WW II

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WW II

Postby Oskar » Mon Feb 11, 2013 1:50 pm

I've been trying to make some decisions (back to Munich, or Arizona, or D.C.) and in the course of it, I've been grazing random old seeds. I was just remembering WWII, and how bad a job we did of predicting it, or dealing with it. I remember I was with the Social Democrats and we more or less just let Hitler walk into power. Although it's worth reminding some of you that even after he was in power, we didn't stop resisting: there were cities where, for years, he didn't dare show his face because they couldn't guarantee his safety. After that, I joined a resistance group in Austria until I was stubbed. I remember our Russian people at the time were the only ones (including Stalin) who were saying that Hitler was going to break the pact. And after D-day we had some furious arguments via seed and letter and Garden-notes over whether, because Hitler was so evil, does that mean the Allies were good? I was by then more than a little leery of the "lesser evil" theory after having watched German politics Lesser Evil right into Herr Hitler.

Yeah, a few of us went over and fought in Spain. But instead of shooting, couldn't we have done more with some careful meddling? What is it about major historical events that leaves us so befuddled?

I guess what I'm wondering is: why don't we do better at predicting what will happen? Alex was the first of us to mention to predict the breakup of the Soviet Union, and he was only a couple of months ahead of the major events. Shouldn't we, with all our knowledge, do better at this? And couldn't we accomplish more if we could predict in time what was liable to happen?
"Victory always casts a new light on the defeats that led up to it." -- Trotsky
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Re: WW II

Postby Phil » Mon Feb 11, 2013 1:54 pm

I don't entirely disagree with you, but I'll point out that we did a much better job of both predicting and meddling with the English Civil War, the American Civil War, and the first part of the Russian Revolution. So you're right, but there are exceptions. If we can figure the patterns in those exceptions, it might prove valuable. Matt?
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Re: WW II

Postby Jimmy » Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:07 pm

Maybe I'm just stating the obvious, Oskar, but that's the whole point, isn't it? We're Incrementalists. Big things are just not what we do. Yes, we know they happen, and we try to help out, but I don't see how we can be expected to predict or take part in major historical events when our whole point as an organization is to work on the little stuff--on making things just a bit better. In World War II, we helped a few people escape, we saved a few lives, we alleviated a little suffering. Because that's what we do.

I know you aren't entirely happy with that, and (unlike some) I'm always willing to listen to your arguments about when, where, and why we should do something bigger. And we even do that from time to time. But it isn't what we're about, for reasons you know as well as anyone. Or should. If you need a reminder of how we got here, check some of the seeds I keep as sculpture in my courtyard. Any of them. I keep them out in plain sight to remind myself of the Dark Years, and why we do what we do.
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Re: WW II

Postby Alexander » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:46 pm

You have no idea how excited I was to read a bootleg copy of Asimov's first Foundation novel back in the day. "Psychohistory" seemed to me on that reading like it could someday be a real thing, given the remarkable advance of computers -- something that was easy to predict even then, though we mostly imagined these enormous building-sized brains, not supercomputers in our telephones and all-pervasive access to an infinite variety of pornography at the click of a button. Of course a real science of psychohistory would be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands, but I was thinking that maybe we could make it an exclusive Incrementalist preserve, at least for a while.

But no. 65 years of sociology and computer science since then and, well, pretty much nothing useful in terms of predictive power. But just like you can find in any given year someone who correctly predicts all the sports outcomes for the championship series, or someone who predicts the lottery by purchasing a ticket with the correct numbers, you can find historians and "observers" who long predicted Hitler's dangerous rise to power and the terrible consequences. The question is will these brilliant seers be right about anything else in their lives....

It does occur to me that it might be worthwhile to establish an Incrementalist-only delphi poll sort of thing. You know, a forum where a bunch of possible outcomes of current trends are listed, and Incrementalists cast votes (or bid tokens) on the ones they favor. Correlating those predictions over time might keep Ramon busy once the thrill of the latest CERN findings fades....
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Re: WW II

Postby Jesse » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:46 pm

Alexander wrote:You have no idea how excited I was to read a bootleg copy of Asimov's first Foundation novel back in the day. "Psychohistory" seemed to me on that reading like it could someday be a real thing, given the remarkable advance of computers


I loved that series as an early teen.

Alexander wrote:It does occur to me that it might be worthwhile to establish an Incrementalist-only delphi poll sort of thing. You know, a forum where a bunch of possible outcomes of current trends are listed, and Incrementalists cast votes (or bid tokens) on the ones they favor. Correlating those predictions over time might keep Ramon busy once the thrill of the latest CERN findings fades....


Totally on board with this! I'd love to have this as a tool, and the data as it builds up might prove highly useful at more than one point in the future.
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Re: WW II

Postby JWaterford » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:12 pm

Phil wrote:I don't entirely disagree with you, but I'll point out that we did a much better job of both predicting and meddling with the English Civil War, the American Civil War, and the first part of the Russian Revolution. So you're right, but there are exceptions. If we can figure the patterns in those exceptions, it might prove valuable. Matt?


The obvious thing there is that we (for a given value of "we") were trying to push forward those events, rather than prevent them. It's a lot easier to know where the train is going when you've laid down the tracks.

I see your point, Jimmy, but finding little things that can add up to big things is (in my opinion) what we ought to thinking about and working toward. I know my own World War II meddlings can and have been used as examples of the drawbacks of that philosophy, but I continue to believe it's the best way forward.
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Re: WW II

Postby Phil » Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:10 pm

John: "The obvious thing there is that we (for a given value of "we") were trying to push forward those events, rather than prevent them. It's a lot easier to know where the train is going when you've laid down the tracks."

Well, I can use the French Revolution and the American Revolution as counter-examples; we pushed for them and were still caught be surprise. Nevertheless, I think you make a valid point. And a lovely metaphor, by the way. I think I may have to steal it.
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Re: WW II

Postby Alexander » Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:24 pm

Obligatory....

Image

But yes, I agree. There's clearly a big difference between the force required in trying to stop a train and in merely switching it onto the desired set of tracks. Also in the likelihood of success.
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Postby Ethan » Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:51 am

I think it's also part of the problem that World War II was a gestalt phenomena. I mean, so is all the activity taken by a nation, or a group of nations, or a political party, or a social class, but the bigger it is the more factors it has to track. The ones that we all remember best now caught us by surprise, but there's still plenty that we did catch, and more significant contributing factors to measure than the number of available incrementalists!

And there's a bias too. When we expect to be well informed, and we get blindsided, we're going to stress and exaggerate the degree to which we were surprised. Hitler was a nasty shock. But, say, the Second Sino-Japanese War didn't surprise anyone, even the nemones.

That's leaving out the problem that some obvious trends are obvious only in hindsight. After WWI, at the peace talks at Versailles, Woodrow Wilson had a young Vietnamese waiter named Nguyen Ai Quoc tossed out of the talks for trying to insist that self-determination should be extended to French Indochina. We watched it happen, and it was disappointing as Hell for those of us who had worked to get that point brought up, sure, but who would have guessed that it was the opening shot of the Vietnam War all the way back in 1919?
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Re: WW II

Postby Ren » Thu Feb 14, 2013 7:10 pm

I'm not really sure what it means that I know this, but I know what Irina would say. She'd say that, considering not one of us can reliably predict how we will respond in an unfamiliar situation, it's ridiculous to think we can predict how history might unfurl.
On a related note, I recently came across the story of Hans Scholl, his sister and their White Rose society (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rose) Can we claim any connection here? It made me want to rethink our not-rule rule against recruiting kids.
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Re: WW II

Postby Phil » Thu Feb 14, 2013 8:40 pm

Well, depends on what we mean by kids, doesn't it? I mean, they're talking University. And we recently recruited Billy as a University student, and no harm has come...

Hmmm.

Yeah, let's stay away from kids.
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Re: WW II

Postby Ryan » Thu Feb 14, 2013 8:41 pm

Phil: That is so not funny.
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Re: WW II

Postby Oskar » Thu Feb 14, 2013 8:43 pm

Billy: No, that's funny.
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Re: WW II

Postby JWaterford » Thu Feb 14, 2013 9:56 pm

I was a university student when I was first recruited. A 17 year old, yet. Make of that what you will. I've known teenagers since who I would consider good recruits, but Western society at present seems to trap many young adults in adolescence until well into their twenties.
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Re: WW II

Postby Phil » Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:19 pm

And sometimes into their 80s. (Oh, c'mon; you knew someone would have to say it.)
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Re: WW II

Postby Alexander » Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:23 pm

Phil wrote:And sometimes into their 80s. (Oh, c'mon; you knew someone would have to say it.)


And to upstage Oskar, sometimes into their 2000s.... ;)
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Re: WW II

Postby Phil » Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:28 pm

Ouch! Man, did I walk into that one.
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