the rise of corner of the bar wisdom
“I lived according to the prevailing myth. Everyone lives by myths.
Prettied up they are called truths … basic truths, natural truths, self-evident truths. What I knew or thought a year ago is beside the point. The problem is today. Even if the past was a lie, what am I supposed to replace it with? Another lie? All that’s necessary is to pull the old one out and put a new one in like a circuit board?
“The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.”
“The way we got out of the caves and into modern civilisation is through the process of understanding and thinking. Those things were not done by gut instinct. Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something.
You’re not necessarily right – but you’re more likely to be right than someone who’s not spent their life studying it.”
“… if no one knows anything then why can’t I know something?”
Increasingly we are hearing more and more people publicly questioning the expertise & knowledge of experts. It has come to a point where significant public figures have even stated things like “we have had enough of the experts.”
Uhm. When this occurs, and enough people actually believe it, well .. geez … if no one knows anything than why the hell can’t I know something becomes the overarching perception <if not attitude>.
You know where this belief has always existed? The corner of the neighborhood bar. I am sure we have all experienced it. Sitting around with friends, maybe at the corner of the bar, bitching about the world and talking about what we would do to fix it. At that table … and at that time … well … we can solve everything that the experts, the leaders, the grand decision makers seem to struggle solving.
Most of the time if we are honest with ourselves we dumb it down to some simplistic surface conclusion which sometimes is partially right. Often we apply a ‘common sense’ filter which, if we are honest with ourselves about this too, does not really reflect the complexity of reality. If we are honest with ourselves <once again>, more often than not … we are wrong. In its not that we aren’t smart … it just may be we are a little intellectually lazy.
Ok. That was harsh. Try this. Maybe we just don’t know enough or have enough experience. Maybe it is because we have not spent a lifetime studying it … or we assume our personal professional or whatever experience is indicative of the knowledge necessary to be ‘right.’ And maybe we rely a little too much on what I have called “fortune cookie wisdom.” <quasi-intellectual soundbite wisdom>
But … whew … in the moment … in the discussion and debate and obvious commons sense … we could run the world, the country and the biggest business venture out there. It is a fun moment. And we feel smart … and even more importantly … we feel as if we could do whatever it is as well as the person who is doing it. For a moment, just a moment, we look around at all the Harvard MBAs and all the policy experts and all the high falutin’ experts and we are as good and as smart as they are.
But we are not. It may seem like it. But we are not. Yet, at every bar, at every table, every Steve, Sarah, Sue and Sam thinks that they are.
That is the sad truth.
I actually believe this belief is driven by a version of the 80/20 rule. Assuming you are fairly worldly, fairly well informed and fairly enlightened … you probably get 80% of it right. And, boy, that 80% feels good. It may even feel “right enough.”
But, in general, its just, well, 80% right. In general, just 80% on the important stuff just is not good enough. That is the difference between an amateur and a professional or an expert. That 20%. Some would argue it is simply the nuance but in most of the larger more grand problems and issues we face … it is that 20% that makes something go incredibly right or incredibly wrong.
And. uhm, I hate to tell everyone … but … most of us are not capable of that 20%.
That said. Realistically the last time everyone possessed the same skills in a society to participate within a leadership role at 100% equal was maybe several million years ago when all of us humans ran around as hunter/gatherers. Once we evolved into larger social groupings, and inevitably created cities and population clusters where some people had to make decisions for the greater good of the whole … some people naturally evolved into governors and governing <leadership> and the expertise needed to assume those responsibilities. And while we can bitch & moan about the ineptness of leadership, in general, leaders lead and others follow. Yet, we everyday schmucks get confused and believe we would be smarter, if not as smart, as people in the positions of leadership.
Part of the problem is the problems themselves. Most problems contain contradictions & truly are complex with lots of moving parts. For example … as we discuss country issues we discuss natural contradictions within a complex world <both domestic & international is important> as well as the fact the American people often embrace contradictory goals <just wander through any PewResearch report to confirm that thought>.
What do I mean?
Well. For example. While any citizen of any country wants to be ‘great’ – defining ‘great’ is a complex puzzle. At the corner of the bar more often than not we ignore the contradictory challenges with more simplistic solutions for what would be great <under the guise of common sense actions or ‘seems to make sense on the surface’ attitudes>.
I would like to note Trump would be awesome at the bar table. He positions himself incredibly well to exploit such contradictory opinions. “Make America Great Again” is a simplistic slogan that embraces some aspects of patriotism or nationalism pride and is broad enough that any individual can define ‘great’ from their own perspective. The challenge is that Trump has given the slogan a harsh insular ‘past driven’ edge to a much grander ‘future possibilities’ thought. While I could write about Trump and how he is actually only competent enough to sit at some corner bar with his ideas & thinking <read his Washington Post interview and you will realize that many of us sitting at the bar are actually more insightful and more in-depth aware about issues than Trump is>. I will instead spend a little time sharing thoughts that some really smart people <experts> have been sharing with us. I do so because there is so much stuff out there it is easy to overlook that people have been talking about this stuff for a long time.
At the corner of the bar we more often than not rule our thoughts based on passion supported by reason. The experts reverse the equation ignoring passionate response <fear, individualism, anger> and basing ideas & solutions on solid reasoning and rational thought <and things called “laws”>. I will not spend any time on laws … but … while we at the corner of the bar sometimes shake our heads wondering what common sense <or lack thereof> created some laws … we accept they are laws <it creates a construct of ethics … sigh … which makes you scratch your head a little when someone like weakTrump flippantly suggests actions that are beyond a Geneva Convention law or constitutional law>.
But let’s be honest. The neighborhood bar is in … well … the neighborhood. It is where we kibbitz over non neighborhood things. In general it is healthy semi-intellectual debate which makes us feel intellectually good. In general we take a fairly ridiculously narrow view of how the world works.
The experts who have been talking about this stuff. For today’s discussion I am going to lean on two relatively short but broader insightful reads – Huntington’s “clash of civilizations’ written in 1993 for Foreign Affairs magazine and then Foreign Affairs magazine’s reprise of the article in 2013 with a number of short “here is what I think” articles.
Rereading the well written thoughts makes you not only realize that the intellectual of Trump is sadly lacking and even slightly embarrassing … and that those of us sitting at the corner of the bar may not be stupid … but there are a shitload of really smart people discussing these topics <not at the bar>.
Basically, most of us struggle with globalization and nationalism. It’s not that we do not want either or reject one over the other … it is that we struggle to see, feel and understand the balance. One expert called this uneasiness we feel ‘casual collapse.’ It is the seemingly ongoing blurring of many beliefs, rituals, formal requirements and laws that define specific societies … and us. And we feel a little helpless in stopping this ‘casual collapse’ because of that darn thing called ‘the internet’ <the cross-cultural sharing of information and knowledge>.
Now. All this is happening without causing any particular larger collapse of anything. It is just a casual collapse of things as they used to be. And it is happening despite any government edicts or programs designed to slow the change <collapse> … or older generations tied to some past cultural aspects efforts. It is an inevitable collapse driven by the fact as everyone becomes more knowledgeable about ‘what is happening and what people are thinking’ half way around the world they begin questioning the status quo conventional thinking where they are. It becomes a blending of local cultural thinking and a more global perspective.
And the whole issue is exacerbated by a faster additional natural progression created by the urbanization of emerging countries.
Why does this change anything? There’s an obvious link between the broad spread of more liberal attitudes and increasing urbanization globally <in 1980 Africa 28% lived in cities – today its 40% – 40 million people>. As new urbanites find themselves further distanced from traditional social and familial structures, and are exposed to a wider range of alternative goods, services, lifestyles, opinions and experiences, their tolerance to alternative thinking and behavior grows – as does their interest & attitudes. The web simply accelerates what would have been happening naturally.
I am certainly not suggesting this will happen overnight. As trendwatching suggests … “compared to much trend thinking, casual collapse moves at a glacial pace.” Basically. Whether we like it or not … globalization has forced the world to be at odds with itself. We are not a world of countries & states living in solitude but rather one in which we overlap linked, and delinked, by varying degrees of history, culture, religion, language, location and institutions.
This causes a natural reaction against a sense of uniformity. We naturally chafe at the thought of “being the same as everyone else” <while still viewing aspects we like & want>. And therein lies the greater conflict – while economic life takes place on a global platform human identity remains national & local.
The identification of local <and nationalism> will always continue and will always create the same angst we feel at the corner of the bar as we watch the zillion TV’s typically sitting in the bar suggesting globalization is infringing upon our corner of the bar.
Even global economic growth infringes upon our national identification.
What do I mean? Economics depends on education and communication which leads directly to conflicts over language and comparisons over education levels. All the while … a global economic view encourages everyone to believe the world is their oyster – anyone can aspire to any economic position. The reality is that everyone does not have an equal likelihood of upward economic mobility <locally, nationally or globally> and not simply because individuals have different innate capabilities <but that is a different post>.
At the corner of the bar we need not worry nor address the balance we focus on what we need and what we want – not necessarily the greater good.
And then there is the scary factor we local experts face over a beer.
There is clearly a relationship between globalization and violence. Unfortunately, this stage of globalization <its current stage of maturity> doesn’t necessarily spread peace & understanding. Instead it tends to foster conflicts and resentments <global media makes it possible for the most deprived or oppressed to compare their fate with that of the free and well-off as well as showing one nation what another nation is achieving>. In today’s world … globalization tends to provoke revolt and dissatisfaction.
All that said. The one thing we common everyday schmucks can certainly do at the corner of the bar is to analyze the present, embrace some of the past … but we cannot predict the future.
The future is yet to be written by a world that is anything but simple. It is a world where society is often uneven and often local societies overlap with a global society all the while burdened by public institutions seemingly incapable of navigating local and international needs. This often leads us to simply divide the issue into a solvable part versus unite the complexity into one seemingly unsolvable issue <because it is easier to solve a part rather than a complex whole>.
And that is where most of us at the corner of the bar truly fall short. Enriching people, minds, bodies and spirit, is the ultimate objective of any problem & issue … and the most difficult task in the world.
It requires the best of everyone, the best of civilizations and the best of leadership & thinking … not emphasizing the differences but reinforcing the common objective.
A country, a culture, a civilization … is a messy creature.
A country can be kind & generous as well as cruel & coldblooded s they pick their way through the natural chaotic world.
The United States clearly has the capacity to influence which future is most likely. However, for anyone to predict the future confidently would be naive <or outright lying>. But globalization is not a simplistic concept. But nationalism is not a simplistic concept. Being a president, or any leader of a significant organization, is not a simplistic concept.
Inevitably leading is not just about hope or promising something better … it is a pragmatic pushing of opportunity to the people who need it the most and want it the most <thereby maximizing what opportunities do exist>.
And opportunities abound … in fact … there may actually be more opportunity in the wrld than problems <bt you would never know it by listening to conversations at the corner of the bar … or on TV>.
A hundred and fifty years ago, I could imagine myself gazing at a rainbow and wanting to understand it. But in a world where I have no idea how my mobile phone or the internet work <or my car, television, or microwave, or … whatever> everything seems so unknowable that amateurish expert wisdom actually seems … well … attainable.
C’mon, let’s be honest, corner of the bar discussions typically devolve into the simplistic and our solutions skate on the superficial surface of reality. We should not, and cannot, devolve into a world where there are no experts or believe that experts don’t know more than we do.
Simply being an expert doesn’t mean ‘perfection’ – not making mistakes or being wrong <because that would predicate they could actually tell the future>. But let’s be honest … we want people smarter than us – people sitting at the corner of the bar – making the really important decisions.
I certainly do.