Monday, March 15, 2004
There's been lots of talk around the 'net about what all these recent events mean (i.e., Al-Qaeda-suspected attacks in Spain, whether or not sniper shootings in the U.S. are the work of Al-Qaeda organizations, increased effectiveness of attacks in Iraq, the changing of the guard in Spain, the U.S. elections, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, blah, blah, blah...). The best way to start is to avoid over-emphasizing how much these events are related. There are so many different forces at work here that it's much more like the weather (which can sorta be predicted, but not effectively modeled for prediction purposes). As our understanding of the world increases, our ability to see the complex interconnection of events will also increase. However, I'd say that the general ability of folks to do this hasn't reached the point where it's reliable.
That said, here are some fuzzy rules I try to follow when analyzing world events. Rules are in order of importance:
1.) Know Your Sources. Do they have an ideological bent? Do they tend to be right (over the broad course of history)? Have they been around long enough to have a history? Does anyone agree with them? Who disagrees? What are their interests generally? I tend to trust people who have a long history of successfully dealing with a subject, whether that success is in analysis or prediction. Thus I tend to trust Hersh and Fisk, distrust think tanks, and generally let everything slosh around and wait for the cream to rise (as it always does). Do they cite a variety of sources, or does it sound like their story is coming from one place/group/source?
2.) Logic can only take you so far. People are illogical. That's a truth that can be hard to learn, i.e. we like to assume that people are consistent but they aren't by nature. Bush could wake up tomorrow as a liberal democrat, if he so chose, and for no good reason other than he had a p&j sandwich for breakfast as opposed to eggs. Not likely, but with people anything is possible. Ghaddafi can decide that he wants to play nice. The U.S. can become a threat to world peace. So, don't assume something is right or wrong because it's "rational" or "logical". Those definitions depend on who's doing the defining.
3.) Read widely and diversely. I cringe when I read Kissinger (because I fundamentally disagree with him) and Perle and all the others, but it's important to keep your information stream diversified. Let Iraq be the guiding principle here -- the U.S. got it wrong because they filtered the stream and didn't allow dissenting opinions the same weight as assenting opinions. Consider the other person's point of view and be convinced by their logic (if only for a few minutes). If you crawl around inside their argument, you might find things you'd never considered.
4.) Study people. Studying about people is, due to that illogical thing, a different sort of pursuit from studying "truth". Understanding the difference between Bin Laden's flights of fancy and Saddam Hussein's can contribute to coming up with an understanding of what would "fit" in their worldview. Again, adapting another person's logic (and inconsistencies in logic) can be quite instructive and help screen out actions which aren't consistent with their persona.
5.) Challenge your comparisons and assumptions. Being pattern-loving people, we at the Node tend to like similies. For instance, Bush and the Nixon whitehouse seem to share alot of the same M.O. But there are differences. No one is going to challenge Bush from the right (Nixon had to worry about Reagan) in this election, and that'll have an important impact on how things turn out. It's nice, mentally, to be able to assume you know how thing A is because its similar to thing B. That, however, if indulged in to extremes can lead to sloppy thinking and wrong conclusions.
Anyway, that's just something that's been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. It's not a complete list, and I'm sure things will change over time, but so far those things have helped the Node keep its head straight and fly right.
Andrew 4:09 PM : |
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