My last post proposed a definition of future-tense science being related to decision making, particular when risks are understood and accepted.
As of late April 2020, the general COVID19 response by most governments are a form of risk based decision making. They present an understanding of the risk and accept the risk for their chosen policy. As a result, they can claim to meet my definition of future-tense science even though I’m convinced they are minimizing the consideration for the future.
The current COVID19 response ignores simple predictions about the time a few years into the future. At that time, many of the vulnerable people we are currently trying to protect will have died from their preexisting frailties and many of the remaining will become politically impotent.
In that future period, there will be an even larger population of people who will be struggling with the new challenges under the burdens placed on them by the current policies. Our civilization depends on this new population being successful in maintaining that which are not trying to preserve. Also, our civilization depends on that population to comply with our preservation intentions.
The current COVID19 responses consists of home lock-downs, discontinuing of non-essential businesses, imposing socially-poisonous behaviors such as mask wearing and keeping multiple body-length distances from each other. These responses have the goal of preserving what we had and the strategy amounts to the equivalent of tearing down everything we will have and salting the earth underneath it.
I assert the falsity of the notions of essential and non-essential activities. The declared non-essential activities of close and unmasked socialization is absolutely essential to the preservation of our civilization. In particular, it is absolutely essential for the preparation of the younger generations to take over eventually from the older generations who will soon retire or die off. Schooling, training, and mentoring are formal examples of this type of close socialization. Such activities requires visual clues of the exposed face to convey whether the lessons are being learned.
Similarly, informal examples of social gatherings whether at sports, in concerts, or at bars and restaurants are also critical for network building and reputation building. In the case of most government work, this kind of informal socialization is an actual job requirement coming in the form of providing personal references for investigators to interview to assess qualifications for security clearances.
Security clearances would become impossible to obtain in a society that has a lengthy history of people being confined to their houses and unable to be any closer than 6 feet from anyone else or within 200 square feet in social venues while at the same time wearing a masks and being discouraged from raising their voices.
I challenge the due diligence of the risk based decision making of the current policies. They need to provide more evidence that they fully understand the risks they claim to be accepting.
Even with thorough understanding of the risks surrounding the current policies, I still see problem with tense of the decision making. I stated before that I though risk-based decision making was a future-tense science but that needs further clarification. In particular, the current policies have a goal of a future that restores the past.
A future-tense science of risk-based decision making can be motivated by the past-tense science that explains and justifies the past situation. This past-tense motivation of planning is rampant in all our government and I attribute this to the fixation on the past-tense science.
A characteristic of modern civilization is the elevation of past-tense science as the ultimate guide for all decisions: something we call evidence-based or science-backed decision making. The consequence is that we establish a benchmark of perfection to be a point in the past, often more than 10 years in the past when the science was worked out.
There is a consistency among a wide range of policies: energy usage, free trade internationally, climate change, community design, environment, land and water use, and so on. The consistency is that the policies all appear to strive to return to a more perfect condition that existed in the past, coincidentally when the relevant past-tense science was discovered. The policies condemn the current conditions as aberrant compared to the past conditions. The need for the policies is justified by the conviction that without the policies our future will depart even further from that past ideal established by past-tense science.
The same goal of returning to the past motivates the current policies of the COVID19 response. The assumption is that the future is inevitably grim if we do not completely eliminate COVID19. Even if we concede that such elimination is possible at this late stage, we can still challenge whether the future is better if we returned to the past of just a few months ago.
The future-tense science is the risk-based decision making with the goal of a future that progresses from the past. The goal needs to be optimizing the benefits enjoyed in the future given the facts on the ground in the present. Memories of the past is not as important to this planning as is the current facts and the future opportunities.
Included in the memories of the past is the past-tense science, scientific discoveries based on observations and conditions available that the time of the discovery. To optimize the benefits to our future civilization, we need to discover new science that is relevant for the novelty of the current situation resulting from both a novel virus and a novel authoritarian reaction of our government.
In the US, we are in an election cycle that will pick the president for the next 4 years. As a result, it is relevant for voters to consider what the world will look like in 2-3 years from now. At that time, the threat of the novel virus will be better understood and emotionally tolerated. At the same time, we will be dealing with an exhausted treasury, ruined international supply chains and markets, a population that advanced 2-3 years in their respective life cycles. To optimize for this future, we need to consider the needs of that population.
The recent history of past presidencies have proven to have far lasting effects than the terms of their presidencies. Thus it is reasonable for current voters to consider the needs of the future 10-20 years into the future. The question is what kind of policy direction will optimize the benefits of those who will be the driving force of the generalized concept of the economy at that time. We need to be considering the debts and committed entitlements we are transferring to them to pay for. We need to consider their opportunities for pursuing their own dreams even of the basics of raising a family in comfortable circumstance.
Ideally, our goal should be optimizing the future in such a way that they will have more to enjoy than we recently had. Instead, we are striving to restore a past for the pleasure of the people nearing or past retirement now and this can be sustained indefinitely by the motivated ingenuity of their predecessors. It is hard to see where the motivation will come from after the punishment we have recently inflected on them with the government declaration of the non-essential nature of their career and life development opportunities.
The contradiction is telling the younger people that they are not essential despite the fact that we are counting on them being essential in the future. If they are so essential for our future, then we need to be giving them the opportunities right now to become the best they can be. Instead, we suspended that development as non-essential unless they are doing life-support type tasks of keeping supply lines operating or managing health care of others.
I have an analogy of distinguishing past-tense and future-tense motivation for a future-tense science of risk-based decision.
I imagine a man in his mid 40s. He has a good paying and stable job that affords a comfortable life, supporting a family of 4, having a nice spacious home in an nice neighborhood, and being able to afford frequent recreational activities with the family and romantic dates with his wife. A point comes up when he has to consider taking a new job.
First scenario is the past-tense motivation. On a routine dinner out with his wife, the dinner goes well up to when the last of the wine is poured into the glasses. After a sip, the wife informs the man that she wants a divorce and then explains that she has already made much of the arrangements with a lawyer so it is well past a simple suggestion. Until this point, the man had no clue there was a problem. He enjoyed every aspect of his life up to this point. It is apparent that the life has become boring to his wife and likely that is due to disappointment in his wealthiness. He is motivated to do every possible to restore what is probably impossible to restore. He will invest in time-consuming and costly marriage counseling. He will seek a new employer with the goal of taking a higher paying or more prestigious job. All of his actions comes at the risk of suspending any hope of enjoying life for many months to a couple years to come. The additional risk is that this effort could jeopardize his current job either because he can not give it the attention he gave in the past or the employer recognizes that he is seeking to leave and thus not worthy of trust for normal advancement. The man recognizes and accepts this risk so this is risk-based decision making.
The motivation is to return to a past that is almost certainly irretrievable because he family is getting older. Even if we assume he somehow succeeds to save the marriage and keep the family together, their future at that point will be less comfortable than it could have been if she hadn’t brought up the divorce in the first place. This is a valid outcome for this risk-based decision. He optimized his future given the unexpected injury he had to endure and overcome.
The second scenario is the future-tense motivation. This time, the man receives an offer for a position in an area he always dreams of obtaining. The new position necessarily requires a cut in salary for the first couple years, a relocation to a different city, and a need for frequent travel for the first couple years. Both he and the prospective employer are confident in his capabilities to quickly advance and eventually have a more lucrative position and offering many attractive benefits including the added prestige his entire family will enjoy.
This time, there is the same dinner and after the last of the wine is poured, he brings up his eagerness to seek this new opportunity.
This is also a risk-based decision. The risks are plenty. In the short term, the family will be unhappy about the relocation especially if the combination of higher cost-of-living and lower wage will amount to a temporary decline in standards. This likely will lead to the comparable level of stress within the family as the divorce-threat in the first scenario.
In both scenarios, I assume he is ultimately successful in his decision.
In both scenarios, he optimized the future given the reality of the situation at the time he made the decision.
In the second scenario, he ends up with a happier future than he could ever have hoped for in his past situation.
This is what makes it a future-motivated risk-based decision. He understood and accepted the near term pain and sacrifice he would have to endure. The goal was something better for both him and his entire family.
There could be a third scenario that combines the two. It starts with the wife earnestly requesting a divorce and then him finding this lifelong-dream opportunity that would exacerbate the tension between him and his wife (and by extension his family). His best option is to take the future-motivated risk-based decision.
In this third scenario, it is irrational to aim at restoring the past comfortable existence. He may end up losing his family despite his continued love for his wife and children, and that is likely the outcome no matter how hard he tried to save the marriage. The future-motivated risk-based decision would end up giving him a career of his dreams and ultimately rewarding him far more than possible with his last job.
The COVID19 situation is similar to the first and third scenarios. We collectively chose to pursue the path of the first scenario with the hope of achieving a future that is at least a fraction of what we enjoyed earlier. The first scenario could fail and we would lose everything.
We have the choice of following the third scenario. Accept that things are bad and accept the risk of losing a lot in order to pursue a direction very different from returning to the past. The potential rewards could be much higher than what we will get by partially restoring the past comforts.