The Bed of Procrustes

A man with hammer, sees every problem like a nail. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Bed of Procrustes, writes –

Procrustes, in Greek mythology, was the cruel owner of a small estate in Corydalus in Attica. He had a peculiar sense of hospitality: he abducted travelers, provided them with a generous dinner, then invited them to spend the night in a rather special bed. He wanted the bed to fit the traveler to perfection. Those who were too tall had their legs chopped off with a sharp hatchet; those who were too short were stretched.

We humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on occasion, has explosive consequences.

Source: The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It represents Taleb’s view of modern civilization’s hubristic side effects — modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a classroom, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.

You can read the review of this book here and here.

 

Too Much News

The rise of 24×7 news media has ensured that news gets to people faster. One doesn’t have to wait for the morning newspaper or the evening news to know what has happened.

Also the rise of digital media brings with itself other sets of problems.I read the following quote and immediately wanted to write it down:

 

Alain de Botton writes in The News—A User’s Manual: “The modern world is teaching us that there are dynamics far more insidious and cynical still than censorship in draining people of political will; these involve confusing, boring and distracting the majority away from politics by presenting events in such disorganized, fractured and intermittent way that a majority of the audience is unable to hold on to the thread of the most important issues for any length of time.”

The-News-by-Allain-de-Botton

The proliferation of the media and the rise of the social media has essentially ensured that the audience keeps getting bored and needs more and more new issues to agitate or at least feel agitated about.

The point, as Botton writes, is that “news organizations broadcast a flow of random-sounding bulletins, in great numbers but with little explanation of context, within an agenda” that keeps changing, and “without giving any sense of the ongoing relevance of an issue that had seemed pressing only a short while before.” This is interspersed with constant antics of film stars.

And this, as Botton writes, “would be quite enough to undermine most people’s capacity to grasp political reality – as well as any resolve they might have summoned to alter it.”

This is something that we should worry about.

PS: Some more quotes from The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton