R' Yoni Lavie
It happened a week ago, they called it the “doomsday” of the polltakers. Donald Trump shocked the world and was elected as the 45th President of the United States. In so doing he transformed thousands of polls, predictions, and positive predictions by the experts into dust flying in the wind. Was this the first time that the pollsters and analysts were showed to be so bad in their work? Certainly not. Can it be that this will be the last time? It is most likely that the answer to this question is also no. But no matter. The obsessive idea that “we-must-know-in-advance-what-is-going-to-happen” takes over the media in a storm before every election.
The greatest absurdity can be seen in the post-election sampling polls that are broadcast as soon as the ballots close on election night. Anybody who has patience to wait just a few hours will hear the real results, and everything will be clear and absolute. But television networks are not ready to give up. They incur huge expenses to set up thousands of ballot boxes in strategic locations in order to produce imaginary results a few hours before the real results become available. And all the while, the experts and the analysts have a wonderful opportunity to start discussing the results and their meaning.
And what will happen if reality does not conform to the results of the polls? What if the people refuse to follow the results of the samples? Well, there is always room for some good excuses. Without batting an eyelash, the experts will stand up tall and declare: the percentage voting was larger than we expected, last-minute developments changed the picture, the voting pattern changed after the sample polls were closed, and so on. And don’t forget that it is claimed (and probably true) that people tend to lie in the sample polling booth. This became clear in 2003, when the people replied to the sample questions that 90% of them had voted, when the real percentage was no more than 68%...
With all of this, how is it that the culture of these problematic polls continues to thrive? This is a really good question (I just hope that they will not set up a poll to answer this question too...).
Stay Away from the Polls
If we want to, we could simply blame the communications media. This is an institution which must fill its allotted time and the number of daily pages in print – whether the Third World War has broken out with a danger of a nuclear holocaust or if the hottest news item is that there is rain in Eilat. No matter. They will set up polls, they will ask the analysts for their opinion, they will analyze and discuss, they will argue and give their opinions – even if it is clear that within a few hours it will all be revealed as useless nonsense.
However, it seems that the obsession of the polls begins not with the media but with the public, the consumers who wait for the results. The great thirst to know in advance “what-is-going-to-happen” stems from a basic element in human nature. We find it very hard when there is something that we do not know. Our feelings of security and peace are eroded when we see questions floating around in the air and our future is lost in a cloud of uncertainty.
To alleviate this feeling of a lack, people are willing to pay a lot of money and to buy a “cat in a bag” – just to make sure that somebody will be able to “reveal” the future. When people become caught up in a situation which has an unclear ending (such as the last days of a pregnancy, taking a very long time before a person becomes engaged, and so on), they are liable to lose their cool completely. And from time immemorial, the temptation to listen to the serpent and eat from the Tree of Knowledge in order to become like a deity, “who knows everything,” traps us over and over again. And no matter how often we are disappointed by the results of the polls, we remain addicted to them.
Today it is clear that the next stage in the process is not to keep the facts to yourself but to make sure to distribute them as widely as possible in the social media.Many rumors which are only randomly connected to the truth spread on the networks like wildfire, because nothing can ever be more important than to be the one “who knows it all.”
“The Main Goal of the Information is for Us not to Know”
The alternative to the Tree of Knowledge is the Tree of Life. This means that we must realize that the focus of our existence should not be in the future but rather in the present. And the way to dedicate ourselves to this depends on our willingness not to know everything and to keep the future hidden. Whoever insists on knowing everything in advance and making sure that all the details are neatly wrapped up – might never get married at all. He or she will also have a problem in deciding whether to have children when there is no way to know in advance if they will be healthy, if they will be educated properly, if the parents will always have enough money to take care of them, and so on. How can one free himself from the obsession to know the future? How do we release ourselves from the dire urge to know everything in advance?
As people of faith, we have a much easier time of accomplishing this than others. In Tehillim, King David revealed the secret to us, when he wrote, “Be still and know that I am G-d” [Tehillim 46:11]. A man of faith is aware that not everything depends on him. There is One who guides the world and leads it to the best place. A man of faith knows that his mission is not to chase after the future all the time but rather to get the most out of the present. He knows that the focus of life is not to gather information, predictions, and speculation, but rather to be dedicated to living in a proper way here and now. It has been said, “There are things that are hidden which we will never know or understand.” One of these things is the future, and it seems that this is best for us