The Public Option in 2D
We had a meeting at work yesterday about naming some classes. We’ve had the same meeting over and over for months (years?) now. Again and again, we’ll get everyone to agree on a naming system and start applying it to all of the classes. Then when we get down to the last few classes, we’ll rip the whole system up and start over. Why? And what the heck does this have to do with the public option and the health care debate?
Humans brains have built-in models that they try to fit new information into. These are often in the form of a story. Sort of a timeline. First this happened, then this other thing happened, then this thing happened. Stories are inherently 1 dimensional. We have a tendency to try to jam all new information into this sort of 1 dimensional model.
You can find examples of this everywhere you look. If you go back through the posts on this blog, you’ll see instances of this.
- For example, in the US we try to pretend that everyone’s political positions fit onto a 1D scale. But then where do Christian Democrats fit in?
- We try to map people’s world views onto a 1D artistic/scientific scale. But then what’s the difference between artists and designers or scientists and engineers?
Everywhere I look, I see cases where moving a problem from 1D scale to a 2D domain makes things clearer.
But again, what’s this got to do with health care?
Well, Nate Silver had a nice post on the public option last night. The press has been talking about the public option for months now. There’s been lots of discussion about who’s for it and against it. Analysis about how strong support is for it. But the details seem to go around in circles and keep starting over like that series of class naming meeting at work. Then I see a diagram like this one from Nate’s post:
and I kind of go Ah!
But personally, I’m very much a visual thinker. I see things as pictures and then have to translate them into words to explain to other people. So I tend to think that going up a dimension is a basic tool that everyone should pull out when they’re looking at a problem. But I understand that other people are verbal thinkers and relate to the world through stories. Does that make them reluctant to pop up to this sort of 2D view of a problem?
The people in those class naming meetings I was talking about really, really want to turn the problem into a linear story. When I draw it on the whiteboard as a 2D table, they go Ah!, but as they start actually naming classes, they construct a 1D story-like model in their head. When they reach the places where this can’t fit (like putting wallpaper on a sphere), they figure the story must be wrong and they want to start over with a new story.
In the same way, the press always seems to want to turn a political discussion into a linear story. But it seems clear that in a lot of cases, the concerns of the stakeholders in a political discussion don’t fit well on a 1D scale.
What do you think? Do you find Nate’s diagram helpful?