What I do and don't know

For this week's blog, I first had a different topic in mind. But it is impossible to ignore the poison attack in Syria and the subsequent missile attack from America. However, when I thought of that, my first reaction was that I actually don't know anything about this situation. What does my opinion add to the discussion? Why would it be relevant what I have to say?

Perhaps most notably, my first reaction in itself is worth mentioning. It is supposedly a cybernetic response. Cybernetics considers situations by considering all possibilities. Not a few scenarios, not a few likely options, but literally all possibilities. In contrast, you see that the media is mainly about opinions and probabilities. And also about opinions and probabilities that, due to the dynamics of the mass media, can be nothing but subtle.

Understand me well. My opinion probably doesn't differ that much from yours, who speaks Dutch like me. My opinion is just as much shaped by those mass media and I honestly have little reason to doubt that opinion in this case. But the fact that I have an opinion does not mean that I know what exactly happened and why. I believe that Assad is a very unpleasant man to say the least, but I am not sure what his considerations were in all this. I also don't know what trade-offs Putin makes or what moves Trump. I think of everything and I can make an estimate, but I am not sure.

Despite the fact that I know very little, I think I can add something to the discussion. To explain that, I first ask you to take something in your hands while you are reading this. Of course I cannot possibly know what that is, but that does not mean that I nevertheless know exactly what happens if you just let go of it. It falls down. This very simple example shows that I can draw a conclusion that is correct for all possible readers and for all possible objects that you could take up. And gravity isn't the only law we can hold on to.

The finding that you can never know all the nuances of a situation means, for example, that you always have to enter into a conversation without a biased opinion. And that is especially true if you enter into a conversation with someone you seem to strongly disagree with. In the UN Security Council, which asked for a closer investigation of the poison attack in Douma earlier this week, neither Russia nor America sat at the table with such an open attitude. The Russian representative made the point, possibly for the wrong reasons, that the investigation is not useful if the parties have already prepared their conclusions.

The point I make about the attitude with which you should enter a conversation, every conversation, has to do with the effectiveness of your actions. I am not saying that you should deny your own opinion; I say the other party can always bring up something relevant that you didn't know before. And so there is always the possibility that you will want to adjust your opinion based on that, because you see that there are better alternatives than each conversation partner could have come up with individually. I have experienced this myself many times in very different contexts than the UN Security Council.

You can also wonder how effective they are in the choices Trump made. Almost all of us share the outrage Trump expressed about the poison attack. In that regard, I have no other opinion than Trump. Our opinion means that we want to do something to prevent such a disaster in the future. But our opinion only determines that something should be done, it does not determine what should be done. And our opinion has absolutely nothing to do with whether the response we choose is effective or not. That is determined by laws, not by our opinions.

Military action against Syria is just one of many options that could have responded to the poison attack in Douma. As a counter-reaction to this, there are also countless possibilities. The desired response - "Oops, we are really shocked by this and we will never do it again." - to be honest, does not seem the most likely to me. A consequence that could be expected is that the world splits up again in response to the rocket attack into an unshaded “we” and “them”. Let's hope that soon some important people join together at a table with the ability and the approach to be positively surprised by each other.