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Uncertain About Uncertainty

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

David Chase survived the Nazi death camps. He came to the United States and started selling household items, pots and pans, door-to-door. If someone needed a mattress or any other large item, he would come back with it in a pick up truck. Eventually he settled in Hartford, Connecticut, my home town, and began trading in real estate.

In the early 1970's the City of Hartford owned a large piece of property on Main Street. Chase approached the City and asked for a 99 year lease on the property. They agreed. Then he went to a bank and asked for a mortgage to build on the property. They agreed.

Chase acquired the property and built the building without investing any of his own money. He wasn't the first person to play that game, but he was the first person to play that game on such a large scale, at least in Hartford.

The result was the Gold Building, a 26 storey office tower. David Chase collected the rents on the building's 620,000 square feet for 30 years. Then in 2000 he sold it for $60 million.

David Chase was a billionaire 40 years ago, back when a billion was still a billion. He could deal with uncertainty. He had steady nerves, big cojones. You cannot amass a real estate empire like his if you are risk averse.

Coming through a Nazi death camp puts all other forms of stress into perspective: "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."

It strikes me that the ability to tolerate uncertainty is a talent, like being able to play the piano or perform acrobatics. Sure, most anyone can learn to carry a tune or do a backflip, but those with talent excel.

I, myself, tend to be a worrier. I like to have all my ducks in a row. To this day I have not taken my father's teaching to heart, "The successful businessman makes the right decision 51% of the time." Waiting for greater certainty means that someone else has taken the deal. And, here at least, more is better; it's better to have 51% of a million than 90% of a hundred thousand.

I love the sound of the Spanish word for "uncertainty" - "incertidumbre" (in-cer-ti-dumbre), but I don't like uncertainty itself. Does anyone?

As humans we are prejudiced against uncertainty. Compared with sitting around trying to make your mind up, there is a survival advantage to doing something.

Particularly in a crisis we want to take action. Witness the often repeated Hollywood vignette where at the tense moment some panicy character rises to the occassion when they are given something to do: "Go boil some water!" or "Load those rifles!"

You can see this prejudice against uncertainty in the Corona crisis. There is "certainty" all over the airwaves. Media, government and public health pundits authoritatively proclaim "truths" which are soon proven untrue. They angrily catigate other pundits for contradictory points of view; "Ours is the truth and if you don't believe it, then you must be a bad person."

There is an echo of this in Biden's assertion that if you might vote Republican, then you ain't black. Good people of any color can hold political positions different than yours.

Every week I see montages of media personalities one after another declaring their false "certainties" about the Corona Virus. Each week it's more of the same, the same pundits declaring other, soon-to-be-proven-false certainties.

I don't expect different from the info-tainment industry. Confidence in the press is at an all-time low, deservedly so. Still, we the public, prejudiced against uncertainty, like to be told what to do and like those who tell us; "Go boil some water" or "Disinfect your house."

Socrates made a virtue of uncertainty. His approach was: We will discuss and discover, or at least understand that we do not know. When asked why the Oracle of Delphi proclaimed him the wisest man he demurred: I don't know. But it might be that others think they know and don't while I know that I don't know.

The greatest truth about Corona is that your underlying state of health determines the severity of your infection. If government is so concerned with protecting people from the virus, then government should start campaigns that generally improve health and well-being.

I am not a great believer in the efficacy of government campaigns, neither in protecting us from the virus nor in influencing us towards making personal choices to improve our health and well-being. A case in point is that exercising to improve heart health was a grass-roots movement, coming from the bottom up, not from the medical establishment down.

I would use another lyric, this time from Billie Holiday, to illustrate my conclusion:

"Momma may have. Papa may have. God bless the child that's got his own."

The government might have the power to help you. The medical establishment might have the power to help you. But you are truely blessed when you realize that you yourself have the ways and means to improve your life.

I think that the Eastern goal of Enlightenment is not an answer to the riddles of life, but an understanding that there is no answer, no single, authorative answer. Illumination would be, and politics is, the capacity to surf the multiplicity of opinions, to tolerate uncertainty.

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Dr David a victim of the Hippie movement, is still trying to change the world. He and his merry band believe that with their new expanded Lokkal it just might happen. (On your screens soon.)

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