Oy Vey!

The Tyranny of Anecdotes

January 11, 2013

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The Tyranny of Anecdotes

Remember the good old days when you’d only have one tyrant per country and they’d usually kill a few thousand people? Today anyone can be tyrannical and use their shrill screams to kill millions of conversations.

In The Tyranny of Clichés, Jonah Goldberg talks about how clichés such as “Violence never solves anything” trump logic and end debates despite the evidence saying the opposite. (He says violence liberated America from the English and also ended slavery.) The perpetually misunderstood Sam Francis has a similar take but calls it “anarcho-tyranny” and describes it as

a combination of anarchy (in which legitimate government functions—like spying on the bad guys or punishing real criminals—are not performed) and tyranny (in which government performs illegitimate functions—like spying on the good guys or criminalizing innocent conduct like gun ownership and political dissent).

There’s a third kind of tyranny with which the seemingly oppressed like to oppress us: anecdotal evidence. Where freak occurrences and exceptions used to be treated for the aberrations that they are, they now define policies and dominate discourse. Right now, Putin is using one dead orphan to justify a total adoption ban on American parents because his ego is hurt. To be against him is to want orphans to die.

“Today anyone can be tyrannical and use their shrill screams to kill millions of conversations.”

Safety culture uses this tactic often. Thirty-four children in Ohio died in car accidents! Are you OK with that? Are you OK with a classroom blowing up? To be against booster seats for 7-year-olds is to laugh at the atrocities in Sandy Hook. No wonder Ralph Nader has a career. If you don’t pay his extortion fees, you’re killing kids. When you have the emotions behind “common sense” on your side, counterintuitive truth is doomed.

In a culture where a Liberal Arts degree is considered education and “Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent,” replacing data with propaganda is easy.

Here are 10 totally random occurrences that tyrants pretend aren’t random at all.


1. A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT HAD A MELTDOWN
When the tsunami hit Japan last year, it destroyed a nuclear power plant that killed probably dozens of employees and will lead to countless cancer deaths down the road; ergo, nuclear power is bad. Every time I try to defend nuclear energy this past year, the conversation jumps there and promptly commits hara-kiri. But the number of workers killed appears to hover around zero and the number of future cancer victims caused by the accident is expected to approach 100. That’s less than 1% of the deaths the tsunami caused.

2. SOMEONE LIT THEIR TAP WATER ON FIRE
The documentary Gasland exploded into the fracking debate by showing families near natural gas mines lighting their tap water on fire. This is a very compelling image for Americans who don’t live near areas with plenty of naturally occurring methane already in the water table. However, the ones that do are well aware their tap water has been flammable since indoor plumbing began, which was decades before fracking. The tap water you saw in Gasland was always flammable and it was always drinkable.

3. AN ABORTION DOCTOR WAS SHOT
I’m always surprised by how many of my Canadian brethren see America as an evangelical hellhole full of religious lunatics who regularly shoot abortion doctors. In this CBC interview the journalist is so flummoxed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s respect for America, he blurts out, “They shoot abortion doctors in the United States of America.” Despite the hatefact that Canada has more dead abortion doctors per capita, the half-dozen murdered in America since 1993 mean that if you love America, you hate abortion doctors.

4. AN ANTI-NAUSEA DRUG DEFORMED BABIES
One of the most catastrophic side effects in the history of pharmaceuticals was the deformed babies that resulted from thalidomide. The scandal begat a much stricter FDA, which seemed like a good idea at first but we’re now strapped with a ten-year wait to get anything on the market. We’ve all but cured deafness and could be in a similar place with blindness if the FDA didn’t make it virtually impossible to get a cure passed. Thalidomide isn’t pretty, but preventing millions of lives from being improved is downright twisted.


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