Holten: Conjecture is the new fetish

Do you know what the dominant word of the day is? It's "conjecture." Mr. Dictionary says that conjecture is an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information. Sounds reckless and dangerous, doesn't it? It might be dangerous, ...

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Do you know what the dominant word of the day is? It’s “conjecture.”

Mr. Dictionary says that conjecture is an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information. Sounds reckless and dangerous, doesn’t it? It might be dangerous, but whatever the case, we are letting it rule our lives.

You may not remember this but years ago it was unheard of for talking heads on pregame sports shows to predict the outcome of upcoming games. That only happened in Las Vegas or in a bookie’s underground rat hole. Today, conjecture is everywhere, washing over us like water from a plate-sized showerhead.

It all started in 1969, when quarterback Joe Namath of the New York Jets guaranteed a victory for his team over the highly favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. The Jets won and Namath became the new sports shaman. After that Namath was asked to predict the outcome of a never-ending list of sporting events.

Then CBS hired noted gambler Jimmy the Greek as a sports commentator and the floodgates were opened. From then on, it became almost mandatory that we predict the outcome of everything, to the point that now it is a global fetish.


The problem with this fetish is that, in the end, after all of the endless conjecture, we still don’t have a clue.

Yet if you tune into any news program today the whole focus is on predicting the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. Sports is awash with betting odds. And here in North Dakota, as in much of the world, the biggest “bet” or conjecture of all is on the future price of a barrel of oil.

Conjecture, conjecture and more conjecture. It rules the world. Soon we’ll be placing odds on when and where the next terrorist attack will take place. Or maybe some people already are.

It begs the question, “Why are we so concerned about predicting the future?”

I think the answer is that we do it do give ourselves comfort and to diminish the fear, because we think it gives us more control over things. Guess what? It doesn’t. It is simply a reflection of our global insecurity.

Lost in this entire fetish are some very interesting verses from the Bible. For example, Matthew 6:25-27 says, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

Often, when I want to watch my favorite sports team play in an important game, I’ll record it. If my team wins, I’ll watch it. If they don’t, I won’t bother. It’s a way for me to better utilize my time and savor the moment. Does it take away from the thrill of victory? Not in the least. Does it eliminate the endless conjecture? Yes it does. Sometimes it’s just better to let things come to a conclusion rather than speculate endlessly about countless possibilities before it happens.

George Eliot was the pen name for Victorian era English author Mary Ann Evans. She once said in her book Middlemarch that, “Everybody liked better to conjecture how the thing was, rather than simply know it; for conjecture soon became more confident than knowledge, and had a more liberal allowance for the incompatible.”


What she was saying is this: There is danger in listening to and relying on conjecture, and then assuming that the conjecture is true and ignoring the ultimate facts, which is something that seems to be commonplace in American politics.

After all, it’s less work to believe the lie.

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