Thursday, December 27, 2012

Expectation Engineering

In People Make the World I have defined the art of politics as having two components: expectation engineering and commitment engineering. Politicians try to convince people that bringing them to power will have desirable consequences, while bringing other people to power will have undesirable consequences. Candidates for functions try to create or reinforce the expectation that hiring them will be a good thing.
Expectation engineering plays a role when asking someone to marry you. I will make you happy. With me you will stay happy. If you marry Albert instead, I will kill myself. The last one is also an unhappy attempt at commitment engineering. Wedding itself, with its rituals and many witnesses is commitment engineering.
Communicating our expectations is often a go at commitment engineering. I see you as a brilliant speaker later in life, meaning: Don’t flunk your next speaking assignment at school.

We may be swayed by expectations much more than by facts. The End is Near, has been so often prophesied, that the message becomes stale. But it doesn’t. There are always again people believing. Why? Because expectation is a high-energy state of mind, while facing facts is a low-energy state of mind.
In intimate relationships three states of mind may play: love, sex and romance. And romance is the strongest of the three, as confirmed by brain scans. Romance is an intense state of expectation. You may feel romance when you are together with the person you love, but the depth of the feeling is related to the future: staying together, walking together into a blissful future.

Expectations play a key role in religion. Expectations of what will befall us after death, expectations of what will befall us before death, expectations about apocalypses in which terrible things will happen to the majority of disbelievers and wonderful things to the minority of true believers. Expectations about the return of heroes and saviors are many: David coming back as the Messiah, Jesus coming back on the clouds of heaven, Arthur coming back from Avalon to lead the British again, Frederick Barbarossa coming back from Kyffhäuser to lead the Germans once again, Djengiz Khan coming back from his secret resting place to lead the Mongols once again.
Maybe the oldest and one of the most ambivalent - if not pernicious - expectations is the promise by the writers of the Old Testament that Palestine has been promised to the Jews by none less than the Lord himself. Now that is a promise that is hard to beat, going strong for about 3500 years. Promises of politicians usually go stale within the common four-year period. This promise, around a thousand times older, is still not really fulfilled, and still not stale. That’s what religion can do. Religion involves the highest-energy states of mind imaginable. The higher the energy, the higher the risk. The risk of folly.

Since December 21, we live for the umpteenth time in a post-apocalyptic era in which no one can tell the difference.

So what should we do with expectations, with promises? As the saying goes, forecasting is difficult, especially about the future. Should we stop expecting?
That would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Any future-orientation should be balanced by a present-orientation: to face the facts, to sense the present conditions. We should be rational, and especially not be swayed too much by hopes and fears. Usually things turn out worse than we hoped, but better than we feared. We hope for the best, but we don’t bet on it. And we avoid the worst whenever we can.
Optimists live more agreeable, but pessimists live longer. I hope this blog is useful, I fear it is not. But I still write it. The upside is that some people like it and that it’s useful to them. The downside is that no one likes or read it. So the upside is plus and the downside is zero. Whenever these are the odds, go for it! That is no expectation engineering, but rational decision-making.
Although … people could think this foolish and I better not write it.
Life remains difficult, with or without blogs.

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