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The Age of the Unthinkable
Joshua Cooper Ramo
Suggest that Israeli tactics against opposition groups among Arabs so drastic and intense that it has forced classical Darwinian evolution - ie the groups who survived were ones which constantly evolved new tactics.
Idea that best way to understand history is to empathise with historical figures, even obnoxious ones. Otherwise yr just judging, and in judging you assume that yr judgements are right, and so you never learn. And it is vital to learn, if only to be able to respond intelligently.
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Isiah Berlin idea of Fox and Hedgehog thinkers.hedgehogs know a lot about one subject; foxes dart from idea to idea.
To test this, Philip Tetlock, a pol science researcher at Berkeley interviewed hundreds of 'experts' on economics and politics, asking them to make predictions as to what the world would look like in 5 years time on a list of variables.Then he divided experts into several categories: optimist/pessimist, conservative/liberal, hedgehog/fox and others. The hedgehog/fox category turned out to be the only reliable predictor of how correct the expert's ideas were. The low scorers looked like hedgehogs - they knew one big 'thing' and they tried to extend the explanatory reach of that knowledge into new domains. The high scorers were fox-like: sceptical of easy historical analogies, constantly updating their models
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Foxes wide-ranging curiosity kept feeding new info into their thinking process, even when only slightly relevant..
In contrast, the hedgehogs were eager for closure. They liked sticking to one big idea bc it gave them a sense of mastery of their subject. Like completing a crossword puzzle, they cd stop thinking bc they knew they were done.
But in a fast-changing and unpredictable world, this certainty led them far off track. When they were wrong, they were very very wrong.
We are all at least a little bit hedgehog - we want to understand something completely, to be certain. It's exhausting to constantly change yr point of view. But the best insurance against self-delusion is to constantly look for new ideas.
Hizb'allah plugged itself into the daily life of Lebanon and Gaza. They built house, schools and hospitals. They fixed plumbing while they built bombs. They built a resilient society - one with the ability to continually shift and learn and change.
Our societies have exactly same need to withstand surprises. It's impossible and exhausting to prepare for every poss contingency. You wind up feeling more insecure and vulnerable.
Falklands War. Britain needed to stop Argentines bringing reinforcements in through Stanley Airfield, but to bomb it was a 20 hour flight from England. The only plane that cd get there was the Vulcan bomber, but it wd have to be refuelled 4 times in flight, and even the refuelling tankers wd require refuelling. MOD scientists got airfield maps, found the Br firm which had built the runways, and calculated how many craters and how many bombs wd be needed. Thatcher ordered the bombers into the air, and they blew up the airfield.
But the really interesting thing was the side effects. Not only did they stop reinforcement flights, but satellite pics showed that the Argentines immediately moved all their jets into defensive positions. Showed that Br had potential to bomb Argentina, and immediately convinced some of the generals that the war wd be lost.
In today's world you cannot anticipate all threats. Most of them are self-negating: as soon as you anticipate and move to stop what the enemy is doing, he shifts to something else.
Tried 2 different programs to fight TB in S Africa. In the first, patients were given an anti-TB course of pills, supervised by a nurse, without any explanations or education as to how it worked. In the second, nobody got drugs until they, and a member of their family had done an education program, and the friend or family member had signed an agreement to make sure you kept taking the drugs. Guess which program worked. Turned out that even the uneducated can understand explanations, and you can change their motivation.
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