I come today to complain about complaints about people who complain about the AMBER alert system. Let's unwrap.

The AMBER alert system is a police-controlled cell phone emergency broadcast that can vigorously signal the police's need for the public's help in finding freshly abducted children.

Complainers about the AMBER alert system are folks who don't like receiving these broadcasts, in the form of repeated loud horns from their phones, often in the middle of the night.

Complainers about complainers about the AMBER alert system are folks who thinks the above complainers are selfish, and that if it helps the children, the alerts are fine. Plus the above complainers who go so far as to ring 911 are being very bad.

And then there's me, the complainer about complainer about complainers about the AMBER alert system. Oh sure, my one or two readers know that I'm also in the complainer #1 category. IMHO, at the very least, the phone software should suppress these alerts by default, if the phone infers that the owner is sleeping. Heuristics like this are easy: time of day, no motion, little ambient light, little ambient sound, etc.

But let's focus on the meta-complainer group. These are all well-intentioned people, and their anger is reasonable at people who abuse the 911 system. But there's another thing, there is usually a righteousness, there is a pride, in the fact that they woke up during the night. They literally did nothing else, but wake up, worry briefly, and go back to sleep (if they could). It doesn't make any sense, but suffering for the cause made them feel good. They they post about the bad selfish complainers.

I think the underlying psychological error may be yet another example of the most harmful fallacy ever: affirming the consequent. This case goes like this:

  • Those who help solve a problem must often suffer (doing something difficult or dangerous).
  • I suffered (waking up).
  • Therefore: I helped solve a problem (so I'm a good person).

They miss recognizing that suffering can come from other causes like ... a poorly designed cell phone system that doesn't let you suppress irrelevant alerts (and otherwise keep the phone fully functional). The thought that they suffered for nothing is not acceptable.

But all the outrage at the complainers about the AMBER alert system makes it more difficult to state the technical problems about the way it works. After all, if those who complain are bad selfish people, then they shouldn't be listened to. (Hey, that too is an instance of the most harmful fallacy!)