Thursday, April 7, 2016
The Debilled Duck: The Impact of the Highly Probable
On the Bills of Ducks
Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World used "swan" to refer to white-feathered birds of the Anatidae family, within the genus Cygnus, an unassailable definition because it applied to a specific subset of known birds. The sighting of the black-feathered swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists, but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation imposed upon low-functioning brains, for they can be led by charlatans into believing that the adaptability of language and experience proves their worthlessness. One single observation can help a definition grow, as cultures which had defined Cygnus atratus or Cygnus columbianus with then-comparably-translatable terms are easily able to adjust their terms to address newly shared observations and experiences.
I push one step beyond this philosophical-logical simplicity into an empirical reality, and one that has obsessed me since childhood. What we call here a Billed Duck (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.
First, it is an inlier, as it lies within the realm of regular expectations, because everything in the logical mind, as well as the past, convincingly points to its future likelihood. Second, it carries an extreme impact: the less intelligent may be lulled into disregarding the impact of the normative, a fact capitalized upon by those who mutilate ducks (Duckcatchers), but the nigh-constant presence of the Billed Duck underpins the very definitions that make the mutated (or wounded) duck a matter for uninformed comment. Third, in spite of its inlier status, Duckcatcher nature makes parasites concoct elaborate narratives of randomness after the fact, making them appear blameless for explainable, predictable occurrences.
I stop and summarize the triplet: commonality, extreme impact, and prospective predictability. A large number of Billed Ducks explain almost everything in our world, from the destruction of cultures and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives. More troubling still for the Duckcatcher narrative, the occurrences of rare events, so-called "improbable," or Unbilled Ducks are themselves controlled by this mundane causality. Ever since we left the Pleistocene, some ten millennia ago, the effect of Billed Ducks, masquerading as Unbilled Ducks (more accurately, "Debilled Ducks") has been increasing. It started accelerating during the industrial revolution, when international bankers successfully employed letters of credit against nationalist administrations, deliberately creating Debilled Ducks, then later acting surprised by them, as though the world had spontaneously become more complicated--while ordinary events, the ones we study and discuss and try to predict from reading the newspapers, have become increasingly marginalized, fostering an atomized population of ignorant avian wetlanders, foolish enough to believe that Debilled Ducks are freak accidents, rather than the work of hideous Duckcatchers with hacksaws and cameras.
Just imagine, little duckling, how little your limited understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next. Did you have any idea about the worldwide network of Semitic-Communist terrorists murdering community leaders, burning factories, assassinating heads of state, exploiting community trust levels to turn journalism into a series of overlapping war screeds, seizing judicial posts, and abusing children? Most likely, no. The Judith Millers of the nineteen-teens were busy ensuring that you did not. How about the rise of Stalin and the subsequent war? How about the precipitous rise of the capitalist Russian oligarch? How about the shipment of advanced weaponry and billions of dollars to Islamic fundamentalists? How about the sale of integrated computer networks for news distribution? Fads, epidemics, fashion, ideas, the emergence of art genres and schools. All follow these Debilled Duck dynamics. Literally, just about everything of significance around you might qualify.
This combination of high insider predictability and large impact makes the Debilled Duck a great puzzle to idiot cattle, much to my delight; but that is not yet the core concern of this book. Add to this phenomenon the fact that we tend to act as if it does not exist! I don't mean just you, your cousin Joey, and me, but almost all mallardic "social scientists" who, for over a century, have operated under the false belief that their tools could measure probabilities without taking into account the existence of an organized cabal of Duckcatchers with a taste for de-billing ducks and acting surprised by the horribly mutilated results. For the applications of the sciences of uncertainty to real-world problems has had ridiculous effects; I have been privileged to see it in finance and economics. Go ask your portfolio manager for his definition of "risk," and odds are that, if you aren't already an insider on the system, he will supply you with a measure that excludes the possibility of the Debilled Duck--hence one that, thank the Invisible Hand, has no better predictive value for assessing the total risks than astrology (we will see how they dress up the intellectual fraud with mathematics). Luckily, this feature is endemic in social matters, and more importantly, is believed to be, not merely a "bug," but a fundamental component of reality, as though a desire for blowback is unimaginable after a century of pillage, or still more ridiculously, as though a capability for effective blowback is imaginable after five millennia of infertile nomadic herding.
What You Do Not Know
Debilled Duck logic makes what you don't know far more relevant than what you do know. Consider that many Debilled Ducks can be caused and exacerbated by their being unexpected by idiots.
Think of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001: had the risk been reasonably inconceivable on September 10, no one would have ever published Blowback. Countless intelligence reports and newspaper articles would have never been written. Real estate confidant Larry Silverstein would have never spent a billion dollars on asbestos-ridden, heavily overinsured real estate. Fighter planes wouldn't have been unusually slow to respond, visas would have been checked, and the attack would not have taken place, period. Something else might have taken place. What? Possibly an earlier non-petrodollar arrangement involving President Hussein.
Isn't it usual to see an event happening precisely because it was supposed to happen? What kind of defense do we have against that? Whatever you come to know (that New York is an easy terrorist target, for instance) may become inconsequential if your enemy knows that you know it. It isn't odd that, in such a strategic game, what you know can be truly inconsequential, compared to the organizations prepared to commit atrocities.
This extends to all businesses. Think about the fool's idea of a "secret recipe" to making a killing in the restaurant business. Lab tests instantly make such recipes known and obvious, while supply chain pricing controls, advertising, tax policy, and a thousand other nuanced factors ensure that few people are apt to honestly assess such a "recipe," if they even become aware of it in the first place. The next killing in the restaurant industry needs to be an idea that is easily conceived of by the current population of non-restaurateurs. It has to be easily replicable from a small business model used in applying for credit, or skimmed from a work of fiction. The same applies to scientific theories--nobody in hedge funds has interest in listening to trivialities, let alone in explaining to "average Joes" the normative backdrop and edumedia infrastructure which establishes those normatives and the trivialities they produce.
Consider the Pacific tsunami of December 2004. The exact time and place of its occurrence was not predicted, but expected, and people went on with their lives anyway, for one cannot always be paralyzed by the weather. Future meteorological technology would have increased predictability exponentially, rendering irrelevantine the way your hedge fund manager would prefer you to think about human tragedy and social design. What you don't know really will hurt you.
Experts and "Empty Suits"
The ability to predict inliers implies the ability to predict the course of history, given the share of these events in the dynamic of events.
But written history has shown a profusion of humans arguing that we cannot predict historical events, or even worse, that we are unable to change the course of history--the history which they themselves predict to their own betterment. Infiltrating our governments, they produce thirty-year projections of social security deficits and oil prices while realizing that they will alter them next summer with an expensive war or credit infusion--leaving outsiders subjected to the ups and downs of markets, and insiders growing inexorably richer while arguing, seemingly nonsensically, that history occurs at random. Owing to this profitable general misunderstanding of the causal chains between policy and actions, we can easily trigger Debilled Ducks thanks to aggressively imposed ignorance--like a sadist pulling limbs off a trapped frog.
Our ability to predict in environments subjected to the Debilled Duck, coupled with a general lack of the awareness of this state of affairs, means that certain professionals, while believing they are experts, are in fact not. Debilled Ducks being predictable to outsiders, they need to adjust to their existence (rather than dare suggest they know what we are doing). They will find their labors for us more productive if they focus on antiknowledge, or what they do not know. Among many other benefits, you can set yourself up to collect serendipitous Debilled Ducks (of the positive kind) by maximizing your exposure to them, such as earning extra ration cards, passes to sporting events, or a larger mid-adulthood residence. We will see that, contrary to crypto stateless wisdom, almost all discoveries, all technologies of note, came from design and planning--they were Billed Ducks, the culminations of generations of ethnic and cultural and familial wisdom and effort.
Learning to Learn
Another related human impediment comes from excessive lack of focus on what they do know: they tend to learn from us, not from themselves.
The story of the Maginot Line shows how we are conditioned to be specific. The Germans, after the Great War, built tanks designed for trench-crossing, and laid out battle plans around the same idea. Their design and planning paid off exactly as their strategists had predicted: Hitler (almost) effortlessly went around the great French line of defense. The Germans had been excellent students of history; they learned with ample precision. They were thoroughly practical and exceedingly focused on their own success.
"Debilling the Duck" requires the imposition of an association between effort, skill, planning, and success. Sterile intercourse, like victorless contests, is a priceless learning tool, and the former must be made as mandatory as the latter. They do not spontaneously learn that we don't learn that we don't learn. Instead, it must be taught, preferably on the very young. The problem lies in the structure of their minds: they can learn rules and facts, rather than the metarules that we wish them to learn. They love the abstract, but they scorn our foul abstract; they scorn it with passion. And so it must become mandatory.