What seems to be one way can turn out to be quite the opposite. Whatever you decide, someone else will disagree, and whatever view or posture is taken, there is an opposing one which will readily be taken up by another, insisting just as much as you that they are right and following a line of truth and accuracy. “Prove it!" say the Scientists. “Convince me!" Says the Sceptic. “I don't see it that way at all", cry the Cynic and the debater.
A small child tells his first lie and gets away with it, creating his first effective illusion. By accurately representing something to be other than the way it is, he has made the discovery of illusion or lying. A whole new world has opened up before him. No longer he feels, does he need the old skills to explain, justify and convince honestly, he can create an illusion or lie instead. As time goes by he becomes more adept and sophisticated in his skills and his parents have to counter his illusions with an increasingly firm grasp on their own realities and perceptiveness.
An adult rebukes and exposes an untruth of another's whilst firmly maintaining his own illusions in place. . . Politicians engage each other and the electorate in “Find me out if you can", whilst perpetuating their own daily public illusions as the nation slowly disintegrates in a truth-less vacuum of public relations and tabloid guessing-game of “What's going on?"
Lie versus lie. Trickery versus trickery. Illusion versus illusion. Simply put, lying is a deception, an alteration of time, place, form or event. A statement that something is different from the way it actually is. And we are all just too susceptible. Susceptible to lies, illusions and misrepresentations.
ILLUSION AND INNUMERACY
Crime is by far the greatest victim of innumeracy and misrepresentation. Surveys show that the public believes crime in Britain to be far worse than it actually is. Media publicity - especially “terror" clips such as are shown on ITV's Crimestoppers - heightens fear and leads old people and women to alter their lives. Unable to grasp the significance of an incident, they assume the worst and retreat into fortress self. The terrorist knows this well. He has long seen the media as his great ally in playing on irrational fears. Two bombs in quick succession constitute a “new offensive". By being publicised, set alongside other similar crimes and credited with a “conspiracy", this erects an edifice of horror in the public's mind. Journeys are cancelled, jobs lost, chaos induced.
In Britain, deaths per head of the population from accidents and violence have steadily fallen in the last half of the century. Fear should, statistically, be falling too. It is not. The greatest risk of violence facing British adults is not from strangers, the IRA, or acts for God, but from those two familiars, the car and the spouse. The latter, “the loved one", is specially lethal. The kitchen is the favourite venue for assault, knives and crockery being readily to hand. But we are not sufficiently aware of these facts to allow them to affect our lives. They are banal. We even pretend not to believe them.
The Aids researcher exploits fear of unsafe sex to get more money for research. The police exploit fear of dark streets to boost manpower and pay. The terrorists know that another bomb creates fear and makes people fed up with government inability. Each wants our money or our support. A toothpaste is said to yield “200% fewer cavities". A politician “Will not rest until the majority of our children are above average attainment". A story in Today declares “The number of women murdered by the men in their lives has jumped from a third to almost a half". Each relies on our inability to set the fear in a statistical framework.
An academic works out that the risk of a bomb on his plane is small but the risk of two bombs is infinitesimal: so he always carries a bomb with him in his case.
Television and films perpetuate the idea that any woman worthy of the name is five feet eight inches tall, slim, blonde with a perfect body and able to achieve full and multiple orgasms at will, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. With regard to the latter at least, surveys prove this is not the case with over 75% of women. Yet teenage girls are drawn in to the myth with resultant high stress levels.
Innumeracy can be maddeningly wasteful. Credit cards need no more than nine numbers in sequence, or even better, six letters (26 to the power of six is over 300 million). Most have an infuriating 15 or more.
We may laugh about damned lies and statistics - but somehow the statistics live on when the laughter has died.
We seem unable to master simple concepts of number, but how devastating is the impact of this failure on our ordinary lives. Bluntly, we cannot count. A disability as serious as illiteracy, becomes, curiously, a matter of shame. Illiteracy we conceal.
If we cannot read or spell or quote the novels of Jane Austen and Dickens we keep a decent silence. But publicly boast of our innumeracy with pride. “I was hopeless at maths . . . no good asking me about fractions . . . . can barely count to 10, ha ha". Like primitive (and not-so-primitive) humans, we seek coincidence and parallels where none exist. We seem to need the reassurance of pseudo-sciences, of astrology, “analysis", ley lines and tarot cards, to explain the odd or distressing. We abuse mathematics itself with dotty numerology.
But what most concerns is our ignorance of probability theory, our inability to handle proportion and risk. We lose our capacity for judgment. We cannot filter information gained from newspapers and broadcasting and set it in context. Since rarity leads to publicity, rare events come to seem commonplace. We want to be diverted, excited, shocked. Some of us may read quality newspapers, but we all have tabloid minds.
This leads to grotesque distortion in our response to events. Forty dead on the roads is not news. Forty dead on a boat is a public scandal and the government must act.
Smoking-related deaths in America are now the equivalent of three loaded jumbo jets crashing every day. The one statistic bores us, the other would appall us. (Much the same is true of drunken driving in Britain).
One famous aids death is splashed across the papers; stars appear on stage appealing for funds. Alzheimer's disease or kidney failure blight the lives of far more people. In my view they are more deserving of charitable support. Sadly, they are less rare, less exotic, and have nothing to do with sex.
Only an innumerate could seriously believe that America's Strategic Defence Initiative would ever do what television cartoons show it doing.
A true numerate would dispense with long-range weather prediction, lie-detector tests, Treasury Inflation forecasts and lotteries. The chances of error are too great, or the odds far too long. A numerate would also keep lawyers away from accident inquiries. Lawyers are trained to judge absolutes, guilt and innocence, rather than the subtle gradations of risk familiar to managers struggling with day-to-day problems.
The “rampant silliness" of pseudo science, the abuse of logic and the lack of clear thinking on political priorities are abundant.
We do not need more facts, but a better ability to grasp the ones we have.
Stephen Kaye is a business owner and author from Devon, Uk. He is also the owner of http://www.kaymexdirect.co.uk