Future Forecast: Ignoring Half the Picture Yields Surprisingly Poor Results

[adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

[Adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

It’s that time of year when we not only take a look backward, but a look forward to the future. Unfortunately in doing so, we rely heavily on so-called experts, whose vision suffers from two fundamental limitations:

  • They’re overwhelmingly male; their viewpoints are published more frequently than those of women;
  • They depend frequently on male-dominated science and technology in constructing their forecasts, rather than looking at shifts in human conditions.

Once a upon a time in my career, I rubbed shoulders with futurists, both in corporate visioning and in business intelligence. They made a few eye-opening predictions that I pooh-poohed at the time. In 1999 one futurist told me that fuel cell technology wouldn’t be commercialized for more than 10 or 15 years. Another report circa 2000 predicted the U.S. would become a rogue nation because of its hegemonic power.

I laughed off both of those forecasts at the time. You’ll note, however, none of our government’s unilaterally killing drones use fuel cells as power sources.

In spite of the occasional spot-on prediction, many of the forecasts I’ve read or seen made as part of scenario planning have not come to pass. They remain years and decades away if they haven’t already become impossible or irrelevant. Why are future outcomes so notoriously nebulous?

During the dozen-plus years since I first worked with futurists and participated in scenario planning sessions, I’ve wised up and learned a few things, key to understanding the lameness of most futurists’ forecasts.

1) It’s really difficult for most organizations to see outside their own self-constructed silos built on the expertise of their products and services. They hire and promote subject-matter experts and look to them for forecasts. Because of internal feedback loops, organizations become blind to barriers so that their members really can’t see with specificity beyond 2-5 years. Asking folks in formal organizations to make forecasts about their own work, even with well-trained facilitators, is extremely difficult. Barriers within their own organizations may be invisible to them as well, ex. internal politics, or other activities deliberately hidden from view.

2) Organizations are often blind to their own social capital. If members within groups are uniformly unchallenged by barriers within and without their business lives, they may not see bumps in the road that thwart everybody else outside their group.

3) Outsiders who speculate on future activities of organizations while relying on publicly available information from within these groups may suffer from the same siloed and blinkered vision.

4) Predictions tend to follow the quantifiable, where the money as well as expectation exist—in science and technology. Unfortunately, scientists are loathe to make guarantees; they give percentages and odds, but not absolute assurances. Forecasts are only as good as the current understanding of science and technology, within some margin of error. Futurists often round up, encouraging excessive optimism.

These factors may explain why futurists’ predictions may ignore realities that grip nearly half of the humans on earth, while rendering so many of their forecasts inert.

Even factoring in the biases that shape forecasts, the future imagined can be far too tidy, . The gritty truths of the human condition and all its volatility are too neatly removed, parceled off outside the field of speculation.

As I type this, the passing of a female Indian gang rape victim is mourned and her country’s “woman problem” is noted. This is not a little thing; we’re talking about a lynchpin event affecting the political opinions within and without of the second most populous countries on earth—a country with 3.84 times the population of the U.S. In fact, at approximately 581,000,000 women, the total number of female residents of India outnumbers the entire population of the U.S. regardless of gender.

The “woman problem” India experiences isn’t limited to that country. Women are treated consistently and persistently as second-class citizens in a majority of countries, including the U.S., their rights to equity in education, health care, autonomy routinely undermined, and their representation inadequate. See the U.N. report, The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics[PDF] for specifics; here are a few:

  • 74% of the world’s illiterates are women; 54% of the 72 million primary school-aged children not in school are girls;
  • A gender pay gap persists globally, to the detriment of women;
  • On average, women hold only 17 percent of seats in national parliaments as well as 17 percent of government minister positions. Of 150 elected heads of state, only seven are women; of 192 heads of government, only 11 are women. Only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a female chief executive officer;
  • Violence against women is still deeply embedded as a norm in many cultures; in some parts of the world, women as well as men may yet believe being beaten by male family members is acceptable.

There are 3.51 women of 7.06 billion total humans on this planet, most of whom are  ignored or denied in far too many forecasts of a future that cannot exist without them.

If this is the reality from which our common future starts—a reality in which nearly half of humanity is denied in so many ways—how can any prediction made by predominantly male futurists be accurate?

If we were to ask a substantive number of representatives from within that 3.51 billion humans, what would they forecast about our collective human future?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.
48 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    an article i like very much on this topic appears here:

    http://thesystemsthinker.com/

    vol 23 no 9

    the article is by business consultant and statistcian gipsie ranney and is titled “blind spots in learning and inference “. ranney uses some of the errors of judgement that led to the challenger and columbia space shuttle disasters. the article is very layman friendly and extremely informative. it is, alas, behind an expensive subsription firewall.

    if you have access to a university or other first rate library it will be worth your time to complement your

    reading of rayne’s fine column here with the ranney article.

  2. TheraP says:

    “It was the best of times,
    it was the worst of times,
    it was the age of wisdom,
    it was the age of foolishness,
    it was the epoch of belief,
    it was the epoch of incredulity,
    it was the season of Light,
    it was the season of Darkness,
    it was the spring of hope,
    it was the winter of despair,
    we had everything before us,
    we had nothing before us,
    we were all going direct to heaven,
    we were all going direct the other way –

    in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

  3. Rayne says:

    @orionATL: Thanks for that excellent recommendation, I’ll see if my daughter can access it through her university library for me. (Hey, I’m paying the tuition, right? I should get a perk or two out of this investment. LOL)

    @TheraP: Amazing how some things never change. Amazing, too, how accurate Dickens was, and how prescient he remains.

  4. thatvisionthing says:

    Wow, a post by Rayne and a comment from TheraP — feels like old times, good times. :-)

    Re 1, 2, 3, 4: A friend told me about a book he got for Christmas, Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental — seems to cover this same territory.

    http://www.amazon.com/Flirting-Disaster-Accidents-Rarely-Accidental/dp/B005SN8I44

    From the book description:

    These were not unavoidable catastrophes, but disasters that could have been prevented, or whose damages could have been mitigated, if only someone had spoken up.

    Or if only someone/anyone COULD speak up, and be heard, and act.

    From a comment:

    Flirting with Disaster covers the whys and causes of the Challenger & Columbia Space shuttles, Chernobyl Nuclear plant, Vioxx Medicine, Arthur Anderson accounting, Black Hawks friendly fire shoot down and a number of other disasters. The book just doesn’t look at the mechanical, electrical or software reasons for the failure, but goes beyond into the human reasons for why the disaster was ALLOWED to occur. … The “unforeseen unavoidable no ones fault” kind of disaster is a convenient myth used as a cover story to deflect responsibility … I was amazed at how people knew what was going to happen, or at least knew what could happen, and yet failed to take action. … The author also outlines changes that need to be made in management to prevent the human tendency to ignore or even silence whistle blowers who try to sound the alarm before it is too late.

    My take: Secrecy and “need-to-know” compartmentalization are fatal. “Cover story to deflect responsibility” is us. Hierarchical instead of ring architecture is fail. No accountability is us. Hannah Arendt (“the banality of evil”) called it the rule of no one. I’ve called it our national Alzheimer’s before. The connections are broken, health is broken. We’re sick and stupid. We have intentionally dumbed down the nation in the name of “intelligence” and disabled thinking, caring actors in favor of “protection.” Whatever we’re doing now, it’s not democracy. And it sucks.

  5. thatvisionthing says:

    Also, sideways over on FDL is Kevin G’s post on Jacob Appelbaum’s keynote address, Not My Department, at the 29th Chaos Communication Congress on Dec. 27 — seems to echo yours (my bold):

    http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/12/28/jacob-appelbaum-on-resisting-the-surveillance-state/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QNsePZj_Yks

    JACOB APPELBAUM: …[The Surveillance State does] it in a way that it is not obvious and it is seemingly impossible to resist. Because these things themselves are secret, it becomes extremely difficult for us to even know where to begin resisting. At its core in the United States where this has gone is we have secret laws with secret interpretations and a total lack of accountability. And fundamentally what these things are is that they are oppressive vanguardist approaches that are vanguard approaches to authoritarianism. They are insultingly paternalistic and allegedly above the law…
    […]
    The targeting information is fed to the CIA and to other groups from surveillance listening points from intelligence factories. So there is a direct relationship between surveillance and support of straight up murder. That is something which sounds scary but what makes it even scarier is that the way that those drone killings are carried out is that the central committee who gets to decide who lives and dies or Obama’s assassination Star Chamber – that central committee which sounds a lot to me like some of the Soviet rhetoric I remember from my childhood – that central committee decides non-democratically who gets to be assassinated. And it’s just a hop or two from surveillance. So, when you assist the surveillance state, you literally are helping to kill fucking children…

  6. BearCountry says:

    @thatvisionthing: I haven’t read the book, so I may be wrong in my comment, but in the case of Challenger the engineers did speak up and told the control that the o-rings would not work correctly due to the temperature which would result in disaster. Just knowing and even speaking up may not make the difference. Someone in control has to react in the proper way.

  7. BearCountry says:

    @BearCountry: As much as I dislike aiding the surveillance state, I can’t get the information that I need because of the secrecy of this “most transparent admin in history.” Can you imagine how things would operate in secrecy is mitt had won? I just hope that all of the lote voters are satisfied because they own the surveillance state that operates against them.

  8. P J Evans says:

    @BearCountry:
    And one of them was told to take off his ‘engineer hat’ and put on his ‘manager hat’, IIRC. (It’s worth mentioning that engineers were not usually put in management positions.)

  9. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s most recent book, antifragile speaks directly to these issues. He asserts that most major changes of civilization, whether beneficial or disruptive, come about by tinkering, trial and error rather than from the deliberately planned. According to Taleb, rather than trying to predict the future we should try to position ourselves such that we have less to lose from the maximum potential losses to the down side (i.e fragilities) than we have to gain from the possible gains on the upside (i.e. antifragilities). This applies to all aspects of life. This capsule doesn’t begin to do justice to the subtleties of his argument. As always his book is a pleasure to read.

    @thatvisionthing What we know about the Challenger disaster was largely due to the principled persistence of Richard Feynman in his refusal to go along with the group think and ass-boarding of the rest of the investigating commission. http://bitly.com/Ub9hjB

  10. thatvisionthing says:

    @BearCountry: Think you’re wrong about election. I don’t think it mattered who won. Daniel Ellsberg (vote lote in swing states) vigorously debated David Swanson (don’t vote lote, vote no evil, vote third party) and I felt like they pushed the arguments as far as they could go:

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/11/daniel-ellsberg-debates-david-swanson-lesser-of-two-evils-voting-in-swing-states.html

    Swanson said that voting LOTE has been tried and failed, we just get progressively worse candidate slates:

    SWANSON: …But the two evil candidates – and you have to grant that they are both remarkably evil as individuals or as collections of teams of partisans – are going to be worse four years hence, and then four years after that we make this rational calculation, we vote for the lesser evil of the two, and we get a pair of choices that again are worse. And every four years, every eight years, we’re staring at two choices that are demonstrably worse than the two choices before, even when we have chosen the lesser evil the times before. And so something else is needed or we’re going toward disaster; it’s a question of what speed. And so we have to build a movement.

    Ellsberg said third party has been tried and backfired:

    ELLSBERG: …I do not believe that a third party which is reasonably blamed, as was Nader in 2000, despite his denials of this – it was reasonably blamed as having made a difference – not being solely responsible, but having facilitated the election of George W. Bush, the election of definitely a worse candidate here which led to the Iraq war and other matters, and the civil liberties abuses which Obama has continued. A party that is blamed for that, with reason or without reason, is not going to be the core of a growing movement. In fact, it’s going to be pretty much the end of that party, as happened to the Greens, who went from 2.7%, small enough, in 2000, down to half a percent plus another half a percent for Nader in 2004. … In other words, I think that it could be doom for a movement to earn blame for making the world worse, as happened in the year 2000, only 12 years ago. That does not help a movement.

    So then what?

    HOST LILA GARRETT: …If in the next four years we do in fact elect Obama – same question – is that enough time to develop a candidate whom we really want, and if not, how much time do you think it will take? Short answer, please.

    SWANSON: It – is – the – wrong – question. We do not want to develop a candidate, a messiah, a savior, or a leader. We want to develop a people’s movement. And I want –

    ELLSBERG: I agree. I agree with that.

    The answer is outside the ballot choices we’re allowed, outside the secret flow chart, outside the designated decision-makers, because that system is sick. Same thing Rayne’s diary is saying I think, said another way.

  11. orionATL says:

    a decade or so ago my wife and i attended a talk by roger boisjoly, the morton thiokol engineer who identified the challenger o rings as a possible cause of a disaster long before challenger blew apart.

    the talk was detailed, explicit about the events and about the severe institutional pressure and retaliation a whistleblower can experience.

    it was a lecture to remember – an education for the two of us.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Boisjoly

  12. BearCountry says:

    @thatvisionthing: I was being snarky, but I guess I seemed to straight in my writing. The way I made the reference to mitt was supposed to show that that there was no difference in what either would do. As far as not voting 3rd party (actually 2nd party), even though Nader ran in Florida, there were several ways that the whole thing went wrong: Gore didn’t fight hard enough, the recount request was botched, the vote counters in Miami were intimidated by rethugs, the ballots were probably deliberately screwed up, and probably one or two other things. Don’t, however, lay all the blame on Florida. There was enough hanky-panky going on in other states and the scotus was more than happy to appoint w on the thinnest of presumptions. We need to get an alternative going, but our nation will probably fall apart or become such a dictatorship that it will be too late.

  13. thatvisionthing says:

    @orionATL: I remember Richard Feynman at the Rogers Commission public hearing with an O-ring and a glass of ice water. A simple demonstration, a simple reality check.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Rwcbsn19c0 (note the cut-in shots were not in the televised original but were apparent in his demonstration.)

    I remember reading about that in his book What Do You Care What Other People Think?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_feynman#Challenger_disaster

    Feynman’s account reveals a disconnect between NASA’s engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA’s high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts. For instance, NASA managers claimed that there was a 1 in 100,000 chance of a catastrophic failure aboard the shuttle, but Feynman discovered that NASA’s own engineers estimated the chance of a catastrophe at closer to 1 in 100. He concluded that the space shuttle reliability estimate by NASA management was fantastically unrealistic, and he was particularly angered that NASA used these figures to recruit Christa McAuliffe into the Teacher-in-Space program. He warned in his appendix to the commission’s report (which was included only after he threatened not to sign the report), “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” [48] He also rebuked some mathematicians for their exclusivity, saying “I have great suspicion that [mathematicians] don’t know that this stuff is wrong and that they’re intimidating people.”[49]

  14. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    A good article but as I’ve mention in posts on prior articles, all about symptoms rather than cause; women’s subjugation is a symptom.

    So, I propose religion be considered as a causal factor; not once was religion mentioned, nor in any of the comments.

    I’d like to see women stand up against what are almost entirely paternalistic religions and demand that they treat women equally.

    If the religion will not do so then women should leave it.

    Imagine the impact on women’s rights and equality that would have; education, health, wealth, so much is driven by archaic religious beliefs that subjugate women and that women support while demanding equality. It’s hypocritical.

    Come on girls, get serious! I for one am cheering for you but as long as you allow yourselves to be subjugated by corrupt paternalitic religions you will never really have equality.

    Women’s departure from religions and demand for equality could have major impacts on many other of the world’s issues as well.

    And that would be a Black Swan event that futurists would have missed entirely and historians would look back on as a major inflection point in humanity’s evolvution.

  15. thatvisionthing says:

    @BearCountry: I blame the Supreme Court. In the focused sense of 2000, but also in the larger sense of why America ISN’T a democracy anymore and IS stupid/broken and can’t correct/heal itself.

    @11-14: http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/10/11/ex-cia-agent-john-kiriakou-accused-of-leaks-has-subpoenaed-journalists-who-are-they/#comment-49903

    And here (more links in original):

    http://my.firedoglake.com/davidswanson/2012/11/10/about-the-untold-history-of-the-united-states/#comment-7

    My favorite metaphor for what I think of as the promise of America is a sailing ship. It doesn’t make the winds, it sails them, adjusts itself to them, tacks left, tacks right. There’s a kind of humility and skill and grace and joy about it. We are all in this boat together. When ships lost their sails and things got so engined and steeled and top down and straight line course, it got, well, Titanic. Monstrously, tragically stupid.

    America now has all the poetry and ideals of a container ship. It doesn’t need winds, it doesn’t need stars, it doesn’t even need people.

    That’s not America!

    See? I own that. I’m thinking lots of people are owning that now. And it starts all over.

    Practically speaking, my own epiphany about where America went wrong, didn’t do what the founding words said or provided, was juries. I think it started long before before Stone and Kuznik do, so I’m sorry that that won’t be the untold story told. Nobody ever amended the Constitution at all, courts alone just redefined and contrained and dumbed down juries over the years, and now hardly anyone even recognizes what’s wrong or missing or possible. It’s like David said about something else in an earlier diary, “it’s almost treasonous to know”. I think juries were supposed to judge the law, constantly; self-governors constantly checking the work of their public servants, what is done in their the people’s name. They were supposed to decide does it float? Now, here, like this, in this case? It’s a test of law in conscience and reality, but more than that it’s how we all stay on the same page, in the same boat, working together. And what we’re working at isn’t fearful punishment, seeking monsters to destroy and finding and burning the witches amongst us, but reasoning, seeing the big picture, and looking from many perspectives many times for our best answers. It doesn’t take a king or a pope, it’s not rocket science, it’s in our grasp, commonly available to all of us; just hold hands, pass hats, and talk together. And keep doing it! That’s how America works, and if it’s not being done like that something’s gone wrong. I think the three branches checking and balancing were supposed to be rock-scissors-paper and that the only losing move was not to play. That’s what I think is possible and intended. Ring, not pyramid. Connection and constant flow.

    “Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.”
    – English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1857

    My surmise of what’s happening to the container ship is that it’s dissolving its rivets. Things fall apart.

    Since juries go back at least to the Magna Carta, it presupposes that they’re the people’s check and balance on an unjust monarch, which is what we have and where we’re at now. Hello…?

    I put my faith in people. I think America’s founding authority, we the people and self-evidence, is the right one. I think cooperative, helpful beings survive over generations. And I think my 30-year-old Devo card is right; it says: “Biology is destiny.” People spoke America into existence, and when the container ship collapses, people will still be here.

    We are where we are. It’s still a test. But it always was.

    Sorry for the big quote blocks and the hops and skips. I started writing this hours ago and got sidetracked. Can’t expect anyone to read all that, but juries were my epiphany and I keep seeing and thinking new things and trying to say it new ways. I think I remember a Willa Cather line about the sun being the great fact in the sky — it’s like my sun, and whatever I look at seems to be revealed in that light. I constantly see what we could have been in what we’re not, what we could be in what we are.

  16. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: One of the things I was trying to find:

    Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson, Washington, March 6, 1801:

    http://tigger.uic.edu/~rjensen/tj1801.html

    DEAR SIR, — No pleasure can exceed that which received from reading your letter of the 21st ult. It was like the joy we expect in the mansions of the blessed, when received with the embraces of our fathers, we shall be welcomed with their blessing as having done our part not unworthily of them. The storm through which we have passed, has been tremendous indeed. The tough sides of our Argosie have been thoroughly tried. Her strength has stood the waves into which she was steered, with a view to sink her. We shall put her on her republican tack, & she will now show by the beauty of her motion the skill of her builders. Figure apart, our fellow citizens have been led hood-winked from their principles, by a most extraordinary combination of circumstances. But the band is removed, and they now see for themselves. I hope to see shortly a perfect consolidation, to effect which, nothing shall be spared on my part, short of the abandonment of the principles of our revolution. A just and solid republican government maintained here, will be a standing monument & example for the aim & imitation of the people of other countries; and I join with you in the hope and belief that they will see, from our example, that a free government is of all others the most energetic; that the inquiry which has been excited among the mass of mankind by our revolution & it’s consequences, will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe. What a satisfaction have we in the contemplation of the benevolent effects of our efforts, compared with those of the leaders on the other side, who have discountenanced all advances in science as dangerous innovations, have endeavored to render philosophy and republicanism terms of reproach, to persuade us that man cannot be governed but by the rod, &c. I shall have the happiness of living & dying in the contrary hope. Accept assurances of my constant & sincere respect and attachment, and my affectionate salutations.

  17. thatvisionthing says:

    Also Woodrow Wilson:

    http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=799

    “If any one ask me what a free government is, I reply, it is what the people think so,” said Burke, going to the heart of the matter. The Declaration of Independence speaks to the same effect…. In brief, political liberty is the right of those who are governed to adjust government to their own needs and interests.

    That is the philosophy of constitutional government. Every generation, as Burke said, sets before itself some favorite object which it pursues as the very substance of its liberty and happiness. The ideals of liberty cannot be fixed on the generation; only its conception can be, the large image of what it is. Liberty fixed in unalterable law would be no liberty at all…

    We say of a boat skimming the water with a light foot, ’How free she runs,’ when we mean, how perfectly she is adjusted to the force of the wind, how perfectly she obeys the great breath out of the heavens that fills her sails. Throw her head up into the wind and see how she will halt and stagger, how every sheet will shiver and her whole frame be shaken, how instantly she is “in irons,” in the expressive phrase of the sea. She is free only when you have let her fall off again and get once more her nice adjustment to the forces she must obey and cannot defy.

  18. thatvisionthing says:

    @orionATL:

    http://www.awesomestories.com/disasters/challenger/last-minute-pleas

    Participating in a conference with company and NASA officials the night before launch, Boisjoly and others expressed their concerns. They warned Morton Thiokol and NASA not to launch the shuttle on the 28th. Later, testifying about the conference before Congress, Boisjoly said:

    I…grabbed the photographic evidence showing the hot gas blow-by comparisons from previous flights and placed it on the table in view of the managers and somewhat angered, admonished them to look at the photos and not ignore what they were telling us; namely, that low temperature indeed caused significantly more hot gas blow-by to occur in the joints. I received cold stares…with looks as if to say, ‘Go away and don’t bother us with the facts.’ No one in management wanted to discuss the facts; they just would not respond verbally to…me. I felt totally helpless at that moment and that further argument was fruitless, so I, too, stopped pressing my case.

    Akin, I see Kevin G has posted another diary from the Chaos Communication Conference: http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/12/29/us-whistleblowers-on-being-targeted-by-the-secret-security-state/

  19. orionATL says:

    @thatvisionthing:

    thanks for the link to kevin; i had not seen that.

    that’s a great quote from boisjoly – the managers just shunned him until he shut up and stopped being a nuisance.

  20. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing: Speaking up becomes very difficult in male hierarchical (paternalistic) organizations, especially within larger structures like industries. As a woman working in male-dominated industries in non-traditional roles, I saw many examples of the drive to win given priority over doing the right thing. Proprietary software in particular focused on meeting deadlines rather than ensuring a product was bug-free and customer-satisfying. Every time you’ve ever experienced a BSOD, you can thank this kind of culture.

    Engineers at the lowest levels of hierarchy may try to speak out, but in an entrenched organization with many layers, speaking out may not be enough.

    We can go right back to the 1980s and discuss Theories X, Y, and Z management philosophies — clearly the U.S. never grokked Theory Z, swinging instead between X and Y. (Strong parallel in its two-party political system, for that matter.)

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): Religion is only a part of a larger collection of memetic material that comprises culture. Countries that are predominantly Muslim were generally hard on women before they adopted that religion. Religion only codifies that which was already there.

    The problem as I see is that women cannot do this alone; we’re caught in a “blame the victim” mentality when we expect them to do it themselves. Ex: Slavery wasn’t eliminated by slaves, but outlawed by non-slaves.

    I should also point out that although women are a majority of the population in certain age groups, overall they are not a majority because of the large numbers of female fetuses/infants/children terminated each year in the two most populous countries India and China where male children are preferred. Effecting change requiring participation of a critical mass (1/2N=1) is impossible when ~1/2N is literally exterminated before it can ever naturally reach (1/2N) let along critical mass.

  21. Katie Jensen (wavpeac) says:

    I once had an amazing professor. His entire class was an invivo experiment about paradigm shifts, humanity and science. The class was called General Semantics. He began the class with readings of lots of varied books about science. The Art of Awareness by Bois being one of the ones we absolutely had to read. Then he put a sequence on the board, and asked us to predict the next three numbers or letters or pattern. And then each class he called himself “nature” and sat on a stool reading from books to us, clues about the problem on the board.

    Sometimes he would point out the words of a student and give them a nod from nature, like validation from nature that someone was heading in a direction that might predict the sequence. We had the daughter of the Head of the Physics department in our class. She was a very smart young lady but she kept using the current structure of science to solve the problem. I Kept hearing from nature that the current structures would not solve this problem, that those ideas or structures would actually create blocks, but it was as if no one else in the class could hear this.

    In the end, I made the next prediction. The prediction was that the next three letters, numbers would be assymetrical, and then that the next pattern estalished in the first three letters would begin again.

    The most interesting thing about this experiment, was how angry people became as the structures they were most familiar with, did not produce the result. As “nature” kept validating my forges forward, the class leaders got more and more angry and actually the daughter of the physics professor verbally attacked me in the bathroom at one point. It was horribly uncomfortable. At this point, as in most science, when you are alone on an observation, it’s invalidating and hard to trust your own eyes, or observations, despite validation from the universe.

    We need to radically accept this dynamic. We need to understand that paradigm shifts don’t happen with initial consensus. Most often, they happen with consensus building over time, once a truth has been put to the light. It takes time. It takes light. It takes not giving up. And it will often mean that those who stand up to this light, will take the most heat, and even be discredited in some way. New information, new direction for many must stand a test and it makes sense. This is likely a defense mechanism to prevent us all from going off the cliff together.

    Maybe if we openly accepted this dynamic, it would go more smoothly??Maybe part of the journey is to be able to tolerate being “wrong” or not validated by nature. Maybe part of the journey is a tolerance for ambiguity or not knowing or uncertainty. Maybe it is instead cultivating an environment that is willing to experiment, to take a chance, to gather data, and to pivot as needed. Flexible thinking, can be dangerous, but without it, my hypothesis would be that we are doomed.

  22. Rayne says:

    @Katie Jensen (wavpeac): Wow. That’s a post, all by itself. Excellent example of the power of groupthink and feedback loops, combined.

    This is the kind of argument we need to burst the bullshit bubble Koch Brothers have been building around the U.S., preventing it from seeing the truth of climate change that the rest of the world sees clearly.

    Thanks, Katie!

  23. thatvisionthing says:

    @Katie Jensen (wavpeac): I love your story, but I’m wondering if I understand it. He was teaching the class to play his game, but for his problems was there no way to check real nature, not just “nature”? In which case, what did the physics whiz take away?

    Maybe part of the journey is to be able to tolerate being “wrong” or not validated by nature.

    Was this one class, done one day, or was this how he taught the entire semester? Was there ever a day where he changed it up asymmetrically and the physics whiz was validated and intuition was not? I wonder about everything.

  24. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: I’m not sure I want to put all the attention on male/female power distinguishers. I’m also not comfortable with right/left boxes or all the fighting dualities we can think of readily. Maybe more willing to distinguish between people people and “other” people, like corporate persons, unborn, or between equal people and “other” people, like those in positions of authority. In other words, I don’t think bad decision-making is a biological problem among the biological. Thinking of Ellsberg’s shock on reading the Pentagon Papers as he learned that all the presidents, from Truman on, had lied to us about Vietnam. Is it that we only elect men who are liars, or that there’s something in our system that makes liars out of presidents? He called his book Secrets, there’s a clue.

    My intuition is that it’s systemic, and if you took even the evilest of men/authorities and put them in a space where they were equal to other people, they would be fine. Put Dick Cheney or Richard Nixon or Adolf Hitler on a jury and have him argue his position just like any other juror in an open room, I expect he’d have something worthwhile to contribute. Or Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice or Madeleine Albright, none of whom are empathetic/wise/moral towers in my book. In fact, you want them in there along with everyone else. You want everyone equally. I’m more with the 51% sweetheart, 49% bitch theory, that we all are all, in varying proportions that can change according to circumstances or light. I heard this on the radio in May and thought it was perfect:

    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2012/05/21

    Excerpt from “An Essay on Man”

    by Alexander Pope

    ALL are but parts of one stupendous whole,
    Whose body Nature is, and God the soul;
    That, changed through all, and yet in all the same,
    Great in the earth, as in th’ ethereal frame,
    Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
    Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
    Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
    Spreads undivided, operates unspent:
    Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part;
    As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;
    As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns
    As the rapt Seraphim, that sings and burns:
    To him no high, no low, no great, no small—
    He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all….
    All nature is but art, unknown to thee:
    All chance, direction, which thou canst not see:
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good.

  25. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing: You may not like the duality, but it’s not even a duality. It’s unilateral when women have virtually no representation, no voice, when the past, present, and future have been and are constructed around a single gender’s perspective.

    We can’t even get to a duality, let alone past it at this rate.

  26. thatvisionthing says:

    @Katie Jensen (wavpeac): Re paradigm shift and asking nature — Thom Hartmann used to tell an anecdote about leaders and herds. Like you’d expect the dominant/lead animal or bird to be leading his pack or flock. But that’s not how it works. They move democratically:

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_thom_har_060905_thom_hartmann_3b_democ.htm
    Thom Hartmann; Democracy and the Middle Class

    …biologists used to think that animal societies were ruled by alpha males. Recent studies, however, have found that while it’s true that alpha males (and females, in some species) have the advantage in courtship rituals, that’s where their power ends. Biologists Tim Roper and L. Conradt discovered that animals don’t follow a leader but instead move together.

    James Randerson did a follow-up study with red deer to prove the point. How does a herd of deer decide it’s time to stop grazing and go toward the watering hole? As they’re grazing, various deer point their bodies in seemingly random directions, until it comes time to go drink. Then individuals begin to graze while facing one of several watering holes. When a majority of deer are pointing toward one particular watering hole, they all move in that direction. Randerson saw instances where the alpha deer was actually one of the last to move toward the hole rather than one of the first.

    When I interviewed Tim Roper about his research at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, he told me that when his findings were first published, scientists from all over the world called to tell him that they were seeing the same thing with their research subjects. Birds flying in flocks aren’t following a leader but monitoring the motions of those around them for variations in the flight path; when more than 50 percent have moved in a particular direction–even if it’s only a quarter-inch in one direction or another–the entire flock “suddenly” veers off that way. It’s the same with fish and even with swarms of gnats. Roper said that his colleagues were telling him that from ants to gorillas, democracy is the norm among animals.

  27. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: I think I’m saying the unilaterality is a systemic problem.

    Also, in the Hartmann article I quoted above, look at this:

    The concept of “chief” is one that Europeans brought with them to America–which in large part is what produced so much confusion in the 1600s and 1700s in America as most Native American tribes would never delegate absolute authority to any one person to sign a treaty. Instead decisions were made by consensus in these most ancient cauldrons of democracy.

    The Founders of this nation, and the Framers of our Constitution, were heavily influenced and inspired by the democracy they saw all around them. Much of the U.S. Constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy–the five (later six) tribes who occupied territories from New England to the edge of the Midwest. It was a democracy with elected representatives, an upper and lower house, and a supreme court (made up entirely of women, who held final say in five of the six tribes).

    As Benjamin Franklin noted to his contemporaries at the Constitutional Convention: “It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of Ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.”

    Maybe I was right @16 in looking at the Supreme Court, but now in your way too. Always something more to think about, always more to see.

  28. lefty665 says:

    Here’s a female run publication that we subscribe to. http://www.sciencenews.org/ We think it’s good enough to keep supporting in paper.

    When putting engineers in management, filtering out the 90%+/- with Asperger’s and other significant autism spectrum issues is essential. That shallows the pool considerably.

  29. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing: Ugh. Founding fathers form government using matriarchal model and it fails the people over time. *sigh*

    “Ignorant Savages” which formed a successful government operating for ages — jeebus, Ben, who was ignorant?

  30. thatvisionthing says:

    Also, I had written about Hartmann’s herd democracy example before on FDL, and I think of these researched comments as my external memory, my building blocks. But fyi me, when I went to find my comment and the source, all that was left is this in my history:

    thatvisionthing commented on the diary post Minnesota Veal Pen – Gates Kicked Wide Open by Michael Cavlan RN.
    2012-06-11 20:32:32View | Delete

    Regarding herding cows. Maybe I didn’t tell the story right. There was no good shepherd and nobody was looking for one. It was spontaneous inspiration, en herd, funny in the altogether, instant bonding. Not looking for a keeper or a veal pen. Looking for shared bovinity and humble triumph. Where’s Gary Larson? He’d totally get […]

    http://my.firedoglake.com/michaelcavlanrn/2012/06/11/minnesota-veal-pen-gates-kicked-wide-open/

    Click into it for the rest, and you get the blogspam message. Because Michael Cavlan got banned on FDL, and his history disappeared, which made my history disappear. Which seems to me, btw, exactly what we’re talking about here, autocratic decision-making and destructive hubris that doesn’t care about or can’t calculate consequences of its actions. Heaving a sigh here.

  31. Rayne says:

    @lefty665: Interesting, didn’t know Science News was female-run. In contrast, World Future Society’s The Futurist mag has female editor, yet it has a poor spread of content and contributors by gender. Not certain if it’s the editor’s blindspot, excessive concentration in sci-tech fields for forecasting or what, but the mag serves as an example that we need to judge performance based on content & performance, not leadership.

    Agree there are concerns wrt to autism spectrum in roles where interaction is necessary; receiving and analyzing social cues can be critical to obtaining better team performance.

  32. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: Well I’m tremendously interested in the Idle No More movement in Canada, because I can see our white-guy corporate-slave governments (include Obama here) are utterly failing to protect the planet, the shame and stupidity they’re enabling is so huge, the injustice done to the Indians so monstrous – and that justice and sense are the other shoe still waiting to drop. I’m hoping for a duality here, a conversation to ensue and that other choices are appeared. Katie Jensen’s paradigm shift, come on come on! Pointing myself in that direction anyway.

  33. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing: I’m beginning to rethink the concept of cargo cults — what really is a cargo cult, those who build models of cargo belonging to a so-called democracy, or those who make so much cargo that it becomes a simulacra of democratic culture?

    The whole white/western/male paradigm based on competition for the most power and cargo looks more and more cult-like from the outside.

  34. thatvisionthing says:

    Also, re Katie Jensen and the influence of a teacher or a text… and my theme of how the republic was lost… jury nullification… When the retired professor Julian Heicklen was arrested outside a New York courthouse for passing out FIJA jury nullification leaflets and prosecuted on criminal charges [jury tampering?], lawyer Scott Horton at Harper’s wrote a post supporting Heicklen and bemoaning how our legal understanding has so eroded:

    http://harpers.org/blog/2011/02/the-obstinate-dr-heicklen/

    Shortly before his death, Thomas Jefferson noted with disdain that judges were working hard to bury jury nullification. It reflected a pernicious “slide into toryism,” he remarked in a letter to James Madison in 1826. In Jefferson’s view, judges and prosecutors who rejected the jury’s right of nullification were betraying the values of the Constitution and instead embracing those of the British Crown. “They suppose themselves… Whigs, because they no longer know what Whigism or republicanism means.”

    And if you go to the Jefferson letter, the reason the newer crops of American lawyers no longer knew “what Whigism or republicanism means” was because the law school texts had changed:

    etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Jef11Gr.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=11&division=div1

    Jefferson to Madison, February 17, 1826: “you will recollect that, before the revolution, Coke Littleton was the Universal elementary book of law-students, and a sounder Whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British constitn, or in what were called English liberties. you remember also that our lawyers were then all Whigs. but when his black-letter text, and uncouth, but cunning learning got out of fashion, and the honied Mansfieldism of Blackstone became the Student’s Horn-book, from that moment, that Profession (the Nursery of our Congress) began to slide into toryism, and nearly all the young brood of lawyers now are of that hue. they suppose themselves indeed to be whigs, because they no longer know what whiggism or republicanism means.”

    Mansfieldism here I think: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification#England

    Lord Mansfield, 1784: So the jury who usurp the judicature of law, though they happen to be right, are themselves wrong, because they are right by chance only, and have not taken the constitutional way of deciding the question. It is the duty of the Judge, in all cases of general justice, to tell the jury how to do right, though they have it in their power to do wrong, which is a matter entirely between God and their own consciences.

    Which seems to disagree with our first Chief Justice John Jay’s instructions to the jury (Founding Fathers clue, first Supreme Court sat with a jury):

    It is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are within your power of decision… you [juries] have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.

    — John Jay, first Chief Justice, Georgia vs. Brailsford

    So change the law texts and the teaching (not even the Constitution), fast forward a couple hundred years, and the first Chief Justice could get arrested outside a New York courthouse and prosecuted for saying to potential jurors what he told an actual jury in 1794. There’s decision-making for you.

  35. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: Hi Rayne, cargo cult? I have to leave now but I haven’t heard that phrase before. Definitely want to change the paradigm though. Thanks, will check back.

  36. Katie Jensen (wavpeac) says:

    @thatvisionthing: The professor in question used text books to reply to the students…to give hints to the students about the next sequence of letters or numbers. His role as “nature” was of course not meant to distinguish true nature but the body of knowlege that we have collected to represent nature. You miss my point entirely by focusing too much on the role of the professor as “nature”. He did not say “you are right, you are getting warmer”. What he would do is read passages from science literature and general semantics…reminding us of the laws of nature, the steps to inquiry etc…Certainly his own biases would be present…as were all of ours. None of us gets to decipher reality without templates…which is the whole point of Korzybski’s work. “The map is not the territory”…my favorite quote from the class.

    Maps created by white men…are maps “about” the story of white men in America. They will absolutely leave out the symbols of for other realties or templates. The “white man” map is not reality, nor is the “white woman” map, or the “black man” map. But the point is that the more diverse the map…the more angles on the map, the more close to reality we may get.

    That’s why the need for diversity. We need the angle from above, from the ground, from tree level, from underground to know the landscape or to create a true map for us to follow or map predictions going forward. And we must always remember that “the map is not the territory”.

  37. Katie Jensen (wavpeac) says:

    All of this reminds me of a quote from 12 step programs…”God speaks through the majority”.

    Interesting. Maybe a paradigm shift occurs when more than a certain percentage, share a truth…or see a truth or find value in a truth. or a point of view. (who knows if it is a truth…or not?)

  38. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing: The Wikipedia entry on cargo cults is pretty decent, in spite of being Wikipedia. I like this this line from the section on Metaphorical Use of the Term:

    The term “cargo cult” has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves. ..

    Consumerism — the manufacture and consumption of caro — stands in as democracy in action. Consumers mistake their consumption habits for active engagement in democracy, believing that their consumption is what keeps democracy alive. Former POTUS GWBush, encouraging the citizenry to go shop in the wake of 9/11 is an example of the collapse of democracy in favor of consumerism/cargo cult.

    @Katie Jensen (wavpeac): Yeah, exactly, we are deep in simulacra when we completely mistake the map for the terrain.

    As for God speaking through the majority: the true majority is assaulted and murdered, daily. Wish God would provide a little more leverage here.

  39. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    @Rayne: Your argument about percentage of population that is female (due to infanticide of baby girls) is misleading. The World’s population is so close to 50-50 male-female that the exact ratio is not statistically significant. You even indicate that in the title of this article “…half the picture…”.

    Further, you assumption that I was referring to Muslim women being subjugated is not correct. I have trouble identifying any relion that does not subjugate women. Certainly the Abramhamic religions (Christian, Muslim, Jew) are guilty of it and that likely holds true for all of the 1,000+ sects within these religions. I know less about the non-Abrahamic religions but do not see any obvious exceptions where subjugation of women does not exist.

    So, while there may be many contributing factors that cause subjugation of women in any society I can not find another factor besides religion that commences education the instance a child is born into a religious family and continues throughout life, until death and promotes the idea that men are superior, and to be obeyed, and women are to be subservient.

    I find it hard to believe that Religion is not the single major contributing factor to the subjugation of women.

    While evidence of this is not abundantly available, some anecdotal information suggests I am correct. For example, one of the World’s most secular societies, Australia, has lead the World in achieving equality for women. We have an atheist female unmarried (lives commonlaw with her partner) Prime Minister and a female Governor General. Women in Australia attained the right to vote well before women in many countries and were the first in any country to attain the right to run for a seat in Parliament.

    It sure seems to indicate that women fair better in secular societies.

    And that says to me that religion is a major factor in the subjugation of women.

  40. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): More comments below on other topics, but I would refer you to Leonard Schlain’s “Sex, Time, and Power”, which begins with human anatomy, and also the hormonal differences between males and females, and provides a sensible explanation of why we are where we are today.
    http://www.sextimeandpower.com
    Anatomy is not destiny, but it certainly helps shape it.
    Also, a need for iron, particularly for females.

    I have been keeping one (intrigued) eye on the events in India; the Guardian has had some interesting analysis. This is probably partly demographic, certainly about urbanization. And it has been a long time coming.
    The rape victim is being referred to as “Damini” (‘lightning’).

    Re: India, there are some great Bollywood movies that have begun to address the roles of women, and what ‘romance’ or a ‘love marriage’ might mean in people’s lives.
    Two of the more famous: “Duwali Dulania Le Jayenge” [The Brave Hearted One Takes the Bride”
    “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilwale_Dulhania_Le_Jayenge about a young couple’s desire for a ‘love marriage’. This movie helped launch Hindi actor Shah Ruhk Khan into a megastar.
    Also, staring the same actor: Rab Ne Bani De Jodi (“A Match Made in Heaven” (2008)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rab_Ne_Bana_Di_Jodi
    It is perhaps worth noting that at least the Guardian has included comments from Shah Ruhk Khan’s (SRK) Twitter feed in condemning the horror that occurred. If Bollywood gets on board, so much the better – particularly since India has the highest volume of movie ticket sales on the planet.

    Bob Schacht’s insights on the shifts to urbanization and changes in family structure would be so valuable for this thread… meanwhile, the signs of these shifts are definitely showing up in Bollywood and other forms of popular culture.

  41. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    @orionATL: Edward Tufte has done yeoman’s work explaining the nature of the information problem that resulted in the Challenger disaster.

    He’s shown how a better visual display of the data the engineers worried about would have made clear at-a-glance that the issue was temperature, not ‘day of the week’. Here’s one synopsis:
    http://www.asktog.com/books/challengerExerpt.html

  42. thatvisionthing says:

    @Katie Jensen (wavpeac): Katie, I’m fascinated by what was actually demonstrated. To me, your describing it is like making a map. From the words, I can’t tell the differences. He set the sequence of numbers/letters…and then went to books? I can’t picture it really, wish I could.

    Have to say, semantics — when I was in college one of the big name professors there was into “semiotics” I think — he talked right past me, I seem to have a hole in my head there.

    I started writing this comment yesterday, went looking for a map quote I almost remember that after hours of searching I still can’t find, drives me crazy. But the best map quote I know — and talk about future forecast! — is from the prophet (seriously, watch the youtube) Tiny Tim, circa 1968:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DEoOdcYKbc – Tiny Tim Performance Art

    You say I’m lost
    I disagree
    The map has changed
    And with it, me

  43. thatvisionthing says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): Funny you should mention Australia, because I was thinking about that. When PM Julia Gillard made her smackdown heard round the world of Tony Abbott… http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/10/can-we-get-australian-pm-julia-gillard-to-give-debate-lessons-in-america.html … I watched but wasn’t as impressed as others were. Whatever the truth or spin of what she was saying was, she seemed off to me and I wouldn’t say she won. Then sideways I happened to see a BBC video report where fans at a London Star Trek convention were asked to name their favorite captain:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20018036

    Suddenly it was like I looked around the room and it all made a sense that it hadn’t before. Looking at the voters can tell you something bigger than looking at the election results. (Am I saying that right? Look at the voters to get the vote. Look at the room and see where you stand.)

  44. thatvisionthing says:

    @readerOfTeaLeaves: Relating Tufte’s article to Boisjoly’s recount @20…

    Two of the engineers became really hot about it, with one of them pounding the table with his fists. That more important message never got transmitted to Florida. NASA, hot to trot, was able to rationalize that the formal message from the engineers in Utah was that they really didn’t know.

    …plus Richard Feynman with a cup of cold water at the disaster hearing in the youtube @14 showed that an even clearer demonstration was possible.

    Have had a 1997 book by Diane Vaughan pointed out to me as well, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA:

    http://www.amazon.com/Challenger-Launch-Decision-Technology-Deviance/dp/0226851761

    …Why did NASA managers, who not only had all the information prior to the launch but also were warned against it, decide to proceed? In retelling how the decision unfolded through the eyes of the managers and the engineers, Vaughan uncovers an incremental descent into poor judgment, supported by a culture of high-risk technology. She reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them.

    No safety rules were broken. No single individual was at fault. Instead, the cause of the disaster is a story not of evil but of the banality of organizational life…

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