PEOPLE SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS

Correlation is not causation.

Yes it is. In fact that’s all it is. Isn’t that exactly what Hume showed us? You can’t see a cause, you can only infer it. And you can only infer it from a correlation. Sheesh!

If all and only smokers get lung cancer, then, dammit, smoking causes lung cancer. If there’s only a high correlation – most smokers and very few non-smokers – then it has to be smoking plus something else. If the higher correlation is with the something else then it’s that something else plus maybe the smoking. And so on. But for sure there’s no causation without any correlation. So where did this correlation is not causation nonsense come from?

That’s just one of many stupid things people say notwithstanding its stupidity should be staring them right in the face. Here’s another:

Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence.

Let’s check this out. Send an undercover policewoman out to where she’s likely to be raped. Tell her that, as her would-be rapist approaches, she’s to come on to him. If that stops him in his tracks, you might be on to something. But whatever you’re on to it’s the same thing you’d be on to if you observed how a lot of couples like to play. So no, Virginia, rape really is about what it seems to be about. It’s about sex.

If someone tells you she’s been sexually assaulted, tell her you believe her.

So, if he then tells you she’s lying, then he must, right? If he gets to you first and tells you she’s going to say she was sexually assaulted but she’s lying, you can’t tell him you believe him, because then you’ll have to tell her you don’t. Believe her, that is. So it’s not who gets to you first. It’s her word over his whenever she gets to you.

But now suppose he’s your son, your brother, your husband, or your best friend. You can’t tell him you believe him because you’ve already told her you believe her. So maybe you ought not to have told her you believe her, just in case your son or brother or husband or best friend comes along later and tells you she’s lying. Or worse yet, suppose she comes along second. Now you have to tell her you don’t believe her. So now it seems it’s her word unless he’s your son or brother or husband or best friend. But hang on. Even if he’s not your son or brother or husband or best friend, isn’t he someone’s son or brother or husband or best friend? And so shouldn’t that someone believe him rather than her?

So now you have to say it depends not on whether it’s a she or a he, but rather your particular relationship to each of them. That seems fair enough. But then shouldn’t you be telling her not that you believe her categorically, but only until someone else comes along you have reason to believe more? But that’s equivalent to saying you’re suspending judgment, which is precisely what “I believe you!” advocates want saying you believe her to replace.

94% of sexual assaults go unreported.

No, because it had to be reported that they went unreported, in which case they were reported. Presumably, then, what’s meant is that a random sampling of people were interviewed and of those who said they’d been sexually assaulted 94% of them reported they did not reported it in a timely manner and to the appropriate authorities. But even that can’t be right, because a goodly number of those reports, both the reported ones and the unreported ones, will turn out to be false, whereas to count them as sexual assaults they have to be sexual assaults. So the most that can be said is that 94% of accusations of sexual assault go unreported in a timely manner and to the appropriate authorities.

But hang on. That, even if true, tells us nothing about how serious the problem of sexual assault might be unless we’re also told the cardinals involved. For example, if there were only 47 such accusations in the entire country over the last decade, as a woman I’d be more concerned about the prevalence of boa constrictor attacks when walking through the park at night. She needs the numbers, and they’d better be high enough to make her think twice about her route home.

But even that’s not the worst of it. If only 6% of women are willing to file an information that they’ve been sexually assaulted by a man, what percentage of men do you suppose are willing to file a report that they’ve been sexually assaulted by another man? And what percentage of men do you suppose would be willing to file a report that they’ve been sexually assaulted by a woman? I have no idea. Do you? So what does “94% of sexual assaults go unreported!” tell us about anything we might want to know? Not a whole lot. But it certainly sounds like something drastic has to be done, don’t you think?

1% of the American population hold 40% of the nation’s wealth.

What exactly does this say about inequality in America? That there are vast discrepancies in wealth in America. Got it. But what does that say? That America is a long way from being an egalitarian society. Seems pretty obvious. Obvious, but manifestly false. In fact America is one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet.

By wealth is meant assets. And by assets is meant chicken scratches on a computer screen. The only asset one can eat is what’s in the refrigerator. The only asset one can live in is the roof over one’s head. The only asset one can drive is the car in the driveway. And so on. So let’s take a look at a graph representing the distribution in America of the only assets one could give a shit about.

Let’s start with longevity. What would a graph of assets on the x axis and longevity on the y look like? Near as dammit to flat. Let’s look at the nutritional value of what’s on an American dinner table. Flat. Let’s look at the reliability of the family car, as measured by breakdowns per trip to the office or grocery store or hockey practice. Flat. Hours of work per week. Flat. Days of paid vacation. Flat. Access to health care. Not as flat as it is in Canada, the Antipodes, and most European countries, but a helluva flatter than most other polities in the world. Internet access. Flat. Number of colored TVs per household. Flat. Incidence of spousal or child abuse. Flat. Number of laughs per fiscal quarter that make your sides hurt. Flat. Number of puppy paws scrabbling up onto the bed. Flat.

Need I go on? Probably not. But I will anyhow.

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is the most urgent problem facing the world today.

No it’s not. Worlds just aren’t the kind of things that can have problems facing them. Only people can. And there’s not a single person on the planet – nor a married one for that matter – for whom AGW is in any wise urgent. Far more urgent for me right now is I have to pee. After that I need lunch. Then I have papers to mark. Give me your to-do list. I’m curious as to how far down I’d have to look to find “Do something about global warming.” I’m guessing it’s not there. If it’s not there for the people who claim to be so deeply concerned about AGW, why are they surprised it’s not there for people who should be but aren’t?

We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Yes we do. A terrorist is someone who targets a civilian population with a view to their pressuring their government to accede to the terrorist’s demands. So if we don’t negotiate with terrorists, and they know that, then they can’t be terrorists. The most they can be are vandals. We don’t negotiate with vandals, but that’s because all they want is to, well, vandalize. But here’s the proof that terrorists aren’t vandals. Give them what they want and they stop doing what they’re doing. Funny that.

Okay, I think that’s enough. But what’s my point? People say stupid things, but that doesn’t mean they believe them. People know rape is about sex. Rape victims who are told we believe them know perfectly well it’s just what we’re supposed to say, like “my condolences” when someone’s partner dies, even though we might think she’s well rid of the bastard. People know that the moment one converts an asset to something useful it’s no longer an asset, because he no longer has it in reserve. People know AGW isn’t urgent, which is why no one’s doing anything about it. And they know we negotiate with terrorists all the time, since otherwise we wouldn’t be paying welfare to those who’d otherwise have no choice but to steal.

So what’s the harm in people saying these stupid things? There is none, provided they do know enough not to believe what, with such heartfelt conviction, they say. My job is to just keep reminding them. It’s a dirty job, and it hasn’t made me many friends. But someone has to do it. Maybe that’s what should be put on my tombstone. “It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.”

Let’s just hope I’m not buried next to one of the SS officers who worked at Auschwitz.

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