Thursday, January 17, 2013
A short rant about memes and rants
It was with great relief that I read the title of a forthcoming book from Johns Hopkins University Press: Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis.
The book won't be available for another couple of weeks, so I haven't seen it yet. I don't know if it is cogently argued, balanced, or even readable. If it's really based on evidence and analysis, though, I hope it will inform policy. So far there is little evidence that today's policymakers analyze any proposed measures much beyond the Congressional bottom line: Will such-and-such a policy help or hurt my reelection chances?
Unfortunately, Congressional reelection chances depend on a public that far too often forms its opinions from Facebook memes and emailed rants rather than from evidence and analysis. Alas, many of the "quotes" turn out to be inventions, especially if they are attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Much of the "history" has little to do with what actually happened (see "The Hitler Gun Control Lie," for example). And much of the data, even when not fabricated, is used in misleading ways.
Memes and rants do not create an informed electorate. They do not help us solve big problems, and they do not help us plan for a healthy future. What they do, if we let them, is drive us to political extremes and make us pawns of special interests.
If we do Facebook or email, we can't avoid memes and rants. We should, however, do our best to keep them from eating our brain cells.