Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast

Megan McArdle has some interesting observations in What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast. If I can fairly summarize her thesis this attitude towards self-help books stems from intellectuals’ elitism: they are so intelligent and above it all that they don’t need to heed the pedestrian advice offered in these books. She could be right.

I also think there is a strain of anti-individualism and determinism behind this sentiment too. If I could put this attitude in words it would be: How dare you think that you can help yourself in this crazy, complicated world? It’s too complicated for you to grasp and you’re fighting a futile battle against over-powering forces. You need the advice of your superior intellectual elite and the solace of the collective. It takes a village to raise a child, doesn’t it? I believe we can affect the wisdom of the decisions we make and the path we chart by reading the advice of some authors then making our own well-informed choices. My goal isn’t to defend that position here. It would take a book (or books) to do that.

Do some (or many) self-help books over simplify? Sure! Are some based on anecdotal as opposed to scientific studies? Yep. Are some just plain wrong? Of course. I’m not saying you blindly accept anyone who manages to get published. There are good self-help and bad self-help books, just as there are good or bad books in philosophy, history, politics, economics, and so on. And we naturally tend to pick authors who share our basic beliefs. A Christian will tend to read books written by a Christian self-help author and avoid an atheist’s screed. And vice versa.

I’d love to be able to spell out criteria for choosing the wheat out of the chaff but I’d say if it can be done it’s a job for someone far smarter than me. Maybe it’s a job for one of our intellectual elite! Just kidding. My goal is here is to simply note this bias against self-help books and offer an observation on the reason behind it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Pinocchio Press -

This article covers the new "fact checking" cottage industry that has sprung up. The Pinocchio Press -

Also be sure to check out PolitiFact Bias and Sublime Bloviations.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Totally Normal Blog: We Are All Pauline Kael Now by Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott talks about how we tend to select our sources of information that favors our opinions in The Totally Normal Blog: We Are All Pauline Kael Now. Recommended reading.

Here is what I posted in response:

Michael, I heartily agree. I know that despite my goal of being as objective as possible (no easy task given our nature!) I naturally gravitate to blogs and web sites with which I agree. Part of it is limited time. Part of it is having a limited ability (and desire) to stomach what the other side is saying. When you talk about the bubbles we build I saw a skit Bill Maher (who I can take in small doses) put on his show in which he had someone representing a typical conservative sitting inside a bubble while he hurled “facts” that the conservative couldn’t hear. I wish I could remember an example but don’t. Must be my built-in defense mechanism. ;-) Maher’s goal was to show how conservatives isolate themselves from uncomfortable facts. I’ve heard similar accusations from the right about the left.

This is a little off topic but I think a lot of this non-communication is caused by people talking at different conceptual levels. For instance, for Objectivists and libertarians the individual is their foundation. Conservatives talk more about families and tradition. Liberals talk more about it taking a village to raise a child.

As an example of this building your own bubble trend I recently learned about an iPad app called Zite which feeds stories to you in different categories such as politics, science, and psychology. You can vote on which stories or sources you like or dislike. As you vote on the stories Zite refines what it sends to you. After installing it I've tried to avoid completely shutting down sites like Salon, Slate, and others precisely to see what the other side is saying if for no other reason than to see what arguments (such as they are) that they’re using.

So I'd say there are positives and negatives with having the ability to find sources of information to your liking. On the one hand it helps break the monopoly the mainstream new media has had on doling out information to us. On the other it becomes too easy, as you said, to build a bubble that shields facts that might not neatly fit your favored explanatory model (to coin an awkward term).