Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Black Swans & a Lesson about Hubris from Pakistan

Pakistani lawyer Feisal Naqvi has written an elegant interpretation of the political events of the past year in Pakistan illustrating some interesting lessons for all of us who think we know what we are doing.

In cards, the types of probabilities we face are relatively well known
because all of them come from a universe of known possibilities. Taleb calls this world Mediocristan. But in real life, the biggest problems — and opportunities — we face come from what Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as the “unknown unknowns”. This is the world that Taleb calls Extremistan, a world defined and driven by highly improbable events.The point of discussing all of this is to note that the events which followed the sacking of the Chief Justice of Pakistan on March 9, 2007 were a “black swan” event. Leaving aside the morality or legality of trying to railroad a chief justice in patently unfair proceedings, it can safely be assumed that all those who advised General Musharraf to teach the Chief Justice a lesson did not foresee in all of their predictions the possibility that the deposed chief justice would become a popular hero; that he would be welcomed by the people of Pakistan in numbers not seen since the heyday of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; that emboldened by public support, a 13-member bench of the Supreme Court would restore the Chief Justice; that his restoration would set off such a wave of defiance that the once-closed chapter of General Musharraf’s candidature would be opened to debate; that General Musharraf would be forced to impose martial law against himself to avoid the
danger of a contrary verdict, that General Kayani would direct the army to step out of politics; that relatively fair and free elections would be held; that the masses would vote overwhelmingly against General Musharraf; and, that throughout all of this, the lawyers of Pakistan would never give up on their struggle to establish an independent judiciary.

But now comes the million-dollar question: assuming you are the new political leadership of Pakistan, what do you do with this black swan now that it has shown up? Do you go back to living in Mediocristan? Do you assume that politics as usual is about to return? Or, do you try living in Extremistan in the belief that this is one of those moments when hope and history rhyme? After all, if Taleb is to be believed, the prime mover throughout history has been the improbable event.


1 comment:

Feisal H. Naqvi said...

Thanks for the compliment which is greatly appreciated. If you liked the article, I archive my stuff over at www.monsoonfrog.wordpress.com.


Feisal Naqvi