Periodically the US government, or the West in general, faces a perceived threat to peace and security: From Germany in 1938, Russia in 1956 or 1968 or 2014, Iraq in 1991 or 2002, Syria in 2013, and ISIS in 2014. The consequent dilemma over what to do predictably produces two camps. One side says, Act and punish the bad men, and the other side says that military force rarely results in a positive outcome. The first group cites all the evil consequences of inaction, while the other cites, with equal assurance, the unintended consequences of acting with good intentions. What they have in common is selectivity with the facts and with projected outcomes, as well as willful obliviousness to the other side’s baleful predictions. But the biggest trait they share is ignorance of the future. The one immutable fact humanity can be sure of (besides death) is that no one knows the future.
We are only dimly aware of that reality because in everyday life we suppress it. Did we not do so, our lives would be paralyzed, as we continually have to make decisions based on faith in cause and effect relationships: We stop at the supermarket on the way home or face next day’s breakfast without milk; skip paying a bill and face a penalty fee. But confronting the world of important matters quickly reveals the frailty of our powers of prediction.