A wry, sometimes-arch look at flaws in the chain of reasoning that lead us to make ineffective choices, especially at the macro level of social reasoning.
Everything you know is wrong—and then some. As Smithsimon (Sociology/Brooklyn Coll.; September 12: Community and Neighborhood Recovery at Ground Zero, 2011, etc.) writes, that is certainly the case with our way of looking at large-scale processes of causation. His predecessor Emile Durkheim once noted that “we explain social facts with other social facts”—e.g., the Great Recession was the result of a housing bubble that was the result of wildcat lending to people who should not have had mortgages. But such artifacts of storytelling—and we are storytelling creatures, Smithsimon writes—are often lacking; they miss key ingredients and key facts. He writes, perhaps a touch contrarily, that in this respect we are not the rational individuals we think ourselves to be but instead often irrational actors who fall apart once outside of a group. This is nothing new. Dan Ariely, among others, has been making the same sort of observations about economic behavior, and Malcolm Gladwell has made a sizable fortune on the foibles of humans and their incomplete, too-hasty thinking about this and that. Smithsimon lacks the storytelling ease of those two interpreters, but his book has much value all the same as an exercise in creative thought. He makes an interesting though not ironclad connection, for instance, between rising obesity and rising economic insecurity; instead of combating weight problems in isolation, we might do better “to attack the conditions of insecurity, and let people and their bodies adapt to the new conditions of security.” Other connections may seem a touch more remote—leaded gas and teen pregnancy?—but they often yield fascinating results, including the note that people who can tell causal stories about such things as climate change tend to take causation more seriously than those who cannot.
Enjoyable, eye-opening pop science.