2008/08/28

Complex issues

It's always the same with complex issues; you can analyze perfectly everything you know and think about and still be 180° wrong because you missed a single factor that turns the whole issue.

That's in fact a problem that can affect every expression of opinion, critic and comment. Even experts are not immune against it, just think about how they disagree with each other all the time. (Yes, it happens to me as well, of course).

The key to manage the problem is to stay open to new arguments - especially arguments that contain the missing factor(s). Some people do sometimes argue against wrong conclusions, but they don't provide (the right) arguments, thereby wasting everyone's time. It's possible to entrench in a wrong opinion simply because of such worthless opposition. A productive culture of discussion is probably one of the most valuable things that a community can have.

Missing a factor in an analysis happens very often. One recent example for a immature conclusion that I remember is the call for more troops to seal off the borders of Afghanistan against the Taliban from Pakistan.
Many people seem to think that this would be a good plan.
They don't consider two crucial factors: Pakistan and smugglers.

To seal off the border angers the smugglers, and thereby provoke an additional party to become a foe.
Much more troublesome would be a success in really sealing those borders. The Taliban would stay outside. We would have a party in Kabul, but the power of the Taliban would be directed exclusively at Islamabad, Pakistan - and we'd have troubles with a nuclear power being under maximum attack by Islamists.

Another opportunity to miss important factors is the Russia-Georgia crisis. The simple reasons for mistakes here are the lack of information (due to previous lack of interest) and lack of time to process information and exchange ideas (because it's a new interest). Long-time experts on the issue have an important advantage here - but can still come to different and therefore often wrong conclusions.
Their experience advantage is already on the decline as they'll fulfill their job as experts and transfer knowledge to others.

Sven Ortmann

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