31 October 2010

The Punishment and Proliferation of Error

These days we're so beastly afraid of being stupid and inept. And not without good reason. Indeed I doubt if there's anything this present efficient globe considers more shameful, more grossly indicative of a want or failure of moral character, than stupidity and ineptitude. I'm reminded of the great Ayn Rand of blessed memory, berating her poor aging husband for his stubborn and willful dementia.

Not that our own recent attempts at wisdom-through-intimidation have been any less barren of results. Or rather are the results no less easy to predict. The upshot, anyway, is that our present global society drives out of us precisely those kinds of stupidity and ineptitude that are least self-conscious, least ashamed, and so most easily corrected and overcome; while it only more deeply ingrains in us those core incompetencies that are the hardest of all to detect and uproot, because they are rooted in that most crippling and debilitating of all forms of cowardice, the fear of making a mistake. But imagine a society even marginally less judgmental of the slightest slip-up. Who can tell what other kinds of government leaders we'd elect, and what other kinds of business leaders we'd promote, if only we weren't so deathly terrified of looking stupid - and not just in our organizations and on our jobs, but in sometimes even the smallest, most unsupervised moments of our daily lives. Almost as if we were afraid somebody important might be watching or listening, who would then use it as damning evidence - as reason not to hire us, or contract with us, or even have anything to do with us. You really can't be too careful these networking days.

But then think how much easier to employ we might be, and how much more productive of good results our employment (at anything) might prove, if only we tired, depressed, preoccupied 21st-century souls were even intermittently free of this albatross of fear. And then, just think how much less real stupidity we'd be guilty of.

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