Thursday, January 01, 2015

Yekaterina Schulmann on the problems of pop futurologists in Russia (and elsewhere)

Paul Goble of Window on Eurasia, a noteworthy blog touching on Eurasian affairs, recently linked to and summarized an essay by Yekaterina Schulmann in Russia's Vedomosti about the problems with many of the predictions made by Russians predicting the future.

I found this article vert broadly relevant. The twelve kinds of errors identified by Schulman, rooted in deep misunderstandings of the way societies and their institutions actually work, actually are quite relevant in avoiding the creation of all kinds of ill-founded scenarios, and in creating the sorts of scenarios which actually are plausible. Yes, this works in scenarios of demographic scenarios as well. I would hope that I myself, and my fellow bloggers here, have avoided making the sorts of errors Schulmann identified, and at the very least we've been careful to explain why certain parallels and arguments make sense.

Below, I quote from the first five summaries included Goble's neat summary of Schulmann's article.

Personification. There is a widespread tendency to elevate the role of personality in history, with statements of the kind “if there wasn’t Citizen X, there wouldn’t be a Russia.” But that is nonsense: “a personality can disappear, and a regime survive – or the opposite can happen.”

Historical Parallels. Pace Marx, Schulmann says, “history does not repeat itself either as a tragedy or as a farce.” The reason is simple: there is such a large number of historical facts that each event is a product of a different combination than its predecessor. There may be similarities but there are no identities, whatever commentators say.

Geographic Cretinism. Geographic determinism follows from the previous point, with this difference: for those who promote this idea, “geography is fate” and time and all other factors are irrelevant. Such people can’t explain why some regimes a world away from each other are the same or why some regimes so close together – like the two Koreas – are so different.

Vulgar Materialism. A subspecies of geographic determinism is resource determinism, a view that holds that the economic resources of a state define all its possibilities, a view that ignores that different countries with similar resources behave in completely different ways.

Vulgar Idealism. Those who fall into this trap, into the belief that ideas once announced eventually take physical shape forget that the authorities “exist not in a Platonic universe” where ideas are the only factors but in one where all kinds of things affect decisions and outcomes.

Read the rest, at Window on Eurasia and at Vedomosti, enjoy, and think.

Happy New Year!

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