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January 15, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

The 14 rules for predicting future geopolitical events
posted by infini (42 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This article has lots okhamf good points.
posted by goethean at 9:15 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


For some reason, this rekindles my interest in playing Twilight Struggle. Maybe someone could invent a board game based on these rules? Megamaniacal Bastard: the Game of Machiavellian Oppression.
posted by JHarris at 9:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Uh...
3. Conspiracy rule... [generally] speaking, groups of people do not successfully conceive and execute dastardly schemes; even if they want to, they are typically confounded by the compound physics of too many moving parts and human fallibility. (You can think of this as the Occam’s Razor of geopolitics.)
So, "mountains" change geopolitics, "big personalities" change politics, leaders have only the goals of making money and staying in power, but conspiracies can be safely ignored? I imagine #3 would have been omitted or drastically changed if the author had re-read their own article or indeed read any piece of world history in the post-War era.
posted by tripping daisy at 9:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I have to add this (taking a deep breath):

QUANTZ.COM! WHY ON EARTH DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO EXPAND YOUR GIGANTIC BANNER TO FILL A QUARTER OF THE WINDOW EVERY TIME I SCROLL UP? ARE YOU THAT DESPERATELY AFRAID I'LL FORGET WHAT WEBSITE I'M ON?!
posted by JHarris at 9:43 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, I have to add this

Also, Google Chrome is a thing...
posted by obscurator at 9:45 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, tripping daisy. GROUPS of people don't successfully concieve of conspiracies. I take "group" to mean a large body. Smaller bodies certainly can conspire, and the smaller the better, which is just another facet of the principle represented by the adage that three can keep a secret if two are dead.
posted by JHarris at 9:45 AM on January 15, 2013


As JHarris says. Anybody who has ever been in a meeting knows how frikking difficult it can be to get even a handful of people to agree to a common plan and then stick to it. This difficulty increases exponentially with the number of people involved.
posted by Skeptic at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


> WHY ON EARTH DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO EXPAND YOUR GIGANTIC BANNER TO FILL A QUARTER OF THE WINDOW

Heh. Never happens to me. All I ever see is a black stripe banner less than an inch high with QUARTZ on it in white. And then the legend "Your browser doesn't support Javascript or has it disabled. QZ.com works best with Javascript enabled."
posted by jfuller at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


JHarris: "QUANTZ.COM! WHY ON EARTH DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO EXPAND"

DO YOU MEAN QWANTZ?
posted by idiopath at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


tripping daisy: "but conspiracies can be safely ignored?"

From the part of the quote that you omitted:
To be sure, conspiracies exist—what would war be without them, for instance? But they are much rarer than many suppose.
To me, that seems like a good rule of thumb to use when making predictions. Conspiracies exist, there aren't many of them, very few manage to successfully complete their goals, and even fewer manage to do it in secret.

Given that many of the crazier geopolitical predictions tend to hinge on implausibly vast and elaborate conspiracies, I think that the author was prudent to address this point.

Also, I think that the author makes one huge point without actually explicitly stating it: Truly disruptive events usually occur on the fringes, and are almost impossible to predict.
posted by schmod at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My rule of thumb is "Never attribute to a conspiracy what can naturally occur from multiple actors with complementary goals" (i.e.: the GOP alliance of Corporatists and Christianists).
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


tripping daisy: "Uh...
3. Conspiracy rule... [generally] speaking, groups of people do not successfully conceive and execute dastardly schemes; even if they want to, they are typically confounded by the compound physics of too many moving parts and human fallibility. (You can think of this as the Occam’s Razor of geopolitics.)
So, "mountains" change geopolitics, "big personalities" change politics, leaders have only the goals of making money and staying in power, but conspiracies can be safely ignored? I imagine #3 would have been omitted or drastically changed if the author had re-read their own article or indeed read any piece of world history in the post-War era.
"

It's almost like the author planned it all along. As if he didn't want us to believe in conspiracies. Like he has some kind of hidden agenda. Some secret goal...
posted by Splunge at 10:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would modify the conspiracy rule to say that conspiracies that rely on effective action are unlikely, but conspiracies that rely on inaction are more likely. For example, it's easier to believe forces conspire to let SEC reform bills die than to believe forces conspire to fill the SEC with malicious people.
posted by michaelh at 10:05 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Conspiracies are generally not intentionally created as such. They are much more often the result of groups with similar interests aligning their efforts for a time. And once that happens others will throw in with them and suddenly there's a "trilateral commission" or "global illuminati" which don't have a cool logo or meet in a secret underground lair or have burly henchmen with laser eyeballs but do in fact tend to act in ways that further their interests which more often than not are all about consolidating money and power in a few small families in order to maintain a shadowy pseudo dynastic ruling class.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:05 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of these can be condensed down into simpler rules. One I would put forward is "Tainter's law": people will keep doing the same thing in the same way, so long as it outcomes in more good than bad, or that those to whom to bad accrues have less power than those to whom the good accrues; but once doing so brings more bad than good, or at least brings more bad than good to those with power, things shift, sometimes totally.
posted by Jehan at 10:22 AM on January 15, 2013


"How to protect workers from the rise of robots"
hmmm, siracys abound.... how is Jack Ma involved?
posted by clavdivs at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2013


A coup d'etat is the result of a conspiracy, and coups have been very common in the past century.

Conspiracies are indeed hard to pull off because achieving a large scale goal requires a lot of resources and the involvement of many people, making it hard to maintain secrecy. Here are two ways successful conspiracies overcome this obstacle:

- They tend to be short-term conspiracies. It might not be possible to keep a sizable group of conspirators quiet for months, but a couple weeks of planning followed by decisive action is possible.

- They often arise within the military hierarchy. Senior officers are often like-minded, with something of a closed social circle. In many nations, officers have a certain degree of contempt for "soft" civilian leadership. People who join the military may have (on average) different political leanings than the general public (often right wing, though the Turkish military's secularism is a noteworthy exception). Moreover, there's a habit of following the orders of superior officers. All this makes it possible for a small group of generals to leverage their position and bring on board a large group of sympathetic colonels. In the right conditions, a military coup can snowball in a matter of hours from a tiny coterie to a full scale revolt.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2013


To me, that seems like a good rule of thumb to use when making predictions. Conspiracies exist, there aren't many of them, very few manage to successfully complete their goals, and even fewer manage to do it in secret.

The free google dictionary reads conspiracy as "A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful" or "The action of plotting or conspiring."

Arranging geopolitical events by body count and/or GDP fluctuations, what in fact is not a conspiracy? When has a country taken a vote before waging wars, economic or military? The small group of leaders with the power to take that action not only deny democratic input, but now they deny our ability to take them to court to review their actions, at least here in America.

I guess one person's Iraq War is another's conspiracy by a small group of reckless idiots. The only difference as I see it is the idea that declaring illegal actions to be legal to excuse torture and wars of aggression is not the same thing as being legal.

And given the history of coups in the world in the post-war era, including the overthrow of Iran with less than 100 individuals "in the know" during the time Operation AJAX was successfully executed, I think dismissing common sense cui bono arguments is exactly the wrong way to approach geopolitics.
posted by tripping daisy at 10:36 AM on January 15, 2013


All this makes it possible for a small group of generals to leverage their position and bring on board a large group of sympathetic colonels. In the right conditions, a military coup can snowball in a matter of hours from a tiny coterie to a full scale revolt.

What of the "Captains of Industry."
posted by clavdivs at 10:36 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If your idea of conspiracies comes from Hollywood, no they're not very interesting in real politics: but if you look at actually existing conspiracies they are wildly successful:

1) The LIBOR conspiracy in which various key players amongst several (British) banks worked together to defraud the public/taxpayer, as well as the whole economic crisis in general, caused by banks, regulators and others working together to peddle worthless stock and mortgages.
2) The conspiracy that lied the UK and US into the War on Iraq
3) Vietnam

etc.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:36 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


All of these rules are true, they can happen in near-infinite combinations, thereby making it impossible to predict anything.
And the problem with conspiracies is not that they don't exist, it's that they can be retrofitted to explain anything, including the reason why there's no evidence to prove or disprove them.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:38 AM on January 15, 2013


This article has lots okhamf good points.

More articles should include code strings like this that we can use on MeFi to slyly indicate we've RTFA, without having to actually think and type a cogent comment.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


What distinguishes most of these conspiracies from Hollywood's idea of them is that these are hardly secret even at the time, but rather depend on the common interests of politicians, the military, business and the news media to keep them hidden. For every Watergate, there are a half dozen much more damaging conspiracies that are ignored by the Washington Post or the NYT, evidence for which can be seen in how they reported on the evidence for Iraqi WMD before the war, when it mattered, and after.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


stupidsexyFlanders: "More articles should include code strings like this that we can use on MeFi to slyly indicate we've RTFA, without having to actually think and type a cogent comment."

This is a gbalf idea.
posted by boo_radley at 10:45 AM on January 15, 2013


DO YOU MEAN QWANTZ?

Maaaaaaybe. Or maybe I'm referring to a secret website that exists inside my brain!

One I would put forward is "Tainter's law": people will keep doing the same thing in the same way, so long as it outcomes in more good than bad

I think this should be amended to: "People will keep doing the same thing in the same way, so long as they perceive there to be more good outcomes than bad."

The advantages of freedom, to a dictator, seem underrated, and a thoroughly-indoctrinated populace might even have difficulty seeing them themselves, witness North Korea. This is because of a failure of imagination. Imagination: that quality that considers possibilities outside that of the narrow confines of known choices, that dates to consider what could be.

A people who have had their sense of imagination dulled are a lot easier to control, which is one of the reasons the arts so often finds itself opposed to the state.
posted by JHarris at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2013


More articles should include code strings like this that we can use on MeFi to slyly indicate we've RTFA, without having to actually think and type a cogent comment.

If you don't see the fnord, it can't eat you.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:49 AM on January 15, 2013


> Conspiracies are generally not intentionally created as such. They are much more often the result of groups
> with similar interests aligning their efforts for a time

After the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago the government rounded up a very miscellaneous bunch of protesters and charged them with, among other things, "conspiracy" to cross state lines to incite a riot. Since most of the defendents had not known one another from Adam before reaching Chicago the question arose, "How can there have been a conspiracy?" The federal prosecutors' answer was that there doesn't have to have been any prior meeting or collusion or even communication for a conspiracy to exist. All that's required is a "meeting of the minds" -- that, in short, if the defendents had independently had similar thoughts and made similar plans at pretty much the same time, they were guilty of conspiracy.

The Chicago jury threw out all the conspiracy charges, but it's obvious there are vast numbers of people who see conspiracy the same way now: all these individuals and groups that support pretty much the same things, which benefit them in very similar ways... it must be a conspiracy, it just has to be.
posted by jfuller at 10:49 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


These look explanatory rather than predictive.

Predictive would be: technological change, resource depletion/use, demographics.
posted by alasdair at 11:00 AM on January 15, 2013


A coup d'etat is the result of a conspiracy

Actually, no. Not in any case if you understand "conspiracy" as implying some real secrecy. When there's a successful coup, in a large majority of cases, pretty much everybody saw it coming a mile away. The military, and in particular the sort of military that stages coups, is pretty terrible at keeping secrets. When a coup succeeds, it's rarely because anybody was caught by surprise, and far more often because the government was too weak to resist.
posted by Skeptic at 11:04 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chicago jury threw out all the conspiracy charges, but it's obvious there are vast numbers of people who see conspiracy the same way now: all these individuals and groups that support pretty much the same things, which benefit them in very similar ways... it must be a conspiracy, it just has to be.

Members of the military and government meet all of the time to discuss how they will leverage their power to accomplish certain goals, and there have been many cases where their plans and eventual action are plainly illegal. The reason the jury threw that case out is because there wasn't any communication between the protestors to more effectively carry out a plan. Centers of power perpetually communicate with each other to more effectively carry out their plans.
posted by tripping daisy at 11:04 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, no. Not in any case if you understand "conspiracy" as implying some real secrecy. When there's a successful coup, in a large majority of cases, pretty much everybody saw it coming a mile away.

So, when a world superpower topples a tiny nation to take valuable resources there can't be a conspiracy? That's awfully convenient for the superpowers, isn't it?
posted by tripping daisy at 11:07 AM on January 15, 2013


"And then the legend 'Your browser doesn't support Javascript or has it disabled. QZ.com works best with Javascript enabled.'"

Me, too. Can someone summarize the article for those who use script-blockers?
posted by jiawen at 11:08 AM on January 15, 2013


Rule #1 - If the past is any indicator, predicting future geopolitical events is a fool's errand.
posted by snottydick at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2013


Rules of History schemes tend to fall into one of two categories: Specific/Wrong and Vague/Unverifiable. This seems to be in the latter.

1. Muddle-along rule. 2. Precipice rule. These are basically the same thing: don't expect a sudden collapse. OK, but why would I be expecting a collapse anyway? Only if somebody else's Rules say there will be one. Rules 1 and 2 are basically negative rules: they just point out that other Rules are probably wrong.

3. Conspiracies are rare. True. But again, a negative Rule: other people's conspiracy-based Rule predictions are probably wrong.

4. Economic/health/injustice rule. So, changes are driven by the desire for three very broad categories of Good Things: again pretty vague. Does make specific exceptions for "liberty and political expression", which aren't apparently much desired. But has the desire for "health" really been a bigger driver of change than "liberty"? Santé, Egalité, Fraternité anyone?

5. Idea rule. Ideas don't cause change, except when they do. Thanks, man. But yeah, a reasonable point here, people tend to be concerned with bread-and-butter issues more than abstractions.

6. Caesar rule. Actually a very good point here. Simple versions of history encourage to think about autocrats leaders as isolated individuals, but in reality they always depend on lieutenants and allies, who can drop their support.

7. Staying in power rule. True, but a bit obvious,

8. Territory rule. Sometimes true, but seems a bit exaggerated: territory can change hands peacefully, as in Hong Kong. Nation states are a political construct of the last few centuries, not necessarily part of a "primal instinct".

9. The rule of averages. This seems to be the concept of regression to the mean. A true and important concept, notthing particularly to do with geopolitics.

10. Big personality rule. The Great Man theory of history never dies. But what about all the other rules? If the Great Big Personality Man can override them, then how useful are they really?

11. True-believer rule. This is basically the opposite of rules 1 and 9. The centre is what's important, except when the extremes are important, and these rules don't tell us how identify which rule to follow.

12. Mountain rule. Powerful countries have power. A bit obvious.

13. Getting-rich rule. 14. Local politics rule. Both true
, both a bit obvious.

Overall, not a particularly terrible list, but not exactly a huge revelation either.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Er... Somalia pretty much *has* suffered state collapse. The fact that various other countries have sent in armies to whack whichever group has a hold on part of the country that they don't like doesn't mean it has a functioning national government.
posted by tavella at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2013


Muddle-along rule

Nations take time to decline. The muddle along rule works only for short periods. Anyway, fall of USSR .. did it break the muddle along rule?

I have a larger question. Is there a university/prof/company who is doing research around trying to determine such rules or maxims? something like the asimovian psychohistory only with a mathematical base?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:46 PM on January 15, 2013


I sort of feel like the summary of this is, "people do things in various ways and then other things happen or maybe not happen"?
posted by threeants at 4:41 PM on January 15, 2013


This article has lots okhamf good points

I just found out over in The Atlantic thread that this quantz website is part of their business.

Is the code a way for the poor journo types to communicate to us across the business barriers of advertorials and the like?
posted by infini at 6:28 PM on January 15, 2013


Overall, not a particularly terrible list, but not exactly a huge revelation either.

Yeah, but to us laypeople it's interesting to see them put forth, it helps to give us a framework to work from when events happen.
posted by JHarris at 9:43 PM on January 15, 2013


So, when a world superpower topples a tiny nation to take valuable resources there can't be a conspiracy? That's awfully convenient for the superpowers, isn't it?

If you are referring to Operation Ajax, I wouldn't consider Iran "tiny", but let's put that aside.

The whole point of being a world superpower is that it doesn't need to "conspire" to topple the government of a smaller nation. It can very openly humiliate and harass the other country and nobody will do anything about that. Indeed, the more publically the superpower harasses the smaller nation and pushes it around, the more likely it is that somebody will take the hint and, to paraphrase Henry II, rid it of that meddlesome government.

It wasn't at all a secret that the US and Britain wanted to get rid of Moussadegh, or that the US wanted to get rid of Arbenz or Allende. Neither was it a secret that the USSR wanted to get rid of successive Afghan leaders in the 70s and 80s. France doesn't need to "conspire" to replace leaders in its former African colonies: a simple press note from the Elysée palace usually suffices to send 'em flying. The very public nature of the superpowers' hostility helps undermine public support in those governments and encourages wannabe putschists.
posted by Skeptic at 2:21 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest difference between then and now is all of us sidewalk superintendents commenting online.
posted by infini at 3:08 AM on January 16, 2013


> Nations take time to decline. The muddle along rule works only for short periods. Anyway, fall of USSR ..
> did it break the muddle along rule?

I think it was more that for a long time a great tree was falling in the forest but there was nobody around. Then finally it hit the ground (cue Earth-shaking KABOOM) and everybody everywhere heard it.
posted by jfuller at 7:21 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


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