April 25, 2013

Crisis On "American Averages" - 2

1.  On why "American Averages" is a very useful book
2.  On what else I am going to do with it
About ME/CFS


Yesterday, I wrote about  "American Averages", which is with two capitalized As because it is the title of a book. Today there is a little more of the same.

There isn't much and there isn't more because I had two large walks today, at least for one with my disease: I did shoppings and I went to get my pills, and the last was a 5 quarters walk, which is truly my limit, or over it.

So today there is just an explanation of this phrase, with which I ended yesterday's first part on "American Averages":
It's a great pity, for there is much more that is worthy to know in a book of this kind, than in almost any other book one may buy.
1. On why "American Averages" is a very useful book

Why does one read books? Surely, there are several reasons, and I shall mention three:
  • to be diverted
  • to be instructed
  • to get ideas
It may happen one book may do all of this, but I think this is fairly rare, or indeed means that the reader hasn't read much.

In fact, most literature may be divided into fiction, which is mostly for diversion; factual, which is mostly for instruction; and ideational, which is mostly for getting ideas.

If we start with fiction, we can see that with prose there was a period of circa 250 years between 1750 and 2000 when there was rather a lot of fiction. Before 1750, most that was written as fictional diversion was poetry rather than prose; and after 2000 it seems that fiction was mostly abandoned, though in this I may be mistaken.

In any case, "American Averages" definitely is not a work of fiction. It also is definitely not an ideational work, though of course it may be used to get ideas. The reason is that it consists - mostly - of facts, and my main ground to put in "mostly" is that I do not consider it to be strictly and only factually true.

But the facts are really quite important, at least mostly so, since they provide collectively a sketch of what the United States was like around 1980, and since they are supposed to be mostly correct, and I also assume them to be.

"American Averages" may be considered to be one of the least lying books I know of: Books of fiction are lies from beginning till end, even if based on facts; and books of ideas are rarely mostly true, even if they have been very carefully designed to be true.

There are, of course, a few books of ideas that are supposed to be mostly true, and one of the best kinds of example are books of physics that are meant to be used as introductory texts to university courses: Surely, most in it is supposed to be true, and possibly that even is correct.

But the fact is - as previous books of physics of the same kind undoubtedly show - that what is selected is mostly what is both fashionable and at the time of writing mostly considered true, whereas nearly all of this will change, even if (as is mostly to be doubted) what is described is true, and indeed will change rather radically, as anyone can check out who has books of physics that were used in university of 25, 50 or 75 years ago.

But "American Averages", though undoubtedly not a phone book, in which almost every line is true, is much more like a phone book than almost any other book, and that is one of its enduring interests.

Then again, it is much more than a phone book, because it attempts to convey interesting averages, in which it largely succeeds, and because it also reports these averages well.

Of course, here we are again involved in personal dimensions, but then these enter everywhere: What is "interesting" and what is "reporting well"?

The first question is mostly, but not totally, a question of personal taste: One can, no doubt, throw out 9 out of 10 of the facts reported, and still have something like a book of "American Averages" - but it would not be very interesting.

So the main interest of the book is that it reports well - and indeed I think it does.

In fact, I rarely look into the books of psychology I read in the seventies and eighties, and if I do tend to do so (not: invariably, nor: always) with some  distaste, because I know most I did get offered in such books were ideas that were mostly mistaken, partial, and biased. [1]

It is not so with
"American Averages": Its facts are mostly facts, whether one likes them or not; it contains little that is not a fact; in terms of incontroverible facts per inch it must be close to the top; and the tale it tells is one that is interesting for anyone who wants to know about the period.

And this is why, indeed
there is much more that is worthy to know in a book of this kind, than in almost any other book one may buy.
2. On what else I am going to do with it

In fact, what I wanted was a book that tells me and others what is mostly incontrovertible fact about the times I live in, and
"American Averages" does this best. [2]

This does not mean that it is the most interesting book I know, or that one cannot do without it, for clearly that is not so.

But I will excerpt the second half, though I do not know when, and I will write a little more about it and the facts it relates, if only because they are facts, and because they are relevant to many.


[1] Surely they were! I did learn something, but nearly all I really did learn were statistics and methodology. Almost eveything else in the science of psychology was already told by William James, in "The Principles of Psychology", in the 1880ies - and that was much better written as well.

[2] Actually, I have some other works, also about the late seventies, early eighties, or nineties, and also of a statistical kind,
such as several volumes of "Het Statistisch Jaarboek 1990" (and some other years), but these are far less interesting, because (i) they are about Holland, and (ii) they are mainly boring: table upon table upon table. Surely, they do contain all or most that "American Averages" contains - but they do contain it amidst a phletora of other facts, most of which are not interesting, at all.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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