Friday, September 23, 2016

The dish.

A first look at this sad gift for the garbagemen might make you think that DirecTV is heading for the ash heap of history.

Which was my first thought. If people are just heaving satellite dishes around, what can that mean for the company? The evidence is clear: DirecTV is doomed.

Then I looked up at the house and saw a big new dish where the old dish used to be.

Couldn't see if it was a DirecTV dish, but who else does them? But if it was DirecTV, why didn't they take the old dish with them, rather than let the logo be seen with the trash like a bum in the gutter?

In any event, even if this were to have been a discarded and despised dish of disgust, it would have been no evidence that the company that made it was going bust. One household switched to cable; so what? And yet we have the tendency to rely heavily on tiny doses of anecdotal evidence like that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Joey down the block says marijuana never hurt him. My cousin thinks Disney World is reasonably priced and hassle-free. Alice at the office says Hillary Clinton is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being she's ever known in her life. 

It's not that these opinions aren't true, or have no basis in fact---well, maybe they don't, but that's beside the point. It's that Joey, your cousin, Alice at the office, me, and you, individually these opinions are statistically insignificant. We may tend to give them more weight because the person involved has earned it somehow, like when Oprah recommends a book ("Oooh! I love the same books she does!"), or because Joey got a lot of street cred because he can eat more Cheetos in one sitting than any other human being alive, or because Matt Damon.... You know what? There's no reason to pay attention to Matt Damon.

This is why we're supposed to use argument and reason to support our judgments, because feelings aren't facts. But there is so much noise, so much spin, so much cherry-picking of data, so much anecdotal evidence, that even things that look like arguments are no more than opinion, chatter, a salesman's pitch. Feelings have supplanted reason as we are told to trust our instincts, go with our gut. As if our guts are infallible lie detectors.

Was there ever a time when masses of people could be swayed by genuine logic? I don't think so. Evidence, maybe, but as we've seen, evidence itself can be misleading, subject to wishful thinking, statistically insignificant. One swallow does not a summer make.

But don't take my word for it.

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