A couple of my relatively rare “conversations” have focused on great paragraphs that I have come across in my readings. (Great, and relevant, for various reasons but mainly because I say so.) Having featured Frederick Douglass and Victor Serge (with one by Milton Friedman still held in reserve), I came across one today that I will add to my list. This one by Daniel Kahneman. But first, the set-up…
…students of policy have noted that the availability heuristic helps explain why some issues are highly salient in the public’s mind while others are neglected. People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory — and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness. In turn, what the media choose to report corresponds to their view of what is currently on the public’s mind. It is no accident that authoritarian regimes exert substantial pressure on independent media. – Pages 8-9
This is an effect that the free press clearly understands and has long since honed the capabilities of the cable “news” propaganda machine to effectively drive “your” mind’s focus. (Just a quick additional note to the local buffoon crowd: the substantial pressure referred to in that last sentence refers to real force. Not the imagined authoritarianism you pretend to perceive in the current bully pulpit.)
Now, to the subject paragraph (I resist the impulse to bulletize the sentences for the short attention spans of modern Americans…most Ricochet members can handle it this way). The subject is availability cascades as a means by which biases flow into government policies (or meaningless actions / posing if you are talking about the current and worst Ruling Class ever):
An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by “availability entrepreneurs,” individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a “heinous cover-up.” The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background. – Page 142
It doesn’t take much to modify that into and exact model of recent events nationally and also here within our little neighborhood. With respect to the latter, the availability entrepreneurs (“He is a racist!”, “You can no longer deny he is racist.”, “Socialism isn’t that big a deal for him. Its nonwhiteness.”, etc.) versus the more fact-based members was on full display. Too much of the emotionalism (i.e. shortcut to actually thinking) “wagging the rational dog.” It truly is embarrassing sometimes. (NOTE: Though taken shamelessly and twisted for my own use, that – along with the title above – is based on a phrase coined by Jonathan Haidt as quoted in Mr. Kahneman’s book.)
One of the points in the book was that these effects “distort priorities in the allocation of public resources.” In the national case, they more accurately are being used to distort the allocation of political capital. The grand prize is to deplete it and end the administration early, but in reality, it is also just a stall game being used to distract the President as much as possible and minimize his effectiveness. (Just wait, they will brag about this openly one day soon.) In the more local scenario, I have argued many times that this distortion of the allocation of resources manifests itself in “sucking all of the oxygen” out of the site. These not-really-in-good-faith offerings take advantage of the presumption mandated by the CoC and, over time, shift the participation energies and drive the make-up of the active membership, You are, of course, free to disagree with me on this…but you will be wrong. I think most of you who have observed this for any amount of time will admit that it is not a good thing for the neighborhood. Regardless, it is good to know…and see…the game going on around you and measure your responses (i.e. utilize your energies) appropriately.
Well, that is enough rambling from me, for now, …thanks for your attention.Published in