Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A league of their own

My team, Arsenal, is currently at the top of the English Premier League, playing some very attractive football. And I couldn't care less.
Why should I really care when the team started the season with rumors concerning an American millionaire trying to take control over it and a vice president being chucked out because of his support of said millionaire, only to be replaced by news about a very corrupt Russian billionaire who ended up buying the shares of said vice president and now owns a significant portion of the club? Where am I, a lowly supporter, in this picture? And what values does the club represent in order to merit my support, other than a continuous hunger for more money?
They also say that the English Premiership is the best football league in the world. I strongly disagree: how can it be so good if only four clubs have a realistic chance at the title? Arsenal supporters bitch and moan when a season goes by and no title is acquired, but look at the vast majority of teams out there: they have nothing to aspire to.
This lie about the superior quality of the English Premiership reminds me of a blog post I read the other day (Hebrew warning!)
discussing how hard it is to be skeptical of ideas. While I would add that it should take more than a post in someone's blog for me (or you) to support a certain theory, the theory raised there is, indeed, quite interesting: Basically, it says that once an idea is ingrained in one's head, any discussion about that idea - even a discussion that is supposed to counter it - actually helps in reaffirming that idea.
It all comes down to the way evolution has shaped our minds to acquire its perception of the world, but the basic premises is that once you hear an idea the first time it would be very hard for anyone to convince you that the opposite is actually true. Say, if a politician called John Howard was to repeatedly tell you he's incredibly good at financial management, it wouldn't help if financial experts would tell you that international debt has actually peaked during Howard's time at the helm and that the prosperity we're all going through is more to do with selling stuff we dug out of the ground to China and with the general prosperity of the world than anything Howard has done. Such an act would actually do further damage - it would reinforce the idea that Howard is a good financial manager in your head.
You can see how this theory explains why some people stick with truly irrational ideas. Say, religion. You can also see how children are very susceptible to external influences shaping their world views for the rest of their lives. Indeed, being there first for a child can be a mighty strong weapon at the wrong hands!
Again, the lesson for me as a parent is simple yet hard to implement. One way to make sure Dylan's mind is not contaminated is to counter a bad idea implanted in his head by implanting other ideas; instead of telling him that "no, John Howard is not a good financial manager", I can tell him "John Howard is really bad in macrame".
The better strategy, however, would be to implement a policy suggested by Steven Pinker (whose book I'm currently reading). Pinker is saying that the way we teach our children should be overhauled; children should learn decision making, evolution and psychology as of a young age, and only then should they start being stuffed with the nonsense schools all over the world excel in stuffing their kids with. While I know there's no way we would be able to send Dylan to such a school, I hope my presence would be enough to teach him how to think for himself.

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