Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Too Busy

It’s everywhere. Have you noticed? People are too busy to do anything. Worse than snow or high winds, one day it will bring the economy to a standstill.

Media Lens had a look at an academic book on press coverage of the Iraq war. The author’s first reaction was irritation: he was far too busy to deal with their criticisms. Conscience got the better of him; but that initial response is telling. It suggests how much he cares about the work itself. Imagine the reaction of the greats if someone had pointed out a major flaw in their masterpieces.

The review reminded me of my social science days of years ago. We’d look at the geography of crime. We’d find there that was a correlation between poverty and its incidence. There would then be a discussion on the difference between cause and correlation, during which we would be told that night follows day but is not caused by it. Then we’d study health, and find… You know the answer. And so on for three years. Later I worked in an organisation where the assistant director had his department count all the tenants who called back because their repairs were not done. I think he had them do it for a month. Anyway, as he was going through the stats, and the statistical methods he used, I wondered what the conclusion was going to be. I figured most people would ring back after about two weeks. A little later he gives us his findings. The conclusion? Ten working days is the average.

What also strikes me about so much of the social sciences is their banality. They remind me of the “Schoolmen” Locke criticized. For him they just talked about words, that empty of content led to no new knowledge. Is this number-crunching and quantitative analysis the new scholasticism of the age?

And here is something for you to think about over Christmas.

You’re at home watching the outtakes of Strictly Come Dancing. You have a beer, and there is a Christmas pudding the size of a football in front of you; a hillock of cream by its side. Already, as you sit there on the sofa, your stomach is an old galleon sunk under the weight of its booty. Your kids try a rescue, but give up when you sink into a light sleep…

I ring. Your partner answers. I say I would like talk to you. They walk into the lounge and repeat my question.

What is your reply?

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