I was reading the Wall Street Journal the other day, circling predictive and speculative words, and thinking about the term “Know thine enemy.” I wondered where it originated so Googled it to find it attributed to Chinese warrior Sun Tzu, in his classic work, The Art of War. The translator of my copy, R. L. Wing, chose to translate the Chinese word “bing” as “strategy” instead of “war.” He claims in the translation’s notes that he believes this choice is “most faithful to Sun Tzu’s intended objective: the achievement of triumph through tactical positioning, without resorting to battle.”
Wing says it is not clear when Sun Tzu lived, but the work is now believed to have been written between 480 and 221 B.C., during the so-called “Warring States” period. During that time, more than 300 wars were fought between the separate states of China against the Chou dynasty.
A conflict-avoidant coward like me would rather win than fight, so Sun Tzu’s philosophy speaks to me. Especially now, when it fights rage all around, and I’m caught in the cross-fire, I keep tabs on those addicted to fighting, if only to stay out of their way.
So The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and their ilk educate me about how the fortune tellers on the payroll subtly manipulate their readership through prognostication. The addiction to prediction has become so entrenched that I had to start circling predictive and speculative words in news articles to grasp how prevalent it is. Don’t take my word for it. Just take note of words like “expects,” “will,” “ won’t,” “if,” “could,” “possibility,” “predicts,” “forecasts,” “thinks,” “believes,” and “suggests,” to name a few.
Predictions are dangerous, especially when they come from authority figures, who should know better. They include economists, world leaders, government, doctors, “climate scientists,” and, of course, meteorologists. Those making the predictions have a vested interest in being right, so contribute to the outcomes they expect. Negative predictions, such as those coming from doctors, put binders on the future, like casting a spell on a vulnerable patient. Global predictions, about “the global economy,” or “climate change,” create unnecessary fear based on a few isolated and disconnected facts. There is nothing scientific about predictions, no matter what the fortune tellers on the payroll say.