Its not what you dont know that hurts you. Its what you know that aint so
There have been a number of items coming through my news aggregator lately that set me to thinking about this old Will Rogers remark (while I’ve seen it attributed to Satchel Paige, Rogers comes back most frequently as the author per Google). For example, apropos of rational responses to the possible threats of chemical and biological attack, there is this.
Bio/chemo/nuke protection without duct-tape. This fascinating one-pager from a former Drill-Sergeant is a reality-check in respect of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, explaining what they do, what they don’t do, and how you can really protect yourself. Without duct-tape.
Bottom line on chemical weapons (it’s the same if they use industrial chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to heard you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the stuff to you, and on you. You’re more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff a knock-out-punch. Don’t let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The odds are really on your side…
Finally there’s biological warfare. There’s not much to cover here. Basic personal hygiene and sanitation will take you further than a million doctors. Wash your hands often, don’t share drinks, food, sloppy kisses, etc., …. with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it, don’t have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddie pools) laying around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by vectors, that is bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare is so easy as the TV makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty years, millions, and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If you’re clean of person and home you eat well and are active you’re gonna live.
There are, of course, multiple rear guard actions that attempt to appeal to reason. Two of my favorites are badastronomy.com and insultingly stupid movie physics which both rail against the bad knowledge promulgated by Hollywood and the media in the pursuit of entertainment. Now, many will argue that it’s just storytelling, what’s the harm in a bit of dramatic license. If there were more evidence that viewers actually understood how little relationship there was between the real world and what we are told about the real world, I’d be less concerned. But as I listen to executives in those industries make proposals about how information technology should change to support their views of how digital restrictions ought to work, I fear that they, at least, are confusing their fictionalized view of the world with the real thing.
In the broader world we live in, the descent into unreason is much more frightening. At the mundane level, anyone who travels is confronted with security procedures that bear no relationship to risk or effectiveness. Responses such as “Are you scared stupid?” from Wired News help as does the willingness of folks like Penn Jillette to twit the system. Last week’s duct tape nonsense makes good fodder for comedians, but it hides more troubling problems about the willingness to defer to authority just because.
I want to believe that reason will triumph. Part of my attraction to blogs is the opportunity to watch people trying to think through problems. The willingness of folks as diverse as Dave Weinberger, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, AKMA, Ed Felten, David Reed, and others to think in public and on the record is immensely encouraging.
There are many days when I fear that Carlo Cipolla got it right when he wrote “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.” Fundamentally, I’m too optimistic to accept that. Instead, We need to revisit and update our view of what constitutes an appropriate liberal education for the 21st century. Whatever conclusions your own careful reasoning brings you to, I choose to hope that this Wendell Berry sentiment will prevail.
The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.