Fortune Tellers on the Payroll


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.


12 thoughts on “Fortune Tellers on the Payroll

    1. Ori.46

      Out of curiosity, tell me how you still view subjects such as astrology?
      I use them similarly to tarot, meant for insight, to trigger the subconscious and to critically think about an issue you are having with no real forecast or outcome. I view them as critical thinking tools, not fortune telling methods. Curious if you and I use the esoteric the same way.

      1. katharineotto Post author

        Astrology has taught me the danger of making predictions, for one thing.

        It also has helped me develop appreciation and tolerance for people’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the challenges they face.

        Once you get past the sun signs, you see the uniqueness of every individual.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Thank you so much. I tried to keep this post short, modelling after you and one or two of my other blog buddies, who do a good job of picking excellent graphics and staying focused.

  1. williamleeone

    I find myself making an assumption , (assumptions can sometimes be more reliable than predictions) , and I assume you live either alone, or in a space where you enjoy ample privacy. I say that because I cannot seem to get myself through half a thought without some inane interruption. While I do have a moment of peace I would like tell you that I appreciate your writing and candor and perceive that both come from a source of obvious intelligence. I am looking forward to reading more of your observations as I can. ; )

    1. katharineotto Post author

      You are right that I have as much privacy as I need, sometimes too much, but lots of space to read, think and reflect. Knowing that other people don’t have this luxury–which can also be lonely–I like to share what I learn from it. It seems the world is so crowded with static that we can lose our bearings and forget what’s truly important. Your blogs are refreshingly insightful, even if you live within chaos.

  2. Helen

    It is very useful to research the conscious target of any publictions, and then to see how they use their words to influence their base. WSJ is so far right that it makes FOX look midstream. And to show how these future projections can backfire, just look at the Republican race this year, as it has slipped into an angry mess. WSJ and FOX have fed their bases red meat and hate for so many years, and yet have been blindsided by the actual result of anger, even hate. BUt more than anything, with their use of a 24 hour news cycle filled with dire predictions, have created an unfathomable, yet deep amount of fear. These folks are now SCARED of the unpredictable future. (Not defending Democrats here, but the GOP make the case better right now.)
    “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire. That’s the thought that brings ME the most fear.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      It’s not just politics. Fear sells insurance, medicine, and guns, to name a few. I keep thinking of the quote, “Where there is love, there is no fear.” For a supposedly “wealthy” nation, we can’t seem to appreciate what we have and have lost any generosity of spirit, if we ever had it.


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