November 23, 2010

Liberals, Conservatives, and Assumptions

I often find myself completely amazed at how very intelligent individuals make the most bone headed comments relating to their political perspectives. The more they espouse themselves to an extreme agenda, either liberal or conservative, the more bone headed they get. I am not talking about just an everyman on the street, but some extremely intelligent and highly successful people, who, for the sake of fairness (cause a list of them would be way too long, not to mention rude) will remain nameless. (If you think I am talking about you, either you are way too vain or right, or both.)

I guess I should explain what I mean when I say they make bone headed comments. Often the come in the form of complaints or criticism. Something like: "[some politically connected individual] said that [some other politically connected individual] was [some derogatory label], but they really are the [another derogatory label]." Another form might be "[Liberals or conservatives or some other political group label] are all [some completely generalized derogatory characterization]." Well, statements of this type indicate that the individual making such comments are guilty of several major flaws in their thinking.
  1. Assumptions. We assume that we are experts. We assume we understand what others are talking about. We assume that we are right and don't make ourselves think things through. We assume that what we are saying will automatically make sense to others. We assume that everyone else will think like us. We don't do ourselves any favors when we make assumptions. In politics, we don't have to make assumptions, but often we do for various reasons, most of which aren't very good reasons.
  2. Shallow thinking. When we really think through an issue politically, and we evaluate all the potential inputs and outputs, the reasons, and the influences, it takes a long time, and a lot of effort. Anything less is shallow and lazy, but, really, how many of have the time in our lives for a real solid analysis of issues. I suppose we all could, but something else would have to give. Still, wouldn't it be nice if every time someone really didn't think things all the way through, they either held their tongue or prefaced their comments with "I haven't really thought this all the way through..."?
  3. Inconsideration for individual differences. Politics and political opinion are very complex and based upon even more complex personal experience. I have my experiences, and you have yours, and even if you are my twin brother (I don't really have a twin) you still are going to have differences in your experiences and consequently, in how you view the world.
  4. Generalizations. This is probably the biggest source of lazy and bone headed comments form intelligent people. The only statements that make good and accurate generalizations are very simple where there is an either or choice, such as male or female, alive or dead, or so forth. Statements judging sanity, intelligence, morality, etc don't make good generalizations due to the complexity of the issues. Political statements mostly fall into this category. To say all republicans are greedy, or that all democrats are immoral, is like saying all birds are black. Obviously, it is wrong. Some birds are black. Most birds have some black on them. But even then, many do not. Even saying all birds fly is wrong. To make an accurate political generalization, you have to put in so many qualifiers as to completely sterilize and invalidate the point you are trying to make. Still, people do it, but it isn't helpful, and doesn't make for effective discussion.
  5. Emotional responses. Far too often in life, we make emotional responses. We shut off the logical side of our brains, and vomit emotional bile in the form of words. Few subjects in life elicit as strong of emotional responses as politics. Maybe religion might, but only for some. Perhaps the Vulcans (you know, the fictional race from Star Trek that eliminated their emotions and viewed everything logically) were really onto something. If we could be less emotional about politics, I can't help but think we would have a more civil discourse, and probably more effective government.
  6. Zero sum game. Why do we see politics as a zero sum game. Winners and losers. Spoils to the victor, to the loser nothing, or worse. We don't have to think that way. In fact, politics is almost never a zero sum game. In fact, why does there have to be winners and losers in politics at all. Ok, well, someone has to win the elections, but as far as what it means for non-candidates. Just because I voted for somebody, does not mean I win. What if I vote for someone, and then they pass laws that are to my detriment. How is that winning? Surely, almost nobody agrees 100% with the people they vote for. So, why all the venom in politics. How about this. We have a perfect laboratory situation. We have independent states that can be testing grounds for programs. We can try out half a dozen or so solutions to a given problem, review them for a while, come back with tweaks, and eventually, we will know what works best. Thinking one political philosophy is the answer to all things is really bone headed
I know, my rant is not going to change things. Even those who know better will probably continue making bone headed political comments. I probably will too, but I will try not to. If you catch me making one of the errors I mentioned here, call me out on it.

November 5, 2010

Political ideologies vs reality

Well, the midterm elections were yesterday. Today, my wife was listening to Obama talk about the message of the elections. He was first trying to make the point that he "get's it" in regards to why people are upset. He continually mentioned the results of their efforts were weak, and that people are mad about the economy. When asked about his health care bill, he defended it left and right. It was a good thing, etc. etc. When asked specifically about other actions by his administration, not once did he ever seem to "get it" that there are things he has done that people didn't like.

I realized that somewhere in there, it never occurred to him that perhaps the ideology he espouses is potentially wrong in the eyes of the people. It probably also never occurred to him that ideology does not solve problems. We as a people are tired of ideologues who can't understand that first and foremost, we want the problems solved. Particularly the ones that naturally fall in the purview of government. As for our own problems, let us solve our own, but don't make it more difficult for us to do so.

This got me thinking about what people want, and what upsets them. First, they don't like their freedom being taken away. They don't like being told that they have to do something. They don't like being manipulated. They like having options. They like to feel independent. They like to feel valuable. The like comfort. They like adventure. They like to feel intelligent and capable. They don't like to be told they are wrong. Perhaps government would be better off if instead of mandating programs, they just made things available to the people.

The one exception is regulation of business. Business needs to be regulated, just not too heavily. A business that takes care of it's employees and is honest with it's customers and follows good business practices should not incur any cost in following regulation. On the other hand, those who do not do those things should feel the incentive to change.

So, there you have it. Limit government to just serving the people, limit business to good business practices, and let the people be. When they need something, well, that is why government should have voluntary programs, and those programs should be easy to use, but hard to abuse. Is it really that hard? Well, I guess in reality, maybe it is.

November 1, 2010

Hit the political nail on the head

Ok, just read an article that really hit the nail on the head from the Wall Street Journal, well, they published it, but it was written by the guy who runs the Rassmusen polling company. There are 2 paragraphs that really sum up what he had to say, and that really address what I see as the political reality of our country right now. Here is the first one.

"More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people."

Exactly, and here is the summary.

"Elected politicians also should leave their ideological baggage behind because voters don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or even the center. They want someone in Washington who understands that the American people want to govern themselves."

Wow, if only all the talking heads out there could see it so clearly.

A better home

In the last year, I have lived a couple very different climates in very different housing. Also, the last 5 years I have had the experience of helping completely rebuild more than one house from top to bottom. These experiences have given me some insights and ideas related to modern housing, and some idea for what would be better.

First, housing today is too expensive, too slow to build, poorly designed and built, and not very effective.The biggest failures of housing today are poor insulation, poor usability, and poor quality. Unless where you live never gets over 80 degrees or under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you probably could use much better total insulation in your house. This isn't saying that those with R40 insulation in their attics are doing badly, it is just that there are far too many other parts of modern houses that even when highly insulated in the normally insulated spaces, still are sources for massive energy loss.

Second, if you have ever had a house for more than a couple of years, you probably noticed that they fall apart and wear out very quickly. The materials used for them is about as cheap as can be had, and the overall quality of workmanship often leaves something to be desired. This is not saying that you can't get quality products or workmanship. I have seen those homes and other buildings which are built to last with very little maintenance, and they are awesome, but with a very high premium attached to their price tag. Most people and developers are not willing to go this route for a couple of reasons. They couldn't resell the home for anything close to what it cost them, and the don't plan on keeping the home for a very long time. This only exacerbates the first problem.

What if we could have a housing system that would create high quality houses with extremely high efficiency and very low upkeep requirements that could be built very quickly by very small teams of people for costs equal to or less than our current housing offerings? If you had developed such a system, how would you go about marketing it? What would such a system include?

I can picture a day, not very far down the road, where you can order such a house, or office, or whatever, and it can be put together and finished in only a few days, but would last centuries. It would be well laid out, and custom configurations would be available and would not add huge overruns on the initial cost. There are those working on such systems, and they are, for the most part, not compatible with current building methods. Who will be first, and how will they succeed?