Conspiracy Theory Cartoon

Time to repost this I think:



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The World is a Complex Adaptive System Relatively Immune to Conspiracies

Faced with the Conspiracy Theory that Donald Trump is part of a conspiracy to get Hillary Clinton elected I wrote:

The thing about paranoia is that it assumes an almost infantile belief that someone is in control, that there are grown ups conspiring. One thing is clear: there are no grown ups. The world is mostly people doing random acts they think suit their self interest, but are often self defeating kamikaze behavior. based on unawareness and ignorance of the system they are part of.

The world is a complex adaptive system with no one in control and very path dependent subject to small chance events like for instance, the death of Joe Biden’s son. Paranoia is actually a form of seeking comfort in a chaotic world. And when conspiracies are attempted, the law of unintended consequences often makes a mockery of them.

Better in my view to think systemically and collaboratively have some chance of impact. Paranoia also plays to the ego of the masters of the universe like Putin, Trump etc who think they are at the helm of their games, their conspiracies when they are

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
They kill us for their sport.” (King Lear)

That’s my unconspiracy theory anyway. And Trump-Clinton conspiracy: give me a break….

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Trump takes us to Abilene

America is going to go for the Abilene Paradox on an unprecedented industrial scale in November.

Individuals making decisions unable to manage agreement to achieve their goals and instead electing a lunatic who will destroy much of what they value including their democracy. Republicans lying for 20 odd years for their own political expediency ending up with a candidate who destroys their whole national security and trade stance. Liberals failing to really understand the economy or the 2008 Crash ending up with a candidate likely to ensure a repeat performance. Bernie supporters not wanting an establishment candidate and getting a fascist. And core Trump supporters wanting change and getting the political equivalent of Trump University. And so on….Trump taking us for 4-8 years in Abilene…


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US Impact on World Problems

Here’s a provocative thought that I wrote in comment on a piece saying how the US had messed up the rest of the world with its interventions:

I think the US has often blindly gone into situations it didn’t understand in places the electorate can’t place on a map and know even less about. It has often created good/bad sides in complex messes. And it has often followed unenlightened self interest. Caused plenty of problems.

But it is not responsible for most of the problems of the world; neither is western colonialism. S E Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, China show what a country can do when it stops blaming its problems on the past, on the US or the West and gets off its backside and drives to become developed. South Korea in 1953 had suffered the worst of Japanese colonialism, been reduced to rubble by the Korean War, fought as a proxy fight between Soviet Union and US. It had the living standard of the Sudan. Yet within ten years it had built a modern industrial state, steel, auto and electronics industries that were soon world class. Yep with some US aid, but also needing to spend a lot on defense because of its next door loony neighbor.

And once you do that, once you build a modern industrial state, hey presto the US and the West can’t mess with you because you are no longer a failed state economic basket case. The US has played little role in for instance the Congo which has managed to kill 6 million of its own people since 2000 just as an example. Venezuela has screwed itself into economic oblivion with little help from the US. The middle east is an economic basket case with or without the US or Israel. And Suni Shia conflict has been around for 1400 years. Ditto Pakistan economically a basket case….and so it goes on.

I think it is Neo-colonialist to overrate the impact of the US and the West on the Rest for good and for ill. Countries for the most part need to take hold of their destinies, find decent leaders and get on with it. And yes the US and the West can help or hinder, but they can’t actually effect the fundamentals: develop or stagnate, empower women or not, educate the population or not, resolve your own civil wars or not, build competitive businesses or not….blame the past and others or not…

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Conflict Humor: Windmills


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A Scenario-Based Futuring Approach to Brexit Negotiations

A friend and I have been arguing since the referendum about whether Brexit (which neither of us wanted) is a disaster (my view) or whether some way will be found to make it work (his view). Both scenarios and many stations in between are of course possible; and time will tell which comes to pass.

Under the scenario-based futuring of Peter Schwartz, which I often find helpful in negotiations, one doesn’t pick one scenario, one “official future” at this stage, but uses senarios to think about the underlying forces and what is going on and  looks for signs that one or other is coming to pass and uses the scenarios to riff on the key variables and also to see if there are ways to steer the outcome in the light of the fundamental forces at work that scenarios aim to uncover.

1) My friend’s “Invisible Hand Scenario” suggests that UK and EU self interest will allow a good compromise that avoids the destruction of the British economy. This assumes a lot of rationality, and that ways that can be found to align the massively conflicting interests on either side (UK and EU) and a good deal reached or that some good non EU deals can be made somehow that make up for the loss and do it without massively disrupting the complex just in time supply chains that dominate modern commerce.

2) My “Wrecking Ball Scenario” assumes that the UK and EU will find it almost impossible to align around an agreed set of interests within their respective camps.let alone with each other, as the fundamental contradictions of Brexiters come home and the 27 countries of the EU’s conflicts of interest come home (Germany vs France vs Southern Europe vs Eastern Europe etc.) And that most of the non EU deals are illusory and take years to achieve if ever in an increasingly protectionist world in which the UK is not a big player.

3) I offer the latter scenario partly as a means to create a possible third scenario: a real interest based negotiating strategy, call it the Mindful Hand. In this I am using the South African Mount Fleur strategy: show how unlikely or awful the alternatives are to restore common sense sans ideology to the negotiations.

If I had to pick one of these I think 2) would reflect my sense of how history works: contingent, path dependent and often leading to Prisoner’s Dilemma outcomes where following self interest in a badly structured conflict landscape leads to decisions completely against the interests of either side. I hope I am wrong.

Trip wires (early indicators that a given scenario is unfolding as per Schwartz’s approach) that would suggest I am right would include: 1) Triggering Article 50 early before there is a robust plan 2) Continued public announcements of postional stakes in the ground like “immigration at the 10,000s” 3) Continued Brexit ideological perspectives without any tangible trade deal examples with numbers and likelihood and so on. So far the trip wires seem to be nodding at scenario 2, but as my friend would say: very early days. I agree and also I hope I am mistaken….But the signs are not good that any of the players in the UK, EU or rest of the world understand interest based negotiating 101.

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Optimist vs. Pessimist vs. Existentialist: Albert Camus (1913-1960)

I was discussing the state of the world with a friend last week, who is something of an optimist in life.

I said that I was a strong pessimist, always had been and recently it had got worse.

She said: no you are an optimist and reminded me of my labour relations days and my resilience, my keep on keeping on in the face of adversity.

I said: no I am a deep pessimist who knows for instance the history, the horrors of the Eastern Front in WW2, and sees such disastrous times coming again; and yes someone who believes in fighting hard to avoid pessimistic outcomes that I as a pessimist think overwhelming probable. Camus is my hero and his plague fighting doctor Rieux in La Peste. Existentalist


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