God does not roll dice, and neither should political scientists. Even less should senior national security decision-makers roll dice, yet they do, repeatedly, at the cost of thousands of lives destroyed and millions more ruined every year. We can do better.
The core problem is that humans do a very poor job of estimating any change that is not linear. Even curvilinear or exponential (a steady, smooth curved rate) change is hard for humans to estimate (yes, MIT tested this!). Add interacting variables with varying time delays, and you will discover, too late, all manner of unforeseen tipping points. Given that nothing of interest is linear in this world, especially when it involves humans, and you can see that analyzing the future is a fool’s errand. Yet we will and perhaps, in our complex world, must continue to make life-or-death decisions based on our predictions about the future.
will not persuade its militant Shi’ite
supernationalists to militarize its technical knowledge, produce weapons of
mass destruction, and then use them in a desperate first-strike attempt at
self-defense, we are told by confident national security thinkers who assert
the ability to analyze the future. Overarming Iran
and giving it a blank check will not persuade its militant
Jewish supernationalists, who already have a first-strike capability, to
expend it in a desperate attempt to shore up a threatened position of strategic
superiority, we are told. Slaughtering innocent Pakistani women and children
with drones will not drive Israel
into an alliance with Pakistan
and the Pakistani-Afghan Taliban, we are told. Attempting to control the Iran Mideast
will not provoke a new wave of anti-American terror, we are told. Relying
primarily on brute force will neither make the world hate and conspire
nor will it drive U.S. and Moscow
into anti-American collusion, we are told. The list of fundamentally important
assertions about the future made by powerful people who have no idea whatsoever
of how to predict the future is breathtaking. Beijing
How to do it right remains a non-existent science, and there are good, cutting-edge scientific reasons to think that science will never exist (no, Mr. Physicist, I am not hinting at quantum effects but “simply” referring to complexity). That said, we can do better. The future may be unknowable, but it is not incomprehensible. We comprehend that security fears provoke irrational behavior. We comprehend that force provokes counterforce...and that the weak will employ asymmetric means. We also comprehend that the morality of drone attacks is right there in the gutter with the morality of what we are pleased to call "terrorism." In the meantime, don’t believe everything you hear; in fact, don’t believe anything. Think about it for yourself.