US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS/TIME) — When all of this is over: The first half of this conditional sentence already sounds like the refrain of a song that will soon be written. This phrase is stuck in your own thoughts like an earwig. You can also read them from others in private communication. In the contexts in which this half-sentence is spoken or written down, it sounds like a sigh. Or like an urge that things should go on quickly now. With something. Then, yes, then: What do we actually do? And what can we expect?
When all of this is over: The special thing about this statement is that it uncertainly formulates a condition, namely that it will eventually be over with Corona. However, this condition is based on uncertain conditions. We just don’t know what will be after Corona. We do not currently know exactly when this afterwards begins and how the transition there will be. Neither do we know what comes before that. Uncertainty, even as an individual experience, has rarely been more complete and collective, except actually in times of war. We sit at home and wait for things to come.
Decision theory has been developed primarily in the United States since the middle of the last century. Uncertainty is something like a state of heightened uncertainty. We are aware of the parameters by which what is likely to come is decided in a predictable manner and into which we have to make decisions. However, we do not know the concrete values that replace the many variables.
The economy, for example, was just announced by the economic practices in Germany, will undoubtedly suffer. But how much and when economic output will recover and to what extent (or not) is also relatively uncertain for the experts. They have made this transparent in an almost unprecedented way by presenting various model calculations for this year’s gross domestic product (GDP) development in Germany, i.e. for very close prospects. Despite the seemingly small difference in the forecast decline in GDP between 2.8 and 5.4 percent, this means an enormous spread: the maximum difference between the upper and lower percentages would amount to almost 100 billion euros in absolute terms actually unimaginable value, also in its possible consequences. How many jobs would that be, how many companies, how many orders.
We saw the smoke screen coming
The corona virus produces a similar degree of uncertainty in many other systems, without being able to be quantified: for example in politics, in and between nation states, and in multilateral organizations such as the EU. With what we know right now, who could predict their future? “Politics” is often accused of lacking forward-looking action. It would be more correct to say: The political decisions are usually based not only on probability calculations and thus mere prognoses, but also on party and election programs, and consequently on the ideology and world view of the decision-makers – because of the latter they are mostly chosen.
Any economic decision (or prognosis or recommended action) is not uncertain in the uncertainty and without considering the respective worldview of the person making it. But that a policy derives its decisions directly from the recommendations of scientists or at least substantiates them with this: This is new. It is not just the measurable results of exit restrictions and contact closures that are uncertain, for example. It is also unclear what consequences this could have for the justification of future political decisions after Corona.
The uncertainty is like a fog in which we are stuck, and in which unfortunately no spotlight helps with orientation. We know we’re in there, we’ve seen the wall of fog coming towards us. But as bright as we shine into it, the fog doesn’t clear up. What, we call out as helplessly as defiantly, will my damn summer vacation actually turn into?
“No Future” for everyone
At the moment, we cannot even be completely sure that we know all the parameters that could be decisive for the post-corona period. Ultimately, we do not know what the environmental status so-called in decision theory (meaning not the ecological state of the earth, but in the broadest sense the conditions of everything out there in the world) will be at the time when that will start again, what we call normal life.
Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spelled out uncertainty and uncertainty in Errol Morris’ interview documentary The Unknown Known in 2013, both vividly and coldly amused by the military example of the Iraq war. There are known unknowns, that is, things we know we don’t know; unfortunately there are also things that we do not know that we do not know. The latter could be called bad surprises. In the event of war or pandemic, they can unfortunately cost the lives of many people.
And this, our life, runs – at least as we normally look at it – largely without uncertainty. In normal times it is an achievement of many systems in Germany to minimize the uncertainty, we say life risks. The social security systems do it, the health system does it, collective agreements do it, and so on. We citizens in Germany can make plans without having to worry too much that they cannot be realized.
This is also good because it is difficult for individuals to deal with uncertainty, and that is not a psychological diagnosis. At the beginning of the 1960s, the American Daniel Ellsberg, who later became known as a whistleblower, developed the Ellsberg paradox named after him, which he researched in urn experiments and which basically says: people prefer to take a risk than to live in uncertainty. We have, said Ellsberg, an aversion to ambiguity (Ellsberg used the word synonymously for uncertainty).
Do I actually survive all this and how exactly?
And this uncertainty now apparently troubles us in our home offices. Of course, it is not possible to quantify whether there is more to it than boredom or excessive demands or the fact that Netflix soon looked empty. The only thing that is certain is that all of our plans have been put on hold, frozen before the outbreak: the corona pandemic is comprehensive and relevant enough that it is already producing its own calendar, consisting of Before, Meanwhile, Later. We are right in the middle of it, the present seems total to us at the moment, in any case it extends in the individual experience, it expands forward. No future there’s just for everyone. This is not due to the current standstill, but to the unpredictability of what comes afterwards.
When all of this is over, will I still have a job, money in my account, my physical and mental health, will I actually survive and how exactly? Will I find something like fashion as important as I used to be, or feel like a silly distinction tool after spending weeks and months in sweatpants and dressed like a news anchor just around the top, where the zoom is -Imagesufficient? Will I be able to travel again or will I be allowed to travel as before? Will there still be cheap flights to Corona? How will my idea of freedom, happiness, self-fulfillment change when I finally step out of this home prison with controlled access alone, as a couple or in a so-called family group as a free person again? Do I think of something old or do I strive for something new and unknown? Or will everything just be the way it seemed in January?
Another, relatively reliable insight of decision theory is: We humans (and the man-made systems) tend to look for the one solution that seems to us to be the best possible solution. The disadvantage, however, is that it only fits one possible future outcome. Sensible thing would be to find a solution that many might even fit all future scenarios possible: the one the slightest regret produced the slightest regret, no matter how the future will look like exactly. The problem with this ultimate idea of decision, however, is that it can only reduce uncertainty from the moment it is made and action follows. But we are only able to do this again, to really act: when all of this is over.
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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.