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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Tyranny of the Unusual

They tell me that roughly 5% of the population self-identifies as "gay". An even smaller percentage (less than 2%) are "transgender". The push these days is to call this "normal" and to urge people to "embrace" it in themselves and in others. Amazingly, in a relatively brief time our society is doing just that. Why? It's not, by any statistical analysis, "normal". The outlying 5% cannot be classified as "normal" unless the term has no meaning. Yet our society has been pushed into accepting as normal a tiny percentage of the population. I will call this "the tyranny of the unusual".

We have a strange propensity to allow the unusual to be our guide, to shape our views and our lives. I know that you will likely disagree, but consider the facts. Many people choose their views and courses of action based on the news. They won't fly because there was a plane crash. They avoid the freeway because there was an accident. They keep their kids away from playgrounds because there was a kidnapping. Let's go with that last one for a moment. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, some 800,000 children are reported missing each year. Subtract 203,000 from that to account for abduction by family members -- custody disputes and the like. Remove the family abductions, and you factor in the number of missing children who, soon thereafter, are found. Not missing, just misplaced. The numbers plummet. In 1999 something around 50,000 children and adolescents were taken for at least one hour. Ninety-one percent of non-family abductions lasted less than a day. And the numbers continue to drop. While kidnappings and missing kids get reported loud and clear, it turns out that the bottom line is that it's much less frequent than you would think. And, yet, parents are terrified of having their kids stolen. Because it's common? No, because it's news.

The truth is human beings are designed to notice the unusual. If someone held up a white sheet with a small black ink stain and asked you what you saw, you'd likely say, "An ink stain", not "a large white sheet." Think about this. You're driving down the freeway with 50 other people (in your immediate vicinity) all traveling approximately the same speed. One car is weaving in and out of traffic traveling significantly faster than everyone else. What car do you notice? Well, it's not the 50. Why? Because that one is not doing what everyone else is doing. But you know how this works. You'll likely think, "Wow, drivers are getting worse and worse. They're rude and uncaring and dangerous." But it's only one. Because of the tyranny of the unusual.

According to Wikipedia, crash statistics for the United States jumped up 10.5% from 2014 to 2015. "See?" I can hear some say, "Driving is dangerous." The statistics say there were 35,092 deaths by accidents in 2015. That was 1.12 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. How many miles did you travel by vehicle in 2015? In terms of population, that works out to 11 deaths per 100,000 people. Statistically that is a 0.01% chance that you will be killed in a traffic accident. And yet many people live their lives in fear of being killed in a traffic accident. The tyranny of the unusual.

We are geared to pay attention to the unusual rather than the usual. It's just the way our brains are wired. It doesn't mean that we ought to make our decisions or form our views or live our lives by the unusual. We don't actually live in a random, statistical world; we live in God's world. Reasonable consideration eases the tyranny of the unusual. Reasonable faith eliminates it. We should be careful about forming opinions from the news or the emotional grabs our world offers and consider instead the One who holds all things in His hands. A much safer place to be.


Doug Evans said...

The tyranny of the minority is something that the founding fathers never imagined even though they fought a civil war (we call it the revolutionary war) against a single king. We are losing freedom after freedom and tradition after tradition to a wimpy, nameless, minority that hides behind groups like the ACLU and dumps shame on its opposition through words like ‘diversity’ and ‘fairness.’

Remember that this memorial day as you place poppies on the graves of our heroes, that cross that marks their remains may not survive the tyranny of the selfish minority

Stan said...

A study back in 2006 (I believe) said that 75% of Americans self-identify as "Christian". As they broke those numbers down, it turned out that, in the end, only 5% said it made any difference in their lives. If we take that 5%, then, as the number of genuine believers, it would seem that we are a tiny minority. Why is it that we don't seem to have the same effect and influence on the country as those others do? (That's not an actual question. Jesus gave us the answer.)