Trained to become a political scientist, I found myself naturally led into heated academic banters among my colleagues the morning after Putin announced the military operation against Ukraine - what has now been widely narrated by Western media (Alas! As if Russia is not the West - from a person who hails from Vietnam) the invasion of Ukraine.
"I did not sleep much! I was awake all night just to catch up with the news, watching Youtube videos and reading social media posts, ... ". I met a friend of mine who writes for China Focus - the student outlet that I am an editor for at the shuttle bus stop. I had been reading the first chapter of Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall for about 10 minute straight. The only reason: the chapter is titled "Russia".
"It's unbelievable. I am shocked, and everyone is shocked.", she continued. She was right. The world, or at least my world - the world full of nerds - was shaken. Just a day before, I told my mom that they wouldn't go to wars these days. "It's impossible. Going to wars does more harm than good, and no rational actors would choose the worse over the better. Why would they want to rage a costly war that would hurt their economy, their international reputation, and could even ignite domestic unrest? The world is too interconnected and interdependent these days for anyone to be nasty. There are simply too many crucial benefits from being part of the structure that they cannot risk losing.", six years of training in international relations, I found no better explanation. That night, Putin chose the worse.
Over the course of the next following days, I was dragged into so many exuberant academic debates, where many of beloved colleagues actively sought for the "best" model to explicate the bizarre and shocking event, as usual. It’s something that we are trained for. In order to be considered a successful scientists, conventional wisdom (in my field, political science) dictates that one needs to prove that they own the capability to foresee the future. Surprisingly, the political science field has not turned into Hogwarts yet. Has any of the witches been to Russia or Ukraine? Maybe one of them. The rest? Never. They probably are just like me - who out of shock and embarrassment over the failure to predict had to quickly grab a random book to fill the hole of knowledge, then choose a random “logical” model to explain as if we knew it all beforehand (trust me, I love my friends so much, but I guess we are all partners in crime). Ex-post responses!
But even when one make good predictions ex-ante, what do they know? Does it mean that they are real witches, and I am the muggle blood because I fail to make a prophecy?
Like any other writer, at this point of the essay, I am stuck. I don’t know how to continue and make a point, actually, “the” point that I have always thought about. So I decided to send it out to Q and ask her: “What do you think?”
“Well, a plausible question that the readers might have for you is ‘Should the people in your field try to make “better” models to predict? If not, what should they do?’, Q suggested.
Honestly, I hate all these Hogwarts things. For me, science is not only about prediction and generalizing.
My failure to predict what happened in Ukraine is not because my model sucks. Maybe, and I am very happy to admit that my model sucks. But my failure also means I am uneducated, and ignorant.
It is because I know nothing about Ukraine except for the fact that it lies at a very sensitive position to Russia - destined to the aggression of latter, people have it that. Ukraine’s history? Oh come on, I don’t know! What did I learn? European politics! Not Ukrainian politics! Ask me about WWII, don’t ask me about Ukraine. How hilarious…
Let’s give another try!
Ukraine’s culture, or food, or costume? Seriously? I don’t know…Name 6 cities in Ukraine? I can’t…
Friends from Ukraine? I have only two, and I love them dearly, much that my heart aches whenever I read the news about bombing going on there.
States are not billiard balls.
Democracy is not the only best thing in the world.
But I know for sure war is painful.
That is why I am NOT going to equip myself with a new model. Not until the day I know that I could fix my terrible ignorance, not just towards Ukraine.
To the people of Ukraine. My heart is with you all! Please know that wars don’t just happen on battlefield, when guns are steered towards divine bodies.
Wars happen everyday where I live, within me, when "they" try to kill your country and your people in my mind.
To turn your country into just a billiard ball, and the people unimportant, minimal, non-existent. The war of scientific assumptions.