Sometimes, it's just a cigar

This is our truth, tell us yours

Get that hot take away from me

What’s a hot take? There’s an interesting argument, and definition, here.

We don’t do hot takes here, I hope. I hope you know that too if you’ve read more than one of our articles.

Yesterday I wrote about Omar Mateen. The article was predicated on accepting that we don’t know what was going on in Omar’s head; his behavious is congruent with a lot of behaviour I recognize, but speculating isn’t helpful. Changing what people do, what men do, is. So I wrote that, and planned to write today about how the crises of individual masculinities are also an optimistic opportunity to talk about different ways of being masculine, and of leading.

By the time I’d got back from a sequence of meetings and soemwonderful tiem with my co-author Jo Cox was dead, apparently at the hands of a man who atacked her at her place of work. We know that much.

Everything else is speculation.

Twitter is full of people speculating about the meaning of disputed pieces of evidence, fragments of information which trigger emotional responses to people who consume them. So some people are seizing on reports of the assailant having had mental health issues, as if that is the salient fact. Others are seizing on alleged links to Far Right organizations, as if that is the salient fact.

As I write I’m trying to observe the nicety, the minor legal detail, that says individuals are innocent until proven guilty, and tried in a court of law that hears all the evidence that is relevant, not just the first fact that fits the cognitive biasses of the individual receiving it.

I’m also trying not to be angry about the waste of the future life of an excellent MP, and heartbroken by the prospect of her children waking up this morning and remembering, suddenly, with sadness and grief, that mum is gone.

So, those fragments of information. Last night I read, for instance, that the alleged assailants links to a Far Right organization could be deduced because that organization, ten years ago, put out an announcement in its newsletter asking if anyone knew where the assailant was living now, because they hadn’t heard from him in a while. The same article also said that the assailant had lived on the same estate for more than twenty years. So do we take that as evidence that the alleged assailant was a far right activist, or that he had moved on and was ignoring his former friends?

The same goes for the much trumpeted fact that the alleged assailant had spoken about his mental health issues. There is no correlation between ‘mental health issues’ and the propesity to extreme violence; as numerous people pointed out on Twitter last night, one in four of us experiences mental health issues – we’d notice if that many of us were also violent murderers.

I have to acknowledge that I’m at risk of being hoisted by my own petard here. My emotional commitment to looking for causes, for reasons, for things that we can change in future to prevent further needless deaths is every bit as strong as the commitment of gun activists who argue, in the absence of any evidence, that more guns is the solution (as if Jo Cox should have been armed) or who argue that politicians who preach hate and anger are to blame, as if the culture of hot takes and glib assertions isn’t already part of the problem.

However, there’s one strength to my preference for pausing, for thinking slowly rather than quickly, that I would argue makes the difference.Evidence makes for better decisions. Deciding before you have sufficient evidence is almost always a recipe for either havng to change your decision or to defend a decision that is contradicted by the later evidence. So why do it?

Sadly, the answer is narcissism. The hot take, the swift response, is the respondent saying ‘it’s all about me, and my world view.’ What else can it be, if you look at a dead woman, and immediately frame your remarks around your own views about gun law, or migrants, or Brexit?

There used to be a very fine tradition, in many religions, of leaving time for grieving, of reacting to death with empathy, with sorrow, and with care for the feelings of those who have lost someone. Only when grieving was done, would discussion take over. To refuse to do that, to put your own political position first, is narcissism, purely and simply.

This is our truth; tell us yours. Wise words the more you think about them. Our truth is that today is for grieving, tomorrow for listening to the evidence, and when that’s done, it’s time for deciding.


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This entry was posted on June 17, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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