The problem with this truth — speaking as someone who is a huge fan of Taleb and Kahneman — is that despite its wry accuracy, it simply will never have the power to make us stop making predictions. Beyond the human brain’s biological orientation to this function, there is the overwhelming practical matter of making decisions on how to live, which is predicated on evaluating the probabilities of the future consequences of today’s decisions.
There will be a thousand sweeping historical predictions at any turning point in history and we’ll be quick to mock the 999 that don’t come close and treat the 1 “soothsayer” who gets it right with sacred reverence as if wisdom had been a more important factor than luck — and in each cycle we will lament the futility of making predictions at all. And yet… there is nothing else. We can’t sit on our hands and watch history unfold as if it were a laboratory experiment — we have to imagine potential futures as best we can, and go about muddling through our tragically, paradoxically, ever-imperfect process of deciding how to live.
“Hitler” is a trigger word because it’s a symbol of some of the most horrifically dark times in recent memory. It is *appropriate* to be vigilant regarding the potential re-occurrence of the mentality that underlies fascism. Certainly many times it is invoked needlessly, by small people who must resort to histrionic references to draw attention to weak ideas — we can usually spot and dismiss those. Then there’s a bucket of “drawing reasonable concern” to veiled, cloaked fascist phenomena in a way that materially contributes to snuffing it out early on — and we sadly give little weight to these occurrences because psychologically it is incredibly difficult to feel the effects of a non-event, or measure a counterfactual (in scientific parlance, we have a particularly hard time with “negative evidence”).
The moment we face in history currently is not like those 2 categories. Fascist mentality is not vague and under the surface now — it is walking around proudly, emboldened by the “social proof” of other imperial, supremacist ideology evidently on the march. The far-right parties of Europe are openly using the appeals of Mussolini and tapping the ethnic purity vein of Hitler. Donald Trump weaves together intentional fascist imagery and language to support a strongman platform in the US. It is classic fascism, and our cynicism over Godwin’s law (and our reluctance to apply the label within American politics) is not a reasonable excuse for looking the other way or trivializing the importance of this election, or the events of our times. It is time for reasonable concern.