or why, despite shootings in Tuscon, terrorism by the Taliban, the expanding concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 1% of Americans, the implosion of Detroit and every movie Michael Moore ever made, I still remain hopeful.
I was depressed this week, until I remembered The Black Swan and Volcano.
The otherwise forgettable movie, Volcano, includes the great line,
“There’s never a history of anything until it happens, and then there is.”
The Black Swan is the best book I read in 2010. In short, Taleb points out that our predictions fail in some really important ways because they are best at predicting events based on past events. In fact, as any statistician will tell you, the best predictor of future experience is past experience. Best predictor of college GPA? High school GPA. Best predictor of your income in 2011? Your income in 2010. It doesn’t always go that way, but that’s the way to place your bets.
The problem, Taleb asserts, is that the things we most want to predict have rarely happened in our experience. In 1975, no one predicted Microsoft (who?) would ever overtake IBM as the foremost computer company. In 1995, no one thought the Taliban (say what?) would be a threat to America.
So, I was depressed for a while convinced that Republicans were hell bent on taking away health care along with every dime from everyone in America with less than $100 million and giving it to those multi-millionaires so they could buy four more yachts, thus stimulating the economy in those countries where yachts are built by people working 14 hours a day for $2.36 because that’s the free market.
And I was depressed because I figured people all over the country who had lost their jobs due to failed economic policies and never learned much logic, economic or statistics due to failed educational policies would eventually be convinced by talk show hosts that everyone who was not of their same ethnic group, religion, political party and educational status was intent on taking their guns to give to immigrants who would then use them to shoot God. So, would attempt a preemptive strike by killing the rest of us first, except those who were out on the ocean in their yachts.
And I was depressed because it seemed like all the countries one might escape to were either imposing some bizarre laws that allow you to stone women for adultery, reading, thinking, wearing clothes that don’t cause heat stroke and making a contribution to the economy. All the rest of the countries were either flooding, going bankrupt or trying to arrest Julian Assange for not wearing a condom.
And then I remembered … when I was very young, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis and if current trends continued we would end up in a nuclear war with Russia that would end life as we know it. For years afterward, every time the rhetoric would heat up, I would worry. Yet, fifty years later, life as we know it pretty much continues.
When I was older, but still pretty young, there were so many gang murders and rising at such a rate that it seemed inevitable that the cities would turn into gated enclaves with armed guards, surrounding by some kind of Mad Max war zone. In fact, this week there was an article in the Los Angeles Times discussing grandmothers playing with their grandchildren in the park – in Compton!
So, yeah, we may be going to hell in a hand basket if current trends continue, but based on past experience, it is fairly safe to say that they won’t.