do with it, as well.  Anyone, please God, anyone but the party in power!

The Right-wing agitator, of course, sees this all as a grand conspiracy.   No one has actually died from the virus, and all the "patients" and even the doctors and nurses are "crises actors" who are hired every time the secret shadow government wants to stage a shooting so they can justify taking away our guns!

You know, this "crises actor" gig sounds pretty lucrative - I mean, there must be openings for thousand upon thousands of people - posing as shooting victims, grieving parents, virus patients, survivors of virus victims, doctors, nurses, and so-called "medical experts".  I mean, there must be a lot of openings!  I should apply for such a job!

* * *

The point is, we approach everything with a perspective, looking for validation of our preconceived notions with regard to everything we see in life.  When we receive raw data, we try to fit it into our existing theories, which of course is the antithesis of the scientific method.  We should be fitting our theories to the data, not vice-versa.

But alas, "science" is so misunderstood not only in America, but worldwide.  I saw something online to the extent that "A peer-reviewed scientific journal says Trump should be voted out of office!" which is absurd on a number of levels.   Political opinions are not "science" and there are plenty of junk journals out there where you can pay to have your article published.   But a lot of people place an almost religious-like belief in science - when science is not the province of belief.

Yet, the mantra, "I believe the science" or "I believe in science" is repeated, largely on the Left, by a lot of people who flunked science class, which is not surprising, as they don't understand the first thing about science as evidenced by their conflating it with belief.

I've heard people also say, "we should believe the scientists about the virus!" when really who we need to look to are doctors.   I am not sure that a guy who studies volcanoes for a living is an expert on viruses - but indeed he is a "scientist" if you want to parse it that way.

And by the way, scientists and doctors, like the rest of us, can be bat-shit-crazy on occasion - on more than one occasion, actually.  One doctor in New York was just arrested for shooting his wife (thank you for your service!).  Ben Carson is supposedly a neurosurgeon, but I find that very, very hard to believe.  I mean, I would not trust that guy with two aspirin, much less a scalpel.  But to hear the Left say it, we have to take his word on everything because he's a scientist, and we believe the science!  You have to be careful of what you wish for, as governing by science means totalitarianism.

Similarly, the political types would have you believe that the entire blame for this mess is one party or the other, but not both, at least in part, in any regard.   And in fact, they want you to believe that somehow politicians are to blame for the virus, and not things like nature and the inevitability of an epidemic, given that we have been overpopulating the planet for centuries.  And maybe that is my preconceived notion - that this sort of thing is inevitable, given how human beings behave, and how no one takes things seriously until there is a crisis.

And yes, this ties right back into my blog.   You see, in personal finances, we tend not to take action until forced to do so.   Like the Federal government, we make the minimum payment on our credit card, kick the can down the road another few yards, and have another beer to forget about what is happening to our financial house of cards.  It isn't until a crisis is at hand, that we act.

For some, this means eviction or foreclosure.  For others, it might mean a job loss or the "sudden" realization that they are never going to pay off their credit card debts at the rate they are going.   Yet for others, it may be the first month they cannot pay the full balance on their credit card bill.

The point is, if you can see a crisis coming well in advance, instead of seeing what you'd rather like to see, then you can do much better in life, both personally and financially.  If you can find a new job before your company goes bankrupt, you probably will do better. Yet, so many people say they "didn't see it coming" but in retrospect, realized all the signs were there.

People lose their house to foreclosure - a house they had no business buying in the first place, using a "liar's loan" - and want to blame the banks, the government, or blacks, for their misfortune.   Nothing they did lead to this unfortunate, but entirely predictable, outcome!

Perhaps this happens because we are blinded by our own internal prejudices and preconceptions.  We see things a certain way, often because it is convenient for us to see things that way.  When data is input that conflicts with our weak thinking, we bend the data to fit our prejudices, instead of re-examining our prejudices entirely.