A Never-ending Food Fight – 7 Takeaways for May 2, 2021

Food Fight!
(Image: canva.com)

For those so inclined, I find myself sharing more of what I’m up to on Twitter these days. @leonot is my personal account where I’m getting wordier.

1. “…the result is a never-ending food fight.”

Why Everyone on the Internet Is Wrong – Mark Manson – (MindF*ck Monday newsletter)

Mark has a way with words. And a way with thought.

Today’s newsletter is a look at three predictable failures in logic that the internet exacerbates in everyone. The result: the maddening perception that everyone is wrong, all the damn time

The big three are “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence”, semantics and how vague language can be, and something called “mood affiliation”, which was new to me. Each of these contributes in different ways, and especially in online discourse (if you can call it that) where all other in-person signals are simply not present.

Do this: next time you find yourself thinking someone is wrong or surprised at their reaction, consider these three possibilities. Seriously, an interaction I had just this morning can be completely explained by “semantics”.

2. “If people believe that you know what you are doing, they will listen.”

Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why – Stephen Martin, Joseph Marks – (ebook, via Blinkist)

This book, which is likely to go onto my pile to be read fully, will either anger you, or clarify opportunities you might not have realized. The underlying message is as old as time: we pay more attention to the messenger than the message. The book discusses several distinct aspects leading to someone’s ability to get their message accepted: socio-economic status, competence, dominance, attractiveness, warmth, vulnerability, trustworthiness, and charisma.

I see two possible reactions to this information: anger at how people use these characteristics to manipulate us, and a vow to “change the system” rather than accept it (a Sisyphean task, in my opinion) — or an understanding of how we can use these techniques to get our own messages heard.

Do this: next time you hear an opinion being delivered, particularly one that you agree with, consider the messenger, and whether it’s really them, or the message itself, that sways your opinion. (Don’t gloss this over — this is exceptionally difficult introspection.)

3. “We’re not going to get to a place of zero risk”

Irrational Covid Fears – David Leonhardt – (New York Times, newsletter)

I see this all the time in technology: people want guarantees. They want yes or no. They want the answer to “am I safe?” to be an absolute “Yes”, when in fact absolute safety just doesn’t exist. The same is true for almost any issue you might encounter, COVID-19 being only the most recent, and perhaps most visible example.

It gets worse. In searching for extremes, only extremes will do. “If it’s not 100% effective, then it’s not effective” is the result. I’m convinced that there are many who avoid the vaccine because they don’t understand statistics and probabilities, and fall back on easier, absolute, all-or-nothing thinking.

But wait. There’s more. As Leonhardt’s essay points out, people are blasé about risks much greater than COVID, or the vaccine. “About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.” Which is getting the most news and mental energy, and which is accepted as a necessary cost to our way of life? (And don’t get me started on gun violence.)

Do this: Pay attention to context. Pay attention to the real, identifiable, quantifiable risks. Learn some basic statistics.

4. “Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari – (ebook)

I’m really enjoying the various concepts discussed in this book. Honestly, it’s almost more of a psychology book than a history book. Much of Harari’s observations have much more to do with how we interact with one another and create societies than it is some dry chronicle of events. I have a collection of quotes I’ve highlighted from the book ranging from the importance (end perhaps inevitability) of myth to the dramatic impact of the scientific revolution.

Do this: Read it. It’s a long read (as you can see it’s been on my list below for some time), but it’s worth it. Even Bill agrees.

5. “It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream scenario.”

Under-the-Skin Surveillance Is Coming Quickly – Jared Brock – (Medium)

I’m not a conspiracy theorist — not even close. Most such theories don’t pass the sniff test. They’re so improbable or outlandish that with even a little thought they can be dismissed out of hand. That they continue to exist simply goes to show that “a little thought” remains too much for some people.

Brock is not a conspiracy theorist, per se, but he does swing closer than I do. He raises the issue that an assortment of under-the-skin technologies are inevitably (in his mind) going to be used for evil, in one form or another. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s most definitely worth considering. One thing that does get my head nodding is this:

Don’t believe the evangelists who can forecast no harms.
Don’t believe the conspiracists who can see no good.

Indeed, it goes back to my “there is no such thing as black and white” argument above. Everything has a price. Even those things that benefit us have some cost.

Do this: please don’t go all conspiracy on me, but do read the article, and perhaps some of the supporting evidence. (I didn’t realize that a “Remote-controlled contraceptive microchip” was a thing, nor that they’re working on a “tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood” – the item that set Brock down this path. Both from legit sources.)

6. “as the pandemic receded, it left in its wake a wave of nervous disorders.”

Researchers are closing in on long covid – The Economist – (Magazine)

The quote is not about COVID-19. It’s referring to “The Russian Flu” of the 1890s. The quote continues: “A similar wave followed the next big pandemic, the ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918 …”.

One common symptom was lethargy

The parallels to today’s COVID-19 situation, and the so-called “long COVID” that some are experiencing, are both fascinating and scary. Much like COVID itself, there’s no real predicting who, or how, or what, or how long someone might be affected beyond contracting the disease.

Do this: get vaccinated. Avoid COVID. There’s more to COVID than COVID, it appears.

7. “you have earned 68 million miles”

SpaceX Makes First Nighttime Splash Down With Astronauts Since 1968 – Kenneth Chang – (New York Times)

My takeaway here is an odd one, and one of mixed emotions. Space travel is becoming blasé again.

That’s a good thing, as it enters an era of what will presumably become routine, commercial space flight. It’s sad, though, as well. There remain a handful of people who hang not just on SpaceX’s exploits, but on NASA’s, and for that matter on all space travel activity. To us it’s still something of wonder and science fiction. That it becomes routine I, as I said, a good thing, and inevitable.

I just miss seeing the wonder more widely held.

Do this: Consider how amazing this all is. Keep the wonder.

What I’m Reading

In progress (also on GoodReads):


You’ll find all the books I’ve read or am reading as part of this project on the site’s Reading List page.

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