Sunday, March 29, 2020

Age, Humility, And Wisdom

     A college classmate once said something extremely insightful to me. However, the insight only became apparent with the passage of much time. The irony in this will soon become clear.

     The classmate, whose name was Jay, opined that “old people” who don’t succumb to senility almost automatically become “incredibly wise.” I, being a sprat of no great wisdom at the time, let Jay’s statement pass “in one ear and out the other,” with no digestion occurring during the journey. (I was playing chess at the time, but that’s no excuse.) Today, with a few more years under my belt, I can see, more clearly than the college kid I was, not only that Jay was right but why.

     As the median age of Liberty’s Torch’s Gentle Readers is approximately 83.27 (5:30 AM Eastern Standard Time), I’ll bet you can see it too.

     The stimulus for this essay is, of all things, a tweet:

This is a good time to maintain some humility about how ridiculous it is to
believe any of us, including experts, know exactly the best thing to do and how soon to
do it. We’ll be guessing and correcting to the win. Some of us will later seem psychic,
but we don’t know who NOW.

— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) March 28, 2020

     Just in case you’ve been immured in an Anchorite’s cell or perched atop Saint Simeon Stylite’s pillar these past thirty years, Scott Adams is the creator and author of the Dilbert comic strip that’s delighted everyone in America (other than a few pointy-haired bosses) for decades. He’s 62 years old as of this writing: “getting old” but not yet “old” (except in the minds of younger ignorami). But though Adams might not yet be one of Jay’s “old people,” it seems he’s absorbed more wisdom than most from his years on Earth. The above is a demonstration thereof.

     In the last analysis, the essence of wisdom is humility.

     Given my own failing memory – yes, it was once better than it is today, really and truly – I can’t be perfectly certain about the attribution of the following:

     “Most people are willing to give up their preconceptions, once they’ve had them tattooed on their heads with a blunt instrument.” – Keith Laumer, in one of his “Retief” novels

     “Preconceptions,” as Laumer used the term above, might better be termed misconceptions: mistaken notions about people and causality formed by one of limited experience and inadequate humility. Limited experience tends to be a characteristic of youth, though an older person who has led what was once called a “sheltered life” could be equally limited.

     The correlation of limited experience with personal arrogance – the attitude of the “know it all” — is very strong. It takes extensive acquaintance with reality – with people in all their variety, and the myriad ways in which our enterprises and schemes can go astray – to teach most of us how little we really know. That requires more than a couple of dozen trips around old Sol.

     It is not recorded how old Socrates was when he said that “Only one thing do I know, and that is that I know nothing,” but I’ll bet he wasn’t in the bloom of youth.

     At this time, America, like the rest of the world, is coping with the Wuhan virus. It’s brought about a number of (hopefully) temporary alterations to our patterns of life. These have not been easy adaptations for most of us. Our vibrant economy is badly hobbled, our social mechanisms are largely idled, and our politics has...wait just a moment...great God in heaven! Nothing has changed about our politics!

     That’s right, Gentle Reader: Even though the whole nation is suffering, no one knows what’s going on epidemiologically, and no one is quite sure what can be done about it, our political squabbles continue unaltered and unabated. In the political realm, it’s still war to the knife.

     A couple of commentators have wished we could unite in resistance to this new threat, just as the terrorist attacks of Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001 seemed to bring us together. In retrospect, our surge of national unity after 9/11 was more illusion than actuality. It took about three weeks before the Democrats were in full and vicious cry against anything and everything the Bush Administration did or proposed. The pattern in recent political fusillades is comparable.

     Kim Hirsch delineates the media front in this conflict. Her piece is worth reading in its entirety, but it’s her closing I’ll excerpt here:

     Trump is doing what he thinks is best for the country. Dr. Deborah Birx, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, are advising the President, based upon their examination of scientific data. They’re the experts, but they’re learning, too. And no one in the media knows what goes on when Trump meets with his advisory team, either.

     The media ghouls should shut up about things they don’t know about, and let the grownups do their job.

     If only! But the media have abandoned reportage and journalism in favor of political combat on the Democrats’ side, so the prospects for “letting the grownups do their job” are very poor.

     The humility deficit on display is one of the most garish on record.

     Mark McCormack, in his book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, wrote that the three sentences people in business have the most difficulty mastering are “I don’t know,” “I was wrong,” and “I need help.” Each of those three sentences is an admission of limitation, of fallibility – and a demonstration of humility. But if humility correlates with experience, it becomes plain that we should not expect such admissions from young persons...nor from persons who’ve been protected from the consequences of their arrogance.

     “Journalism” is a protected space in which you can be an arrogant idiot and get away with it. There are other such spaces, notably academia and entertainment. (See a pattern there?) None of the reporters or opinion-mongers slathering President Trump and his Administration with sarcasm and contempt will ever have to make decisions of great moment under the pressure of momentous developments. They’re safe, protected by their trades from having to make such decisions and answer for the consequences. The worst consequence they face is being termed “fake news:” a characterization they resent but richly deserve.

     It would be foolish to expect that such persons would have amassed the degree of humility that would militate them away from their current behavior pattern. They know how to do the boss’s job better than the boss. We don’t even need to ask them; they tell us so morning, noon, and night.

     Yet they wonder why private Americans deem the media far less trustworthy than the president they despise and habitually ridicule. It is to laugh.



Every country's leaders, Trump included, is juggling eggs in varying gravity while the ground continually shifts under their feet. This is unprecedented territory - not that plagues per se are unprecedented, but the spread including international air travel where this thing metastasized before anyone had the stones to do anything about it... (I just learned from my sister-in-law that the small town in Kazakhstan where she lives has cases!)

Did you notice that so many of the naysayers are PRECISELY following the Frankfurt School? Criticize, criticize, criticize but don't offer alternatives or context or perspective. No suggestions. Just all negativity, all the time.

Reminds me of an *sshole co-worker who would, in looking at my designing something, say "I wouldn't have done it that way" - in front of others - but would never say "How about this?" and suggest something. Cutting me down, in front of our mutual boss, to make himself look better and smarter.

AuricTech Shipyards said...

"I wouldn't have done it that way."

"And that, dear colleague, is why you were not assigned to this task."

M.J.K. said...

Thank you