Ignorance is very pervasive and fighting ignorant behavior can be very exhausting. Jonathan Swift is believed to have said that you cannot reason someone out of something they were not first reasoned into. If that statement is true, and it certainly contains a lot of truth as far as I can see, it means that opinions and judgments need to be based on reasoning before they are made.
It also should not be forgotten that reasoning should be based on correct data. I have previously mentioned Hans Rosling as an example of clear thinking based on good data and mentioned his excellent TED lectures. (After this blog, if I have the energy, I plan to discuss a TED lecture by Boyan Slat that is nothing short of incredibly awful)
Hans Rosling passed away in 2017 but his interesting and amusing TED lectures live on and he deals with devastating ignorance in “How not to be ignorant”. Hans and his son Ola provide some very direct guidance as to how one can make more accurate judgments on world events and developments even with limited data. The lecture is a delight, but, after looking at world trends, the lecture concludes with four very simple guidelines that almost automatically allow any person to make much more accurate world judgments without access to data on the subject.
The four guidelines are:
- 1. Most things improve
- 2. Most people are in the middle and that middle is getting bigger
- 3. Social development results in wealth
- 4. Sharks are dangerous, but kill very few people
As such if one is asked: “Is the average life expectancy rising in the world?” It makes sense to jump to rule one and say: Yes (and that would be a correct judgment).
If one is asked: “Is worldwide violence going down?” It makes sense to jump to rule one and say: Yes (and that would be a correct judgment).
If one is asked: Is the world being overtaken by religious fanatics? It makes sense to jump to rule two and say: No, most people are in the middle and not extremists (and that would be a correct judgment).
If one is asked: “Does trickle down economics work?” It makes sense to jump to rule three and say: No (and that would be a correct judgment).
If one is asked: “Should I worry about being killed by crazed gunmen and buy lots of guns to protect myself?” It makes sense to jump to rule four and say: No (and that would be a correct judgment. It would make more sense to avoid climates with hurricanes than to buy guns to protect yourself. And, by the way, hurricane deaths are going down, see rule one).
These rules don’t work all the time, but they work most of the time, and that is very, very good.
Not because these rules result in judgments that may be, say, 65% correct, but rather because, without applying these rules, even the most intelligent and learned people tend to bat much less than 50% on world judgments (or as Hans says, do worse than monkeys). You don’t believe me? Watch the lecture, or go to the Gapminder Ignorance Project.
photocredit:”Monkey Sam Before The Flight On Little Joe 2″ by NASA