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The Federalist Diaries


How Little We Know, Part 1

The main focus in my life now is to open people's minds so no one will be so conceited that they think they have the total truth.  They should be eager to learn, to listen, to research and not to confine, to hurt, to kill, those who disagree with them.

Sir John Templeton, American-born businessman and philanthropist 

How many times have we read that the older we get, the less we know?  Most, if not all, of us have nodded in agreement and remarked, silently if not aloud, that there was wisdom in those words. 

It sounds like a contradiction, but, in fact, the contradiction comes only because English is vague or ambiguous.  “To know less” does not mean that we have less knowledge, senility notwithstanding.  Rather, “to know less” means that we realize that we lack all the relevant information to make an informed decision. 

The consequence of that realization?  We gather more information before we decide, which means that we do not decide as quickly.  However, taking our time to decide is not typically American;  we want to decide quickly, expressed in its extreme form as “shoot first, ask questions later”.  In fact, it seems as if our impatience is more pronounced in the younger generation.  This does not bode well for our country as a world leader. 

This disability of ours is one reason why we have three branches of government, each with the ability to slow the decision-making of the others.  The assumption is that, if we decided quickly, we more likely would make a bad decision.   But, even then, we as a country make bad decisions.  It is only a matter of one’s political leaning as to whether the present or preceding Administration has made more bad decisions. 

It is not only our impatience.  We are subject to incomplete, faulty, irrelevant or purposely inaccurate information, and this information does not always come to us when we want.  Also, there is the phenomenon of too much information to process or the way in which it must be processed, e.g., how a jury must deliberate to reach a verdict.  The path to good decision-making is paved with several crippling, if not lethal, obstacles. 

The above refers to problems mentioned in the essays “Is Everyone ‘LOCO’?” and “The Eleventh Commandment”, posted at  Are these problems insuperable?  If so, does that mean that we should consider carefully the intended and unintended consequences of our individual and collective decision-making, in order to do the least harm possible?

March 22, 2007































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