Friday, April 24, 2009

Determine Your Future Yourself

I am deeply distressed at the election outcome, although not surprised and have been pondering what and how to convey my thoughts for the future. I have attempted to convey them in the form of probability.

I am one that spends a lot of time ruminating and to be honest I am not sure how much of it is productive, especially when a lot of that time is spent thinking about what could have been. A few years ago I read a book called "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb, and it succinctly described the role of luck in our lives. Ever since, I have consciously been a determinist in every aspect of my life, meaning that I always choose a particular path based on the preponderance of probability instead of letting life choose for me. This may result in mediocrity but it is a process I understand, it significantly reduces the risk of the unknown and produces outcomes that ultimately are well above average. Some of you will remember learning about a bell curve at school or university, bear this in mind as I ramble on.

Much of the extraordinary events that happen to anybody in everyday life are purely random, like winning the lotto or being shot in a hijacking. It is a numbers game. What tends to happen, though, is that good fortune gets interpreted as skill when in fact it isn't (and this becomes known as self attribution bias), whereas bad fortune gets blamed on something or someone else. So we get a situation where a business man will make a lot of money on a business serendipitously, yet he will have no grasp of the fundamentals that got him there in the first place and he will magically think he has the formula. He will try to replicate "his formula", and over time this lucky guy will converge to the state of a less lucky idiot, invariably losing his fortunes along the way (which sometimes could be longer than a human life time, but the kids sort that out). We all know examples of people that once "had it all" and were "humbled". (For those of you that want to make political comments based on the above, it is merely a general framework from which to work).

Now the same logic can and should be applied to your future in South Africa.

Jacob Zuma is our new President, and this is scary. "Why?", some would ask. "He is an unproven entity and he could surprise us all." Perhaps. Randomness could result in a good outcome, but a determinist would see too much downside risk to accept that approach, based on simple powers of observation, experience and past history, and therefore would not defer to chance. Jacob Zuma is not a benevolent dictator, South Africa's democracy is dysfunctional, the state institutions that protect a healthy democracy are in ruins and he does not have the cognitive ability to do the right thing, with the electorate also having given him an open mandate to do as he pleases. A determinist would make explicit plans regarding the future. Don't be fooled by the 2/3 majority either, a simple merger with COPE would solve that problem.

(In case you need a reminder what our President is all about view this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA9NVYW5nvQ)

South Africa may have seemingly been slowly moving along a precarious road, with our futures hanging in the balance. In reality we have slowly been declining. I think South Africa did get off to a good start, and there are many reasons for this which have been covered before, but let's call this the surrendipitous stage. Our political leaders and the quality of our people are not up to the challenge now, which means we will "converge to a less lucky" sub-Saharan state, this is assured. Now I have pondered my life prospects many times. There will be those of you that have businesses, well paid jobs, a great standard of living or some other connection to South Africa. You need to ask and answer many questions if your future is important to you. Set aside petty ethnic arguments and seriously ponder some of these:

"What will my life amount to if South Africa converges to a less lucky sub-Saharan state within the next 10 years?"

"Will I be able to exit my business before my market collapses?"

"What will my life savings or pension be worth when the Rand starts to precipitiously decline?"

"Is my job secure?"

"Do I have sufficient offshore assets to assure a good life in a new country?"

"Are my offshore assets legitimate and safe from repatriation risk?"

"Do I have access to a foreign passport?"

"Will there be sufficient health care practitioners to ensure I am guaranteed good health care?"

"Can I guarantee that my children will be safe and assured of a future?"

I often look at my qualifications, the professional memberships I maintain in South Africa and what I think I could achieve in the short term. I sometimes think I have sold myself short. I reminisce about my past life and compare it to a stark new reality in my new land. I am often tempted to take a gamble, and that is all it is a gamble. The antithesis of determinism is gambling, pure and simple. Then this nagging determinist voice reminds me that building a life in South Africa will amount to nothing if 10 years from now the convergence has taken place.

I may be wrong, and that is okay because at worst I would have built a new life. It may not be as grand, but it would have been explicitly determined.

However, if I am right, randomness would have utterly destroyed many of you. Is that how you want your future determined?

So it is not a case of "I don't know, I will wait and see". That approach is quite simply deferring your future to fate. Do you want that? Don't you want to play a role in your future or are you perhaps worried that your "success" in life has been luck. Are you afraid that perhaps you will never attain the heights you currently enjoy in South Africa?

I plead with you to be a determinist. Do not leave your future in the hands of fate.

7 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

You are homesick!

FishEagle said...

Hi VI. I think life is more fun being a determinist. Being a determinist is like throwing a cheeky toffee at the Big Guy and then finding new ways, daily, of being humbled.

Vanilla Ice said...

@Anon 07:39. Undeniably so, but that doesn't change the situation. You either sit and wait for the future to happen to you, hoping luck will keep it cosy, or you explicitly plan your future and accept the consequences.

Vince R said...

This is a very good article and reflects much of the musing I went through myself a few years ago and the dilemma I faced: Do I stay or do I go?.. I decided to go, and in a funny way I guess, I'm guilty of "wishing" the demise of Azania in order to vindicate my decision.
But in the end, I do not feel too guilty because I think Azania has now reached the point of non redemption, irrespective of my own feelings...SA was stuffed anyway. btw, what is the source of this article as the title links back to ILUVSA?

Vanilla Ice said...

@VinceR. I wrote the article myself. I know we don't write enough stuff ourselves, so thanks for the feedback.

Vince R said...

Ah, good then. Keep 'em coming VI!

Anonymous said...

VI I feel for you bud I am in the same situation and the roots unfortunately go much deeper than most around us. life is taking risks, well looks like me and you are going to take the risk.Nice to have a little apple somewhere to elope to every now and then, for free,because you worked so hard for it.
yep mate I agree, just not the same.