Month: April 2014

One Million Things that Almost Everyone Understands and Don’t Make Anyone As Special As He’d Like To Be

You’ve seen them. They are everywhere. The lists of things that apparently only one tiny subset of society understands or experiences? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are a few:

23 Problems Only Yoga People Will Understand

20 Jokes Only Intellectuals Will Understand

21 Problems Only People With Long Hair Understand

21 Problem Only Women With Big Boobs Will Understand

10 Things Only People With Attention Problems Will Understand

26 Struggles Only People Who Are Perpetually Hungry Will Understand

Don’t worry, there are thousands more.

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Now, I don’t have a problem with people posting these lists on facebook, or their preferred social media outlet. But let’s call them what they are.

These lists are most often just poor attempts to present ourselves as different, and special, and struggling, and lonely, and marginalized in ways that we are not.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with the desire to identify oneself with a particular subset of society. I have no problem with compiling and sharing a list of problems, or struggles, or whatever that are common to a particular group of people.

But that isn’t what is occurring in these lists. 

The title is not “10 problems common to people in these given circumstances,” but “10 problems only people in these given circumstances understand.” And that, my big-breasted, long-haired, yoga-doing friend, is almost never the case. But before you go and write a list of 10 things only people who hate The Indisputable Dirt understand, let’s clarify a couple things.

1. Most people “understand” these things you claim only you and a small number of other people understand. In fact, anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language, and the ability to reason at all can understand the problematic nature of the circumstances outlined in the majority of these lists. Most people understand the difficulty of sweating on one’s yoga mat. Maybe they have not personally experienced a sweaty yoga mat during yoga class, but they understand the slippery predicament that arises from the circumstance. They may not be able to empathize with you, but unless they lack the cognitive skill common to most humans over the age of 6, they can sympathize.

Of course, I know what people will say. “That’s not what we meant. Sure, most people can understand the difficulties that accompany having big breasts, but you can’t fully understand unless you’ve lived with them.”

Yes. Fine. Understanding is an issue of degree as well as kind. Someone with long hair likely understands the struggles of having long hair more fully than someone who doesn’t have long hair because she/he has knowledge of experience as well as knowledge through reason. But if we’re demanding complete understanding, then no one should be posting these lists at all, because no one completely understands anything to its fullest extent. There is always more to know about a situation, even if you experience it on a daily basis. You may understand problems associated with being a tall girl more than me because I am of average height, but we both understand them, and we both understand them incompletely.

Which brings me to the more significant problem with these lists.

2. These things are almost never actually singular to the designated group. Skipping over the hyperbolic nature of the assertion that no bathing suits ever fit women with large breasts (really? Because I see a lot of big breasted women on beaches, and advertisements in bikinis that seem to fit very, very well), the claim that only large-breasted women deal with ill-fitting bathing suits is simply false. Lots of women (and men) struggle to find bathing suits that fit well. This is a common problem in a world where most bathing suits come in 3 sizes. Some women experience it more, some women experience it less, but lots of women of a variety of breast sizes experience it.

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And this is the error made in most of these lists: the attempt to claim for a single subset of people something that applies to a lot of people—often most people.

20 Jokes only intellectuals will understand? Guess what, you don’t have to be an intellectual to understand why a Roman ordering 5 beers by holding up two fingers is funny. All you need to know is that “V” is the Roman numeral for the number five.

You don’t have to be perpetually hungry to hate watching other people eat while waiting for your food at a restaurant. You just have to have been hungry, or impatient at a restaurant at some point in your life.

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I wonder what people who are ACTUALLY perpetually hungry think of this list.

You don’t have to have long hair to fear getting haircuts.

You don’t have to have attention problems in order to know the frustration of not being able to find your car keys.

What these lists amount to are rather poor attempts to draw a line between your struggles, and everyone else’s where there is no line. Don’t get me wrong, the line exists—just not where you are drawing it. You are special and different and have your own personal set of problems, ironically, just like everyone else. Just usually not in the dramatic and sweeping fashion outlined in the majority of these lists.

No, Teachers In Finland Are Not Paid Like Doctors, But That’s Not Even The Problem Here.

It seems that no matter how many times you say “hey, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” the message still fails to be received. The internet as we know it (sorta) is a quarter of a century old, and yet, we still don’t know how to use it.

Given that it has been in circulation for years, most of you have probably seen this meme on facebook, or twitter, or reddit, or wherever.

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Let’s clear this up once and for all:

Teachers in Finland are not paid like doctors. The average teacher in Finland makes between $30,000 and $45,000 a year (depending on type and experience) while the average general practitioner makes about $70,000 (about half of what doctors in America make).

In fact, teachers in Finland are not even paid as well as teachers in America.

Here. I made a chart for you.

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As you can see, the average American public school teacher makes more—significantly more—than a similar teacher in Finland, whether he is teaching grade school, middle school, high school, is new to the classroom, experienced, or retiring. So if we’re going to mimic the Finnish school system, I guess we should be paying our teachers less, right?

But ya know what? This is not a post about preferential forms of public education. This is not a post about the supremacy or inadequacy of American education.

No. There is a bigger problem here.

I am not dismayed that the meme is wrong. I expected that. I am dismayed that it has gained such widespread support and traction on social media sites. I have seen it posted dozens of times on my Facebook newsfeed alone, and have yet to see one person post an article debunking it (they exist).

So this article is about the dire need for people to learn to employ the informative tools at their disposal.

How was I able to figure out within minutes of seeing the meme that its claims are blatantly false? Well, aside from the fact that the Cato Institute debunked the silly meme years ago, I figured it out because I looked up data on teacher salaries!

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) keeps digital records of that sort of thing, along with many other sorts of things. In this table, from which I drew the data, they list the average starting, 15-year, and maximum salaries for teachers in public institutions in a lot of countries as of 2011. Clear as day. How do I know this is credible data? Well, I don’t know 100%. But I can get a pretty good idea based on their citations, and methodology.

And ya know what? There are hundreds of other credible websites with raw data on a variety of topics. All you need to do is learn to navigate them.

So this is a plea of sorts, a plea to my peers: Don’t fall victim to the trolls and crooks of the internet. Learn to use the wealth of information that exists on the webisphere.  

If you’re a little dubious of claims made in an article, meme, etc… there is likely some credible data out there that will confirm or negate your suspicions. Not comfortable with raw data? At the very least do a Google search. If it’s false, there is a good chance someone has debunked it. Of course, you can’t trust all opposing articles, which is why learning to find the info and weigh the facts yourself is so important.

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of bad information out there. Remember that anyone with internet access is capable of creating a meme, or writing an article—without credibility, or accountability. The result is that…well, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But you can determine what is true and what is false with a degree of certainty. Shoot for a degree of certainty before you post.