Contra Recklessness: The Black Box Theory of (Everything)

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David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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65 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’m reminded of The Right Stuff, the scene where the test pilots all talk about the test pilots who crashed as if it were something vaguely avoidable. If they slowed down at the right second, if they sped up at the right second. If they banked or ducked or pulled up. The ones who crashed, crashed because they didn’t have the right stuff… so they got their picture up on the wall.

    Not like us. Not like us still drinking in the bar, toasting those pictures.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan says:

      Yeah, kind of like that, if you reverse the chain of causality, and are going 6 miles an hour instead of 600. 😉Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      That’s the very first chapter of the book, and it’s there to explain exactly who these guys are. While lesser souls (like their wives and girlfriends) think “He died because the goddamn plane broke”, they knew quite well that The Right Stuff would have found The Right Answer.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Every student pilot learns the three most useless items are: Altitude above you, runway behind you and fuel still at the gas station.Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I have different messages akin to this theory put in different ways, especially in risk management. But Vigor’s idea of banking your luck in a box through skill and preparation is a pretty good visualization of those ideas.

    I fully intend to steal (with credit!) his theory in future trainings.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Funny how they’re going to great lengths to not say “God did it”. A “black box”? Seriously?Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    Feh, Gore lost the election for Gore. His strategic errors were legion: (under use of a politically potent Bill Clinton being one of the major ones); his performance at the debates were miserable and even once Florida turned into a debacle his attempts to recount only select counties rather than the entire state was a poor choice. If Clinton’s shenanigans had been that lethal they’d have been lethal for Clinton himself, not Gore (hell if the wooden Gore had been caught having a tryst it probably would he at least humanized him).Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      This, all this.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      North, right: Clinton’s approval ratings, even among independents, were well over 50% at the time of the election. One of the many things wrong with Gore’s campaign was that he treated a popular president in his own party as though he didn’t actually exist.

      Of course, despite running an incredibly inept campaign, Gore still won the election. 😉Report

  5. I don’t think we can be all that confident that a Gore victory in 2000 would have spared us much of the bad things that have happened in the last 12 years. Maybe the stars would have aligned differently and 9/11 would have failed, but otherwise, the presidency would have had the strong incentive to demand broader powers from a compliant Congress and citizenry. The US was probably on a collision course with Iraq of some sort with or without 9/11 (although admittedly that collision might not have taken the form of regime change).

    Most important, by 2004 or 2008, there would’ve been a lot of “Democrat fatigue” and compassionate conservatism and neo-con let’s take over the world-ism would not have been discredited yet….paving the way for a Bush Jr. or a Bush Jr. clone, or maybe someone much better…who knows?

    It’s of course hard to make such predictions accurately, which is my point.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan says:

      Well of course, there’s no knowing. Counter-factuals are, wait for it, counter-factual!

      Also, if Gore had won in 2000 it would have meant he started his cold-fusion research 4, even 8 years later, and I can assure you, in 2018 those 4 years are going to make a big difference.

      None the less; butterfly, Brazil, even without a “vast right-wing conspiracy” the world is out to get you. Why make it any easier for them?Report

      • Avatar Cermet says:

        The third sentence is utter word salad – what were you trying to get at there?Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          “Cermet,” welcome. I understand the man perfectly. He’s talking about the

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

          A butterfly beats its wings in Brazil in 1746, and a chain of causality enables the Supreme Court to steal the 2000 election for Geo. Dubya Bush. As we know, everything goes to hell thereafter, permanently.

          Me, David, I think it’s more like that old Schulz:

          Lucy: Wow, look, a butterfly! I’ll bet it flew up here all the way from Brazil.

          Linus: (Inspects it closer) That’s not a butterfly, it’s a potato chip.

          Lucy: Well, I’ll be. I wonder how a potato chip got all the way up here from Brazil.

          Al Gore would not have reached his later and current level of personal and ideological insanity. He would have tamed his eco-jihadism and likely become a serviceable US president when 9/11 hit. And I think here in 2012, with the Obama admin already having squandered gov’t billions toward an industrial policy of “clean energy,” we’re about where we might’ve been regardless, finger up butt.

          Neither will I ream your reference to cold fusion, which is just a rung above Art Bell territory.

          http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528797.100-can-cold-fusion-research-survive-pioneers-death.html

          Sometimes the longshot comes in. Next to CERN, I like the risk-to-reward ratio far better.

          Cheers, David. I’m far more at your back than in your face. Rock on.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Pierre Cornielle got some serious Hari Seldon on. Forget Al Gore, I’m not even sure that Stalin and Mao were The Mule, or even that “Hister” fellow. Looking at the histories that birthed them, they seem like inevitabilities more than freaks.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Mohammed was The Mule. (Maybe Paul, for that matter.) There’s an interesting Silverberg Novel called “Roma Eterna” that, as alt histories go, is particularly appealing to those to whom alt history appeals.

        There’s a short story in there that deals with Mohammed.

        You should pick it up, if you ain’t read it.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Paul was the Walrus.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          I just re-read DeCamp’s Lest Darkness Fall, one of the founts of alt-hist. Towards the end, the guy from the future, who has fought off the Byzantines by solidifying and modernizing the Gothic kingdom of Italy [1], tells Justinian, as a good-will gesture, to watch out for this Arab preacher and take care of him sooner rather than later.

          By “Paul”, I presume you mean St. Paul, though Paul Atreides was also both Mohammed and the Mule.

          1. One amusing example: The Goths had an elective kingship, though candidates had to be related to the royal family. The future guy gets his man elected by waiting until his main rival was speaking, and then having an African slave boy run up to the rival and call him “Daddy”. You can’t beat “modern” campaign tactics.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Mohammed as The Mule. Exc, JB. Can’t think of anyone who fits better. As for Silverberg, I read every word he wrote up until Lord Valentine [even have a collection of him in the pulps], but one of us changed.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I had a comment discussion whether Lenin could have been a The Mule. I remember reading somewhere that he was caught by British Authorities who reasoned that they had two options:

            1) put a bullet in his head
            2) give him a suitcase full of gold and put him on a train to Russia

            They chose 2.

            Of course, I have no memory of where I first heard this theory so it might be bullshit. I prefer to believe it to the point where I haven’t researched it further.Report

            • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

              It was the Germans who allowed Lenin to travel to Russia in a sealed train. Why would the British want to destabilize their ally? (Lenin had been living in Switzerland, as recounted in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Ah, awesome. That makes the story even better. And now it’s kinda verified!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The Germans actually sent him on an armored train, if I remember correctly, up to the Baltic, from where he went to Sweden, and then by boat into Russia, where alerted Bolsheviks were waiting for him, if I remember correctly. The Germans and Russians both spent money, time, resources, and manpower on fomenting revolution among their enemies. How much the Germans were involved with the Bolsheviks is, if I’m not mistaken, a hotly debated question among historians, but revolution behind the lines was seen as a way of ending the war sooner.

                The Germans also gave guns and money (and possibly lawyers) to the Irish, and maybe the French radicals as well (France damn near revolved at one point).Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

            As for Silverberg, I read every word he wrote up until Lord Valentine

            He was one of my favorite novelists in the 60s and 70s, but the Majipoor books lost me as well.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        May I nominate Franklin?
        Propagandists are always more important than people believe.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          If you’re going in that direction, you need to include Tom Paine and Sam Adams and Patrick Henry too. But once you’ve got a cadre of propagandists, suddenly it isn’t a Mule anymore but a movement, and you’re back in Seldon territory.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            I’ll not sully Franklin-the-statesman’s name with the likes of those provincials!

            But, better for me to quote Poor Richard: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

            Paine and Adams and Henry were quite good… in theory and in rabblerousing.

            Franklin belongs to a different movement, if you must find him part of one. Fit him in with Priestley if you must.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        To be sure, it’s speculation, but it’s not at all unreasonable. Much of it strikes me as probable: President Gore would likely not have objected to USA PATRIOT, war in Afghanistan, seizure and extrajudicial detention of “terrorists,” warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation techniques, airport security theater including barefoot speed dating, turning a blind eye to Russian and PRC human rights abuses against victims who happened to be Muslim, or the institution of kill lists. President Gore would maybe not have expanded the theater of military adventure to include the deposition of Saddam Hussein. There’s no reason to think that the war in Afghanistan would have gone any better under Gore than it did under Bush. Or any worse.

        Of course, Al Gore never became President, so yes, this is speculation. But I do subscribe to the notion that quite a lot of policy, both foreign and internal, is governed by realism rather than internal ideology — there is little discernable difference between a nation’s political parties or even its ideological centers of gravity when it comes to matters of relations with other nations. Self-interest, cruel and cynical, governs all and most of the rest is window dressing. Particularly in the case of a dominant power relating to other nations acquiring the capability of asserting themselves, promoting regional rivalries, confusion, conflict, chaos, and even civil war amongst other nations is a very effective tool for the maintenance of dominance and preventing regional centers of political and economic gravity from projecting their power beyond a containable sphere of influence. This realism transcends whether the incumbent government is left- or right-leaning.

        Pierre also alludes to institutional incentives for the Presidency to self-aggrandize its own power at the expense of Congress and the judiciary; I think that’s a real phenomenon, and hypothetical President Gore would have been as vulnerable to it as President Bush was in reality.

        There may be Mules in history. (I’d nominate Napoleon, Lenin, and Gandhi as relatively recent candidates, but not Hitler, Stalin, Reagan, Thatcher, or Churchill.) But GWB wasn’t a Mule, and there’s no reason to hink Al Gore would have been one, either.Report

        • Avatar David Ryan says:

          My counterfactual runs more like this:

          Undistracted by l’Affiar, the Clinton administration is more aggressive (tomahawks) and more importantly, there is a more, open, orderly transition and what dots there were regarding 9/11 are connected and it never happens. The nation fails to lose it’s fishing mind (I blame we-the-people more than Bush) and we don’t go on an orgy of foreign adventurism and compulsive shopping, both paid for with borrowed money.

          For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
          For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
          For want of a horse the rider was lost.
          For want of a rider the message was lost.
          For want of a message the battle was lost.
          For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
          And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
          Report