When the whole Western world was mourning the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman a few weeks ago, blogs and obituaries all mentioned films like "Boogie Nights" and "Capote" and "The Master," but very few mentioned my personal favorite among the actor’s roles: cantankerous CIA operative Gust Avrakotos in "Charlie Wilson’s War." He’s self-loathing and foul-mouthed and a joy to behold — a master class in acting, really, especially compared to Julia Roberts’ sleep-walking performance and Tom Hanks’ Texas accent that sounds more like Transylvanian.

When the whole Western world was mourning the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman a few weeks ago, blogs and obituaries all mentioned films like "Boogie Nights" and "Capote" and "The Master," but very few mentioned my personal favorite among the actor’s roles: cantankerous CIA operative Gust Avrakotos in "Charlie Wilson’s War." He’s self-loathing and foul-mouthed and a joy to behold — a master class in acting, really, especially compared to Julia Roberts’ sleep-walking performance and Tom Hanks’ Texas accent that sounds more like Transylvanian.


Toward the end of the movie, Hoffman delivers a shortened version of an old Taoist parable to illustrate the contextual nature of the victory they achieved in the eponymous war:


"There’s a little boy, and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse. And everybody in the village says, ‘How wonderful, the boy got a horse.’ And the Zen master says, ‘We’ll see.’ Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, ‘How terrible.’ And the Zen master says, ‘We’ll see.’ Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight, except the boy can’t ‘cause his leg is all messed up. And everybody in the village says, ‘How wonderful.’ And the Zen master says, ‘Yeah, that’s actually really nice.’"


Just kidding. He says, "We’ll see."


It’s a nifty little story that demonstrates something economists and sociologists and psychologists have struggled with for 100 years: nobody has complete information. Even the most informed decisions are based on some assumptions — nobody can say for certain what’s to come.


Or, in the words of our nation’s foremost quotologist Yogi Bera, "It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future."


We all accept that axiom on a personal level, of course, but those elected to political office tend to forget. Government representatives frequently propose legislation with high-minded ideals saying, "Bill ‘X’ will make people safer!" or "Proposal ‘Y’ will mean more jobs!’


And while those claims might be true in a specific sense, they focus on one issue at the expense of all others. A person could rightfully claim that making it illegal to fire any employee for any reason would mean more jobs, but the first time that person is served a loogie-topped burger, the unintended consequences of that law hit home rather quickly.


The scientist who literally wrote the book on singular thinking by the government, a 1930s sociologist named Robert Merton, labeled it "the imperious immediacy of interest." Merton argued that government officials want one thing so badly they actively choose to ignore any effect of their pet project except the desired effect.


It’s a willful refusal to look into the future and weigh the consequences that leads to so much of the discord in our government — not to mention so many poor decisions. When one side of an issue is yelling, ‘"This will destroy jobs!" and the other side is yelling, "This will help the environment!" and both of those things are technically true, how can anyone reach a compromise?


Government leaders are supposed to be better than that. Good outcomes are achieved when people exercise the type of foresight that allows them to weigh the myriad consequences of their decisions. But our political system has evolved instead into a collection of ideologues who hitch themselves to their favorite consequence, don ideological blinders and gallop full-steam ahead.


No one can say for sure what the future holds, but you sure wouldn’t know it listening to politicians. Our leaders need to spend less time crowing, "How wonderful!" every time they propose legislation, or, "How terrible!" every time the other guy does. Because any time you change the laws that govern people, the only intelligent comment is, "We’ll see."


NATE STRAUCH is a reporter with the Herald Democrat. Email him at nstrauch@ heralddemocrat.com.