there’s no such thing as localized incompetence in politics.

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” –Michael Crichton

This applies to politicians in equal measure, and it’s one of the reasons why I hold Democrats in as much general contempt as I do Republicans.

I am by no means an expert on a lot of things, but there are some subjects where I know my stuff extremely well. So when I see someone go off on, say, gun control, and then proceed to display a breathtaking level of ignorance about the issue at hand, get basic facts and definitions laughably wrong, misdiagnose the problem entirely, make demonstrably false claims, propose counterproductive solutions, and be deliberately deceptive just to get some pet legislation passed, I automatically assume that the politician in question is equally clueless and dishonest about every other social issue. (That goes for Conservatives and Liberals alike, by the way.)

I think much of the problem with politics these days is that too many people are willing to assume that the politicians they support are more competent and honest when it comes to pushing their pet causes. Me, if I know you’re either willfully ignorant or demonstrably dishonest about one subject, I have a hard time believing you at all.


5 thoughts on “there’s no such thing as localized incompetence in politics.

  1. I think it’s safe to jump to just not believing all of them. The ones you’ll be wrong about are just noise.

  2. Politicians are interested in one thing –Getting re-elected. Except,that is not true in every case. Bob Kerrey (D) NE Medal of Honor winner – Bob, made it clear that he would not remain in the Senate more then two terms and after those terms retired from the Senate.

    Having served in the military for eight years my problem is when Politicians of ANY stripe and epically civilians who attack those who have risked their lives for my Country. As a case in point, Bob Kerrey (D) ran for President and the Republicans attacked him by among other things by calling him a baby killer. I guess a real hero only counts if happen to follow your own political believes.

  3. Interestingly, the more educated you are and smarter, the easier it is to believe you know “enough’ about a topic that is really outside your ken, and to dismiss people who are objectively less intelligent/educated that you are on that topic. ( where they happen, god forbid, to actually know more/have more experience than you, even if they cannot articulate that.)

    In the hard sciences Physicists being as a general rule very smart and rigorously educated fall prey to this quite regularly. I remember one (young physicist) guy telling an older auto ( mech) engineer about how he thought cars were badly designed, the older guy listened for a while ( the physicist WAS _very_ smart, and made good points) and then raised his hand, got up went to a white board, wrote down the physicists major points about “bad car design” and proceeded to give a 1hour demolition, point by point by explaining the real-world engineering & financial constraints and challenges.

    It was beautiful, and being guys and scientists & engineers when he was done, everyone in the room ( including the physicist btw) stood up and clapped. IT was a brilliant and humbling to see someone do that on the fly.

    I think among the educated “ruling class” in the US there is a very bad tendency towards lack of humbleness and general impulse to intervene like some apprentice sorcerers into things which they THINK they understand, but aren’t actually smart/educated enough to think through, or intellectually honest enough to considered that the opposition to their brilliant ideas might have a point or five.

    (And I include both all sides of spectrum in this.)

    It doesn’t help that most politicians are in fact desperately un-humble and not that smart, educated or experienced outside being politicians.

    • Generally speaking,. 60 % of US Senators are lawyers while in the House,they make up of about a 1/3 of the membership. I don’t have anything against attorneys since my wife is a senior council in the criminal division in my State’s Attorney General’s office. The problem with Attorneys is they are not in the real world where people have to produce concrete things. They are much like wall street “analysts” who look to the past for their answers and then using past data y just make it up on the go — To heck current with real world problems.

      The real corrupting item in politics and politicians is money. Just examine what a politician’s financial state is when they run and then are elected and see what it is when they leave office.