Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Sunday, May 09, 2004
 
Subtleties and Distinctions Matter

Scott once told me that, and I am thinking of making it my motto. I have been avoiding commenting on recent events in Iraq because I'm sort of trying to write about them for class, and I don't want to let my opinions gel too much. But I am also struck by the extent to which people on both sides of the red and blue divide have made sweeping statements and declarations without really slowing down and taking careful stock of the situation.

During the Washington trip it occurred to me that the constant need for talking points (apologies to Mr. Marshall) and policy summaries is satisfied at the great expense of both accuracy and precision. That is, if you are trying to understand a big, complex set of information and ideas in order to solve a problem, always summarizing and condensing it to either an average generalization or a few "key pieces" may help you grasp the breadth of the set, but it also entails a huge risk: obscuring and twisting exactly those details which might be the key to unlocking the solution or at least best action for whatever problem you are trying to solve. If you need to analyze river traffic in Rouen, a painting by Monet might give you a good general feel of the area, but it's certainly not enough information. Yet I think the American people and even, perhaps, a large chunk of the Government (both the executive and legislative wings) are probably operating with that kind of impressionistic information. It seems like this flow and processing of information by the various elements of The Republic has plenty of room for optimization, and I'd like to start reading about what others think of this problem. Please send me anything you have on the topic.

I also think that this is not just a concern for policy wonks, journalism buffs, and information geeks. Efficiently processing and dealing with information in an accurate and timely manner seems like an increasingly large part of the moral core of modernity. Issues of ethics and morality for the individual as they have always been framed still exist, and are important. But in what one hopes is an increasingly democratic world, issues of political ethics and political morality are increasingly the concern of the individual-turned-citizen. Even the humblest citizen of the most vaguely democratic state has some moral responsibility to take an interest in the affairs of their society. We have to look at the need of both citizens and bureaucrats to be constantly evaluating and making political choices as a moral need; that is, ideally, we want those citizens and bureaucrats to make ethical and just choices. Therefore, efficiently presenting them with accurate information that preserves as many subtleties and distinctions as necessary becomes a moral imperative, not just a pragmatic one.

Given the situation our nation finds itself in now, and the role bad information flow played in getting us into this situation, I think it should be pretty obvious why I am saying this.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
ChennaiCentral
ClimateBoy
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Ennis
Ephemera
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
Wonkette
Yglesias:Tpmcafe

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud


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