Monday, July 16, 2012

On Herding Cats 1/2

Roger showed me this article and said he would like to know my thoughts. He said that in the military he encounters many people who believe in this world view.

The basic premise is that the world can be divided into three basic categories: the harmless masses, the vicious aggressors, and the honorable protectors. The author perhaps draws out the metaphor for too long—sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs—but the foundation is concrete.

I want to first start by dropping the metaphor. No clear argument comes from tying oneself to an imperfect analogy of life. And I'd rather not refute the writer of this piece for I believe that there is much to be learned and valued in his perspective. For me to tease out what I believe from what I disagree with would take too long. Rather, I will try to explain my worldview and hope that an astute and diligent reader can compare the two pieces.

To me the world rarely lies in stark categories of thought. It has been rigorously demonstrated that animals—humans especially—are inclined toward making generalizations, categorizations, and false patterns. For example, look at a screen full of white noise and notice that you can pick out patterns despite none actually being there. It's how we survived in the wild. We made assumptions that were based on perceived patterns and the quicker we caught on, the better we survived. It's why we have things like OCD, stereotypes, and prejudice. It's also the basis for math, science, philosophy, and logic.

The difference of course is rigor. By building on robust and substantial evidence we are better able to understand our world in meaningful ways. That said, I will now go on to make unsubstantiated remarks about how I view the world.

“I always hated the hypothetical if a bad person was holding a gun to your loved one's head and you had a gun pointed at the bad person, would you kill them. Of course I wouldn't let my loved one die. I'd do everything in my power to save them. But there are always more options in life. You could shoot him in the knee, you could try to talk to the bad person. There are always options.” I heard this during my mediation training in college. I know, snobby liberal arts college that believes in mediation and other snobbery like vegans.

He had a very real point though. And that is the question of what to do under stress, how do we prepare for the moment when danger is immediately present and there is little or no time to react? How do we know that the decision we make is the right one?