Knowledge is not (necessarily) power

The ability to see something for what it truly is, is a rare and dangerous trait in this world. To look behind the curtain and see that Oz is in fact neither great nor all powerful may sound liberating but in reality, it’s not. Having awareness of the way things really are is often time an exercise in futility. As Hans Matheson’s character Lord Coward (a fitting name) eloquently stated “how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise?” A great question to which I can answer only as how it has left an impression on me.

As someone that began their college studies in History and Literature before erroneously switching to that other useless endeavor called Business Administration I’ve long been fascinated by the knowledge of people, places and events. I’ve poured over countless text books and novels in search of a deeper understanding to the mechanics of this thing called life. Names, dates, reported outcomes, their all up in that space between my ears called my brain. Despite thinking myself clever being able to make an effective argument against many the misinformed I’m in fact not. In reality I’m a fraud, someone that will beat your ass at Jeopardy© but compare the tangibles – career, financial security, well maintained relationships, I’m shooting a big, fat 0%.

‘Get to the point,’ I can hear that inner voice yelling. My point – in the hierarchy of a person gaining information there is the worthless, learning (examples include those click-on stories we find littered all over social media), the slightly less worthless, education (this is what you find in traditional grade, high school and colleges) and then knowledge. In knowledge there exists the closest approximation to the truth that exists in our perceivable universe (examples include subjects like mathematics, computers, engineering, etc.; these are observable in the professional trades). At the end of the day though it doesn’t matter the level of awareness one has unless it is acted upon.

Action is the only precept under which a direct input results in a direct output. So whatever information you come across in your life (knowledge still being the ideal goal in the hierarchy) application is the only spark to light the fire. Understanding knowledge is not in itself power is a critical component to debunking one of the bigger clichés spread by the human mouth. To make clear as early and often as possible in life that knowing the variables does not solve the problem, that there is work necessary – often a lot of it, will be the difference between dreaming and achieving.

The Linked In Principle

Flashback to the 1960’s, a decade of immense change, civil unrest and the height of the counter-culture revolution. While many famous faces and names came and went during that time there’s one in particular I’d like to draw attention to. As you probably already guessed if you’ve read any of my other posts this person was not only keenly observant but willing to share his thoughts on what he discovered despite the potential backlash. The man I’m speaking of was Canadian-born educator Laurence Peter and the gift he gave the world came in the 1969 publication of his book ‘The Peter Principle’.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work I’ll give you the cliff notes version (though I suggest you read it because a) it’s insightful and b) it’s short). Peter states that “in a [business] hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence,” that “in most hierarchies, super-competence is more objectionable than incompetence” and that the presence of extremely skilled and productive employees “disrupts and…violates the first commandment of hierarchical life: the hierarchy must be preserved.” At the time such an attack on American business culture was likely out of the question. Dr. Laurence therefore wrote the book as more of a satire than say in Chomsky-like prose.

While it was at the time and to an extent still popular today amongst certain circles I feel it’s still not as well known as it should be. The way in which this system has continued to grow and evolve in modern times is equally impressive. In fact, an almost entirely new principled system has emerged and at the expense of using a term some other writer may already have (for which I apologize and will certainly give she or he credit in a later revision) I’m going to call it ‘The Linked in Principle.’ Yes, this is a direct shot at the website of the same name (which the author fully admits to have had an account with). The site, much like the structure of countless organizations throughout the US, is tantamount to a game of career musical chairs cleverly hidden behind the façade of being a business version of Facebook©.

I’m not going to argue the central causes of employment instability nor am I going to fault career focused individuals for watching their backs so to speak but Dr. Laurence hit the nail on the head when he revealed the “skills required to get a job often have nothing to do with what is required to do the job itself.” It is here we have the central thesis of the ‘linked in principle’ – that a majority of jobs are not obtained by demonstrated ability or even necessarily a perceived set – but rather through a popularity contest. The direct result of our desire to be sociable triumphing over the lesser need to be correct in the decision-making process.

The other caveat, and subsequent observation, is that because many of these individuals (often white-collar workers) tend to be placed in teams and are therefore more easily able to stake the success of an idea or program to their contributed efforts – when in fact they may have either had nothing to do with the action or the said decision may even have had serious unfortunate longer-term consequences – results in the inability of company’s to properly identify truly incompetent employees. It is to this I lead in to the last point of the principle, a slight deviation from Peter’s, which states ‘a person will rise or fall directly in proportion to their ability to network and market themselves.’  At the end of the day the structure and struggle of corporations, particularly larger ones, is a result of none of the smart kids being allowed to sit at the cool kid table.

We’re all in a Cult and it’s okay

Whether you want to believe it or not you’re in a cult. Apologies for being the bearer of bad news but it’s true. Rather than dwell on the fact let’s move forward with an exercise. I want you to look up the definition of a cult. Since you’re already online it shouldn’t require much effort. Done googling it yet? What did you find? Now I want you to remove the word ‘religion’ from the focus; all religions are cults so I’m not going spend any time on that (for now). Again, what do we see? Pretty interesting right? I’d like you to take particular note of the synonyms. Now that you see them continue just a bit further to absorb the full context of the word.

How do you feel? Unchanged, okay…well you could probably stop reading this now. Curious as to where I’m going?  Wonderful, time for a deeper examination of semantics. According to the online version of Merriam Webster (I’d like to think a solid, reliable source) the second definition of the word cult reads – “a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.” Hmm, interesting. Now if we go back to the first definition Merriam gives and as I suggested earlier remove “religion” from it’s wording what we are left with is (I’m paraphrasing) – a [formalized belief] regarded as orthodox or spurious…[and] also its body of adherents.

So, there you have it in a nut shell. All a cult really is, is a group of people with a formalized set of beliefs. From the continued practice of these communally accepted ideas or principles we have what is known as culture. In fact, the word cult and culture share the same Latin root word, ‘colere’ which means ‘to tend or cultivate’. As I stated previously I’m not on a mission to get into religion with this post or even discuss cults as they are most popularly highlighted in American society, i.e. Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc. What I would like to discuss are some of the cults we belong to that effect the whole of our existence just as much as any religious belief yet for some reason aren’t properly understood as cults.

  1. Corporations
  • This is a no-brainer. The larger the number of employees the closer it becomes to a pure, unaltered cult. Think about it. You have 40, 50, 60,000+ people ‘greatly devoted to…work’ (albeit to various degrees). The object is a paycheck, the idea is to provide security of some sort and the movement is away from concepts such as individuality and freedom of a person towards being little more than an automaton. (**Author’s note – I presently belong to this cult so don’t fret if you do too)
  1. Political Parties
  • Unlike the prior cult I NO longer belong to this one. In a world where there’s 40+ flavors of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream but only two major political parties (United States) I’m not sure how a person doesn’t see this as some cultic shit. While it’s most often centered around something like the Presidential Election the phrase ‘lesser of two evils’ is something if thought about at greater length sounds both spurious as well as unorthodox. We (of which I include myself) willfully suspend a great amount of personal belief in order to gravitate around the ideology of holding up one person in reverence. Game. Set. Cult.

 

  1. [Blind] Patriot (Patriotism)
  • In America we know who these people are and while it’s commendable to have appreciation and even a sense of pride for where one is from an alarm has to sound when it’s carried on to a level of complete and totally blind devotion to one’s native land. What makes this group of folks particularly fascinating is that they manage to fit all the criteria of a cult by only the mere substitution of a ‘god’ by the ‘state’. Think about it for a moment. If you had to come up with one sentence to describe this group to the letter, what would it be? For me, I would say ‘a person with a great devotion to a leader or leaders, the idea of freedom (whatever the fuck that is) with the object being the spread of (in the case of the US) democracy everywhere, to allow the movement of capital markets to work where they have not prior been. I think that sounds about right?

There you have it, three things you’ve probably had thoughts of but not necessarily in the perspective of what they really are. Of course, there’s a ton more and I’m sure at some point if I keep this site going we’ll touch on quite a few additional ones. This post though was about re-framing perspective. I don’t know much but one thing I am certain about (and will touch on in greater length later) is that there is no such thing as reality. Yes, there’s definable realities and boundaries established by the wonderful fields of physics and mathematics but in the realm of human existence the only true thing is how someone perceives the world. So, huge congratulations go out to you – and I as well. We are all the proud members of some kind of cult and while its not Costco (which could also be argued is a cult….really, who the hell needs 20 tubes of toothpaste) we have all done our primary humanly duty and made sure we belong to something. After all we are just primates.