Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bottles of Wine

I want to make a quick point about Trump's voters.  I am not interested right now in the discussion about whether liberals were too mean to working class whites (I may write about it later).  My point has more to do with the way we process complexity.

My law school professor liked to tell us about a "Napa Valley Cabernet" that contains a negligible amount of juice from cabernet grapes grown in Napa Valley.  (By the way I don't know if this is really legal under wine labeling laws.)  The idea is that the winemaker might get 51% of its grapes from Napa Valley, and 51% of its grapes might be cabernet, but the overlap between the two might be as low as 1% (or, depending on the law, the wine might contain literally zero juice from Napa Valley cabernet grapes).

The point is that while we can't possibly process the diversity of Trump's support, and so we have to use some crude sort of averaging, that averaging can end up being misleading if we are not careful.  If your favorite wine is labeled a Napa Valley cabernet, and you see a report that this year's Napa Valley cabernet crop tastes terrible, you might draw dire conclusions about that vintage.  But if the wine is 99% made with other grapes, it might be unaffected.  This would surprise you if you took the label on the bottle too literally.  (By contrast, a wine that really is made entirely with Napa Valley cabernet grapes will presumably respond in the expected way to a bad year for Napa Valley cabernet.)

I don't have a particular demographic point in mind, by the way.  But I would caution against linear, logical arguments based on the attitudes and beliefs of a "typical Trump voter."  Even if individuals are quasi-rational and respond in predictable, logical ways to information and argumentation (which I tend to doubt, and not just for Republicans), that doesn't mean that a group of people will respond in the expected way (just as our wine didn't respond in the predicted way to the terrible grapes).

As I said, we have no alternative.  We are compelled to think about these things in crude averages, in the same way that we think about unemployment using a handful of aggregated numbers.  But I would resist the impulse to impose consistency or logic on those averages.  We are not dealing with a composite individual, we are dealing with millions of people, and so we have to be careful how we think about it.


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