But that’s precisely what’s they’re used to do. The problem is not so much that one bets a hundred dollars on the one in six chance that a rolled dice will land on a certain number. It’s easy to determine the exact probability in games of chance where the outcomes are constrained. In the real world the outcomes are varied and often unquantifiable – especially when there are people who manipulate the balance of chances set out to purposefully mislead the masses. It’s often those events that change the world.
Perhaps the desire to know why something happened leads to generalities about what may happen in the future. The human mind, it seems, cannot long endure a quandary. It has to make sense of what it encounters. So, historians and scientists observing the past usually concoct a story with a causal element to try and explain why something happened. These causal elements are usually broad and abstract – such as the notion that nationalism was responsible for World War I. Be that as it may. But neither the term ‘nationalism’ nor the possibility of such a large war were in any way apparent to the would-be participants at the time. In fact, the very invention of the concept was an outcome – not a cause of the war.
But still, when it comes down to the end of the year many people start making predictions about what will happen in the next year. Basically, those predictions tend to mirror the general mood, or events that have happened in the recent past. It’s amazing how many people predicted another terrorist attack in the years following 911. it got to the appoint that almost any act of violence wherever it occurred and for whatever reason was called terrorism. It’s similarly the case this year that dire predictions of economic calamity dominate the national psyche. People are playing it safe, hunkering down, and fearing the worst. Others see the possibility of renewal, change and growth.
Optimism and pessimism usually stays somewhere in the realm of remembered history. Almost no one predicts that 2011 will be the year when the American empire crumbled and became a relic of past glory like Rome and Greece. No one predicts that Europe’s current economic woes could spill over into America and cause a massive death-spiral in the U.S. economy. Conversely very few optimists dare dream that 2011 will be the year that America returns to its former glory and becomes the shining beacon of economic success of freedom it once was. Few believe in the resurgence of a manifest destiny.
Either way, it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.