Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Foggy Day in the Valley

It's foggy in the valley, very foggy.  It’s hard to know how far the fog extends, but my guess is no farther than the ridges surrounding us.  Beyond them, it could be a clear day of bright sunshine.  In any case, a drive into the mountains will likely break one into the sun and blue sky at no more than three thousand feet.  But here in the valley, it’s foggy, very foggy.

It gives the illusion that the whole world must be foggy, no one can see very far, and there is no sun or blue sky anywhere.  The power of that illusion can be seen in the coffee shop talk between people who have been warning friends and families driving this way for Christmas.  If it’s foggy here, it must be foggy where you are too, so please drive carefully.

The illusion of fogginess everywhere is a decent metaphor for the illusional political conversation that is slathered all over the media these days, and infects the daily conversations of people in the community.  In a foggy environment of limited sight and understanding, one can easily live with the illusion that what they see and understand must be the way it really is, and that there is no other way to see or understand it.  Someone who disagrees must be delusional, conspiratorial, or worse. 

And so it is that those with marginal knowledge about the issues in public debate often claim the greatest understanding based on nothing more than the shortsighted things they can make out of the foggy world of misinformation in which they live.  Moreover, since they are quite certain that the world, as they see it, is the way the world is, it must be others who are misinformed and confused.  We have a couple of frequent letter writers who are certain that global warming is a giant hoax, and others who are certain that, while it may be true, human activity has had nothing to do with it.  Others are certain that, in our high desert region, we do not have a water problem to worry about.  The whole gun regulation issue is encapsulated into suspicions of a secret plan to confiscate weapons, and a conviction that to be armed is to be safe.  Tax increases are symbols of greedy government’s wasteful spending.  The lower the taxes the better, but we want excellent services and good roads.  People poorer than they, are lazy.  Homeless people are even lazier.  Gangs are a Hispanic problem.  Young people are pampered weaklings.  The list goes on.

They tend to deny the complexity of problems, make grand generalizations from particular incidences, and are certain of simple solutions that involve two steps: first, impose their cultural values on others because their cultural values are the right ones; second, apply solutions that are popularly believed to have worked in their pre-adult youth, or that have been touted by pundits of dubious veracity.  


Is my world any less foggy?  Well, yes I think it is.  For one thing, I know that it is foggy, and that the fog doesn’t extend that far.  With a little effort, one can seek out reliable, verifiable information to help clear things up.  It took me a while to discover that Occam was both right and wrong.  Community and national problems are complex, not simple.  Complex problems usually have a menu of simple answers that apply individually to the specific and collectively to the general, but understanding what those simple answers may be requires considerable study.  It takes a lot of work to understand how simplicity can be applied to complexity.  There’s the rub.  Who has time for that?  All those people who glorify the American ethic of hard work – outside their own little arena, I don’t think they do.  

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