The bloody obviousness of most good predictions
Back when I was in university, one day I found myself in a first year sociology class with a 150 odd other students. The Prof, a wonderful teacher who went by Dr. Anderson, and to whose door I once tacked a list of 15 intellectual disagreements, asked the class a simple question.
“How many of you treat men and women exactly the same? Put up your hands if you do.”
Everyone’s hands went up. Everyone except mine, that is.
She then asked how many people didn’t treat men and women the same.
I put up my hand.
I spent the next 15 minutes being villified by my classmates, called sexist and even a homophobe (I’ve never figured out how we got to homophobia.) I was livid, and by the end of it incredulous.
After the class I talked to her. First I asked if she believed that all my classmates treated men and women the same. She scoffed at the idea. Then I asked “are they stupid, or are they all liars?”
She declined to speculate.
It’s a question which has consumed me since. Are people who are unable to see the blindingly obvious stupid or are they liars? Of course, there are more possible answers, and the simplest is just that people can make themselves believe whatever they want, and that belief is often real. Sometimes it isn’t, sometimes they’re liars, which we normally call being a hypocrite.
And the smarter someone is the easier it is to convince themselves of whatever they want to believe. Being really smart means always being able to come up with a reason why you’re right.
Most of my analytical and predictive successes have been of the “this is bloody obvious” variety. A commenter said the other day that predicting that Dems would take losses in 2010 was an obvious prediction, but in early 2009 most of the rest of the progressive blogosphere was busy telling themselves and everyone else that the Republicans were such a disaster that at worst losses would be mild and Dems might even make gains.
Likewise, the housing bubble was obvious way out. All you had to do was look at a chart. It didn’t take being a genius economist (which I’m not). It didn’t take fancy math. All it took was the ability to say “hey, that looks exactly like a bubble, and all bubbles burst”. All you had to do was listen for the fools saying “it’s different this time”.
It’s almost never different this time. Human nature does not change. Things which didn’t work in the past are unlikely to work now. Incompetent people, which is to say people with a track record of screwing up, are not likely to suddenly become competent. And if you can’t imagine what it’s like to be someone you despise, you can’t predict what they’ll do.
Most of my predictions are pretty close to “virtually everyone comes to regret trying to occupy Afghanistan” or “if Obama fucks up the economy and pisses off the base, and he’s going to do both because he just fucked up the stimulus on both ideological and practical axes, Democrats won’t do well in 2010”. And most of my analysis is of the order of “people treat men and women differently.”
The sad thing is, apparently the vast majority of pundits can’t figure out either of these things. Or if they can, they’re too compromised, and too chicken-hearted, to dare say them.
Analysis isn’t complicated. It’s not even hard.
Well, it’s not hard as long as you don’t give a fuck if, like every mainstream pundit who opposed the Iraq war due to either realizing there were no WMD or because they knew it would turn into a clusterfuck, you’re ok with losing your job or being demoted, while those who get it wrong are promoted and rewarded.
As long as you don’t mind, like my younger self, being told you’re a bad person for saying the truth that others don’t want to hear.
Perhaps the strange thing is that anyone is fool enough to even try. Perhaps my classmates were the wise ones and I the fool.