The other day I published, at the Hedgehog Review site, a little dialogue on scale, and the common human inability to understand the scale at which many of the events that affect our lives happen.
Something happens almost every day to confirm the points I make there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of the problem than the behavior of the people who assembled in anger at the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday. I heard an interview with one protestor who shouted that the protestors were there because they knew they were being lied to and cheated by the deep state, by the lamestream media, by the Democrats, by RINOs — and they knew it, he said, because of “what we’ve seen with our own eyes.”
What did he mean? I can’t be sure, but I suspect that there are two chief elements to his claim.
- He has almost certainly attended Trump rallies and seen massive crowds cheering the President on (something that Trump himself has often commented on, contrasting the large size of his crowds to the meager attendance at Joe Biden’s drive-in-movie-style rallies); likewise, I would bet that, wherever he might live, in his neighborhood the pro-Trump lawn signs stretch as far as the eye can see, with nary a pro-Biden sign to be found.
- He has almost certainly seen video clips which, their posters falsely claim, show voting fraud in action. Those clips have been tweeted and retweeted, shared and faved, held up as evidence again and again by people disinclined to do any fact-checking.
To him, then, it is simply not possible that President Trump lost the election. The evidence of his own eyes tells him that the President won in what Trump himself called, in a since-removed tweet, “a sacred landslide election victory.”
What that man does not understand is that everything he has seen — even under the wholly untenable assumption that the viral videos show actual fraud — amounts to no more than a drop in the American electoral lake. It’s statistically insignificant; it’s not even a rounding error. He simply does not understand how big his country is, how many people vote in its elections.
And the point of my post was: That kind of understanding is extremely difficult to achieve. We are simply not cognitively wired to think on that scale. Which is why my little dialogue raises the possibility of a “School for Scale” to teach us. Because if we, all of us, don’t get a grip on these matters, we, all of us, will continue to perpetuate massive and massively consequential misunderstandings of our country and our world.