My roommate was aghast.
Her boyfriend was standing over the kitchen sink, a lighter in one hand and a fistful of non-dairy creamer in the other. He sprinkled the one on top of the open flame from the other and was rewarded with a flash of flame.
“I had no idea that stuff, those chemicals, were in my non-dairy creamer.” She swore off the stuff then and there. If it burned that easily, imagine what it did to your stomach lining?
Of course, I knew that the increased surface area from the powder made it flammable. It would have worked if he’d used flour or talcum powder or sawdust. It’s the reason why grain silos have been known to explode.
But she didn’t know that. Her boyfriend didn’t either. He just knew a cool trick that would impress people.
It’s kind of the way it is right now with science, news, politics, philosophy and economics. Everybody knows a few good tricks, enough to do the social equivalent of lighting a small fire over the kitchen sink.
But few of us know the underlying facts, theories and science behind those tricks — and therefore what those tricks really mean.
I doubt most people could really explain the science behind allergies or the economic principles that drive the stock market. It’s the age of specialization and everybody knows a lot about our specific areas of expertise, but there is no way we’d be able to know all that there is to know today.
So we rely on experts, or people who claim expertise. The problem is, they are often just regular people who know the cool tricks, and not what’s behind them.
The downside is that it’s easy for people to push concepts or ideas that are not supported by facts. They may not even know the facts themselves, but who’s going to challenge them? Their opponents are mostly just as factually ignorant.
So they spin their versions, myths based on what they fear is happening instead of what is supported by fact, and make a knee-jerk reactions every few years at the ballot box, or daily in the grocery aisle or doctor’s office.