There’s uncertainty. Then there’s uncertainty.
Two kinds. The hostile kind which is the degree to which the uncertainty’s coming for you. Then there’s the less-sabre-toothy kind, the tame kind, that’s naturally part of the environment.
The former is more like a criminal stalker, hunting another human, the latter is akin to a business’s concerns over how many customers will desire a particular service (a natural uncertainty arising from the choices consumers have in a capitalist system).
Hostile uncertainty has human agency behind it. A person’s pulling the (potential) trigger. Someone really is coming to get you. For a purpose.
Plain-old tame uncertainty comes in a lot of forms, and may simply be an awful manifestation of the environment.
Sometimes a story comes marching forth to explain a concept. In this case, the author Michael Lewis, in a recent audio interview, describes a local public health official he wrote about in his latest book about the pandemic, and how he thought of her as a character:
Lewis: “I’m writing about a war. And she’s been like a soldier who’s been in the trenches. And most of the interviews I’m seeing on TV or in print are from kind of like armchair generals. Like people who have never actually engaged with disease on the ground. They’ve never actually done it. Most of them have never set foot inside of a local health office. And there they are in the green rooms of America, pontificating. Whereas this soldier, who’s got blood and dirt and grime all over from the trenches, and has been shot and shot people, comes and tells me what it’s really like.”
Interviewer: “You said of her, ‘the decisions she was forced to make were less like, say, those by a card counter at a blackjack table, and more like the ones made by a platoon leader in combat’.”
Lewis: “Yes, the difference between those two decisions is, the card counter, who’s really good at it, knows exactly the odds. So the cards tell you how to bet. You almost, once you count the cards, you don’t have any decision to make in a funny way. They’re rules. They’re rules.
On the battlefield, maybe they’re rules, but you have nothing like the information you have at the blackjack table. You’re dealing with fragments and partials. And you’re dealing with them necessarily in that it’s not an option to just say, ‘Oh, I’ll just wait until the fog clears.’ Because if you waited until the fog clears, you’re overrun. So the nature of the uncertainty is different, and so the degree of nerve it takes to make the decision is also different.”
Card-counting is tame uncertainty. Ground combat is hostile uncertainty. With one you’re wagering in a system that doesn’t care about you. In the other, you’re fighting an enemy that wants you dead.
The difference matters because it helps you understand what you’re up against.
So how do you deal with both?