Saturday, October 04, 2008

Old Habits Die Hard

The Red Sox are up 2-0 in their series against the Angels. That makes me nervous.

In all seriousness, that shows the power of narrative over facts, and tells us something about the tenacity of people's opinions in the face of conflicting data. I can remember something about several of the playoff games in 2004 and 2007, but mostly, it runs together and somehow we won. But I remember the 8th inning of the ALCS in 2003 against the Yankees vividly, including stats. Pedro Martinez had an ERA of 2.09 when he threw 100 pitches or less, and 6.43 once he went over 100 pitches. He had thrown 106 pitches and they left him in. Double, single, double, double, game tied.

Throughout 2005-2007 I had a running joke that people believed the Red Sox had won a championship in 2004, but that was obviously an urban legend. Last year's championship may have dented that mentality a little. Maybe.

So now you see why politicians try to hammer home a narrative, why preachers (good and bad) try to install those schema in you, why personal coaches and motivational speakers reduce much of their advice into one phrase and then try to cram everything that happens into it. My father-in-law believes that the Democrats are for the little guy. My uncle believes that corporations are not to be trusted. They are smart people, and so see and remember a lot of confirming data - that's what confirmation bias is - but everything goes back into those boxes eventually.

I complained to an AA friend years ago that those little oversimplified slogans of their irritated me. First Things First. She laughed "You don't want to make things too complicated for drunks." Over the years I have concluded that we're all pretty much like drunks in that way. We crave those simplicities. It's not always a bad thing. Installed phrases can steel the nerves in a crisis, giving us something to hang onto to do the right thing even when we are forgetting why.

But it's also why Democrats in the 90's could just keep saying "it's just the Republican attack machine that hates Clinton" even as his untruths mounted. When even they couldn't deny it anymore, the narrative switched only slightly. "Everyone knows that Clinton lies, but only about small things to save his sorry ass. MoveOn." Except just a year earlier they were denying that he had lied at all. There was no proof. The narrative was preserved, rather than the facts.

We wonder how conspiracy theories can persist in the face of all debunking. But we all do pretty much the same thing ourselves, though at a less extreme level.

1 comment:

OBloodyHell said...

> I complained to an AA friend years ago that those little oversimplified slogans of their irritated me.

That's because you aren't a liberal. Your actual worldview is -- literally -- actually nuanced.

You grasp that things are rarely simple, that easy answers are almost always wrong, that there are exceptions to every rule, but that doesn't mean that the rules are worthless.

Libtards can fit their entire worldview onto a bumper sticker solely because they AREN'T complicated by real-world concerns or verifications. They DON'T have to defend themselves against exceptions or even against outright contradictions, because the libtard view is correct BY DEFINITION.

If there is something contradictory or excepting, then clearly that thing is WRONG. It violates the Officially Accepted Liberal Position. It cannot be true. Ist Pravda, Tovarische.