Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Difficult Circumstances

It's expected, of course, that if you do research in contentious areas (healthcare, education etc) that you will need some social and political awareness. The problem with this is avoiding ideological bias when the findings are ambiguous (and certainly, when they're not). Increasing awareness often increases the sensation of having gained knowledge when this is not necessarily true; indeed, the faux-knowledge virus use the facilities and faculties of your brain to construct a simulacrum of knowledge.

This is why so many people are more easily outraged these days despite the relative ubiquity of verifiable data sources. There is altogether too much of a tendency to take second-order conclusions and tout them as a foundational basis for decision-making and problem-solving. In the process, the first-order data that was made into information chunks is forgotten although a lot is written about the process of information construction.

It's like complaining about pink slime, chemicals, toxins, carcinogens et al in the production of chicken nuggets, while forgetting that the nuggets are still mostly meat, and they will sustain you if there is nothing else available that you'd rather eat. I am reminded here of an old primary-school joke: "What is the main ingredient in milk, by percentage? Water, of course; 90% or more." If there is no water, milk will save you from dying of thirst.

But isn't milk healthier than water? Well, no. It is certainly more toxic than water; it is water with impurities such as fat and lactose and protein in a colloidal suspension that can be disrupted by ionic substances — just add a few drops of lemon juice to milk to see what I mean.

But isn't milk more nutritious than water? Well, yes. Water has no nutrients at all, and yet is necessary for life.

Sometimes, the right questions need to be asked. Yet it is certain that the more powerful the questions (e.g., "How do we decide if we have a good education system or not?") the more powerful the opposition to the answers, the methodology of answering, the idea of getting it answered, and so on.

And so, I am an ongoing survivor of difficult circumstances. I want to know if education can be good without being perfect, while remembering that often the good is the enemy of the best. Then I remember the wise man who wrote, "The best is yet to be," and realise how to resolve that dilemma.

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