Sunday, February 14, 2010

Don't be too satisfied...

You know, the olympic games usually make me a cheery person, but a pair of articles that have been making the rounds of the intertubes have been making me a little cranky.

The first is an article in the Wall Street Journal about the trials and tribulations that the city of Boulder, Colorado is going through to reduce it's carbon footprint through incentives. The carrot isn't working even in the most self identified liberal places. The truth is that whether on the right or the left, people are people. Self sacrifice is hard. I was amazed by the success of Arduous gave up buying anything new for a year, but even Arduous will admit that it was not easy.

In full disclosure, I spent part of my childhood in Boulder, grew up outside of Boulder. The results don't surprise me since one does not know if one holds a value until it is seriously challenged and one has to act on that value. And Boulder is just too comfortable to be challenged in any meaningful way. That leads me to ...

The other article that is making the rounds is the TED Talk by Jamie Oliver on encouraging food education to every child in America. In this talk he spoke about the obesity and his efforts to educate the residents of Huntington, West Virginia how to cook and live within their means. He identifies the usual, and correct culprits in his talk. My sense is the people in the audience felt very self congratulatory. Yes, we know that obesity is bad. We need to do something comes out of the spirit of the talk. And then we all fall into the trap that afflicts those that know better.

Knowledge is Power

No, hate to tell you this, knowledge is not power, knowledge is a tool. It allows you to change your actions, but it does not in and of itself have any power. It's very easy to look at others and go they should do something. But it't hard to do that when you live in a bubble. Take a look at the following chart from the article:

Now Boulder is above the national average, and I can almost guarantee that Huntington is below the national average in these same categories. And it is easy to go to TED and intellectualize the problem, and I for some reason I have a feeling that more people from Boulder have gone to TED than from Huntington. Credit goes to Oliver that he actually went and lived in Huntington to experience the challenges that are out there for regular people. So the danger of the affluent left, is to think that their normality is normal, that it is not privileged and that knowing about the problem is enough. That self-satisfaction is dangerous, especially when you have the mechanisms to choose. That ultimately is what Jamie Oliver is trying to do is say that people should be educated and choose. But what happens when you are educated and you still choose poorly.

I'll close this blog post out with another link, and that is to the blog of the website OKCupid and their analysis of people's behavior when they think people are not looking. Most people I think will not identify themselves or their friends as racists. And if not being racist is not judging people by their race. (slightly more restrictive than judging people exclusively by their race) than the data is disconcerting. Again, the knowledge is racism is bad, but not bad when when it applies to our personal decisions. Cognitive dissonance is rampant and until we face and act on that knowledge it'll be difficult to make changes. This is why I am for architectural changes so that people act. If there is a corner you can cut, you will. Make it so you can't.

Knowledge is a tool, it is a catalyst. But it's not power in and of itself.


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