Saturday, November 1, 2014

Model v. reality

My friend and debate partner, who has a PhD in Mathematics, has talked quite a bit lately about how every person has a mental model of their personal world and uses that model to make sense of the world and to make decisions. Over the last couple years (since I read a book during General Conference) my personal model includes a section on power – a recognition when someone is acting to project power and an understanding of when people are affected by power.

There remains a fascinating question of what happens when a person's model (or even a group's model) strays a long way from reality? For many of us our models are useful because they help us understand and negotiate our way through reality. We tend to revise our model when we see a discrepancy. But what if a person instead tries to revise reality?

I wrote a while ago about the mess that was created when a school board tried to make their history books more patriotic. I finally have time to look at an article on Salon by Sean McElwee. He discusses the fallacies behind conservative arguments, the places where their models don't match reality. Editing school books is an attempt to modify reality instead of the model. Some areas of descrepancy:

Everything was awesome before welfare and if we get rid of welfare things will be awesome again. Before welfare private charity took care of the poor. But support for the poor is much older than the programs FDR put together. In many eras of history the church did the taxing instead of or in partnership with the state. There has never been a successful purely voluntary public assistance program that made much of a dent in need.

Slaves really had a pretty good deal, well cared for from birth to death. This claim is made to support the idea that blacks are responsible for their own success or failure. But the legacy and weight of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and persistent racism are what is keeping black people down.

American violence can spread democracy. Nope, can't work and there are many failed attempts. There is usually an ulterior motive of stealing a country's resources. All those failed attempts are why there is such a need to rewrite history books.

Conservatism used to be about preserving tradition and preferring the familiar over the unknown. But conservatism today in America is full of racism, conspiracy, free market dogma, bad Biblical interpretation, and sentimentalized past. We can't afford their redefinition of history.

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