Fortune-telling, Our Favorite Human Pastime


I’m not Cassandra, who was blessed by Apollo with divine power to predict the future, but I can make a prediction as she could that you won’t believe. The next thing you will say is: “No way, Jose!” See, you don’t believe me, and I haven’t even made a serious prediction about the more distant future yet!

No one listens to soothsayers. What do they know? Whether or not a prophet or an expert can truly anticipate the unraveling of coming events doesn’t matter much to us. We have our own biased view of what is going to happen next. As a writer, I am hoping that you won’t delete this until you read further. As a reader, you may be asking yourself how come you chose this to read in the first place. What actually happens next will be one of two things: you’ll either delete this, or you will read my next sentence.

To those of you who are still reading, I promise you a look at the future which can help you deal with the troublesome uncertainties you’re likely to imagine. As you know, the future unfolds to each individual as a series of “go” – “no-go” gates that can be plotted on a critical path flow chart.

The fact that there can be very divergent results entices us to buy into speculating about which is the most likely possibility to take place. This human foible was very well displayed to me on a dramatic TV program years ago. The message behind the plot line has always made me wonder about how I should handle “good” advice sincerely offered.

The TV drama was a one-man play about a loner who liked to gamble. One day he receives a phone call suggesting he bet on the certain outcome of a professional football game. If he won, he was to send half his winnings to the caller at a designated P.O. Box. The loner was very curious, but placed no bet. When the caller’s tip proved accurate, the loner was sorry he hadn’t followed the advice. He could have used the money. Well, the caller rings back to ask him if he had bet. Finding the loner more susceptible to listening to an “insider,” the caller offered a tip on a football game coming up the following week-end.

You probably have guessed that this time the loner bets and wins, and dutifully sends half his earnings to the caller as directed. Shortly afterward the “pigeon” receives a call to make another bet, and the caller suggests that he increase the amount of the bet, since the bet is on a “sure” thing. The loner does that, and reaps much greater rewards.

The modus operandi of the caller is repeated, and each time the loner wins, he becomes more convinced that the caller has some special insight into the future.

After he wins the fifth time, the euphoric loner decides to “borrow” some money from his company, a midnight theft actually, which he could quickly pay back the next day from his winnings.

Then the trap of Fate springs shut, and for the first time the caller is wrong, and the loner loses all his prior winnings and the amount he “borrowed.” He has no telephone number to call. He goes to the Post Office and finds that the P. O. Box was not rented to anyone. And then, it dawns on him that he was a victim of a scam. There will be no more calls. The loner has been “conned.” Now he has to figure out how he is going to explain the “loan” to his boss.

The “con game” suddenly becomes obvious to him. The caller began by calling numerous “suckers” initially. After each football victory, the caller would only contact the victorious bettors, and make a new suggestion about any scheduled game after receiving their payoffs in the mail and changing the P.O. Box number. Each time the number of suckers to call was less, until there were no winners! Just the caller.

The step by step suspense of the drama was gripping, at least for this novice at gambling. Still, the lesson that sporting events can go either way was not new to me. Nothing is settled one way or another until the last out is made, the final whistle is blown, or the photo finish is published that determines the winning race horse.

The fact that competition is so keen in the sports arena tends to make us forget that outcomes can be fixed. Suspicion isn’t enough to preclude rigged results from happening. Look back at the Little League World Series of 2001 to see that adults were tempted to stack the cards by using an over age pitcher expecting to get away with it.

Even devout, praying humans are implicated in trying to influence the outcome of some future event by calling on the “higher power” they worship to intervene. Endeavoring to control the future is a pastime many of us devote a great deal of our time, money, and energy in pursuing. So, maybe we should analyze more deeply this ordinary human habit. Maybe we should consider how we can “kick the habit,” our addiction to over-planning the future.

Edward Cornish in his work called “How We Can Anticipate Future Events” that was published in The Futurist wrote: “Generally, we talk about our future or that of some group or community… But one thing is clear. The future exists not as an actual physical object, but as concepts that people have of future events and situations. These concepts may or may not correspond to events that will actually occur.”

Regardless of historical records that our favorite athletes and sports teams have, most sports fans have no doubt that on a given day there are going to be some surprising upsets. Considering the odds we’ll place a bet, enter a pool, and somehow try our best to predict who will win tomorrow.

This desire to be a successful amateur “seer” or prophet drives much of our human activity: An investment in the stock market, a real estate property, some extra inventory, a Dotcom start-up, a college education, or in any new venture. All of these are merely diverse forms of speculation about the future. All are just one of many accepted euphemisms for gambling with our lives, our money, our energy, and our time.

We analyze the probabilities of success based on prior results and relatively few known facts and make an educated guess, always knowing there are uncertain risks of failure. When these risks appear tolerable to us, we place our bets and hold our breath.

The recent federal income tax cut was predicated on an optimistic projection of collecting tax revenue that exceeded government spending. The losses on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2001 were the result of unrealistic investors betting on the profit potential of newly formed high tech companies. The closure of plants and the failure of companies are always due to over enthusiastic projections of probable sales and continued demand for product.

All kinds of marketing jobs have been created to gage potential consumer interest, demand, and preference for products, services, and specific brand names. Analysts and consultants abound who are hired to make financial forecasts, sales forecasts, and profit forecasts. Most of what we do each day in a majority of professions is to prepare ourselves for some “tomorrow” that may never come.

For many years I was responsible for making profit plans and forecasts for large companies. The sales and profit objectives were seldom realized, and when they were achieved, the actual factors behind the accomplishment of the plan or forecast were always different from management’s underlying assumptions! No one can predict the future with any great accuracy, even Alan Greenspan and his band of merry prognosticators.

We stock up on groceries, gasoline, and supplies for the coming week’s consumption. We fix our cars, our appliances, our homes, etc. so that we are ready for the continued use we expect to give them starting tomorrow. Or next week. We plan our week-ends, our holidays, our vacations, and our trips ahead of time. Yet, as one close friend observed, our anticipation always seems more exciting than the actual experience.

Lovers plan their weddings, married couples plan to have children, and old folks plan their retirement. We are forever thinking about the future for ourselves, our children, and our close friends. And we frequently plot how we can get even with our enemies.

When do we actually think about today? The “fun” that we are experiencing this very moment writing or reading? Yesterday is gone. No use in lamenting those lost opportunities. If our bodies are hurting somewhere at this moment, we’re thinking about what we should do to end that painful nuisance soon. If we’re hungry or thirsty, we set about to satisfy those annoying desires. However, if things are going smoothly, which they rarely do, we’ll probably become bored with the comfortable circumstances. (Unless we have learned how foolish it is to look ahead for something better to amuse or excite us.)

Athletes, actors, musicians, dancers, and entertainers practice long hours for their next performance. Yet, anyone who has played on a sports team, landed a role in a theatrical production, sang, danced, or blown a horn in a concert, knows that nothing goes exactly like the dress rehearsal or the final practice before a game.

Mistakes large and small happen, and the show usually goes on despite major catastrophes. For better or worse, for triumph or disgrace, what actually happens is the result of something unanticipated, unintended, and possibly capricious. Perhaps that “something” is merely the consequential evidence of some quirky design of Destiny! The subsequent value to us of what may seem like a negative experience when it happened to us may not dawn on us for years! If ever.

The moral of the story about the loner is: Try not to concentrate so much on tomorrow. Things probably won’t work out as you imagine, and you could end up worse off than you are today. Admit it or not, we are all just “loners” trying to improve our chances of attaining our selfishly defined happiness – if not tomorrow, the next day, or hopefully, soon thereafter.

Good luck, reader! And don’t take your losses seriously. Some may be tax deductible!

Chic Hollis is a longtime drummer and motorcyclist, who served in the US Air Force in North Africa. Married 4 times with 5 children born in 5 different countries on four continents, Chic is a politically independent citizen of the world interested in helping Americans understand the reality that is life overseas where many intelligent, educated, and industrious people aren’t as privileged as we are in the US. He studied Latin, Greek, Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German and ran several large companies. Sadly, Chic Has left this planet and we miss him very much, but we are very pleased to display his amazing writing works.