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I’m a highly credentialed foreign policy expert. Amazing, but true. It would be very easy for me to point to many things I got right and lots of things I know. I’d love to exchange what I know for money or power–or even just to give it away, or frantically push it on people.
But it’s more important for me to focus on what I didn’t see coming and ask myself “Why.” I won’t feel secure in my judgement until I have a better sense of why I missed things. Have I been using the right set of tools to look at things? What kinds of cognitive biases have been at work? Are they, still? Can I correct for them?
If I’m very honest with myself about my own predictive record, I’d say, “Good at trees. I may have missed a few forests, though.” A tree report from Paris. Remember how I saw “demographic decline” in France’s future? I was wrong. And yes, they’re French kids–trust me on that or fly on over and see it for yourself, the Euro probably won’t go lower.
Here’s where I think I went wrong. I think I was probably right in thinking, “You can’t pay for cradle-to-grave welfare without immigration or a baby boom.” I ruled out this idea: “France on the verge of a baby boom.” Wrong.
The left-of-center is telling me that of course, it’s because of all the free health care and childcare. Create incentives for women to have babies and they will. The right-of-center is more inclined to attribute it to a revival of Catholicism. I’m looking at this and thinking, “Whatever it is, I got it wrong. Retract the prediction and figure out why you were wrong.”
Upon realizing I had been wrong, I proceeded to have an existential crisis on the Rue Ebelman–map here–and thought, “Wow. An existential crisis in Paris. First ever.” I came home and forced myself to re-read Being and Nothingness as a punishment.
It was a worse punishment than I thought. Go force yourself to read it and take it seriously. You will see that he is prescribing guilt, not decadence. I missed that. Not like he called it, “Lots of Exits,” either.
So I’ve revised the theory. Begin with the theory that France is in the grip of ravening Sartre Fundamentalists. Take the text literally and seriously, and assume that this is in fact how France reads it, as opposed to the way Americans or anyone in the Anglophone world would.
Even if you pray to Sartre–in fact, especially if you do–he will speak to you clearly: “Admit you were wrong.” After that, you’ll hope for redemption. You won’t get it from him. Guess where you go for that, in France.
I was wrong about French demographics. I’ll have a rough time in this life or the next if I don’t admit that. Now, I’ve got figure out exactly how I got that wrong and come up with a better model. Or I’ll go to Hell.
I don’t quite understand how anyone else gets out of it.