Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Inside the Box

Cat in a box Calicocindy/ Public domain

We live in a world of “experts”. Many people opining every hour on the hour on every subject known to man ... and virtually none of them know what they’re talking about. Why? Because they’re universalists. Rather than just make statements about what they actually know, they take their limited knowledge and try to stretch it out to cover everything. Here’s where they run into trouble. Their reach exceeds their grasp.

“You should always think outside the box.” A universal statement. If we took these philosophizers at their word, it should apply to everyone in every situation all the time. Are you stuck on a roof and trying to figure out how to get down? Don’t climb down – that’s “inside the box” thinking. Try jumping off instead. It may get you inside the emergency room, but at least you’re “outside the box”. The statement was once meant to encourage finding new solutions to old problems, but I fear it has been transformed into pretending that old limitations no longer existed.

Wisdom is the synthesis of not just all of your own years of experience, but of thousands of years of human experience, transmitted through books, stories and, yes, sometimes cute little one-liners. Wisdom means taking in the current data, checking it against previous patterns, and then making a decision on how to proceed knowing full well that your decision may be wrong, and thus demands a “plan B”. When, during the early 2000’s, it seemed impossible that Las Vegas would ever stop growing, that the national economy would ever again experience a downturn, that land really should be selling for a bazillion dollars an acre, “outside the box” thinking was at play. The old rules, the old patterns – they no longer applied. Alas – some “inside the box” thinking would have helped quite a bit.

The universe is a very ancient construct, and it is governed by the same laws now as it was billions of years ago. Likewise, human beings. Irrational exuberance, greed and jealousy have been with us from the very beginning, and will always be with us. Every hundred years or so there’s a whole new humanity, but they’re constructed from the same old models and have to learn the same lessons their ancestors learned. The irrational exuberance of the 1920’s that resulted in people borrowing money to buy stock that would increase in value before they had to pay their loans was the same irrational exuberance in the 2000’s that resulted in people borrowing money to buy real estate that would increase in value before they had to pay their loans. The latest iteration might be large corporations borrowing money to buy back their own stock to juice the value of the stock.

When it comes time to predict the future of anything, crawl inside the box and see what those who came before you scrawled on the walls. You might save yourself some trouble (and money). You might even make a fortune.

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