Enslavement Through Analysis

or “How Categorization, Data Analysis, and Factoring Out the Outliers Continues to Enslave Us Outside of Dr. King’s Dream — An Opinion

My job tends to present some weird moments to me. I work with data. Just electronic ones and zeroes. If you were to take my job back a short ways in history – I would be described as a wizard with an abacus. After all, my job is basically to count students, faculty and administration at a community college – and then find new ways to describe that some population set, and count it again. And again. And again. I work under terminology that the average lay-person would not quite understanding:  Success-rate, Withdrawal-rate, Completion-rate, data broken down into gender and racial categories – diced up further over the five physical campuses we have, the method that the class is delivered to the student. Believe me, there’s so many ways to describe the same population of data – merely by re-categorizing the members of the population and running the same mathematical formulas against those. Yah. Exciting stuff, eh? Another way I’ve heard this job position described is “Inside Baseball” stuff. Any baseball stats junkie (like me) would not only catch the reference, but also understand the context it is being placed in.

However, there are so many ways this categorize, calculate, re-categorize, recalculate stuff can be hurtful. Data manipulation has to be approached from a clean, ethical manner. Those of you that know me can stop hiding your smirks and sniggering behind your hands. Yes, even I have to follow some basic rules — such as not harming the individuals from whom I glean the information from. How can I do that? Its really not that difficult. Re-categorization can be done by gender, or by race, or by economic status, or by relationship status, whether the student has children of their own, whether they currently have a job, pay their tuition by financial aid, or out of their own pockets, the type of financial aid they receive or any combination of those factors. Its not all that difficult to play up one side versus another. Its really a matter of how you cut the data. That’s why I spend 90% of my time writing out my methodologies, reasonings, and analysis of the data. So the people reading the reports can understand the whys of my findings. I cannot guarantee that anyone reads that part of my analysis, but I require that it is in any data study I work on when I present the findings. To me, its the most important thing that I do.

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I have a dream this afternoon.

I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day.

And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words in his speech at the Great March in Detroit on June 23, 1963. Now some people may get hung up on the Christian phrasing. Or that Dr. King only addresses the races of black and white. Or the religious aspects of Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics or even that he only seems to aim his speech towards men. My take? Whatever. You’re letting wording of a time frame that is two years prior to my own birth over-shadow the wording of the overall message. Your right to do so – but that’s not what I am addressing here.

Within the narrow bounds that “modern American” society of his time afforded to him, Dr. King could see a land where divisions created through race, religion, creed – and eventually gender – would be broken down. Where people would see one another as equals with differences such as pigmentation, belief, and gender no longer mattering in the scope of daily life.

Binary WorldHave we reached that point? In some ways, yes. In many other ways, no. We still see racial inequality within the bounds of the United States. We still see how Christianity continues to dominate the cultural landscape in America, and attempt to crowd out all other faiths. We still have an Upper class that dominates a Lower class, while the ever-so necessary Middle-Class continues to shrink ever so much more than before.

Dr. King’s message wasn’t just about equality. Providing equality in a legal aspect is very easily attained – and has been done so in countless manners. His message is not about cracking skulls and forcing a position of equality. His message is about stepping up, being socially aware, being a force towards the one thing that equality cannot give you: respect.

His message was about carving a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair – BUILDING ways towards the future. Paving the road for Hope and Respect for one another. And that’s not going to happen overnight either. The storm clouds will be dark, the rain will be cold and disheartening. People want very fast changes to take effect NOW. If it were only so that we could change hearts of people that quickly…

And violence is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it will only make it worse. Take for example the shooting that happened here in the DFW area just a few days ago. One group of people hid behind the Constitution in order to be as hurtful and insulting as they could towards members of the Muslim faith. During the day of their “event”, a protest area had been setup for Muslims to gather and express their outrage over the “event”. Not one person showed up and utilized the space. The usage of the space was where these folks wanted the media to film and watch. So that angry epitaphs and insults could be filmed and utilized as a “See? Did we not tell you what animals these people are?” However, two individuals in Arizona took enough offense and outrage to drive to Dallas, and open fire on law enforcement in the parking lot of the event. While these two may have felt their actions were vindicated — all they really did was prove the point that these folks were making with the event. Violence did not solve the problem – it only made the issue boil and fester in a way it would never have done if they had never shown up. Instead, the local news and talk radio stations are eating up this entire scenario, and spinning it one way or another to bludgeon their foes in the debate of the danger of Muslims within ANY country in the world. A totally stupid, irrational argument from both sides – which is now being provided the precious oxygen it needs to be “talked about”.

No, Dr. King is right in his words – we need to focus on the hope that we want. As President Obama mentioned several times in his first campaign: We are the ones who will affect change in the world around us. We are the people we have been waiting for. We have the power to change things, by merely making our intention known that we want a world where people are people. Regardless of color, regardless of belief, economic status, and what have you. But sometimes I wonder if this is what we really want? We – Pagans – talk about wanting equal footing, and yet we express our disdain for the entire Christian faith when we hear of a minister doing something wrong – or even an entire group of people (Westboro Baptist Church) do something repugnant. Instead of viewing these people as individuals – statistical aberrations – we paint the entire Christian faith as being just like these folks. I’ve seen it done the other way as well – where Pagans are branded as immoral, child rapists when a Pagan gets arrested for child porn or molestation. Perhaps we just broad-brush everything because its easier to do so – rather than to pick out the small pieces of garbage and differentiate them rather than the other way around.

In statistical analysis, broad-brushing an entire population by a result is done far too often. Particularly when the statistical percentage is over 75% in size. Very rarely do you see an analysis that points out that there were [x] number of points that were outside of the statistical curve. Sometimes, the outliers paint a far more descriptive understanding of the data than the overwhelming population does.

Somewhere…somewhere…I see a single point of data crying out to the rest of the digital environment:

I have a dream this nanosecond that one day we will all be recognized as individual data points. All with differing aspects that provide a unique descriptor of each of us. That one day, ones and zeroes will walk down the broadband avenue towards a user’s GUI presentation, hand-in-hand in the knowledge that we will be given equal representation within the interface by both the CPU and the End User. And we will then be free at last!

::sigh:: Until that day…I continue to fight my own fight within my own part of the world. That each data point represents a person. And regardless of the demographic breakdown of that student – they are an individual, with a unique story – and deserve to be represented as such within any analysis.

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