Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell was an interesting book subtitled What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, with some of the ideas from it that stood out noted below...

People often rely too much on their impressions, and too little on facts. 

Gladwell wrote of how people believe things they want to believe, often as part of them fitting into a narrative, but it better to simply look at things at face value rather than letting impressions carry too much weight in forming a conclusion. To this end, some of the stories in the book include British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin meeting with Hitler prior to the outset of WWII and then proclaiming he trusted his statements about the limits of German expansion aims. Those who instead believed Hitler would invade Poland hadn't met with him, but simply looked at his actions and statements to the world.

Another example given in the book is judges who in setting bail "stare into the soul of someone," but would often prevent crimes while someone on parole more effectively by simply looking at someone's record and the facts of the case without meeting them. Additionally, Gladwell noted how we don’t do well judging in situations where people act differently or express different emotions than we would expect, with Amanda Knox as someone who was odd and immature, and largely as a result was prosecuted for murder despite the flimsy case against her.

Defaulting to truth is something that should the majority of time be the norm.

Gladwell wrote of defaulting to truth is generally the right approach, and how whistleblowers are an important and helpful segment of society, but things would break down if everyone a whistleblower. There's a cost to being a whistleblower, with their lives often filled with paranoia and distrust, and generally defaulting to truth enables society to function better and people enjoy their lives more, even given the inherent tolerance for error that results. It's noted in the book that the person who earliest suspected Bernie Madoff engaged in a criminal Ponzi scheme was a paranoid type of person, and just how debilitating it was for them.

Specific acts are tied to specific places.

Another idea from the book was that of coupling, how acts are tied to specific things or places. Some examples given of this are how crime often tied to a very confined area, and suicide often tied to the way in which it’s acted out... with the story of how the UK changed the gas used to heat homes, no longer using "town gas," instead using natural gas, and as a result suicides plummeted. Suicide barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge was also brought up, people who were stopped from jumping often didn’t commit suicide later.

These three concepts feed into the story of Sandra Bland, someone pulled over outside Houston, subjected to aggressive and uncalled for policing leading to her arrest, and who several days later committed suicide in her jail cell. Gladwell writes of how this idea of aggressive policing, stopping and questioning people for minor infractions, should be confined to high crime spots as it comes with a price to not default to the truth that people likely aren't committing a crime. The thing to avoid is taking an idea that's a good one in limited use, and then expanding it farther than should be the case. Additionally, Bland's behavior after being pulled over was decided by the officer to be evidence of her guilt and heightened tension much more than the facts of the situation called for, ultimately leading to her arrest, and subsequent time in jail where she took her life.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell was a good book with the subtitle The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II.

Purnell wrote about Virginia Hall, described in the book jacket as a Baltimore socialite who joined the British Special Operatives Executive organization and established spy networks throughout France, disrupting Nazi efforts there both before and after Allied forces landed at Normandy.

Throughout this entire time, she operated with a prosthetic leg, and dealt with numerous cases of being either passed over or subjugated by men with her a woman and showed a great deal of heroism through her efforts as part of the Resistance, with a line from the book "espionage, sabotage, and subversion behind enemy lines."