Thursday, September 28, 2017

Maximum Uncertainty Principle

Vasya Lozhkin
We live in uncertain times. In the US, large chunks of Texas and Florida are uninhabitable due to hurricane damage. All of Puerto Rico is without electricity. In the Caribbean, entire islands of Barbuda, Domenica and St. Martin have been destroyed. Elsewhere in the world, on the island of Bali, 75,000 people are being evacuated from around the Mount Agung volcano, which is said to be ready to erupt. In Washington, the new director of FEMA is urging everyone to develop a “culture of preparedness.” But the problem is that we don’t ever really know what to prepare for; if we did, then we would surely prepare for it, as we do for most foreseeable eventualities. Yes, having a bug-out bag with a change of clothing, a few essentials, your documents and some cash is always a good idea. But what can we do beyond that? What’s the use of a food stockpile if your home is uninhabitable? What’s the use of a fuel reserve if the roads are impassable? And what’s the use of money if power is out and cash registers aren’t working?

This may sound defeatist, and since we don’t want to sound defeatist (because that would be embarrassing) we go on expecting, and relying on, various certainties of daily life that are in fact quite uncertain. For most people, doing anything other than daily navigating a triangular course between home, work (or school) and shopping would not look like success, and that, again, would be embarrassing. But what a “culture of preparedness” entails is the ability to survive many small embarrassments instead of dying of one big embarrassment once our triangular course becomes unnavigable due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

But what else is there to do? There is only one good and simple answer: you have to think for yourself. (I hope that you don’t expect somebody else to do your thinking for you, because that’s not going to happen.) But thinking is hard! It is especially hard because we are accustomed to certainty, and uncertainty breaks our existing thought patterns with nothing to replace them. But here is the thing: uncertain times call for uncertain thoughts. Since thinking uncertain thoughts takes quite a knack, which you may not currently have, and since I am here to help, let’s get started.