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The Age of the Unthinkable

Joshua Ramo

Suggest that Israeli tactics against Palestinian opposition groups so drastic and intense that has forced classical Darwinian evolution - ie the groups which survived are ones which constantly evolved new tactics - technical, social and organizational.

Suggest best way to understand history is to try to empathize (understand their motivation) with historical figures, even the obnoxious ones. Otherwise you're just judging, and in judging you assume that your ideas are all correct, and so you never learn anything.

Irving Berlin's idea of hedgehog and fox thinkers. Hedgehogs know a lot about one big thing; foxes dart from idea to idea.

To test this, Philip Tetlock Berkeley study where he interviewed hundreds of 'experts' in economics and politics. He asked them to make predictions about the world in 5 years time. Divided experts into categories - optimists/pessimists, conservative/liberal, hedgehog/fox.

Hedgehog/fox turned out to be the only reliable prediction of how likely the expert was to be correct.

Low scorers look like hedgehogs. They know one big thing and try to extend the expalanatory reach of that knowledge into new domains. High scorers more foxy - sceptical of easy historical analogies and constantly updated their model.

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Foxes wide-ranging curiosity - constantly feeding new information into their thinking process, even when only slightly relevant. Hedgehogs eager for closure - sticking to one big idea gives a sense of mastery of the subject. But in a fast-changing and unpredictable world, this certainty leads them far off-track. When hedgehogs wrong, they are very, very wrong.

We are all a bit hedgehog - not easy to constantly change your point of view, and we prefer to be certain.

We need a resilient society - one that can adapt and learn and change. Impossible to prepare for every eventuality, and exhausting to even try.

Falklands War, British needed to stop Argentina using Stanley airfield to bring in reinforcements and supplies. But it was a 20 hour flight from London, and the only plane that could get there was the Vulcan bomber. But it would have to be refueled 4 times in flight, and even the refuelling planes would have to be refuelled. But they did it.

Success had far-reaching effects. Argentines moved all their planes back to defensive positions, and convinced some generals that the war was lost.

West tends to hero-worship the gallant winners of battles, no matter what cost in men. Chinese vaue the generals who avoid conflict long enough for the opposition to defeat themselves. Long and bloody Chinese history taught them to manipulate enemy into bad situations by constantly generating new options for them to have to cope with.

South Africa tried 2 different programs to get people to take their pills to cure TB. First one just given the pills by nurses. Second one, nobody got anything until they, and a member of their family, had done an educational program, and a friend or family member had signed a promise that they would keep you taking the drugs.

Turns out that if you educate and explain, you can change motivation.

Forget trying to increase 'happiness'. Try to increase creativity and happiness will follow.

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