The World According to a Hammer

22 11 2013


Back when I was still running a martial arts school, I heard a highly regarded martial art instructor talk about how to “be the local expert.” His idea was simple; be the most well informed, well educated, and thus most qualified fitness/self defense expert in the area, and be recognized as such. The advantages of being the most qualified expert in one’s field should be a no-brainer. Wouldn’t everybody want to train with the best? As in any highly competitive market, the real challenge lies in being distinguished as the top dog.

Here comes the snake oil salesmen

Enter the world of marketing. As anybody who’s ever run their own business will tell you, marketing is almost as important as the product being offered. In my opinion, it is also the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur. Advertising, i.e. Yellow pages, television, radio, mass-mailing, is extremely expensive. Other methods can be less expensive, but more time consuming, taking one away from their area of expertise. For the small operator, the efficacy of where to invest a marketing budget can be a make-or-break proposition.

Another factor in marketing for the martial arts, and I suspect for many businesses, is the waning effectiveness of traditional methods. With all the competition using the same tactics in the same mediums, things like the Yellow Pages, flyers, etc. just quit working. When everyone is offering the same services, with the same prices, and claiming the same level of superiority, how does one stand out from the crowd and sell their goods?

This is where the genius of his idea lie. It went something like this….

Get involved with the local media whenever the opportunity arrises. Write op-ed pieces on your area of expertise. Become the go-to expert in fitness & self defense, whenever a news agency is doing a piece on those topics. Reporters are always looking for engaging sources, and the more accessible the better. If you’re really good, you could work yourself into this niche. Every time there’s a story on fitness, you’d be the name quoted in the paper. Each segment on crime prevention or self defense would include your face, along with your expert advice. You would have the most powerful advertising available, with the implicit endorsement of every news agency you were featured in, and it’s free! For a small business owner struggling to maintain a reliable flow of customers, this is gold.

Indeed this strategy has been taken up by more than just your local mom & pop karate school. Anybody with something to sell, wether a product or an ideology, a candidate or some piece of legislation, can utilize this same method to get their message out. And everybody is getting on board. As much of a boon as this plan may be from a business perspective, however, this arrangement between “the news” and marketing has some serious problems.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Take the martial arts “expert,” for example. For the record, there are absolutely no governing bodies nor regulatory agencies that oversee/verify any martial art school/instructor. Anybody, regardless of qualifications, can hang the proverbial shingle on the wall and state that they are the nth degree grand master of their system. Any certifications an instructor may have are on the honor system at best, and many require nothing more than paying a fee. Some systems may have stringent standards, but there are no third-party agencies to verify any of their claims. That expert from local dojo X, presenting his opinion on your local news, may very well be an expert. Whether that expertise is on the subject in question or in bullshit isn’t clear, however, without serious research into their actual qualifications beyond being  a self-proclaimed “master.”

The recent revelation in September that “Dr.” Elizabeth O’Bagy isn’t really a doctor of anything (she lied about having a PhD), makes my point, When being an expert has market value, there exists the motivation for individuals to exaggerate how qualified they may actually be. It is a bit scary that she was offering up expert advice on the turmoil in the Middle East, and our potential involvement in Syria. It’s even scarier to consider she was being taken seriously by policy makers.

The tail is wagging the dog

Even though spending a few hours watching the news would leave you believing our world is becoming ever more violent, this simply isn’t the case. The frequency of these stories feeds our cognitive biases and leaves us with an inaccurate perception of reality. (see this earlier post) Violent crime in the U.S. has been decreasing for the past 20 years, and that includes the recent upswing the past two years. The media focuses on the extreme stories, however, because this kind of drama is what get’s viewers’ attention.

Martial arts instructors play upon our fears of violence, just as the media does. Self defense is what they’re selling, and if consumers didn’t see a threat, they’d be out of business. Even though it is statistically un-likey that most martial arts students will ever be in a violent situation, martial arts schools continue to sign up people who worry about defending themselves. (this statistical reality is also why the plethora of unqualified martial art instructors go largely unnoticed as the frauds they are – their students never actually have to use their skills)

Who else might be in a line of work that is dependent upon our fear, and uses the media to feed it? O’Bagy is a prime example, but she is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the “think tanks” we hear about so often are really just advertising agencies in disguise. They are presenting research to support their agendas, expressing opinions as supposed “experts,” when in reality they are often simply pitchmen. Our 24-hour news has been turned into their personal 24 hour info-mercial. The problem is, they’re selling more than a better detergent or the latest workout craze.

In his article The sham “terrorist expert” industry, Glenn Greenwald  discusses “sham experts,” “who have built their careers on fear-mongering over Islamic Terrorism,” and who “can stay relevant only if that threat does.”

These “terrorism experts” form an incredibly incestuous, mutually admiring little clique in and around Washington. They’re employed at think tanks, academic institutions, and media outlets. They can and do have mildly different political ideologies — some are more Republican, some are more Democratic — but, as usual for D.C. cliques, ostensible differences in political views are totally inconsequential when placed next to their common group identity and career interest: namely, sustaining the myth of the Grave Threat of Islamic Terror in order to justify their fear-based careers, the relevance of their circle, and their alleged “expertise.” Like all adolescent, insular cliques, they defend one another reflexively whenever a fellow member is attacked, closing ranks with astonishing speed and loyalty; they take substantive criticisms very personally as attacks on their “friends,” because a criticism of the genre and any member in good standing of this fiefdom is a threat to their collective interests.

Let the buyer beware.

We view advertisements with a lot of skepticism, knowing that the advertiser has financial incentive to “stretch the truth,” as they tell us how much better our life will be when we own their product. We don’t apply this same level of doubt to the statements of an expert in a news interview, but we should. What if they have a financial stake in the message they’re delivering? If they’ve got financial incentive to influence your opinion, how is their testimony any different than a spokesperson from brand z telling you theirs is the best? Again, if the reporters were doing any in-depth, investigative journalism, they should be pointing out these potential conflicts-of-interest, and if egregious, completely dismissing the credibility of said expert before, if ever, giving them access to their pulpit.

The risks from getting advice or instruction from a less-than-qualified martial artist are, for the most part, benign. You may not achieve the fitness levels you’d hoped for, or your child may learn some cheesy techniques that lose them a trophy at the local tournament. Higher up the spectrum, perhaps you get injured doing inappropriate exercises. Worst-case, you find yourself using bogus techniques to unsuccessfully protect yourself in a violent attack.

The stakes for society at large are much more serious when the experts being touted on CNN, FOX and MSNBC are proponents of, say, bombing another country.  Picture the fictional gazillion-aire industrialist Tony Stark (pre-moral paradigm shift) publicly pushing an aggressive military policy. Would we be willing to accept his “expert” advice to go to war, knowing he’s the guy getting rich off of the deal? If comic-book fiction isn’t you’re thing, how about this. Back in September, about the same time Ms. O’Bagy was coming clean, Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, was making the argument for U.S. military involvement in Syria on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. According to a report by the  Public Accountability Initiative,

“In each case, Hadley’s audience was not informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.”

Mr. Hadley wasn’t alone.

To a hammer, everything’s a nail.

Karate, Taekwondo, Kung fu, Muay Thai, and Jiu Jitsu are just a few of a long list of martial arts available to the consumer. Each style will present a different set of skills and methodology. For the devoted practitioner, training in the arts can become a lifestyle, in which hours a day are devoted to the mat, and the ideas & principles from training become infused with the rest of their daily lives outside the gym. The time spent with teammates, together with the common experiences “on the mat” build a strong camaraderie. Students come to identify with their fellow training partners; there are those who train, and those who don’t, their school and other schools, their style and other styles.

All of this makes the students natural marketers. “Do you want to lose weight? You should try our style,” or ” Do you want to get stronger? Come try our classes.”  The martial arts will cure pretty much whatever ails you, especially according to a believer. The passion with which they believe combined with the growing number of believers just makes their story that much more compelling. Their belief becomes sold as fact irrespective of it’s actual validity. Add this bias together with the profit motive of an entrepreneur and you’ve got someone who’s hammer is the answer to all your problems.

Now extend that same mentality to a group of like minded people who make their living off of the nation’s fear of terrorism. Mind you, it’s the perceived threat that we’re fearful of, because the average joe has absolutely no way of knowing what the actual threat is. Also keep in mind that our perception comes from none other than those that stand to profit the most from it’s existence. Can anyone say “conflict of interest?” Whether they come to believe their own hype or if they see it for what it is, the fact remains that it is in their interest to pitch whatever they’re selling as much as they can.

The harm that may befall us individually from believing some less-than-qualified martial arts instructor pales in comparison to the global impact of our decisions in the ballot box. We, as the voting public of the most powerful nation on the planet, have a moral duty to make informed decisions. As Thomas Jefferson stated,

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

The problem is, we’re relying, in large part, on a rigged system to provide us with the information we need to make those decisions. As compelling as the story may seem on CNN, FOX, or MSNBC, we need to remain cynically skeptical. The very nature of that medium (entertainment & sales) makes everything they say suspect, and the added testimony of supposed experts is no help, as there’s a good chance they’re just trying to sell us a hammer.

Blind to our own reflection

5 12 2012

Way back in high school, I took a literature course in science fiction.  We read a number of short stories written in the early days of this genre, as well as a number of novels from the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein.  Science fiction became one of my favorites, not because of all the dreamy techno gadgets, however cool some of that stuff may be, but from the ability to make social commentary in a thought-provoking manner.  It really provided me with a venue to more effectively question and discuss the social ails that I perceived as a young, ideological teen.

We often can’t see the fallacies in our own way of thinking, blinded as we tend to be by our own egocentrism and ethnocentrism.  Reading about other beings and their societies on distant planets or in the distant future, however, can open the door to introspection.  This can be a great way to present social critique in a less confrontational manner, since it’s about some fictional “others.”  As we experience the trials and tribulations of aliens in science fiction, we can come to a more clear perception of our own reality.

Isn’t it funny (or sad) how we can see the weaknesses or fallacious nature of another’s way of thinking, but we struggle to see the same thing in ourselves?  We can criticize a purple alien on some unknown planet light years from our own Milky Way for it’s derision or hatred of a green alien solely because of a difference in color.  Yet, we can’t even discuss immigration, taxes, nor “entitlements” in this country without stereotypes and false assumptions convoluting the conversation beyond any reason or sense.

Here’s another example.  While teaching English in Korea years ago, I visited a memorial for the victims of the Japanese occupation with a number of students.  During this rather somber affair, these gentlemen made no bones about their anger and hatred of the Japanese.  They said the Japanese could NEVER be forgiven for what they had done to their countrymen.

(I, for one, am not a big fan of the “forgive and forget” school of thought.  It seems to me that it’s our tendency to forget that hinders our ability to learn from past mistakes.  However, it’s only by forgiving that we’re able to move forward from past transgressions, as difficult as it may be.)

I acknowledged that I could never understand how they must have felt, but that it seemed more prudent to “forgive, but never forget.”  It had been almost two generations earlier when the atrocities in question had been committed.  The students replied that this was impossible.  Their reasoning was simple; the crimes the Japanese perpetrated were just too horrendous, and therefore they could never be forgiven.

I then reminded them of a conversation we’d had in class not a week earlier regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.  The general consensus of the group in that discussion was that the Israelis and Palestinians needed to just let it go.  They have been killing one another for centuries, each generation seeking revenge for the “crimes” committed to their ancestors, and until they let bygones be bygones, it would never stop.

Their response to this comparison was classic: “well, that’s different.”

When are those damn purple aliens going to figure it out?


Man, the Logical Beast

26 11 2012

We humans pride ourselves on our logic.  Although there’s no consensus on what exactly distinguishes us from other species in regards to our cognitive capabilities, we recognize that we are in a class by ourselves, and part of what makes us unique is our ability to logically contemplate the world around us.  This enables us, individually and collectively, to make the wise decisions in our daily lives that keep us alive, and healthy, while our species progresses into the future.

If we’re so logical, how can there be so much contradicting diversity in human thought?

This presumption of astute intellect frequently often leads to much frustration and disappointment for me, when people, whether family, close friends, or John Q. P., fall short of my expectations.  I’m confronted, time and again, by the seeming inability of so many to see the fallacious nature of their thinking, and it’s tempting to assume that I’m surrounded by idiots.  (I even had a “surrounded by idiots” t-shirt once upon a time!)  How can it be that, even with all of our modern day access to knowledge, we still aren’t that smart?

I realize that much of my disillusionment comes from unrealistic expectations.  The state of being old enough to vote does not, in and of itself, imply the endowment of the facilities in logic which one might assume accompanies said age.

source: wikipedia

Way back in the recesses of my ancient past, I recall discussing Blooms Taxonomy in an educational psychology class. This model divides our intellectual development  into six levels, beginning with the basic ability to remember facts & figures, evolving through actually understanding and being able to apply those ideas, and finally reaching the pinnacle of human thought; evaluating and creating.  The key point of the discussion, for the sake of this post, was a statistic that has ever since burned in my brain: it’s estimated that 80% of the human population never gets much past the fourth level!

People retain information with varying degrees of success, and we each develop varying degrees of analytical prowess.  As if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out we selectively choose which information to heed, and which to deny, regardless of it’s validity. (see my previous post re: confirmation bias) It’s no wonder we “can’t all just get along.”

It may be hard to accept, but I’m coming to grips with the fact that I am just as susceptible as the next person to these forces that warp our ability to reason.

But wait, there’s more!

Our confirmation bias works in cahoots with another major player in warping our logic – our emotions.  I’ve spent years trying to develop better self control, because I recognized long ago that I don’t think clearly nor quickly when I’m pissed off.  Now I’ve got to keep an eye on the tendency to read or listen to only those sources that reinforce my beliefs? Man, this Constant and Never-ending Improvement stuff is a pain in the ass.

The emotional drama of Junior High – and to think I believed we would eventually grow up!

A fact I learned while running a martial art school: people buy on emotion, and then justify their purchase through logic.  This is why that car salesman wants to get you in the driver’s seat of that shiny, new BMW.  After you feel that leather interior, with that new-car smell, you can just picture yourself flying down the highway.  Once you want the car (emotion) you’ll come up with an entire list of reasons why you need the car (logic).

“Ooohhh, it’s so SHINEY!

It’s no different with martial arts lessons or fitness.  People sign up for both with images of grandeur (emotional).  They see their child as a confident, strong, wise martial arts master, or they picture themselves with the svelte body of an olympic athlete.  Then, with some impetus from an emotional trigger, (enrollments in the fitness industry peak annually during the first of the year) they sign up, and with the enthusiasm of a kid with a new toy, come up with a whole bunch of reasons why it’s the greatest thing ever. (logical)

Roller coaster rides should be reserved for amusement parks

This whole “cart-before-the -horse” works in reverse, too.  Those same people, after a few weeks or even months, will begin to lose their motivation.  The time commitment and effort involved begin to lose their new luster, fading into mundane routine.  Then, all it takes is one “bad” day during this lull in emotional high to flip the switch.  Now they start looking for every reason possible to reinforce the emotional desire to quit, and low and behold, they come up with a list of negatives as extensive as the list of positives from just weeks before!

The bottom line is this: we make most of our decisions based on our emotions – not logical conclusions based on evaluation of the facts, but knee-jerk emotional response to whatever stirs our heart.  Then our confirmation bias kicks in, looking only for proof to support our decision.  This silly emotional roller coaster isn’t reserved just for our decisions in consumption either.

Just take a look at the political scene of our most recent elections.  It sure seems that our political forum has been extremely vitriolic since the election cycle and subsequent election of our first African-American President in 2008. Perhaps it’s due to the “perfect storm” of our time.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the global economic collapse, and finally the election of a black man to the “most powerful position in the world” have all culminated in pretty extraordinary circumstances.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the Mayan calendar… and the fiscal cliff…

It’s like a bad movie script, and the media is playing it to the hilt.  The Tea Partiers are yelling, “Obama’s a muslim socialist and he’s setting up Death Panels!”  while the Occupy movement is chanting, “capitalism sucks and you rich people better pay up!”  I, for one, find myself stuck somewhere in the middle, watching the freak show, while the media cashes in, and our society pays the price for such polarized, and emotional debate.  But don’t forget: emotion sells!

It amazes me how many people are once again caught up in the emotional silliness of the moment.  The number of ridiculous posts on Facebook regarding our impending doom with President Obama’s reelection is mind-numbing.  Just like the predictable rise in health club enrollments at the turn of the new year, people start looking into moving to Canada when their candidate loses an election!

 Although not as common, another completely immature emotional response is occurring in places like the fine state of Texas.  The same people who have put creationism right next to evolution in their school curricula have a petition to secede!

You all need to push back from the t.v., and go for a walk.

Politics and religion: taboo to you too?

29 10 2012

With the impending presidential election right around the corner, politics seem to be everywhere.  I’ve been trying to become more informed and involved the past few years, since I believe participation is a social obligation that we tend to take for granted.  It can be pretty overwhelming, though.  With all the resources available via the internet, I can really get sucked in, and become derelict in my duties as a father.  So I’ve gotta push back daily from the lap top, go outside & play with my girls.  This also helps me get a daily dose of some well-needed perspective.

I got into a little political “discussion” a while back on Facebook with a pretty close friend of mine.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Of course, we’re all aware of the danger of such a limited form of dialogue.  My wife keeps admonishing me not to get into these discussions, for fear we won’t have any friends who will speak to us. But sometimes, it just seems so necessary.  Sometimes things are just so inappropriate, or out of line, that is seems irresponsible not to say something.

You know what they say about politics and religion. 

Isn’t it sad?  Those are two things we SHOULD be talking about.  Two things that effect nearly every facet of our lives, and discussing them is taboo?   Instead we’re supposed to talk about the weather, sports, or what the idiots on Jersey Shore are up to?  Give me a break.  Are we, as grown-ups, still so immature that we can’t discuss anything in a social setting other than superficial crap?

So I once again dove into the deep water.

It all started with one of those damnable Tea Party posts that are designed to elicit an extreme emotional response.  You know the ones I mean.  Put up a photo of some dark skinned men with AK-47’s, replete with inflammatory headline, and  a brief statement containing perhaps a kernel of truth. (so long as the kernel supports your agenda, of course)

This one was regarding the Guantanamo Bay detainees.  My friend’s response was emotional, to say the least,  suggesting that perhaps committing atrocities on them would be a possible solution.  Turn about is fair play, and all that.

I could understand the anger and frustration he felt, however it seemed an inappropriate reaction to become the very thing we’re supposed to be fighting against; to succumb to our own anger and frustration, stoop to their level and behave just as ignorantly and grotesquely.  The debate went back and forth, eventually ending with the old “agreement to disagree.”

My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.

Our confirmation bias is such a powerful force, it can twist even the most intelligent person’s point of view.  Rather than me rehashing what so many have already covered, here’s a link to a great post I read last week that talks about the forces of the frequency illusion and confirmation bias and how they keep us entrenched in our beliefs, even when faced with the facts to the contrary.

Simply stated, we hold a particular set of ideas as defining, in part, who we are.  When these beliefs are the very things being discussed or questioned, we can become rather defensive.  Without even realizing it, the debate begins to question our very sense of being, and that can be discomforting, to say the least.  That discomfort can cause us to become emotional in defending, in a sense, who we think we are.

The problem with this, it seems to me, is the more emotional people become, the less logical and rational they are.  Therefore, such emotional banner waving is antithetical to actually coming up with a resolution.

For this reason, I can’t help but hold emotional banner waving in total disdain. When I see a mob screaming, waving their fists, and burning a flag or someone in effigy, I think, “what a bunch of ignorant asses.”  Whether it’s a bunch of Iraqis burning our flag, or the Tea Partiers yelling obscenities at the homeless while waving posters of President Obama sporting a Hitler-esque mustache, or the Occupy Wall street crowd deriding free market capitalism while twittering about it on their iPhones, I think the vast majority of the crowd are behaving like idiots.  They’re caught up in the mob mentality of the moment, and that emotion is a powerfully contageous force.  It overrides any form of logic that might otherwise help develop reasonable discourse, and thereby lead to a sensible resolution.

We’ve all seen it; a post on Facebook, or some talking head in the media angrily ranting on ad nauseum, à la Glenn Beck.  Such immature, emotional tirades are no different than all those “others” chanting in front of an American embassy in <insert city of your choice here>, or the demonstrators dancing in the streets in front of the White House at the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death.

Don’t misunderstand my intent here.  I can empathize with the emotions that people are feeling, when they’re so moved to go and demonstrate, or make some “public” statement in social media.  However, when they allow those emotions to completely take over, and justify their actions and words, no matter how hateful, ignorant, or just plain wrong they might be, then they’re behaving just like a spoiled little child having a tantrum.  How could anybody behaving in this manner expect to be taken seriously?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion

24 09 2012

The Sombrero Galaxy

I’m always intrigued when scientists shed a bit more light on a subject,  giving us a more keen insight into ourselves and the universe around us.  We’ve come a long way from the snake oil salesmen of the wild west days, haven’t we?

The advances we’ve made in all fields, from astronomy to genetics to physics is awesome at the least, and often completely mind-boggling.  Since Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe,  and the symbolic start of the scientific revolution a mere 480 years ago, we’ve come to learn that there are other solar systems out there in addition to our own.  We have begun to break down our very genome, and are uncovering new ways in which our 25,000 genes make us what we are.  Physics has taken us from Einstein’s Law of Relativity, to Quantum physics, and now there’s talk of anti-matter. (whatever that might be?)  For more on any of these topics, you had better go somewhere else.  Indeed, they are all fascinating topics, but beyond the scope of this blog, and far beyond the capacity of my limited intellect!

A relatively recent, and very well-known product of science, the  internet, has completely transformed our world.  Never, in the history of man, have we been so connected to one another.  Never have we had immediate access to so much information, nor the ability to share great thought far and wide.  What an opportunity for our civilization to take a huge leap in consciousness, right?


There are people who choose to believe the earth is only 10,000 years old. (and probably some who think the “round” idea is a hoax, too, like the Apollo moon landings) There is ongoing debate on the validity of vaccinations, and parents who opt out, fearing their children will become autistic.  Climate change is just a left wing conspiracy.

And this kind of thinking isn’t just reserved for some small segment of our society that has somehow slipped through the cracks.  These folks haven’t been isolated on some island without access to an education for generations over the past few centuries. This kind of thinking has permeated every level of our society.  The aptly-named “Crackpot Caucus” of the Republican Party is a perfect summation of just how pervasive the absurdity has become.  (Much like Jon Stewart, who’s at his funniest when he does nothing more than point out the ridiculous things others have said, this op-ed piece by Timothy Egan is hilarious, albeit a bit scary.)

In his humorous and entertaining book “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free,” Charles P. Pierce offers a great critique of an apparent movement in our country that rejects education, intelligence, and science as being too elitist.

“The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise.  It’s not so much anti modernism or the distrust of the intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter teased out of the national DNA, although both of those things are part of it.  The rise of Idiot America today reflects – for profit, mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power – the breakdown of the consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is good.  It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people we should trust the least are the people who know best what they’re talking about.  In the new media age, everybody is an historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage.  And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.”

Which brings us to our current state in the public forum.  Never before has the fringe had the ability to spread their ideas, no matter how unfounded or absurd, without review, censure, or critique, on a level playing field with all others.  The internet, for all of it’s potential,  has only helped to propagate this condition.  One webpage can look just as official and reliable as the next, and any crackpot with a little technological savvy, can say or sell whatever it is they’re peddling, with as much gravitas as the next.  Mr. Pierce sums the dilemma up nicely with his Three Great Premises of Idiot America:

· Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units
· Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
· Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it

It seems the internet has been just as much a boon to the snake oil salesmen of our modern era as it has been to everyone else.

I’m reminded of a Chinese Proverb I used to tell students  years ago. “Three men make a tiger” (Chinese三人成虎pinyinsān rén chéng hǔ)  The accompanying parable was a great way to point out the fallacious nature of such reasoning.  Here’s my quick rendition.

An advisor to the king posited this question, ” If someone told you there was a tiger in the market place, would you believe him?”

The king responded, “no.”

“What if two people told you there was a tiger in the market place?” the advisor continued, to which the king responded, after a bit more contemplation, “no, but I would begin to wonder.”

The advisor then asked, “what if three people told you there was a tiger in the market – would you believe it then?”

“Yes, I guess if three people said it was so, it must be so.”

“I see,” said the advisor.  “Then it only takes three men to make a tiger.” 

It doesn’t matter how many people say a thing, nor how loudly and emotionally they all yell it, nor how official looking their website that’s peddling it may appear. None of these factors make that thing true.  As Bernard Baruch admonishes us:

“Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”


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