The Risk of Reading This Blog

From a reader named William Haisley:

I’m a weekly columnist for the Daily Collegian, the Penn State newspaper, where I currently attend law school. Today my column about why I don’t vote — an idea I was exposed to and ran with after reading your “Why Vote” article — ran and I have been dealing with the fallout ever since. I think I’ve been insulted more often today than the rest of my 24 years combined.

In some sense, my column is just an amalgamation of your article and various Overcoming Bias articles — which, again, I was introduced to on your blog and can’t thank you enough for — I’ve read over the years, though I guess I could say that about my entire belief system at this point.

Anyways, you should have a warning label at the end of your articles that tells people the potential dangers of publicly stating some of your more controversial findings (though I really didn’t think this was that controversial, but I’ve been proven wrong). You really need the cultural tread to take people somewhere they didn’t know they were going.

Something like, “Warning: improper use of contents may cause hate mail.”

So what constitutes “improper” use?

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  1. JS says:

    Ahhh – the blissful ignorance and arrogance of youth….

    I did not read the entire article yet (I will), yet what I did read was full of baseless platitudes and so-called common knowledge. Many of the arguments were more simplistic than the 10-minute lecture by my PoliSci 101 professor 30 years ago about voting (Why? Why not? Why vote for candidate A, B, or C?).

    He’ll learn, or he won’t. If he chooses to take himself out of the political arena and let others chose for him, that is his choice. I just hope an article of blog post the kid writes in a few years doesn’t include a rant about whoever is elected. And if he does write that blog entry, I hope I can be the first to tell him to “STFU – you made your choice by not choosing years ago… now be a grown up and live with the consequences of your choice.”

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  2. Alleged Wisdom says:

    A vote that is not completely random is a public good. Failing to vote is ‘rational’ in the same sense that free-riding on a public good, looting the commons, and cheating on the prisoner’s dilemma is ‘rational’. The whole point of social norms is to avoid the kinds of nash equilibria that make everyone worse off.

    Telling people that they should not vote is like telling them that they should toss their trash out their car window rather than taking the trouble to put it in a trash can. After all, one more piece of trash will not mean anything…

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  3. Tom Stovall says:

    1. Rolling the newspaper into a cylinder and assaulting someone in a hotel shower.

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  4. Seminymous Coward says:

    Your article is getting hate mail because it’s terrible, not because it’s anti-voting. Most people aren’t that into voting, after all.

    After reading it, I see some issues that perhaps you overlooked. You declared yourself apolitical while writing a political opinion piece. You brutally straw-manned the pro-voting side. You think that elections results have no effect on the world except determining the winner and that all margins of victory are equivalent. You jumped from parents’ and children’s political views correlating to all party affiliations being arbitrary tribalism. You called different sets of political views “clubs.” This sort of thing is sprinkled throughout your article, and it implies the worst kind of sloppy writing and reductionist thinking. I sincerely hope you get your head straight before you start drafting legal documents.

    Even more glaringly, you flat-out called the 1960’s Democratic party “pro-slavery” and implied the same of the post-swap Republican party. You trolled and got your reaction. Don’t feign surprise and play the victim.

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  5. Bob says:

    So what constitutes “improper” use?

    Anything that gets you hate mail apparently.

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  6. Mark says:

    The published article and the visceral reader response to it seems to have a root cause in the filter bubble. The filter bubble is the effect of Google, Facebook and other social media that filters the information one sees based on the information one has preferred to see in the past.

    When modern day ‘filter bubble’ people attempt to communicate in a general unfiltered environment the flame wars emerge because people with opposing views have no regular contact with one another anymore and have become incapable of writing or understanding nuances. Everything has to be written in absolutes for anyone to pay attention.

    The filter bubble is profitable for Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple – they make their money by having their product (that would be you) reinforce their established behavior – the unintended consequence is that writers and readers alike can’t imagine what others might be thinking when they say or write things.

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  7. TexCIS says:

    Dead people vote . . . fight the Zombies!!!

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  8. Shane L says:

    Oh I’ve been there! Years ago I became involved in a number of very active, quite aggressive online discussion forums. We had all kinds of members: Islamists, communists, anarchists, neo-conservatives, liberals, even a monarchist! Arguing and chatting with all those guys really opened my eyes to fascinating competing ideas about society, and helped teach me how to debate in a constructive fashion. In that medium we grew to know one another and if someone came out with a crazy-sounding idea we would just ask for evidence, and consider it, instead of dismissing it off-hand.

    Back in the real world, meanwhile, most people had not been exposed to extreme or unusual ideas. If I suggested something mildly unusual – questioned the importance of historical colonisation to explain modern poverty, for example, or wondered aloud if laws prohibiting child labour are sensible in desperately poor countries – I was met with stunned outrage! Haha, they were just not used to dealing with ideas that were strange to them, or dealing with people who would pick and poke at their arguments.

    One of my friends from those discussion forums said the same thing. Online in our debates he could pose tricky questions and challenge dogma. But offline, or in Facebook discussions with personal friends, he would find people hurt and outraged to have their opinions challenged. Freakonomics has discussed the idea of “repugnance” before and I think it’s an important one. I found that, outside our busy discussion forums, many people believed that if they announced that they were offended by another’s argument, they had won the debate: that a repugnant argument couldn’t possibly have any merit.

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