Our Modern Hubris Factory 3

Our elites only understand the appearance of accomplishment.

According to a recent Rasmussen poll, barely 16% of Americans think our country is on the right track.  This is a shocking number: just who are these 16% so fearsomely deluded as to think that we're on the right track?  The right track to what exactly?

No, that's about as unanimous as it gets: America is very much on the wrong track and everyone knows it.  It logically follows, therefore, that we should change track; or better yet, stop what we've been doing (gross overspending and borrowing, constant growth in government size and reach) and instead start doing the exact opposite.

Is that what we see going on?  Of course not; our rulers are keeping their feet firmly on the accelerator, speeding down what everyone knows is the wrong track.  Not just in America, either: Europe is every bit as bad if not worse, every bit as firmly wedded to utterly failed socialistic policies and multi-culti beliefs totally at odds not just with reality but with their voters - not that that makes a bit of difference.

Why is it so hard to admit to being wrong?  In the previous article to this series, we talked about how the life experience of virtually every one of our current batch of ruling elites involves attendance at an Ivy League college.  Europe has its own equivalents of course; Oxford and Cambridge in England, the grandes ecoles of France, and so on.

Because these famous schools are well known as a highway to power and wealth, any sane parent wants their kid to get in if at all possible; the competition is intense.  In this global contest of one-upmanship, not the slightest weakness or defect can be tolerated.

Yet every person does in fact have weaknesses and make mistakes; so, their most important life lesson is how to spin these problems into falsely appearing to be other than they actually are.  A successful Harvard applicant will know how to make the most egregious failure appear, at worst, a beneficial learning experience, and if possible, a smashing success at something else altogether.

What we have inadvertently created is not a system of meritocracy really, as our Founders intended.  Instead, what we've done is emphasize the appearance of excellence over the substance of it.  In this article we'll consider just how different these two really are, and why it matters.

Confidence and the Psychopath

How do you get hired by someone you didn't already know?  By seeming impressive at the job interview.

Yet for most jobs, and all high-level ones, it's impossible to actually demonstrate the breadth of your competence in the scope of even the most thorough interview.  Every hiring manager can tell stories of people who talked a good game and got the job, only to fail miserably and catastrophically because they could not in fact do the work well.  As an employer, you simply make the best call you can and hope for the best.

Now, most people not being professional actors, you can usually get some idea of the underlying reality of a job applicant.  Most normal people will hesitate on questions they don't really know the answer to, or noticeably fudge when talking about something in their past they'd rather not.

That's not true for everyone.  We've all met super-slick salesmen who'll say whatever you want to hear in order to get the sale, regardless of what the truth is.  Another term for these folks is a pathological liar, or even a psychopath.

If you buy a bum used car from such a liar, you'll quickly discover your mistake.  If you hire them for an executive position, though, you may not discover the problem right away - or even at all, if they're fast enough on their feet and move on to yet another job before the problems they've created become obvious.

The more complex the job, the longer it takes to discern whether someone really and truly did a good job in it or not.  Historians usually admit that it takes at least a generation before you can properly judge the qualities of a President; only now are they grudgingly admitting that Ronald Reagan was pretty darn good.  Only with catastrophic disasters like Jimmy Carter is the problem immediately obvious.

In the meantime, how do you know?  It isn't easy, and the politician's job is to make it as difficult as possible.

Consider Barack Obama's record.  On the surface, it looks extremely accomplished: graduate of several Ivy League colleges, editor of the Harvard Law Review, a "community organizer," an Illinois state senator, then a U.S. Senator, and now President of the United States.  He has never lost an election, never been thrown out of college or flunked a class, never been fired from a job for incompetence.

Yet look deeper, and what's there?  As editor and President of the Harvard Law Review, he wrote just one single article, and that unsigned and with poor grammar.  As a community organizer, he fought for better maintenance and asbestos removal at one Chicago neighborhoods low-income housing development - which is to this day asbestos-ridden and nearly uninhabitable.

Hillary Clinton fruitlessly pointed out that Illinois State Senator Obama set a record voting "Present" - he couldn't even make up his mind to say Yes or No to important legislation!  As United States Senator, not only is there no notable legislation bearing his name, he didn't even bother to convene his Subcommittee on European Affairs, which oversees NATO at war in Afghanistan - a war in which Candidate Obama was at the same time accusing NATO of committing war crimes!

No, Barack Obama has a long and stellar record of the appearance of accomplishment.  Actual accomplishments, never mind worthy ones?  None whatsoever.

He's not alone.  Top to bottom, through and through, both sides of the aisle, and even in the corporate suite, leaders of actual accomplishment are increasingly rare - yet to a man and woman, none of them believe or will ever admit, even to themselves, that they've ever failed.

Where is a politician who actually solved a problem, instead of just pointlessly throwing your money around?  Where is a business tycoon who actually built a business from nothing, or turned a dying one to profit, success, and greater employment?  The only one who comes to mind is Herman Cain, who did exactly that - and who's being derided as unqualified.

No, when Newt Gingrich and others complain that the format of modern political debates is ludicrous and pointless, they're absolutely right.  You never get real, solid, substantive answers in a modern debate, much less actual debate our Founders would have recognized.  All we see is "gotchas", gaffes, and image-destroying garbage - no actual substance to be found.

Yet somehow, our elites don't seem to be able to see what all the rest of America is fast coming to realize: that there simply isn't any "there" there.  How can this be?

In the last article in this series, we'll talk about the concept of hubris and how our governing structure is utterly infested with it, to its and our own destruction.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Excellent article, but how do we change our political and social structure so that substance is more important than appearance? I hope the author spends some time on this question. bhw

December 12, 2011 11:29 AM

Petrarch as usual writes a thought provoking article full of common sense observations. I have little or no tweaks on his article, only just a few observations that are parallel to his.

"Why is it so hard to admit to being wrong?" My father as did many other fathers said to follow the money. When you are in the position that our rulers find themselves it is about money and power. They have no concept of failure as the private businessman intimately knows. The greater question is why do we continue to elect these people? Probably because we think that things will get better and that out guy is not the problem. I would prefer to start using some graduates of small colleges who actually had to work their way through college than some Ivy League pampered brat replete with scholarships and grants and loans. They start off on la-la land and never return to planet earth.

A little phrase that makes my blood boil is, "giving back to the community". Since when has someone stolen anything from a community that he has to give back. All he has done is to provide jobs for people through his own idea, his risk, and his ability to create something that someone else wants. He owes the community nothing, the community owes him and he should be extolled as a hero in the community. What would the community be like if he were to decide to pack up and leave town because of people sating that he made too much money? I have seen that side and trust me on this, the real losers are the employees that complained about him making too much. Often the plant was kept open for the employees long after it was unprofitable. The rabble rousers are simply ignorant and don't want to learn anything about economics.

Petrarch's opinions on Cain and Gingrich are spot on but until we divorce ourselves from the msm and their ability to control the conversation, real leaders will find it hard to surface to the top. The reason for this is that the liberals will shout you down when they cannot compete with a common sense solution. It is a mob mentality with a three piece suit. An occasional Reagan surfaces but too seldom to really change the tide. Our only hope is that the 84% that think we are on the wrong path will not only vote obama out, but more importantly, vote out 84% of the self proclaimed rock stars in congress.

December 12, 2011 12:00 PM

Isn't it amazing that those of us who never attended an "elite university", eastern, western, European or otherwise can see right through these people? In fact I know several people who've never gone to a college or university who have no problem in detecting BS when they see or hear it.

One thing I did notice in my civil service career was the use of strings of $20 words in combinations that left most folks with a, "say what?" response. Of course those who were in positions of "power" such as they were would never admit that they'd just heard or read amounted to bovine excrement. "If I say I don't understand what I just read/heard, people will think I'm not smart." The alternative is, "I didn't understand a word of what I just read/heard, and I'm really smart so the speaker/author must be even smarter than me." The rest of us who had much better developed BS detectors, and weren't afraid to tell the truth saw that it was what it was. Pure bovine excrement passed by someone trying to prove they were smart.

If you're that smart you should be able to speak or write so that most people can understand, if you can't you likely don't know anything about what you're talking about unless you're giving an exposition on some highly technical subject to others in that field.

December 12, 2011 6:54 PM
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