Thursday, November 17, 2016

Politics, math, and dog-whistles

In Frank Herbert's Dune, there is a cool idea of a military language with a flexible structure so that any pair of people can speak to each other in a way that they will understand, but which no listener will understand.

Modern politics and social media are moving closer to realizing this idea, through dog-whistles.

For example, I was really struck by this ad for a math curriculum package (see the second paragraph):

For the author and their intended audience, Common Core means something very particular and particularly bad.

Personally, I find the fragmentation of language very troublesome. Among other things, it contributes to a certain type of magical/fallacious thinking, nicely exemplified by the popularity of ObamaCare (according to some survey results):

  1. The Affordable Care Act gets broader support than ObamaCare (they are two names for the same thing)
  2. Individual provisions get significant majority (more than 50% of respondents) support, while ObamaCare does not only earns minority (less than 50%) support.
This first point is silly, and I don't see any logical way to redeem that combination of beliefs. For the second point, while it is possible to logically reconcile the two observations, the most likely explanation is that people surveyed were mis- or under-informed.

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