Probability has been the mathematical language of uncertainty for over 300 years and has shown its usefulness in wide-ranging contexts from gambling to meteorology, economics, and political science. Used properly, it can help us learn from observation and construct better forecasts of what’s to come. But such forecasts are always subject to possibly flawed model assumptions. There will always be room for improvement. As the Danish aphorism goes: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” What recent experience has taught us is that the alternative—listening to paid spokespeople and pundits, often biased toward conflict, prone to spin tales about momentum and upsets—is worse.
The object of the espionage might not have involved what we usually think of as national security secrets such as information about U.S. military capabilities and intentions or nuclear warfare, but it was espionage nevertheless. Agents of the Russian government were secretly obtaining information about the American political process and using that information to benefit one political party, the Republicans, and to damage the other political party, the Democrats.
In the world of business, this would be equivalent to obtaining industrial secrets from one business and using them to benefit a business friendly to the hostile power.
This refashioning of a post-truth, post-fact Turkey has not happened overnight. The process has involved the skilful and wilful manipulation of narratives. We gave up some time ago asking the astonished questions “How can they say or do that?” some time ago. Truth is a lost game in my country. In Europe and America, you still have time to rescue it – but you must learn from Turkey how easily it can be lost.
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We found, as you are now finding, that the new truth-building process does not require facts or the underpinning of agreed values. We were confronted – as you are being confronted – by a toxic vocabulary: “elite”, “experts”, “real people” and “alienated intellectuals”. The elite, with experts as mouthpieces of that oppressive elite, were portrayed as people detached from society, willing to suppress the needs, choices and beliefs of “real people”.
Events moved quickly. Those who believed experts should be excluded from the truth-building process, and that the facts were too boring to be bothered with, became the most active participants in a reconstruction of their own truth. The magic word was “respect”, with the demand that the elite, since they were so out of touch, should respect real people’s truth.
“The bathroom was a work of art,” joked Nick Santangelo, who ran maintenance and engineering at the shuttle. “They used ideas from the hotel business, which wasn’t bad, but they didn’t always work.” Older jets in particular guzzle fuel and airline executives are obsessed with saving even a few ounces of weight. Not so Trump: “At first they wanted to put in a ceramic sink, that was too heavy,” said Santangelo. “Then one of his henchman decided they were going to put brass handles on the doors you use to get out in an emergency. Normal handles weigh a few ounces, and these things probably weighed five pounds each… you’d kill to save one pound, and they wanted to add 20 to 30 pounds to each plane.”
Observers of the business and ongoing theater of a Trump candidacy are bound to be struck by the passive role played by the candidate’s wife, one seeming to predate gender equality, in an embrace of values from an era when a potential first lady might be less likely to have served as her husband’s former law firm mentor (as Michelle Obama once was) than his carpet ornament.