“Since We Can’t See the Future, What Do We Do?”

A Conversation with Richard Danzig

Photo by Ted Knud | The Chronicle. In today’s uncertain times, Richard Danzig believes one can never be too certain about the future.

Photo by Ted Knud | The Chronicle. In today’s uncertain times, Richard Danzig believes one can never be too certain about the future.

Danzig urges students to ‘take new risks’

By Rohan Taneja | Wednesday, September 8 2010

The former secretary of the U.S. Navy—who served between 1998 and 2001—spoke to a room packed with students and faculty at the Sanford School of Public Policy Tuesday about individual and national strategy in an era of unpredictability. Danzig now serves as chairman of the board for the Center for a New American Security, a think tank located in Washington D.C. The speech, sponsored by the American Grand Strategy, was titled “Since We Can’t See the Future, What Do We Do?”

Danzig said that with regards to modern conflicts, it is nearly impossible to predict the events that will take place and the way in which they will unfold, using September 11th as a specific example.

“One of the things we never foresaw in 1990 was the character of the events of 9/11,” he said. “We didn’t see the trigger events there or foresee their results.”

Danzig applied the same principle to individuals’ tendencies and warned against being too confident in one’s own predictive abilities.

“I think the propensity for error in your circumstance is to follow the straight path and think more confidently of your predictive ability than you should,” he stated. “I think that you should take new risks and go against your natural propensities.”

He pointed out, though, that certain policies were good investments despite a lack of understanding about the future. Education, for example, should be expected to be a worthwhile investment. But he added that he is less enthusiastic about people who claim to understand “the key to the future” because “we’re lousy predictors.”

Danzig, once an adviser to Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, spent a portion of the speech giving more general advice about problem analysis in situations in which there is a lack of understanding and information.

“None of us gets everything right when looking at ambiguous situations,” he said. “What you can learn is not necessarily how to improve your insight, but also gain an insight about yourself. Where does your propensity for error lie?”

During the question and answer portion of the talk, junior Nikola Lahcanski asked Danzig how he felt his law degree from Yale Law School had impacted his public career. Danzig said that his experience at Yale affected the way he thinks.

“I think it was a terrific form of education for me not because you learn about the law but because of what you learn about thinking like a lawyer,” Danzig said.

Sophomore Amit Parekh was particularly impressed by the general life advice that Danzig gave in his remarks.

“I thought it was a great speech that gave us a unique perspective on life,” Parekh said. “I especially enjoyed his views on how people should diversify themselves because of the serendipity that our paths can take.”

View the original article in The Chronicle here.