Think of Horses

Here’s a quote that’s often used in the medical profession:

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward

In other words, don’t assume some exotic medical malady first, when it is much more likely to be something quite common. A child is much more likely to have a bladder infection than maple syrup urine disease.

But I think this quote can and should be applied to a lot more areas of life than just medicine. One of the reasons that I tend to look askance at most conspiracy theories is the simple, basic fact that the vast majority of people cannot keep secrets. And trying to get a large number of people to agree, let alone march in lockstep toward one common, corrupt goal, is next to impossible. If something nefarious is going on, chances are it’s one person at the heart of it, maybe two at most. Not an entire organization.

I know a woman who thinks zebras all the time. For example, she saw a dog hair on the counter at her place of work, and rather than assuming it fell off someone’s clothing, she instantly concluded that someone was sneaking his or her dog to work on her days off. Seriously?

And when you try to do something helpful for this woman, she automatically believes you must be out to get her. It has got to be exhausting, always running with the zebras like that. And because she trusts no one, no one trusts her. That’s kind of sad.

I genuinely believe that the simple explanation is most often the right one. That’s how I choose to live my life. Yup, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m also a lot less stressed out.

zebras
It makes me tired just watching.

Okay, I Can’t Stand It.

A dear friend, whom I love and respect, posted the following on her Facebook page. It broke my heart that someone I care about and admire so much could be so taken in. I’ll start with the quote (Which is from some other source, which has since disappeared from Facebook, and I’ll remain faithful to the spelling errors, screwed up punctuation, and all), and then I’ll respond, point by ignorant point.

This saddens me. I’m a woman and a human first, so obviously I’m against rape, sexual assaults, molestation, etc. However, there is much more to this story that a lot of you wont even understand. I don’t even believe that in this day and time ppl brains even expand as far as this situation really goes. The reality is this man ‪#‎BILLCOSBY was getting ready to take over a huge television network called ‪#‎NBC. Which would have open doors for ppl of color to be on a major television station much more often. He’s was speaking on positive opportunities in the black community, on race issues and things he believed black ppl should do to get ahead. Then and ONLY then did these outlandish accusations from 30… THIRTY YEARS AGO come out about him. One by one. When a black man is “getting too big for his bridges” Hollywood, white America has to stop him. Now he’s been indicted on charges for something allegedly happen 10 years ago. This 78, lets just say 80. This 80 year old man is now in prison on a 1 million dollar bail for extremely old UNPROVEN accusations. When he should be home preparing to die, because let’s just face it, he’s gonna die soon and now instead of dying for being one of the greatest of all time! For being a positive successful huge black public figure, he now has to die with this stigma on him as a serial rapist. Same thing they did to Michael Jackson. The craziest part is that they don’t even have to try hard because black ppl doing the dirty work for them. Working against their own. Believing the hype. Black men, comedians, etc making jokes and accusing Bill. Black Women going against him don’t even know the facts or wether it’s even true. Just running w/accusations. Think about this ‪#‎StephenCollins the father off “Seventh Heaven” was accused of and admitted to CHILD MOLESTATION and no one is talking about it. The show also airs faithfully on television still. That’s what you call ‪#‎whiteprivilege. As long as black men are selling drugs and encouraging black ppl to do drugs and disrespecting our women and things like that they are ok with you. The minute you try to spread positivity into your black community and make major moves BE CAREFUL.

  • There is much more to this story that a lot of you wont even understand. I don’t even believe that in this day and time ppl brains even expand as far as this situation really goes.

If you want to have people take you seriously, you might want to avoid insulting them with your condescension right out of the gate. But then, I guess I’m doing that, aren’t I?

Guess when Mr Cosby was attempting to do that? 1992. So if your conspiracy theory holds water, it sure took a long time to get up and running.

  • He’s was speaking on positive opportunities in the black community, on race issues and things he believed black ppl should do to get ahead.

He said poor blacks all buy their kids $500 shoes. He also said “Those people are not Africans. They don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail.”

He was also the main spokesperson for Jello for many years. Jello is owned by R. J. Reynolds, a tobacco company that targets its menthol cigarette advertising to the black community. Menthol allows you to draw smoke deeper into your lungs, increasing your chances of cancer.

  • Then and ONLY then did these outlandish accusations from 30… THIRTY YEARS AGO come out about him. One by one.

And? Is there a statute of limitation on morality? If he got away with it for this long, is he somehow absolved of his sins?

  • When a black man is “getting too big for his bridges” Hollywood, white America has to stop him.

Uh… the expression is “Too big for his britches,” you fool. And if that’s the case, why hasn’t anyone “stopped” Sydney Portier, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, and on and on and on…

  • Now he’s been indicted on charges for something allegedly happen 10 years ago. This 78, lets just say 80. This 80 year old man is now in prison on a 1 million dollar bail for extremely old UNPROVEN accusations.

Is there an age limit for morality? Do you get to get away with shit because you’re old? And on an initial arrest, the charges are ALWAYS unproven. That’s what trials are for.

  • He now has to die with this stigma on him as a serial rapist. Same thing they did to Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson was another pervert. You wear the chains you forge in life. Sorry to disappoint.

  • The craziest part is that they don’t even have to try hard because black ppl doing the dirty work for them. Working against their own. Believing the hype. Black men, comedians, etc making jokes and accusing Bill. Black Women going against him don’t even know the facts or wether it’s even true. Just running w/accusations.

Um, do YOU know the facts? And are you supposed to unquestioningly support everyone within your race? That must be exhausting.

  • Think about this ‪#‎StephenCollins the father off “Seventh Heaven” was accused of and admitted to CHILD MOLESTATION and no one is talking about it. The show also airs faithfully on television still. That’s what you call ‪#‎whiteprivilege.

No, that’s what you call, “Who the hell is Stephen Collins”? I’ve never heard of the man. I’ve never seen the show. He’s not nearly as famous, so not as many people are talking about him. And a Google search tells me there were 3 women, not more than fifty, and he admitted to it, instead of trying to deny, so while it’s still heinous, it’s less “interesting” to the media.

Did white privilege save Bill Clinton from the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

  • As long as black men are selling drugs and encouraging black ppl to do drugs and disrespecting our women and things like that they are ok with you. The minute you try to spread positivity into your black community and make major moves BE CAREFUL.

Tell that to Oprah, honey.

God, sometimes I just want to scream. Racial bias goes both ways.

conspiracy

The Great Cranberry Conspiracy

So I was eating a lean cuisine while watching the Colbert Report. Pecan Chicken. It was as good as one can rightfully expect from a TV dinner. And then I got this taste in my mouth. The dreaded taste. I gave my meal closer scrutiny, and yep, sure enough. Cranberries. Ugh!

My apologies in advance to cranberry lovers out there, but I strongly believe that there are some places that cranberries have absolutely no right to be. Mixed with gravy is one of those places. Covered in salad dressing is another.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the occasional cranberry muffin. I can also tolerate it in cereal if given fair warning. (There’s nothing that irritates me more than a cranberry surprise.) And I don’t object to that gelatinous muck that seems to be a Thanksgiving requirement. It does add color. I just politely refuse to ingest it. Why would I eat something that I would never allow to pass my lips the other 364 days of the year?

Is it just me, or have cranberries been popping up in more and more prepared foods of late? A cheap way to hike up the vitamin content on the package label, perhaps? Yeah, yeah, I could go on about how cranberries are a good source of this, that, and the other thing. Hmph. Google it yourself.

I have this theory, though. I call it the Great Cranberry Conspiracy. I think some rich person stupidly invested in cranberry bogs and is now desperately trying to unload the crop on anyone whom they can strong-arm into taking it. If the Koch brothers, for example, showed up at your corporate door and told you to put cranberries into your pecan chicken or by God, you’ll never work in this industry again, I bet you’d sit up and take notice.

And of course it’s the little people like me who have to suffer the consequences. It’s a cruel and boggy world out there. Eat with caution.

cranberry

[Image credit: finecooking.com]

Government Conspiracy: The Great Oxymoron

I have a basic philosophical difference with someone I love very much. He thinks that large scale governmental, or even global, conspiracies are possible. I on the other hand, think that’s doolally with a capital doo.

I suppose it boils down to which you think is more powerful: government evil or government stupidity. Having worked for the government, I can assure you that it will be stupidity every single time. Oh, they’d like to conspire, believe you me, and sometimes they’ll get away with things for a little while, but they are not capable of that level of organization and overall thought control in the long term.

Governments, after all, are composed of nothing more than masses of individuals, each with their own opinions and moral code. Many like to gossip. Some like to profit from insider information. Some want the spotlight. The vast majority have their eyes glued to the clock, looking forward to going home to their families. And then you have those pesky malcontents and whistle-blowers to contend with.

And in this era of social media, camera phones, satellite imagery, and traffic cameras, it’s really rather impossible to hide inconvenient things like the construction of concentration camps and the digging of mass graves.

The truth will out.

To pull off a conspiracy, you have to be certain that every individual involved thinks the way you want them to think and acts the way you want them to act. For the rest of their lives. Think about it. We don’t even have confidence that that can occur for even a few seconds.

Next time you’re at a traffic light, consider this: When the light turns green, every single person in line should be able to instantly accelerate and be perfectly fine. Like train cars, if we all move at the same speed at the same time, we would not crash into each other. But no. We don’t all instantly accelerate. The first one goes, there’s a slight pause, then the next one goes, and so on, to the point where there is a substantial delay if you are at the end of the line. Why is this? Well, duh. We can’t be confident that everyone will have the same reaction speed, the same engine power, and that some doofus isn’t in the middle of texting his girlfriend.  (“I love u, too!” “No! I love u more! <3” )

It’s the same with conspiracies. To think that human beings are automatons who will march in perfect lockstep one hundred percent of the time is to set entirely too much stock in the abilities of the human race. More than two people cannot keep a secret.

My friend has an admirably high opinion of humanity’s ability to function like a colony of bees. I, on the other hand, believe that most of us are just trying to get through life in one piece. Which one of us is more cynical? Hard to say.

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“I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my own motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I don’t know why I do things.”

–  J.B.S. Haldane

spy

(Image credit: digitallydownloaded.net)

If I Disagree with You, It’s because You’re Wrong.

When my late sister wanted to push my buttons, she would say, “You have very strong opinions.” For decades, this put me in a place where I could not win. I wanted her approval so much that I’d try not to have strong opinions. I’d try not to have any opinions at all. I’d try to figure out exactly where I was wrong, or bad or crazy. I’d try to change who I was, and I’d fail, and therefore feel even worse about myself.

Then one day in my early 40’s it occurred to me that maybe the reason she felt that my opinions were so strong was that they weren’t being changed by her often contradictory ones. I realized that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I express my opinions, yes, but I never insist that the rest of the world agree with me. In fact, I find that in general I’m not particularly persuasive. I finally said to my sister, “Yeah, but as long as I’m not forcing those opinions on you, what difference does it make?” And just like that, after decades of what felt like pure torture to me, that particular button was never pushed again.

Opinions. Everybody’s got ‘em.

Just recently, in my internet wanderings, I was introduced to a concept called confirmation bias. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about current political issues, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.”

I suppose I always knew that confirmation bias existed, but I never knew it had a name or that so many studies have been done about it. I’m willing to concede that every one of us is guilty of confirmation bias, but here’s where it gets dangerous: people in the throes of confirmation bias can make bad investments, poor choices, or break laws. Have you ever said, “It seemed like a good idea at the time…”

Economies have been destroyed and wars have been waged by people influenced by their own confirmation bias. It is why the concept of bloodletting persisted for 2,000 years, and why there are still people, even today, who think the world is flat, and that man has never walked on the moon. Confirmation bias is the bedrock of every cult and lunatic fringe militia on the face of the earth.

Unfortunately, it’s also a major factor in many forms of mental illness. Depressed? It will be so much easier to believe the negative things said about you, your circumstances, or the world in general, thanks to your old friend confirmation bias. Schizophrenic? It’s not that hard to find people who agree with the voices in your head. Hypochondriac? Someone will gladly confirm your diagnoses for a price, and since they agree with you, they must be more right than those doctors who are telling you that you’re fine. Paranoid? In this information age, when any nut case can have a platform to express his views (including me!), you’re bound to find “evidence” to support your conspiracy theories.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your confirmation bias.

  • Take the extra time to actually confirm facts. Two of my favorite websites for this are www.snopes.com, and www.factcheck.org.
  • Keep an open mind. Allow yourself to hear opposing opinions and ideas, and if they come with a boatload of documentation, you may want to take them seriously. This is called exploratory thought.
  • Take pride in being able to say, “I was wrong.” It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to do so.
  • Ask yourself if you are rejecting information simply because it doesn’t confirm your belief. Then ask yourself why it’s so important to you to maintain the belief you have.
  • Think critically and logically instead of emotionally and aggressively.
  • Continually ask yourself, “Is this information a fact, or is it an opinion or a rumor?”
  • Try to stay rational and remain calm. If you think there’s some evil international conspiracy at work, and you seem to be the only one privy to it, odds are you have a problem, because a) It’s nearly impossible for more than two people to keep a secret, and b) What are the odds that YOU are the one person on the entire planet to have been given this revelation? I mean, yeah, it could happen, but the odds are heavily stacked against you.
  • Apply the principle of Occam’s Razor. The simplest theory, the one that requires the least amount of assumptions, is often the correct one. For example, unless you live in Africa, if you see hoof prints, think horses, not zebras.
  • Think for yourself. If the evidence before you is that the emperor has no clothes, then he’s naked, regardless of what everyone around you is saying. Be careful about this, though. Make sure you’re drawing your conclusions from facts, not simply from a strong desire to see the emperor naked.

Of course, all of this is my opinion. Feel free to decide for yourself.