walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

I'm fairly certain I should worry about this

"Common sense, in other words, is not so much a worldview as a grab bag of logically inconsistent, often contradictory beliefs, each of which seems right at the time but carries no guarantee of being right at any other time."

At the time I am writing this, this sentence has 224 highlighters, so apparently other people think this is worth paying attention to, altho, of course, it's impossible to tell _why_ they thought it was worth paying attention to. Maybe if I googled the sentence, I'd discover they were all out there laughing raucously at it. Maybe they are nodding wisely in agreement. Maybe they are having Aha! moments, so _that's_ what common sense is or isn't, as the case may be.

It's from _Everything is Obvious* Once You Know the Answer_, and I've had mixed but mostly positive feelings about at least one other book by the author, Duncan J. Watts.

But I have to say, who thinks common sense is a worldview. Here's what a dictionary says about common sense:

"good sense and sound judgment in practical matters"

And just in case I really misunderstood what a worldview is:

"a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world"

Those don't sound the same to me. At all. Apples and lobsters, type of different.

The book to this point is all about how people do things differently at different times and in different places. Yes! This is true. And also about how if you go somewhere different, or you change as a person, you'll do things different. Also true! The author quotes a bunch of white male scientist types who went around and attempted to impose their expectations from their own time/place/group on another group and were Surprise! surprised to discover that other people did things differently.

I feel like I just want to say, you are _way_ more autistic than I am and go read _Confidence Game_. Because writing a book about apples and lobsters not having a lot in common seems way too complex for me, at least right now.

ETA: Good news, tho! I think I now understand why _Fair Division_ is unreadable. I feel _so much better now_. Also, on my list of people to go kick in the shins if I ever get a time machine: Stanley Milgram. I mean, obvs we all know the man was an unmitigated asshole. But _wow_ I am a little stunned he made fun of his grad students for having trouble with the subway experiment -- and then was surprised at how he felt when he did what he was sending them out to do. What, were they all 12 year olds raised by people with no morals? OTOH, perhaps Watts is mischaracterizing things. I don't know.

ETAYA: From here on I'm liveblogging until I give up.

Watts asserts "we use common sense to solve problems that are not grounded in the immediate here and now of everyday life -- problems that involve anticipating or managing the behavior of large numbers of people, in situations that are distant from us either in time or space."

What you me _we_, Watts? In those situations, I got get some relevant domain knowledge. He laundry lists times when we use common sense to understand stuff Elsewhere (Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, financial reform, healthcare policy, etc.). I don't use "common sense" for any of those things. _I go get some relevant domain knowledge_. I go ask people who I know to have relevant experience to recommend (or warn me off of) the various experts in the field and then I go read 3-6 books on the topic and _then_ I have something to work with. Altho I have to say, it would certainly explain a lot of really ridiculous ideas out there, if people are genuinely trying to map whatever they've picked up in the course of their life to, well, everything, without supplementing it with domain specific knowledge.

Alas, it continues to deteriorate: "Some may believe that people are poor because they lack certain necessary values of hard work and thrift, while others may think they are genetically inferior, and others still may attribute their lack of wealth to lack of opportunities, inferior systems of social support, or other environmental factors. [Dude _really did leave out luck_. For realz.] All these beliefs will lead to different proposed solutions [not true], not all of which can be right [not shown]. Yet policy makers empowered to enact sweeping plans are no less tempted to trust their intuition about the causes of poverty than ordinary citizens reading the newspaper."

Aggravating! Okay. Poverty almost certainly does not have a single cause in general or even in any specific case. If you want to reduce poverty (for suitable definitions of reduce and poverty), you had better recognize that, and your solutions should be crafted to create a trend in a getting-better-off direction rather than a getting-worse-off direction. You don't "solve" poverty. It's not algebra.

Also, I'm fairly certain that ordinary people reading the newspaper do not have taxpayer funded staff to collect domain knowledge for the policy maker to use in making good decisions that reflect his or her values and/or the expectations of his or her constituency. If you get a policy maker who is not using the staff, then probably that policy maker should not be re-elected, which may or may not happen, depending on how well that policy maker is enacting the values of the people he or she is representing.

Just saying.

Slamming development aid as not having a lot of evidence as to its effectiveness is easy and worth doing. Working to develop a useful feedback system for aid may help deal with people who only want to "help" people get "better" by doing things a certain way. Specifically, it would expose them for not _actually_ wanting people to get better so much as wanting to impose a particular value system and then blame the victims, er, recipients of their largesse for not actually benefitting.

Watts, however, then oversells his thesis (we fail in big projects as groups in unfamiliar areas because we apply our "common sense") to explain all fails, governmental, corporate, etc. "In all these cases, that is, a small number of people sitting in conference rooms are using their own commonsense intuition to predict, manage, or manipulate the behavior of thousands or millions of distant and diverse people whose motivations and circumstances are very different from their own." _Over Sold_ Failure can occur for other reasons, too -- or even instead.

"Bad things happen not because we forget to use our common sense, but rather because the incredible effectiveness of common sense in solving the problems of everyday life causes us to put more faith in it than it can bear."

Because that is _definitely_ the _only_ thing that _ever_ causes _bad shit to happen_.

Oh boy. Undergrad physics degree and he says this:

"The physical world is filled with examples like this that defy commonsense reasoning. Why does water spiral down the toilet in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres?"

It doesn't.


Don't waste your time with this book. I want my money back.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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