Lifetip 2: Know your -isms

As I explained in the introduction of Lifetip #1, this series of blogs is inspired by a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode in which the hosts name a dozen of their most important lifetips to humanity.

The second lifetip I am going to try to discuss here is one that is actually more of a complaint than it is a concrete and practical lifetime recommendation.

It all revolves around economist Jesse Frederik venting about modern day tendencies to search for new cures for age old problems. He complains that people keep coming up with new fancy ideologies, which they present in spiffy TED talks and best selling books, without appreciating all the ideas that previous thinkers already explored.

My summary of what this life tip boils down to, is the following:

Try to understand existing theories before searching for (and accepting) new ones.

The internet has never been so influential. We have gotten accustomed to having news and information at our disposal 24/7. We don’t even need to remember anything ourselves. We just need to remember the Google search terms needed to find something and regurgitate whatever the WWW-beast feeds us. We can look up the same thing a million times instead of making an effort to actually memorize the information we are pointing our eyeballs at.

If we are forced to deal with a complex theory, we watch the 10 min breakdown on YouTube (or TikTok or whatever kids are into these days) instead of reading the actual book. Even an elaborate newspaper article is a challenge, let alone a peer reviewed academic piece. 

The abbreviation TLDR is the ultimate 21st century (online) conversation stopper. As much as I hate that, I must admit there are times when I can’t work my way through blogposts that take longer then 5-10 minutes to read.

Soundbites & Blurbs

Despite our faulty attention spans, we are more opinionated than ever. Politics, gender, race, anthem singing etiquette, Scandinavian teenagers and their braids. So many things to disagree on and so little time!

We are in constant need of quick facts and snappy comebacks to reinforce our opinions. You have to avoid talking about “the pros and cons” and “consequences on a macro level” if you don’t want people to walk (or click) away.

Even if you happen to be one of the rare ones who actually read Karl Marx’ whole Manifesto, you have to be able to present its content in bite size portions if you ever want to use it to convince someone about the correct implementation of communism (which I am assuming is what Karl Marx wrote about… TLDR). 

Ask TED

The popularity of TED Conference Talks on YouTube is another clear sign of the amount of information we have become comfortable dealing with in one sitting. TED Talks are 10 to 30 minute mini-lectures on scientific, cultural, political, and academic topics.

As much as I love myself a good TED talk, I do realize the emphasis is sometimes more on the “feel good” aspect of an idea than on the actual science behind it. I’m not saying that the content presented in TED Talks is incorrect per se. But one could argue that the talks that make the cut, rely more on the talent of the speaker and the video’s potential as click bait on social media, than on the actual relevance of the topic. 

Catchy new theories make for interesting conversations around the coffee machine. Their simplicity make them appealing, either because they confirm a popular idea or because it works well as a “fun fact” on social occasions. 

Simple theories are becoming more accepted than complicated ones, following the “It is true because I get it”-logic.

Break the Dunning-Kruger effect

A 1999 Psychology study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger described a phenomenon in human behavior that seems to apply to a large percentage of the human race. It manifests itself when people have an opinion about things they don’t know shit about. If they would’ve let the online community (by which I mean me) give their findings a name, it may have ended up being called the Kim Kardashian effect, but they decided to name it after themselves, which…. I mean… sure. 

And now, it is time for some painful irony.

You see, what I really want to do now is embed a relatively short YouTube video to do some of the explaining for me. My attention span is waning and so is yours, so just click play below. You can thank me later.

People that know the least about a topic tend to think they know the most. It is only after you actually learn something that you realize how little you really know. Even actual experts in their field aren’t as self assured about their knowledge as the complete dimwits are.

It’s pretty much the opposite of imposter syndrome, which Michelle Obama awesomely brought up at a conference in Kuala Lumpur last month.

That it’s difficult doesn’t make it wrong

Our current state of intellectual apathy has also cemented the idea that scientists make their research complicated just to spite us. 

How do you come back at corny platitudes being slung across the table about the “status quo” muddying the water with difficult words?

What do you do when the facts others rely on come from nothing more than their own gut, and others are overly eager to accept a more convenient stance on reality?

Discouraging as it may feel, according to Jesse Frederik, the solution is: MORE FACTS!

Read books and articles about a topic you have an opinion on. Don’t avoid submerging yourself with ideas that may contradict your own and talk about them with others in a respectful manner.

Continue listening to TED talks on YouTube but also look up more elaborate lectures made by the same experts.

Know your -isms and -ologies, and don’t be afraid to use them.

Questions


This is Blog 17 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Questions

The other day I watched a Dutch TV documentary with the title “Climate of Confusion” (those of you who understand Dutch can watch it here). A handful of people were interviewed with a varying set of ideas on climate change.

The documentary featured an interview with a wealthy Dutch real estate executive called Niek Sandmann. The point of interest was a substantial donation he had made to a skeptical thinktank (Climate Intelligence).

According to his alternative calculations even our maximum effort would only make 0,0003 of a degree difference, in the end. So, according to Sandmann the whole “climate crisis” and accompanying policies are really just “a storm in a glass of water”, as we say in Dutch, and therefore not worth pursuing.

Sandmann emphasized he is not interested in this for his own sake, as he is already making all his new buildings energy efficient thanks to state-of-the-art technology that he can easily afford.

It is true that for people with low incomes making the transition is not so simple. Also government measures may bring on additional costs in already extremely tight financial situations.

Niek Sandmann

So, Sandmann’s donation to Climate Intelligence is a form of philanthropy for those less fortunate, which is a thought I can appreciate.

By asking the questions he feels mainstream scientists don’t want to ask and digging on grounds that politicians have already built policy plans on top of, he hopes to find out if it is really worth it to continue down this path.

While watching the documentary I complained about mr Sandmann’s skepticism, making parallels with another tanned real estate mogul across the pond. The fact that his appearance would make for a very convincing villain (or white walker) means nothing for the point of this blog (or anywhere really), but I admit it took some effort to get past that as well…

Zombie movie villain or not, I must applaud mr Sandmann for asking unpopular questions and in truth I wish people would do so more often.

Asking questions is only a problem when you aren’t actually interested in the answer or when you only accept the outcome if it is convenient for you.

I will try to keep track of this Climate Intelligence investigation and look forward to reading its conclusions. I may have some questions of my own in return though!

Anti-evolutionary procreation

The subject I am going to discuss today is quite a delicate one and I don’t think I will be able to really say what I want to say without offending people, so I think I will just be straight and blunt about it and not even try to be subtle…

What happened is that I read this article in Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant, written by a guy called Anton de Wit, about single women who wish to have a child via IVF. The article I read was a reaction to an opinion piece that came out in a feminist magazine called Opzij. The writers of this piece in Opzij were upset about the fact that half of all hospitals in the Netherlands refused women for IVF who were not in a steady relationship.

Some of these hospitals decline requests from single women on the basis that they do not have a sperm bank on site and not merely because the wannabe mother does not have a partner. According to some feminist groups these rules are preposterous and discriminatory. A woman is made for motherhood and anyone who stands in the way of this wish is a bully.

mother simple linesAs Anton de Wit sarcastically sums up: “Why shouldn’t [a single woman] be allowed to be artificially inseminated? What if she can’t wait for Mr Right any longer or keeps on hooking up with douchebags that aren’t man enough to take on the responsible task of being father? Isn’t procreation a human right (…)?” and then adds: “Reproduction has, in the biological essence, always been a thing between two people, a man and a woman. Sure, thanks to scientific progress and shifting social conventions we have been able to reduce the first to merely a sperm donor.”

It’s a pity, in my opinion, that the feminist point of view was defended by a (single?) woman and the article in the Volkskrant was written by a man, which turned it into a “man vs women” thing for people looking for an easy point to score. You could easily turn it into a “Oh, that’s just typical; a man trying to take away a woman’s rights to be independent”-thing, all though that’s not the point at all. Because, as Anton very sharply adds:

“But when the conception has succeeded another individual appears with its very own rights, that we can not push aside so lightly – namely the child. (…) Does a grown up’s wish to have a child have more ground than a child’s wish to have parents?”

I, as a woman, must say I totally agree with Anton here. And even more so, it stirs up the devil’s advocate in me that wants to say:

If you can’t find a partner that wants a child with you, you weren’t meant to procreate! It’s anti-evolutionary. You are messing with the universe’s (or Darwin or God or whatever) plan…..

And to those whose feelings I just hurt: I’m sorry. I don’t enjoy seeing you sad, but it is truly what I believe…