Monday, June 02, 2008

True Wisdom Isn't Conventional

Economists often like startling theorems, results which seem to run counter to conventional wisdom.” - Joseph Stiglitz

Consider all the diet books ever written, all the dating books ever written, or anything published within the self help section of the bookstore. Now look at the recent research from economists who have started to “break away.” Books like Freakonomics, Logic of Life, and Myth of the Rational Voter all take an intuitive approach to some of the latest economic and social policy questions.

What is unfortunate about this is that a dichotomy has been provided where the authors of the aforementioned books are judged as providing something different while they gather an ever larger following.

Even research papers that discuss dating dynamics, which are used in these books, when conversed in the public, or with friends, immediately receive the scoffing that we deem necessary upon “the world is flat” Christopher Columbus meme.

What ends up hitting me right in the face like Columbus hitting North America is that this is just another reminder that conventional wisdom holds its sway, and it will not let its grip on the general public go. At least, a significant portion of us know when we've traveled to a different hemisphere, rather than the Indian coast.

The hope is for a realization that what we are hitting upon now is not just startling theorems, but a return to reason. In light of a paradigm shift, we normally cling to our conventional wisdom much as a religious fundamentalist clings to scripture. All new information, which shows counter, is wrong, misguided, or deliberate misinformation as part of a new conspiracy.

What we, as the public, do get instead, is massive amounts of rhetoric. Grandiose wording, “-isms,” and quick hit self affirmation guidelines that do little to look at our real problems, but instead make us feel good about a short term decision. You want proof right now? Just look at our election coverage. Obama, who has actually run, by most pundit standards, a different campaign, and whom I respect as a candidate, has espoused claims that are grandiose and near to impossible, such as, "I believe in our ability to perfect this nation," when all evidence shows that if there is anything to be cynical about, it is the idea of there being some sort of end goal in sight for democracy. A nirvana of democracy, if you will. In reality, there is no end goal, but rather a constant struggle.

But we fall for this rhetoric more often than you would think. And we as a people apparently need to hold on to this type of quick-hit, simple thinking. Almost two years ago now, I tried to invoke something different into the debate. The new paradigm centered around two ideas. First, that one need not be a super model to have stringent standards, especially when considering that a long term relationship is the end game. Second, was the idea that for two people to like each other, it takes a myriad of variables to come together in a proper manner.

What Passey had done for all of us at the time was show that it's important for us to be honest with ourselves when it comes to relationships. Otherwise, we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again, living some sort of horrible relationship soap opera where the same story line gets repeated constantly, but with simply a new partner.

And that brings us full circle. Notice that it's the intuitive, simple approaches, and honest answers that have now come to create the most trouble against conventional wisdom.

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