To get better answers, ask better questions
This morning, in a forum that I subscribe to, someone asked this question: “Can anyone help me understand why Portland is so crazy?”
The forum is invitation only. It’s a small group of people self-selected for intelligence and rationality. In two days, there were 26 responses, some snarky, a few thoughtful. A couple edged up to questioning the question itself.
Is Portland crazy?
Portland is a city of 650,000. On-the-ground reports say that 3,000 to 6,500 people typically march, sing, chant, and speechify—peacefully.
Less than much smaller number—1% according to most estimates—engage in acts that might be judged crazy.
So there might be some crazy people. But is Portland crazy?
Here’s a city with 99% of its people going about their business, and about 1% not. About 0.01% are doing what amounts to poking a powerful animal in the tail with a stick to see what happens. You might call it crazy. You might call it foolhardy. They likely call themselves “brave.”
But the rest? I
Is it crazy to show up, walk around and chant for a few hours? Hard to see that it is.
Another person in the forum asks:
So, being situated in Scandinavialand, I’m a bit perplexed with the whole Portland situation. What do the rioters want with that courthouse and why are there police/soldiers (or what ever they are) holed up inside it
I couldn’t answer that question without understanding what the writer means by “the rioters.”
He might be referring to the people who would describe themselves as “protestors” or “demonstrators.”
Or to that tiny minority engaged in provocation or vandalism—most of whom are unlikely to self-describe as rioters.
He might be following this kind of reasoning:
When an authoritative source declares that an assembly, formed for protesting, is a riot, all the protestors stop being protestors and become rioters.
Seems odd to me.
What do “they,” whoever “they are,” want?
Here again, we run into a bad question.
The who are there want different things.
There might be subgroups who want similar things.
If you wanted to know what the protestors want, they want to protest. Some want to protest against police brutality. Some want to protest the presence of the Feds. Some are protesting the perceived indifference to the problems black people experience.
If there were rioters there, I could guess that they’re there to riot.
These are well-intentioned questions, but not particularly good ones.
Can I think of a better question?
Richard Feynman says, “I’d rather have questions I can’t answer, than answers I can’t question.”
So here’s a question that I’m asking myself:
How could I—far away from Portland—make things better?
I don’t have an answer yet, but I have some ideas.
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