Friday, March 11, 2011

Zeno’s Paradox Revisited or: Your Vote Doesn’t Count, but It Can

Your Vote Does Not Count
Your vote does not count. You are one of hundreds of millions of people in the United States, and there is no way that your single vote actually makes a difference. Don’t vote. It’s a waste of time. There’s not that much difference between the two parties anyway.

A few months ago, as my libertarian leanings sputtered to a halt and I found myself comfortable in the more concrete world of mainstream conservatism, I read an article in The Freeman that really got on my nerves, because it advanced the idea above, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, but I knew intuitively that it wasn’t quite right.

Think of voting as sort of like the lottery, except that the ticket price is your time spent, and if your ticket is the winner (i.e. your vote is a tiebreaker), your grand prize isn’t a brand new car or a bazillion dollars. (By entering this contest, each entrant releases and discharges the State and any other party associated with the development or administration of this contest from any and all liability whatsoever in connection with said election lottery, including without limitation legal claims, costs, injuries, losses or damages, demands or actions of any kind. Prize to be rewarded in monthly installments of increasingly lower value, unless and until State declares bankruptcy or decides to change the rules. By accepting this prize, the winner grants to State the right to use the winners name, address and/or likeness for advertising and trade purposes without further compensation to or permission from the winner.)

No. Instead you get a lousy politician who is (if you’re lucky) marginally less bad than the alternative. Congratulations. Break out the bubbly, hire a stripper, and pretend that what happens in Vegas won’t follow you home like a cheap vodka hangover, a bad tattoo, and a raging case of the clap (actually, I don’t think that a metaphor is necessarily necessary here, so take that as literally as you like).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies: confirmation bias and you
“It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.” -Francis Bacon
You and I share something with one another, with President Obama, with Rush Limbaugh, with the Dalai Lama, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Sarah Palin, with Angela Merkel, and with every musician, movie star, plumber, prostitute, stamp collector, sergeant-at-arms, and unemployed underwater basket weaver in the world.

We all able to ascertain patterns, draw conclusions, and make predictions.

This pattern-finding ability is one of the distinguishing marks of humanity. Homo sapiens is man the thinker; perhaps we are, more accurately, Homo exemplum cupitor, man the pattern-seeker. (I am assuming that my decades-unused high school Latin skills are at least slightly accurate. If not, corrections are welcome.)

Pattern-seeking is one of the behaviors that makes humans, as a species, so successful, and it leads to the victories and the quirks that we, as individuals, manifest. It leads to the soaring success of some cultures and the unfortunate decline of others.

In this piece, I will be examining something called confirmation bias, which has given us protection from predators (and the corollary ability to be good ones), virgin sacrifices, psychics and spiritualists, conspiracy theories, and much more.