Friday, April 10, 2020

Perfect Hindsight

Lacking foresight, journalists excel at hindsight. Unable to deal with the present they disinter the past, to rewrite it. In this way, they can show how prescient, even prophetic they were. And they can blame everyone who did not see it coming.

Our journalists knew it was coming. If they didn’t know it was coming, someone somewhere did. The person who predicted the current calamity is a soothsayer, a prophet, a man or a woman who can read charts and do the math.

Anyway, Holman Jenkins offers some pithy remarks about today’s journalists, most of whom, sad to say, have become propagandists. Why would you want to report the news when you can be the news. 

But from the bottom of my heart, let me point out how genuinely worthless some journalists are as thinkers and critics when they venture beyond their job of getting quotes and facts right. The media is staffed with people for whom the hindsight fallacy is not a fallacy; it’s their m├ętier. (You can see the same after every stock market crash; whoever was predicting a crash at the time—and somebody always was—is accorded seer status.)

As noted on this very blog, things could always have been better. They could always have been worse. The administration could have reacted faster. But then again, it could have reacted slower. And naturally, we are all obsessed with the president’s communications skills, or lack of same.

Everyone is saying that Trump should be less present, but then again, he looks at the ratings and decides that his ubiquitous presence is working. The governor of New York, speaking of great culture heroes, has been mercilessly lauded by the media and by anti-Biden Democrats. And yet, New York is leading the nation in coronavirus cases, to say nothing of coronavirus deaths. If Trump were in charge of New York they would be denouncing him as the worst governor the world had ever seen.

You would think that they would have tired of the rhetorical hyperbole, but apparently not.

Anyway, prediction is always more accurate with the benefit of hindsight. So says Jenkins, and he is clearly correct:

A pandemic is always potentially around the corner thanks to natural selection, but when one will actually arrive is a known unknown. Yes, everything could have been done by the Trump administration faster and sooner. That’s par for the course for the U.S. government, unfortunately (see: history). Mr. Trump’s own “messaging” (which in the meta world of journalists is more important than any concrete reality) has been its typical mess when the president is ad libbing. It is also low-consequence no matter how much the media tries to make it high consequence.

Jenkins thinks it’s about paradoxes. I would humbly suggest that it's more about contradictions. You decide:

Our world reveals itself through paradoxes. A president who does a fair impression of Pinocchio has been the vehicle for exposing the media’s own mendacity. A president rightly criticized for trafficking in conspiracy theories was the victim of one himself—and not promoted by a solitary guy with a Twitter account, but by the nation’s media, law enforcement and political institutions.


Sam L. said...

This is why I despise, detest, and distrust the media.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

You are correct, Stuart. Contradictions.

But a contradiction is impossible. There must be a flawed premise.

The flawed premise is that there is even a hint of truth in the Establishment's conventional "wisdom." Our society's selection of elites -- those who make up the Establishment -- is deeply, horribly flawed. Their merits are devoid of any substance whatsoever.

To borrow from William F. Buckley, Jr., I would rather be ruled by the first 545 people in the Albuquerque phone book than I would the people who rule us in Washington, D.C. Or those who attend TED conferences. Yes, TED talks are interesting, but it is a place where people market their ideas to a collection of uniform BoBos who are trying desperately to prove they are up on things. It has nothing to do with truth. It's all about what is interesting to hipsters with ADHD.

Most of what is considered learned and sophisticated today is tripe. Our selection process is flawed. It is no longer a meritocracy. It is a re-education camp run by 1960s nerds and counterculture types. It is no longer sufficient to do good things or create the best things. You have to BELIEVE the right things. What are the "right" things one must believe? That is up to the Establishment. It is a moralizing, hectoring, ignorant rabble. That's how we get this Climate Change nonsense -- it is a core tenet of the conventional wisdom, the scientific consensus... where everything is settled.

And in case you were wondering who the Establishment is, they are the people who show up on your TV screen behaving like the girls of 1692 Salem, screaming "BIGOT!"

trigger warning said...

Prediction is an interesting business. I think the clearest example is the stock market, although it's true of every domain that could benefit from a godlike knowledge of the future. At any given time, there are "experts" predicting that the market will soar, go up, go down, and crash. Any casual reader of financial aggregation sites (which don't have a particular POV or axe to grind) like Zero Hedge knows this. If one pays attention, there's a phenomenon Kahneman and Tversky missed... we might call it The Blind Pig, or even the Stopped Clock Effect. Blind Pigs / Stopped Clocks may even get a book deals if, in hindsight, the market moves far enough (cf. 2008). Crashes/disasters are particularly lucrative due to the nonlinear interaction with Kahneman's Loss Aversion Effect.