Historical Context, Present Troubles, Future Concerns

So I was reading our local paper this morning when I found an article about an execution that happened. The Associated Press article drew a comparison between the rate of executions under Donald Trump and Grover Cleveland. I do not think the AP article was meant to be complimentary towards the president.

That kind of got me thinking though. So we have all of these silly indicators that we like to trot out seasonally to predict all sorts of things. We love our crystal balls. Between Halloween masks and Punxsutawney Phil, we use some strange metrics to try to get a glimpse of the future. Why not, when you can hang out with this guy?

Alan Freed/Reuters

If history does in fact repeat itself, and if there is any validity to these “indicators”, then what era are we replicating? What indicators do we have of the era to come? If we can understand what period we’re replicating, then couldn’t that act as a guidance to us? I know we’re not simply replicating other periods, that assumption would preclude individual agency, responsibility, and blame. However, I do not know if I think that everything is brand new either. Patterns exist.

Credit: Me and my shitty paint skills

So the above gorgeous, detailed, and very scientific chart above that I didn’t bullshit together in five minutes (I wish it only took five minutes) shows a bunch of waves on a central line. Let’s consider that straight line to be the progression of time. Each one of those other waves can be indicative of something else: population, population density, crime, infant survival rates, live gorilla births in the wild. Whatever. You will note that although each wave is different and beautiful, they do from time to time intersect or run parallel to each-other.

In fact, this is all mathematically provable. I could attempt to explain and provide more detailed graphics, but that’s a lot of work and why read when I can forward you to an YouTube video.

Video by Veritasium

So he gets kind of complicated there. I had to watch this a couple of times over. But it’s worth it. I also happen to have a copy of James Gleick’s Chaos and have thumbed through it a bit. Thankfully, Gleick is a great writer and keeps the non-mathematically inclined in mind while explaining these concepts. An interesting take-away is the idea of patterned chaos.

So obviously, we can’t predict the exact future. Too many externalities exist, but more importantly, we cannot seem to be capable of clear and unbiased value attribution. This is unsurprising. Rabbit populations are an uncontroversial concept. Political polarization, journalistic error rates, violent encounters with police, are all terms that have loaded and biased definitions based on the compiler, as well as the publishers.

But what if that is another bias? That human prosperity is unpredictable by virtue of how complex and awesome humans are. What if we’re muddying the waters by worrying about political and economic factors?

CIA World Fact Book, 2017

So the above map is of population Natural Increase by country. This is simply live births minus the death rate. Below is a map of Human Development Index:

Map created by Alice Hunter

Notice a correlation? As HDI goes up, natural increase goes down. This isn’t particularly surprising. Nor should it be surprising that if we look back historically, this correlation also exists. It also follows that every major civilization advanced to where natural increase declined, and then eventually crashed.

But these are more long term concepts.

What I would be interested in figuring out is if it were possible to break this pattern recognition down into chunks. So in 2016 we see rather similar conditions to those of the 1884 election. The current election controversy is rather similar to the controversy of 1876. We have anarchist/communist riots and incidents that are similar to those of the early 1900’s. If we were to consider these developments as predictable, quantifiable chunks, could we not then weigh those values against one another as they re-collide?

Call it a SUCC index. Short for “Standardized Understanding of Current Conditions”. Essentially, we come up with a means of indexing chunks into set values, then juxtapose those values against one another, while moving them down a graph indicating time, and other constants, to give a basic sum of how things are. Could we then make projections from that into the short term future? Does this sort of modeling already exist? If so, how does it work? What does it say about right now, and the near future?

I fear that as we progress, we regress. I fear that because we do not care about teaching history or economics or politics except through a narrative lens (more on that later), we are effectively destroying objective critical evaluation. If we can only look at our history and present through a narrative lens then we render ourselves incapable of facing the future.

Look at the election issues. Look at the histrionics. On both sides. Liberals legitimately advocating “re-education camps”, or putting dissenters on lists. Trumpists advocating assassinations on forums. Liberal politicians advocating violence against Trumpists. Trumpists planning to “arrest” a governor and hold a junta court. The list goes on. Everyone is so tied up in their own narrative that they react to whatever data they are given emotionally; there is little or no questioning of the reality.

I guess we love our crystal balls because they relieve us of the apprehension that we have for the near future. They allow us to gloss over facts and realities about ourselves and our culpability and just skip to the end. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

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