Vale William Safire

William Safire, a speech-writer for Richard Nixon and later an op-ed columnist with The New York Times, has just died.  To his memory, I retrieve a statement from his novel Full Disclosure, which nicely expresses a different model of decision-making to that taught in Decision Theory classes:

The truth about big decisions, Ericson mused, was that they never marched through logical processes, staff systems, option papers, and yellow pads to a conclusion.  No dramatic bottom lines, no Thurberian captains with their voices like thin ice breaking, announcing, “We’re going through!”    The big ones were a matter of mental sets, predispositions, tendencies – taking a lifetime to determine – followed by the battering of circumstance, the search for a feeling of what was right – never concluded at some finite moment of conclusion, but in the recollection of having “known” what the decision would be some indeterminate time before.  For weeks now, Ericson knew he had known he was ready to do what he had to do, if only Andy or somebody could be induced to come up with a solution that the President could then put through his Decision-Making Process. That made his decision a willingness not to obstruct, rather than a decision to go ahead, much like Truman’s unwillingness to stop the train of events that led to the dropping of the A-bomb – not on the same level of magnitude, but the same type of reluctant going-along.”  (pp. 491-492)

William Safire [1977]:  Full Disclosure. (Garden City, NY, USA:  Doubleday and Company).

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