I’ve cut way back on the amount of technical / philosophical material I post here. The reasons are multiple. For one, there are so many much better at it than I. Second, I have other interests and some of those are in the forefront of my thinking most of the time. Third, I have this nagging sense that much of what I read in the philosophical arena is mostly back fill; that is, it attempts to make sense of what has already happened, with tenuous connections and assertions to what will or is likely to happen. I think the future is molded by huge and unpredictable things: the invention of the stirrup, which permitted heavily armored horsemen to project power over exponentially greater territory; gunpowder; industrial revolution; advanced weapons; nuclear weapons; telegraph; railroad; shipping; aviation; telephone; radio; TV; vaccines; computers; networks; the Internet; …blogs?
These things are my focus, primarily. Because… they happen from out of the blue; and when they happen, I think civilization changes and it does so with little conscious regard to philosophy. That comes later, in an attempt to explain what happened, and in many cases, how the unimaginable (Holocaust?) could possibly have happened given our "advanced" standing. It happened because it could, and those who may have rightly seen it coming were far too few to do anything about it. And just the time you think that everything is worked out so that it doesn’t happen again, it happens again; but it happens for completely different reasons, in completely different contexts, and as an enabling consequence of completely different knowledge and technology.
That said, I’m interested in how this argument from the Slippery Slope relates to some of the things I’ve been thinking about; namely: the largely unaccounted-for role of randomness, accident, and luck in our daily lives and the advance or decline of civilization.
This is simply because there is no telling what they’ll do next.
…is the whole of it, and everything else is superfluous. Indeed; when someone does something bad, it’s a signal that their own conscience may not serve as properly as it should, and so you ought to be on your guard. The problem, of course, is that seemingly wonderful people can do unimaginably awful things straight out of the blue.
At any rate… what I didn’t take complete note of at the time was this:
It is a very important matter to reject any destructive principle with
conclusive and logically integral identification of the worst
implications, in order to minimize or prevent any certifiable loss of
Ah, now that made me seriously re-think where I was going. Then again, the worst can and does happen with no warning, while in other cases, the edge of the slippery slope is breached, only to have sound footing re-established prior to the worst implications taking place. My caution, as always, is to be careful about putting too much stock in what might happen, because so nearly anything can, and I just don’t know. We all want to know what’s going to come to pass, but we can’t really know, and trying very hard to know, or asserting one outcome as against other possible outcomes can be very dangerous and costly.
Let me give you an example from — where else? — the market. As a derivatives trader in complex options strategies, there’s one thing I’ve learned, and that’s to disregard both worst case and best case scenarios. It screws me up and costs me money every single time. Here’s why. When I think about the best my position can do in terms of profit, I loose sight of what I may already have gained, and paper profits can melt away in a flash. Rather than accepting a small win and looking for the next opportunity (they come around all the time), I get tunnel-visioned into where I’m at and where I could be. Conversely, and even more importantly, when I focus on the worst case, I tend to think something like, "well, that can’t happen," and I lose sight of the critical decision point where I could have accepted being wrong, taken a small loss, and lived to play again. Instead, I have often — and this is very important — found I was right. The worst didn’t happen. But the result has often been that the worst might just as well have happened, as my actual loss was far, far greater than the small loss I could have taken back when my trigger point was breached. Be careful of having to be right. It can cost you lots of money. You can accept being wrong, take a small loss and move on, or you can be right, and ultimately sustain a far greater loss while you take solace in the fact it wasn’t the worst loss you could have taken.
And so it is — it often seems — with slippery slopes. By putting great emphasis on the worst implications, people discount them as too extreme and too unlikely, and they lose sight of that actual, real, material harm they are allowing to take place at that very moment, and then even worse, that it goes much father though perhaps not to worst case.
Be careful out there. Of course, society and politics are unlike trading in the sense that you don’t have the power to press the "buy" or "sell" button on public policy. But you can refrain from giving members of society reasons to discount the relatively small loss they are going to experience now, because you’ll have them focus on the worst, and the worst is a mere unlikely chance.
I gotta say that I am enjoying finding parallels between philosophy / politics and trading. If you’ve read this blog for any significant length of time, you’ll recall that I used to do this sort of thing with respect to business, as I happen to own one that I’m now free of the daily operational grind of, and have time for other things — like trading. Starting, operating, and growing a business does indeed compel mental disciplines and exacts costs for being wrong (and right). But all in all, it’s more analogous to investing for the long haul in markets. Businesses are not as dynamic and fast moving as is trading in and out of securities or derivatives on a daily basis.
Think you’ve got your epistemology wired? Yea? Well open a trading account (even a paper one), trade on your "knowledge," your ideals, and your values and see how you do over the space of a year. You’ll get a quantifiable result, in dollars and cents. Then you’ll see how susceptible you are to being fooled. Results surely will vary, but they’ll probably surprise you. I can already imagine that some might object, on the grounds that going to a casino can not possibly be a guide to how sound your knowledge and decision-making skills are. The difference is that when you go to a casino and place a bet, it is not marketable shares of that casino or its profits. When you buy and sell securities and derivatives, you are buying and selling marketable assets, and these assets move in price based upon a million things all happening at once, kind of like society ebbs and flows on billions of bits of information that amount to value decisions being made by other people. It is so parallel that I don’t even regard it as an analog or metaphor. It’s precisely like society with all the same surprises, pitfalls, reversals, stupidity, injustice and on and on.