corner of the bar wisdom goes to the streets


“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?

Inspector O


“The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.”

Robert Heinlein


“If no one knows anything, then why can’t I know something?”

Bruce McTague


Well. 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 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.

Most of the time we apply a ‘common sense’ filter which, if we are honest with ourselves, does not really reflect the complexity of reality.

Most of the time, if we are honest with ourselves, more often than not we are wrong.

Its not that we aren’t smart, it just may be we are a little intellectually lazy. Ok. Maybe we just don’t know enough or have enough experience. 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 ventures out there. It is a fun moment. And we feel smart and, more importantly, we feel as if we could do whatever it is as well as the person who is doing it. For 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, when sitting at the corner of the bar, every Steve, Sarah, Sue and Sam thinks that they are.

I actually believe this belief is driven by a version of the 80/20 guide. 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 80% right, i.e., not good enough. And that is the difference between an amateur and a professional or an expert. That 20%.

Sure. 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.

Most of us are not capable of that 20%.

Realistically the last time everyone possessed the same skills in a society to participate within a leadership role at 100% equal was maybe several millennia ago when humankind was in the hunter/gatherer era. Once we evolved into larger social groupings, inevitably creating 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 decide on the big shit and others decide on the little shit and the world is relatively navigable. But, yeah, that ‘navigable’ aspect is annoyingly more difficult than we want, believe it should be, and in being that way we everyday schmucks get confused and believe we would be smarter, if not as smart, as people in the positions of leadership.

Which leads me to suggest part of the problem is the problems themselves.

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>. The reality is most of the things we discuss have multiple objectives and everything being done is an attempt to harness a complex mix of constantly moving parts and pieces to attain those objectives. And. Many of the parts and pieces may appear to contradictory. 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>. The solutions we tend to gravitate toward are, well, pretty useless. Patriotism, exceptionalism, nationalism, or all simplistic vague hat stands to place our hats on. And if you are not careful it can all take on a harsh insular ‘past driven’ edge to a much grander ‘future possibilities’ thought. But all of them do not really offer solutions, just an umbrella for everyone to stand under in the monsoon of contradictory issues. To be fair. We all want common sense to solve all problems and we all want to blame someone for the specific problems we see and institutions, government and experts are easy targets because its simpler to suggest they do not have common sense (like we do). Its simpler to blame than to acknowledge some of the problems we suggest are simple are actually just an unfortunate outcome of a very complex systemic issue far beyond any common sense solutioning.

Which leads me to suggest gravitating to the simple, and simplistic, is a natural human instinct.

Complexity brings out the emotional in us everyday schmucks, not the rational. Yeah. I just said that. At the corner of the bar, we more often than not rule our thoughts based on passion supported by some dubious reasoning. The experts reverse the equation ignoring/limiting passionate response <fear, individualism, anger> and basing ideas & solutions on solid reasoning and rational thought <and things called “laws”>. And 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 (even Laws of Physics which are unfathomable to most of us). Experts tend to use laws as vague outlines within which nearing ‘the law boundary’ is actually a caution rather than a green light. At the corner of the bar most discussions dance on the superficial surface of “it is legal” or “it is not legal” (or its possible versus impossible). But let’s be honest. The neighborhood bar is in … well … the neighborhood. It is where we kibbitz over non neighborhood things. In general, we take a fairly ridiculously narrow view of how the world works. We have ridiculously simplistic and faulty view. If you open up some of your ‘strongly held loose opinions’ you not only realize that most of our social intellect, and the political rhetoric in general, 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. 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> and the ubiquity of globalization  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 and they begin questioning the status quo conventional thinking where they are.

It becomes a blending of local cultural thinking and a more global perspective. To be honest. It can be equally exciting and uncomfortable. Someone can equally want to hold on tightly to one beloved ritual/thought and grab onto a new ritual/thought. And this is happening in 300 million someones and 8 billion someones simultaneously. As people are exposed to a wider range of alternative goods, services, lifestyles, opinions, rituals and experiences, their tolerance to alternative thinking and behavior grows – as does their interest & attitudes.

Generally speaking, the internet simply accelerates what would have been happening naturally.

I am certainly not suggesting this happens overnight. As trendwatching suggested: “compared to much trend thinking, casual collapse moves at a glacial pace.” That said. Whether we like it or not globalization has forced the world to be at odds with itself. We are not a world of countries and states living in solitude, but rather one in which we overlap, linked and delinked, by varying degrees of history, culture, religion, language, location, ideas and institutions.

This causes a natural reaction against a sense of uniformity.

And therein lies the greater conflict – while economic life takes place on a global platform; human identity remains national and local. Yeah. 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.

And 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> even though each individual has different innate capabilities which SHOULD translate into equal opportunity.

I say that to follow it with 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. That doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge, and give a head nod, to other people’s anguish or some aspects of inequities, just that attempting to incorporate it into our bar wisdom is a level of complexity beyond the typical cocktail fed brain.

All that said. The one thing we common everyday schmucks can certainly do really well at the corner of the bar is to analyze the present and embrace some of the past. Unfortunately we suck at envisioning the future. In fact, I could argue that our optimal corner of the bar wisdom is directed toward critiques of past decisions and present issues (as we think they are). But none of our ‘wise solutions’ are likely to be effective in a future yet to be written, in a world that is anything but simple, in a world where society is often uneven, in a world where local societies and communities overlap with a global society, in a world burdened by public institutions seemingly incapable of navigating local and international needs. As a consequence of the overwhelming complexity the minds turn to the tried and true simplistic divide versus unite, us versus them, common sense versus expert sense, 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.

…. typical plan ….

The big country and global issues have similar objectives: enriching people, minds, bodies and attitudes. Yeah. A pretty difficult task.

It is a complex task.

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 and leaning into the greater messy connectivity from which anything good emerges from.


A country, a culture, a society is a messy creature.

A country can be kind and generous as well as cruel and coldblooded as they pick their way through the naturally messy, dynamic, always shifting, 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 highly incautious or naïve if not just a simplistic fool.

Globalization is not a simplistic concept.

Nationalism is not a simplistic concept.

Being a president, or any leader of a significant organization, is not a simplistic concept.

All leadership positions demand navigating complexity. That said. 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 removing obstacles to possibilities. The truth is that opportunities and possibilities abound. In fact. There may actually be more opportunity in the world than problems <but you would never know it by watching the TV at the corner of the bar>.

Which leads me to mainstream corner of the bar wisdom.

A hundred and fifty years ago, I could imagine looking up at the stars, knowing It was unknowable to me and I knew I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. But in today’s 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 and, yet, using them makes amateurish expert wisdom actually seem, uhm, attainable.

In other words. If no one knows anything, then why can’t I know something?

It is that thought which appears to have left the corner of the bar and has now appeared in coffee shops, kitchens, townhalls, school meetings and, well, everywhere. The corner of the bar discussions, which typically have devolved into the simplistic with solutions that skate on the superficial surface of reality, are now mainstream “intelligent common sense” thoughts.

That’s nuts.

And its crazy bad for society and the world.

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. We need to stop destroying the experts. 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 they have an exponentially higher chance of solving the most complex issues than any of us everyday schmucks. But let’s be honest. We want people smarter than us – yahoos just sitting at the corner of the bar – making the really important decisions.

Well. I certainly do.



“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.”

Brian Cox

Written by Bruce