Extrapolation Traps

In early springtime, you see the fresh growth of leaves and weeds and grass. You think to yourself, “If it keeps up this way, by Independence Day the whole of earth will be puffed out in green suffocation.” But the first growth is the most rapid, and as higher leaves give shade, the lower growth slows.

One of the key tactics of propagandists, be they on vaccines or immigration or race baiters or war hawks or anti-traders or campus speech zealots or . . .

One of the key tactics is the extrapolation trap. You start with some handful of stories of badness. “Ms. Liza Greenlawn found a lump of fresh dirt in her yard, and upon excavation she found a bone!” Oh my. Next week, Greenlawn’s neighbor up the way, Dr. Maggie Hayfever, finds her own bowl-shaped dirt pile and another bone.

The propagandist takes to the Twitter and behold:

Mutant lawn monsters are growing clones of themselves by burying their bones.

And now you’re worried. You cannot bear the idea! Whole towns being devoured by these lawn monsters! Uncivilized!

But it’s the same story, over and over. Fido burying his bones as he’s done for generations.

The president hears about a caravan, and suddenly we need to the National Guard down on the border. Your uncle heard that Obama was going to do this Jade Helm takeover of the country.

  1. A seed of doubt or worry.
  2. You run with it, thinking of all the things that could happen next.
  3. TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It)


  1. Survivors of a school shooting demand action.
  2. Bills are floated to reduce gun purchases by high-risk persons.


And yes, to an extent the worries about the rise of fascism follow this pattern. The president sucks at his job and frequently resorts to idiotic attacks on basic democratic institutions including the judiciary, the press, and so forth.

The institutions are fighting back. When and if they ever capitulate, in the least, you should worry. But as long as due process is being followed, we should watch and speak out and push back, but we should not extrapolate his 280 characters of hate into a full-scale emergency.

There’s a difference between having a fire in your house (in the fireplace) and your house being on fire.

(There are other countries where the fascism has metastasized and is now a very real threat. The fire has spread from their fireplaces. To the extent that the USA is not in a position to help quench those flames through diplomacy, our current administration deserves full blame. Our nation was founded resisting tyranny, and it should always stand for that cause.)

It is vital to keep perspective. Extrapolating is good at worst-casing of things, but the real world tends not progress always in one direction without shifts in pace, course, method, etc.


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