Saturday, June 22, 2013

sausage/linkathon again

This is one of the central paradoxes of our culture—everything is swallowed into oblivion but nothing goes away.
Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Frank Bidart, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky — they’re all brought into Edmundson’s office for a dressing down. Their poems “are good in their ways,” he concedes. “They simply aren’t good enough. They don’t slake a reader’s thirst for meanings that pass beyond the experience of the individual poet and light up the world we hold in common.”

For those who consider Art their true religion then Art has to measure up as a thing that binds souls together (never mind whether or not souls exist, just consider it as, you know, a poetic expression).  Whatever that Art is it probably has to be something very grown-up and sophisticated rather than a marathon of Steve Burns' hosted Blues Clues episodes ... even though it's not entirely clear that, contra Art Spiegelmann, the power fantasies of adults are actually fundamentally more grown-up than the power fantasies of children.  ;)
A little Lord Acton is usually a good thing, thus.
"There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men.", courtesy of Terry Teachout blogging.  That little Lord Acton quote seems like a good place to leave off for this post, especially in light of recent events and discussion in the Christian blogosphere.  And to end with a notoriously cryptic canonical passage, let the reader understand.

You Are Not So Smart: The Survivorship Bias
... Simply put, survivorship bias is your tendency to focus on survivors instead of whatever you would call a non-survivor depending on the situation. Sometimes that means you tend to focus on the living instead of the dead, or on winners instead of losers, or on successes instead of failures. In Wald’s problem, the military focused on the planes that made it home and almost made a terrible decision because they ignored the ones that got shot down.

It is easy to do. After any process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are often destroyed or muted or removed from your view. If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, “A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight.” The things a great company like Microsoft or Google or Apple did right are like the planes with bullet holes in the wings. The companies that burned all the way to the ground after taking massive damage fade from memory. Before you emulate the history of a famous company, Kahneman says, you should imagine going back in time when that company was just getting by and ask yourself if the outcome of its decisions were in any way predictable. If not, you are probably seeing patterns in hindsight where there was only chaos in the moment. He sums it up like so, “If you group successes together and look for what makes them similar, the only real answer will be luck.”

If you only study success stories you won't see where failure can happen and all too often success is the luck of the draw.  There can be histories of individuals and institutions that can be great big Pee-Wee Herman moments of "I meant to do that."