Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is There a Better Democratic System?

Only few days ago, we talked about the common but serious issue of confusing correlation and causality that leads to further and undesired distortion of reality. The next day, during the Nov 15 democratic presidential candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, I saw immediately a real life example. When asked about the position for or against issuing drivers’ licenses to un-documented immigrants (yes I agree with candidate congressman Dennis Kusinich's objection to moderator Wolf Blitzer's use of the word "illegal" that has been overused by those who have other agendas), New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson responded affirmatively and elaborated that as governor, he signed such a bill four years ago which had the (positive) effects of: a) lower auto accident rate and a better public safety for the state, b) a much lower un-insured auto rate in the state, dropping from 30% to less than 11%.

Aside from the smaller issue that the actual data did not support the claim (according to the subsequent fact checks by some) Governor Richardson, like many impressive and seasoned politicians, executives, and talk show hosts, managed to squeeze in specifics such as figures/statistics and projected an impression of his leadership, all in about 1 minute time. This is the most common trick by politicians and alike who (mis)use correlated events to make people believe his or her actions had caused something good to happen, that is, a flawed suggestion of causality. The real sad thing is that I would not be surprised such a trick is so prevalent that it could have become the second nature for some who don’t even realize when they are practicing it!

I can think of many reasons why this trick is used so much everyday by so many in political and business worlds alike. To begin with, it probably does work most of the time, but why?

Perhaps the majority of us are too simple-minded and rushed to ask for or listen to more thorough reasoning and discussions of complex issues. Didn’t you see that by giving a qualified yes answer in 190 words (yes, someone actually counted it!) to the very same question, Senator Barack Obama was ridiculed of not being able to give a simple yes/no answer to a question which is extremely complex? Are we all becoming so naïve to believe all questions have multiple choices or yes/no answers, when the right answer is “IT DEPENDS” and requires a well-posed question, deep understanding, and not in the least, critical thinking and good judgment?

Didn’t you also notice that the more important and significant issues are, the more impatient and emotional we are and more lack of depth and due diligence we have? This can be said about the hottest or critical social political issues of this country – health care, immigration, education, and security. Perhaps a part of us is like the frogs in the fable Frogs desiring a King, that can’t resist the temptation of wanting to have a superior being who can lead us? Perhaps we have been disappointed too many times by our own unrealistic expectation and come to distrust enthusiastic politicians such that we amplify and look for any indications that might confirm our suspicion?

It goes without saying that both the problem and solution lie with us. Some parts of it are just human: we are the ones who expect oversimplified explanations and solutions of complex problems; we are the ones who make and encourage politicians, executives, and media to say what we want to hear; we are the ones who convince them whoever give the most consistent and most believable cause-effect spins “win”. However some can be attributed to the balance and reward of the particular democratic system we implemented, evolved, and live by. There are so many learned people out there. Please tell me there is a better democratic system than what we have today!

Talk to you soon!

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