Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Never Count on Redemption

Well, health care passed. And Obama has dared the right to run this Fall on a platform of repeal, once the plan's benefits (never well communicated) start becoming apparent to constituents. Doing so would be as suicidal as Alf Landon's ill-fated 1936 presidential campaign based on repeal of social security.

Of course, the country will be delighted with its new health care program - even the furious protestors, all of whom will blithely continue to rail against the socialist president - much as those who've come around to deem the Iraq war a debacle seem incapable of reevaluating their early view of war protestors as un-American. And much as many furiously anti-stimulus Republican congressmen proceeded to brag to constituents about the resulting flow of local economic development funds.

This particular dementia is not unique to the right or to any other single group (though it appears that way when one observes across a divide). Rather, it's a deep-seated bug in the human OS. We are easily capable of changing our minds on issues while blithely sticking to an over-arching story. The evidence may change, but the judgement remains in force.

Years ago, a few horrendous assholes swaggered onto the message boards of Chowhound.com and proceeded to post in vast profusion, relentlessly pummeling anyone who dared disagree. We asked them to give others a chance, rather than monopolize every conversation, but their compulsive output continued to spread like kudzu. We expunged the nastiest stuff, and, when they howled with indignation, we begged them to start their own forum...which, praise Jesus, they finally did. Predictably, they used the new forum to prattle on about how they'd been forced out because I'd felt threatened by their superior food knowledge.

Fine. Whatever.

But people believed it (a lie oft-repeated becomes truth). And even though these individuals eventually became duly notorious for their "special" qualities, it's amused me that no one ever thought to reexamine the "Leff is a Tyrant" trope they'd worked to circulate.

On the other hand, this psychological issue may represent a "feature" rather than a "bug". If every time we changed an opinion, it involved a major unraveling and reevaluation of our thought systems, it'd be impossible to get on with our lives. And so we retain an irrational but practical ability to insert and retract individual ideas and opinions modularly, without affecting the fundamental structure of our outlook.


Val in Seattle said...

Heh. I remember those days on the old chowhound board. I was flabbergasted that participants would complain about the policies of a FREE message board. I lived in NJ at the time and was interested to participate on the splinter group's new boards. But they required a formal agreement and wanted my phone number -- just for permission to post. I declined and enjoyed a quieter chowhound.

Interesting how you compare that dynamic to the struggle of the frustrated Right.

By the way, thanks Jim (and Bob TM) for providing the chowhound venue where I got years and years of great chow tips!

These days, here in Seattle, I find yelp the most reliable place for chow opinions. As long as you read the postings carefully and critically. Urbanspoon is big here, but I find it's mostly about ratings and reportage.

Jim Leff said...

Hi, Val

1. I'd be amazed if people DIDN'T complain about our policies. Chowhound intentionally recruited the most opinionated, picky people on earth. They'd complain about anything....that's what we love about them. Of course, a few of them were deadly nasty about it. But it's a matter of stats: every big group includes a few psychos.

2. Re: Yelp, Urbanspoon, or Chowhound, you're not going to get 100% trustworthy advice anywhere. First, it's a moving target - places go downhill, dishes are inconsistent across menus, days of the week, etc. Second, tastes differ. My most trusted eating friends can have amazingly divergent opinions. So even under best of circumstances, it's "caveat eater". Chowhounding means trying to triage all the choices and ferret your way to greatness. Resources like these help trim some of the fat, that's all.

I still prefer Chowhound, because there's at least some sense of overarching credo and principle (as opposed to just a bland "where's good" vibe), plus the moderators are amazingly good at pulling out shill postings. Sites like Yelp are actually pro-shill, blech. Which doesn't make them useless....just requires greater triage skill, as you say.

But if Chowhound's failing to deliver for you locally, the solution is to post more, not less. See this: http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2010/02/ceding-to-idiots.html

sku said...

To anyone who was on Chowhound at the time, it should have been obvious that those guys were a-holes, and no surprise that their future ventures would devolve into so much internecine bickering.

I get fed up quickly with people who call internet site moderators Nazis and such.

I still think Chowhound is the best of the food tip sites for shill and promotion free opinion, though I tend to think there isn't as high a concentration of great tips as there was "back in the day," but maybe that is just because there are so many more users now.

Tom said...

Chowish bit of healthcare reform info:

Does Displaying Calorie Counts Lead to Healthier Eating?

I'm wildly in favor of healthcare reform but, as a health policy guy, I'm opposed to this particular piece. There's no science to support this does anything at all to change behaviors. I'm totally in favor of this information being made available, but putting it side-by-side on the menu, for no good reason, is just a waste.

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