I have been thinking about the complexity of the questions we ask and the ease with which we accept simple answers. Often, a question isn't even articulated. We have data. Lots of it and many of us want answers. But how do we navigate the noise? A solitary clear bell among a cacophony of distraction.
Professionally, I work a lot with publicly available data sources such as IPUMS and US Census Data. I know that race is not a useful variable. I question what you are measuring when I see poverty rates reported, or gender captured in a survey. Here is the problem. First, race is a social construct. If you want to measure social determinants--measure them. Don't use race as a proxy. Same in medical cohorts. If you stratify by race you need to identify what you are looking for--before the analyses.
How should we look at poverty? I look at the interests of the public good--what constitutes social welfare. Shortcuts inclusive of solely income stratification will never illuminate problems or solutions. How about aligning edges of variables that measure social inequality, power, relationally, social context, complexity, and social justice as described by Collins and Bilge below.
Positing that contemporary configurations of global capital that fuel and sustain growing social inequalities are about class exploitation, racism, sexism, and other systems of power fosters a rethinking of the categories use to understand economic inequality. Intersectional frameworks reveal how race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and citizenship relate in complex and intersecting ways to produce economic inequality--Intersectionality, Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge
A recent article in The New Yorker, The Philosopher Redefining Equality reminded me of the intoxicating siren song of Baader-Meinhof phenomenon--a type of cognitive bias.
Elizabeth Anderson is the chair of the philosophy department at University of Michigan. Her belief that "equality and freedom are mutually dependent, enmeshed in changing conditions through time" captured my attention and improved my awarenesses of the fluctuations of what we mean when we use terms like "value".
"Her first book, “Value in Ethics and Economics,” appeared that year, announcing one of her major projects: reconciling value (an amorphous ascription of worth that is a keystone of ethics and economics) with pluralism (the fact that people seem to value things in different ways)."
"... Instead of positing value as a basic, abstract quality across society (the way “utility” functioned for economists), she saw value as something determined by the details of an individual’s history."
Andersonism holds that we don’t have to give up on market society if we can recognize and correct for its limitations—it may even be our best hope, because it’s friendlier to pluralism than most alternatives are. And we shouldn’t commit ourselves to an ideal system of any sort, whether socialist or libertarian, because a model set in motion like a Swiss watch will become a trap as soon as circumstances change. Instead, we must be flexible. We must remain alert. We must solve problems collaboratively, in the moment, using society’s ears and eyes and the best tools that we can find.
I spend a lot of time explaining the granularity of variables routinely pulled into data queries. You might not be measuring what you think you are measuring.
We certainly don't need any more noise drowning out important conversations--do we?
True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes--Edward Wood