Saturday, December 22, 2012

Confidence and Faith

The difference between confidence and faith:

Meteorologists take many, many measurements and do a lot of mathematics to determine the chances of weather events happening. They then assign a number--a percentage chance--of those events happening based on the data they have about the past, and their own computations. The closer to "right now" they project, the better their projections, and hence the greater likelihood that their guesses are correct.

When Nate Silver of collated the results of hundreds and hundreds of national polls, his computation of the odds of one candidate or another winning elections approached 100% odds on the eve of the elections. Mind you, he did this for dozens and dozens of elections, not just the Presidency--and his "guesses" have been borne out by the results.

Mind you, it was never really 100%. I recall that he did actually put 100% on the Presidential election predictions on the night before the election, but we all know that was a joke. It was really just 99.999% or something like that. But Nate Silver understands that while there was still a 0.0001 percent chance he was wrong--if you go through life planning on 0.0001% chance events happening for you, you are going to be wrong a lot.

A lot of folks these days seem to be living in a world where they believe those 0.0001% chance things will happen, if they just *believe* it hard enough, or something, I don't know. Again, it can happen, but probably not. Like, seriously.

There is no data that I am aware of that would lead me to believe that the long string of crazy disgruntled assholes committing massacres in this country is going to end any time soon. If we change nothing, I think we can say with confidence that there is a 100% chance we will see more. This is not an article of faith--I only trust faith for one thing--my own belief that this whole big crazy world was not put here either randomly or with ill intent. I don't have any evidence for that, just my refusal to believe otherwise. Hence, that is faith, not confidence. My confidence in that statement is naturally challenged--but not broken--by horrible events like these.

I'm not advocating any particular course of action at this time. But I just want to suggest to my fellow gun nuts that it is not *necessarily* the case that tolerating the occasional massacre must be the horrible but necessary cost of our liberty. If there is something that can be done without infringing on sane, decent people's rights to protect themselves, their homes, and even our country, then I think we should do so.

Ultimately, it is necessary that we trust each other just enough to do that.

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