The Fear of Miscalculating in the Human Condition

17:44Ciaran McCormick

This is a guest post by Bradley Cole, the Founder of Geopolitical Compass.

What is forecasting? Forecasting is built into the human psyche as each action an individual takes is intended to have a certain outcome. To assume how each action works, a certain amount of knowledge is required on how things work.  Indeed, in order to identify how things work one must analyse the aspects of the world that are eternal. Things that are eternal serve as the basis for most decision-making as this lends hand to predictability and a proper foresighted outcome.

Deep in thought - the power of forecasting. Flickr:

 However, knowledge carries a caveat. It is rarely perfect. Many actions have unintended consequences despite their best intentions. Sometimes, the understanding of methodology as to how an outcome has derived is unimportant – for example, if I turn on a light switch,  I expect the room to illuminate – yet, the prerequisite for understanding such an action does not require an understanding of why the room illuminates.

In my understanding and exploration of geopolitics, there are components in the union of geography and power that allow the ability to forecast. In essence, geography is the largest limitation to how a country, state, group can conduct itself. Napoleon succeeded in conquering Western Europe because the geography of France complimented the formation of a nation-state. The geography of Western Europe complimented his conquest, through Belgium, Germany and beyond until he reached his limitations on the road to Moscow.

As a student, I have made a forecast in the choosing an education that gives me the platform to choose a career that will please me in the next ten years, what would be useful & enriching and be able to make money for the indulgence of many of life’s pleasures. From such a macro-level of life decision making, to micro decision-making of crossing the road - forecasting is eternal.

Forecasting and intelligence are the most important components of defence. Many would say the opposite, that forecasting and intelligence are more important for offensive operations but forecasting allows dealing with the enemy of tomorrow. By analysing geopolitical trends, historical analysis and the elements of process-tracing, one is able to formulate a strategy of must happen rather than what might happen.

The distinction between must and might is important. How does one distinguish what must happen and what might happen? It is difficult to answer such a question positively. Instead, analysing what can’t happen and limiting the options give the most fruitful answer. To find out what can’t happen, analysing the forces that act enable one to predict what cannot happen. Once you predict what cannot happen, you are left with the options that must happen given the cocktail of constraints and limitations people, groups and states go through.

Forecasting has become a growing service and an important component of business operations. Forecasting varies in difficult. Nature is the easiest because it does not have conviction or the ability to make choices – its choices are dictated by the forces, climate and environment that formulate it. Human beings are the most difficult, but not impossible, to predict.

Human beings have choices. They make individual choices shaped by a variety of reasons. Their family, their upbringing, their cultural identity, their education, their experiences and their enlightened destiny are the source and derivations of many of individual choices.

A reasonable assumption to make when forecasting human behaviour is that an individual will make a decision that gives maximum happiness and security. Happiness and security are two subjective concepts. Happiness takes itself in variety of forms with varying wave lengths – it also fickle. Security varies from environment and context – it is never absolute but always requires a threshold to be labelled “secure”.

The idea of happiness has evolved since the late 17th century. The age of enlightenment sown the construct of “enlightened happiness”, that humans make choices rationally for their own pre-conceived definition of happiness. The idea that you were not limited by your religion, community or financial situation has been a recurring and evolving theme for the past three hundred years in the pursuit of happiness.

Secondly, the humans forecasting themselves whereby their own vices, wishes and preconceptions colour their view of how other humans will behave – and the source of miscalculation.

The fear of miscalculation arises from another neighbour. It is difficult to predict, on the surface, your neighbours motives, wishes and ambitions without looking into what shapes their individuality. The same occurs on a community level and on a state level. Natural scepticism of the unknown has been the largest source of fear in humanity.

The reason for the fear is that the fundamentally related to protection. Humans will protect what is important to 1) their survival 2) their needs and security assurances 3) their quest of self-actualization. Survival is rooted in the family. A new-born cannot survive without care until at least the age of five otherwise it dies. Needs and security assurances are rooted in the community. A family itself will be inadequate to protect itself from the forces that be; the environment, nature and other communities complicate security assurances. The quest for self-actualization is a tertiary concept, not as important as survival and needs and security assurances but important nonetheless. Particularly in post-industrial, advanced societies, education and nurture has been designed in such a way to maximize each individual’s opportunity to achieve self-actualization.

This lends hand to what the fear of miscalculation entails. The unknown intention of another naturally evokes fear because it can be detrimental and contrasting to the interests you have at heart. In casual relationships, you are able to have a wide threshold in assuming the best in people purely because the cost of miscalculation is trivial. When that evolves into the fear of miscalculation is your own happiness, freedom, life or dignity to that of your family, spouse or children the consequences of miscalculation dramatically decrease your right and ability to assume the best and the worst case scenario takes an antecedence.

For a state, a defined territorial entity expelling sovereignty over that geographic space, the matrix of human interactions in the paradigms of emotion, the love of one’s own people, self-interest and destiny and therefore community, the fear of miscalculation forces a state to assume the worst case scenario. An ally of today maybe the enemy of tomorrow – the human security and national security takes precedence in all forms of policy making.

This is all done under the guise of the “worst-case scenario” - this fundamental assumption allows preparation and the formulation of adequate strategic preparation. Of course, it is impossible to fully predict the future – this predominately because social forecasting systems are built on a statistical model consisting of many individuals trying to unify the wide aspects of the human condition under the same assumptions. This is a difficult to quantify because the human condition always has an aura of unpredictability and irrationality. Given such models lay on the fact that humans are rational beings, they are often make irrational choices. Take for instance, Hitler’s acquisition of strategic planning in Operation Barabossa where he ignored the far more qualified opinion of Heinz Guderian.

It is hard to remedy such a decision and it inevitably cost the Third Reich the war. Such behaviour is unpredictable and has always been part of decision-making. States are commanded by individuals and because of that, geopolitical forecasting may be able to call 80-90% forecasted predictions but the 10% is the mystique and unexplainable component of human behaviour that cannot be quantified or explained rationally, it is just a constituent that must be dealt with and anticipated, rather than forecasted. 

You can read Bradley's other article for PBP on geopolitics here. Visit Geopolitical Compass for more of his work.

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