Staunton, December 24 – The approaching end of the year is a time when commentators, bloggers and politicians seem incapable of refraining from making predictions about the future, but far too many of these predictions suffer from a dozen problems that mean these projections are often less accurate than they might be, according to Yekaterina Schulmann.
In “Vedomosti” today, the Moscow commentator lists the 12 as a checklist of sources of error in many such predictions and as such provides a service to those who will be reading them in the next week or two (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/37767731/prakticheskij-nostradamus). Below is her list, with some of the supporting commentary she provides.
- Personification. There is a widespread tendency to elevate the role of personality in history, with statements of the kind “if there wasn’t Citizen X, there wouldn’t be a Russia.” But that is nonsense: “a personality can disappear, and a regime survive – or the opposite can happen.”
- Historical Parallels. Pace Marx, Schulmann says, “history does not repeat itself either as a tragedy or as a farce.” The reason is simple: there is such a large number of historical facts that each event is a product of a different combination than its predecessor. There may be similarities but there are no identities, whatever commentators say.
- Geographic Cretinism. Geographic determinism follows from the previous point, with this difference: for those who promote this idea, “geography is fate” and time and all other factors are irrelevant. Such people can’t explain why some regimes a world away from each other are the same or why some regimes so close together – like the two Koreas – are so different.
- Vulgar Materialism. A subspecies of geographic determinism is resource determinism, a view that holds that the economic resources of a state define all its possibilities, a view that ignores that different countries with similar resources behave in completely different ways.
- Vulgar Idealism. Those who fall into this trap, into the belief that ideas once announced eventually take physical shape forget that the authorities “exist not in a Platonic universe” where ideas are the only factors but in one where all kinds of things affect decisions and outcomes.
- A Cargo Cult in Reverse. Reverse cargo cults are typical of countries which are trying to catch up with the West and hold that imaginary or fake institutions they create will inevitably be filled with the content and have the meaning they have in the West.
- Catastrophe. Many who make predictions like to suggest that Russia or the world are heading to an inevitable end, but such predictions are almost inevitably wrong because somehow something survives.
- Conspiracy Theories. Conspiracy theories are always based on the proposition that what is really happening is determined by unseen forces and that the secret will become public knowledge. But “secret organizations (Jesuits, Templers, the Elders of Zion) do not rule the world; the world is ruled by very obvious organizations – including governments, parliaments, armies, the church and corporations.
- External Control. Those who talk about how this or that country is controlled from outside sometimes do so because it is a good way for people to avoid responsibility but “it is especially absurd in the case of Russia,” Schulmann says, “because it is a big country with a large and primarily urban and literate population.”
- Fantasies about China. Russians don’t know much about China and thus project onto it anything they want to think about “the Other.” Thus, some Russians think that the Chinese want to move to Siberia, forgetting the obvious that the Chinese like almost everyone else want to live in cities and “not somewhere in the wilds of Eastern Siberia.”
- Citations from the Great. Commentators love to quote the great and famous, and when they can’t find a quotation that serves their purposes, some of them even make up things that the great and famous never said. People who read their works should remember, “if it isn’t in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, it doesn’t exist.”
- Conversations with the People. Some commentators like to quote their taxi driver or nanny, forgetting that “all people are inclined to consider themselves unique and those around them as typical. “Remember,” the Moscow commentator says, “no individual considers himself or herself simple.”Schulmann concludes her article with an appeal to “dear Grandfather Nostradamus. Bring us all in the near year clear reason and rational thought free from superstitions and with an objective view on oneself and those around. Let false wisdom wither and die under the son of immortal intelligence. Then no future will be so terrible.”