In daily life, a man meets all sorts in his home and office, in parks and malls. Some individuals give him pleasure by entering, howsoever briefly, his space; others by leaving it. There are some who are pleasant enough in casual conversations but are a ruination of any discussion that requires even an iota of basic human intelligence. After making his fair share of errors in this regard, the author is convinced that avoiding these specimens like poison is the only sensible policy. In the cases where that is not possible – when the culprit happens to be the boss, a colleague, or one’s better half, for example – the next best option is to limit one’s interactions with him or her to small talk: how the weather, and a whole lot else sucks, for example.
The first type of individual to be avoided, or contact with him or her curtailed to strictly-as-needed levels is one who, say in a discussion on the relatively small garment sizes for Indonesian people, is apt to say something like: “But I know an Indonesian man who is 6 feet 8 inches tall,” and look around triumphantly as if it were the most insightfully incisive comment possible under the circumstances.
It is obvious that this type of individual cannot wrap his or her head around abstract ideas such as average and probability. That an acquaintance’s grandfather lived to 100 despite smoking two packs of cigarettes a day is for him or her, an unassailable argument in favour of the salutary effects of tobacco. In theory, one can laugh this brand of stupidity off, but such is the relentless consistency of this breed that the laughing-off task tends to becomes a painful struggle after a while, which is hardly conducive to one’s peace of mind. This display on such an individual’s part is not merely indicative of the individual’s inability to understand arguably the simplest abstract idea of all (mathematical mean), but invariably a sign of a rather low overall IQ. Therefore, what is expected of this type of person on almost any topic under the sun is precisely the kind of nonsense that must be shunned if one wants one’s universe to keep making any sort of sense.
Experience says that there is no use trying to educate this lot either, for not only are these fellows astoundingly slow on the uptake but are super stubborn as well. So, the chances are that the very next time (even if that is barely minutes after your painstakingly comprehensive sermon on the concept of average and standard deviation) the subject of the short Indonesian average height is under discussion, this person is apt to find it impossible to resist the temptation of chipping in with his contribution to the discourse by bringing up the tall Indonesian of his acquaintance. Therefore, do yourself a favour by saving your breath. And in future encounters make sure to keep a safe distance from the fellow – a distance not less than the height of the aforementioned Indonesian gentleman.
The second item on our list is the type that arrives at unhesitating conclusions regarding the most complex scientific or social question, conclusions that are based on a single factor, and usually the most superficial one at that. This type struggles with the fact that most phenomena in life depend on multiple factors, and therefore require a multi-variate analysis. When he finds out that women are generally paid less than men for the same job in a given profession, he is apt to conclude that that must be so on account of their gender. Or to deduce that carrot is the definitive cure for snoring, because one of his friends who, a month after developing a sudden liking for carrots, had stopped snoring. This fellow obviously has no clue regarding correlation, fair sampling, and method verification.
The third type of person to be avoided is the sceptic whose idea of fun is to torpedo any discussion on how best to approach any problem by raising epistemological doubts about the inability of man to know anything with any sort of certainty, including what is right and otherwise. If accepted, this makes the pursuit of knowledge in any domain a futile activity. He is also apt to point out that even if, for the sake of argument, one knew what was right, the long-term effects of one’s immediate actions are too complicated to predict. This makes any and all discussions on precautions, planning and preparation rather pointless. Even mild exposure to such folks can be detrimental to your mental as well as physical health. They may not know what is right for them; but trust yourself to know what is good for you: depriving yourself of the company of such individuals, in this case.
Now we come to our fourth (and thankfully last) type: a self-proclaimed determinist who makes no secret of his reservations about the impossibility of free will. His pet contribution to any moral issue is the rhetorical question: ‘Why should men be answerable for their acts when they are predestined to do what they do?’ This type of person is too obtuse to realize that if he genuinely believes this philosophy, his entire life (as he actually lives it based on the presumption of responsibility, reward and punishment) is a big lie. The other alternative (that there is no contradiction in his philosophy and practice) makes him an outright danger to society, for there is no knowing what his ‘destiny’ may make him do next. In either case, it is best to keep him at arm’s length, preferably more.