The Point of Foresight

While I was thinking about another post I intend to write, I was reminded of a truly excellent line from the movie version of The Return of the King. Immediately after the Orcs take the west bank of Osgiliath from Faramir’s army and Gandalf rescues them from the flying Nazgul, some random guy shows up when Faramir is telling Gandalf about what we just saw onscreen and says “It is as the Lord Denethor predicted! Long has he foreseen this doom.” To which Gandalf replies “Foreseen and done nothing.”

While this is exactly the wrong thing for Gandalf to say, because he is undermining the main authority in Minas Tirith when there is an army of Orcs about to lay siege to the city, he does have a point. If you foresee doom coming upon you and your city, prepare for it. Make it so that the doom does not completely destroy both you and those around you if you possibly can. don’t just give into despair and decide that if you’re going down then everyone else around you can do the same for all you care.

Now, here’s the thing about foresight–it does not always come from magical seeing stones or dreams of wheat and cows, but also comes from studying the patterns and waves of human behavior. If you see something bad coming that is inevitable, as near as you can tell, you have three options about what to do for it yourself: fight it, prepare for it, or despair of it. You also have two options after deciding to do one of those three things: Tell other people, or don’t.

Now, there’s another thing about this: Such knowledge is meant to be shared, not concealed. Indeed, the entire point of knowing something (in most cases), is so that you can share that knowledge with other people in order to help them either with their current problems or to help them avoid having such problems to begin with.


First off, inevitable problems if things continue as they are oftentimes become much less inevitable if action is taken against them. If enough people figure out that the problem’s coming, maybe the problem can be eliminated before it becomes a problem–or, at the very least, be prevented from being as problematic is it would have been otherwise.

Second, even if the the problem isn’t stopped and still destroys what it would have, the more people who are prepared for it, the better, because it means that fixing the damage will not be as insoluble a problem, because there are more people who can afford to take time and think through their options instead of desperately scrabbling to survive/pay the mortgage or deal with whatever the problem is. Said options, by the way, should include helping those who, for various reasons, were not prepared. The more people who aren’t desperately scrabbling for options, the less likely it is that demagogues and tyrants will be able to take charge, and the less need there will be for someone to take charge.

What’s the point of foresight? Mitigating disaster.

Remember this.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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