Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stating the obvious

Iain MacWhirter fesses up about what just can't be helped: the thrills they feed and we need.

The media is a machine that is sustained by shock and awe, and if there isn't much going on, then we manufacture it. Not generally by inventing stories, though that does go on, but by investing the stories that are around with a significance they may not warrant. It's principally a tabloid vice, but none of us is immune and the coming of 24-hour television has magnified it. I'm contributing to it here by writing this column.

Aside from the gratuitous self-consciousness of the last sentence, I think that's bang on.

The following is also right. [However, ...]

Now, I'm not saying that gangs of feral youths aren't a problem; or that we should ignore gun crime; or that family break-up is good for children. But the Liverpool killing, which has launched many thousands of words on these issues, tells us very little about any of them. Rhys Jones's murder was a tragic one-off, a unique event. Gun crime is actually going down (or up, depending on the statistics you look at). It wasn't a typical gang-land killing and his parents are white and happily married. Stuff happens.

He may be right that this killing is not significant, in the sense that it is not the sharp edge of a trend that needs to be debated, understood, resisted. He talks about the "black swan" phenomenon - the human tendency to look for meaning when there often isn't any. This may well be a prime case.

However, just as it is usually impossible to demonstrate a direct link between an individual case and a general tendency or 'law', so is it impossible to dismiss the link. Here, as in so many other areas, truths are statistical - it is the number of cases that makes the tendency, that builds the link to the general.

If this one case of a child murdering another child, whether with a gun or a knife, is one of an increasing number of such cases, then the basis of argument is made. Far more children are assaulting other children with deadly weapons. Far more children, inside gangs or not, are carrying weapons. Far more children are involved in violence.

Thus, we are beholden to make the links and to bear the burden of stating the obvious: father, mother, children - it works (statistically; on average). Subtract one - (statistically; on average) it doesn't work.

Definitely related.
The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West. Unfortunate sub-title, but, after years of resistance, of revolutionary fervour in ignoring the obvious, the obvious returns in whatever way it can. Haven't read the book. Probably never will. But I'm glad it's out there. (via Instapundit)

Partially related
This article charts that same path from ideological rectitude back to the bleeding (it had been) obvious, though in a different context. Mating. In China.

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