The Tyranny of Experience
Do you think angry, frightened, or scared people are the best decision makers?
I don’t, but maybe I am the only one.
Here is Chris Christie on the (precious few) fellow conservatives concerned about civil liberty abuses:
“You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this,” he said. “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. … I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in.”
He adds further
“I think what we as a country have to decide is: Do we have amnesia? Because I don’t,” he said. “And I remember what we felt like on Sept. 12, 2001.”
Contrary to what Christie’s condescension suggests, I remember. But 9/12 wasn’t a day of clarity. It was a day of grief, grappling, and floundering. I’m not reassured that Christie plans on harnessing that to guide his decision-making.
It isn’t just Christie’s party.
Do you know who should probably have absolutely no say in any future gun control legislation? Any of the parents who lost children in the Newtown shooting. By virtue of their humanity, they are uniquely disqualified from being able to rationally think about the trade-offs involved. And when politicians willingly surrounded themselves with those parents, you should distrust their ability to weigh those trade-offs as well. No matter how smart you start off, surrounding yourself with the grieving will affect your judgment in a predictable direction (assuming you have a soul).
These men are either woefully ignorant of how their own minds work, or they are willfully manipulating themselves and the public.
It isn’t just politics.
Here is the Guardian reporting on the top five regrets of the dying. There are a thousand similar articles about what people who are experiencing physical and existential pain wish they had done with their lives. The implication is that we should live our own lives according to what people say when they are their least long-term-oriented and most frightened. That is stupid.
It isn’t just death.
Jenny McCarthy’s warnings about vaccines weren’t heeded because she was a well-respected member of the Singled Out cast (though her celebrity undoubtedly was necessary). Some unfortunate degree of credibility was assigned to her because she bore a reportedly autistic child. The single least reliable source for information about autism is likely to be the mother of an autistic child, but intuition somehow twisted that into a qualification. It’s no accident that a researcher with a notebook caught Typhoid Mary and not the mother who felt the most grief. (Plot twist: I think a grieving family did in fact hire the researcher, so there’s that.)
Experience is most useful when it gives us representative information we can interpret in an even-handed manner. The more emotionally charged the experience is, the more caution you should exert in drawing conclusions from it.
Did any of this seem uncaring toward the people who have gone through these experiences? I’m sorry about that, but it’s also kind of the point. I don’t want to live in a society where arguments are won on the basis of who is best able to find sympathetic victims who have suffered. My hope is to fight victim exploitation not victims.
Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza