The prevalent short term view of quality


I go bananas when a certain quality is missing from an argument and I’m left with the very hard task of including it again.
It is hard even to define what sets me off in this way. The best picture to illustrate what is bothering me is to think how far the quality of decisions/things is aimed. God has a very (infinitely) long term view of the qualities of our actions, and I try to aim as far as I can too in everything. Issues such as “fitness to the most profound discernible needs” and “sustainability” are often on my mind.
The prevalent system today, on the other hand, has institutionalised a very short view of quality. If it sells, it is good. If the share price goes up, it is good. If you’ve lost weight, the diet worked. The person responsible for long term outcomes is not responsible anymore because he/she has changed her position 5 times already or is burnt out and tending her herb garden for therapy.

Note that I’m not complaining about simple arguments-this topic should be another soap box speech. Indeed, my friends often accuse MY arguments as being simplistic and they are right- I am indeed fond of simple theories. When I come accross a big idea (whether mine or other’s) that is worth sharing with my friends, I don’t tend to think I have come upon some sort of sacred truth (or truth belonging to that person only, as the copywriter would imagine), that I have uncovered the complexities and the result now all fall into their place. No, I hold them to be simply useful models for predicting important outcomes. These ideas tend to be something I can say in 15 seconds, easy to remember and give maybe 80% correct answers. Let’s call ideas like these Idea Type A.
Let’s contrast this with Idea Type B: this idea is correct say, 95% of the time but to “get it”, I have to read a book, and after that I can’t remember or communicate it easily.
Generally I’d consider B an inferior idea type when compared to A for two reasons:
1) B would be priceless and A worthless if my job would be putting this one idea to work, but my life is too varied, my time/attention/energy limitations are too severe and my goals too numerous to spend all that time on learning and maintaining few ideas. This is why we live in the T-commerce (trust-commerce-thanks Viktor) world-we simply have to look at the person and decide to trust him in his specialised area, as we haven’t got the time to learn it all. A’s come into their own in the finite world we live in.
2) If there are no A’s around, then we just have to face that the endeavour is hard. But I don’t think we go onto B’s for lack of A’s…often we aim for apparent completeness and enslaving ourselves up in the process, in the end achieving very little.
Please note: beware of atributing too much importance to the idea, lest it becomes a self fulfilling one, leading us down a cul-de-sac and completely removing us from reality. If someone claims black people are more violent and less smart, and treats them as such, makes policies based on that assumption, guess what: they will be. They will make the wholly rational decision that “if no matter what I do, I’m a criminal, I might as well benefit from it”. Losing sight of the direction of causation is endemic in our society.
Now, let’s get back onto my problem with lack of quality. I think it is best to describe it in an example about food:
I think about food a lot. Not just about eating it :) , but also what it does to my body, energy levels, health. If you think about it, my body is made of things I put into it, so it merits a closer look, no?
When weight control (my perennial issue) comes up in a conversation, and I’ll propose my latest, most insightful theories, my friends will often retort: its all about how much energy you put in and how much you burn up. You want to lose weight? Eat less or move more.
Now as far as simplicity goes, I should love this argument. But instead I’m bothered by it really badly! To hold this position there has to exist a lack of complexity in the way my friends view the world, or in this case, the human body and food.
Of course we don’t put petrol in our diesel car, even though the engine would start, because we know that it would cause irrepererable damage in a few thousand kms. We can know this because the engine and fuel form a reasonably simple system. The internal combustion engine runs happily with a steady supply of carbon and hydrogen molecules in a single configurarion. With humans things are harder-fatty acids are not just fatty acids (you remember the ad: Oils ain’t oils?), and carbohydrates come in many forms also. There are proteins, undigestable but necessary stuff (fibre), other chemical compunds like alcohol, and then we haven’t even started to talk about the miriad micro nutrients. To add difficulty to all this, we can’t test these things on humans anywhere nearly as easily as on the engines, not least for ethical reasons. The effects are harder to measure, are down to many factors and might not manifest themselves for a long long time (in case of degenerative diseases). We have to admit that things are hard. If we don’t, and talk of the human body as if it was a known entity, then a very important long term quality is missing from the conversation.
So sometimes, if someone says “eat less, move more”, what is really being said is this: “It is too hard for me/I’m too disinterested, but since you force me to say something, I’ll say this”. This attitude shouldn’t bother me, because all my friend is saying “this is too hard for the effort required”, “this is not my hobbyhorse”, which is completely fine (we all economise due to our limitations)…but it is so very confusing for both of us.
If I’m pushing this line of conversation and get slapped in the face, I simply take it as a cue to change to topics more interesting to both of us. However, when I notice that others bring this up or actively keep the topic alive, yet look only at short term answers, or miss important complexities, I “simply” go bananas!

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