Mistakes

“It’s the code you added sir…the reveries…it has some…”

“Mistakes…it’s the word you’re too embarrassed to use, you ought not be you’re a product of them, a trillion of them. Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool…mistake.”

This small, beautifully written dialogue is an excerpt from what has become a bit of a television obsession of mine – West World. In this scene between characters played respectively by Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins they are discussing an issue that has arisen in their place of work; an adult fantasy world in which wealthy, paying guests can inundate themselves in a recreated American wild west. Full of the classic story lines of that era: cowboys, Indians, booze and sex. People enter this world to immediately find themselves the “guests” of this life-like reality. A caveat exists though, the ‘people’ inhabiting the land ‘guests’ are visiting are not in fact real people but rather extremely advanced robotic organisms.

In lieu of rambling on about the show (something I highly recommend people watch) I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of mistakes. I specifically want to begin by defining what they are in my own words. It’s true, on the surface I appear to be lacking the conceptualized credentials of Mr. Hopkins character Dr. Ford. With a background rooted deep in the fields of engineering, mathematics, evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology and perhaps even anthropology he is no doubt a learned man. My experience and expertise lie rather in the field of failure. In this venture I am as clever as any tech start up genius.

Mistakes exist in various forms and are open to interpretation. Their identity has the potential to change over time. In essence they live along the same timeline as any person’s lifespan. In fact, I’d argue that they’re exactly what’s at the heart of Murphy’s Law which states – ‘anything that can happen, will happen.’ The correct and incorrect happen simultaneously and are the end result of chance and choice…probability and programming…or whatever else you’d like to call it. It’s difficult to pinpoint what state of form the correct or incorrect (mistakes) exist in but if I were to pull something out of my ass I’d say decisions that are accurate/positive in nature are like a straight line moving forward and/or upward in space; whereas mistakes are like loops that force a person either backward to the point the error occurred or even potentially further back in time.

As the mysterious doctor pointed out they are a necessity of life but to the degree and frequency of their nature they can (and do) occur….to this point I draw objection. The newly fashioned idea that mistakes happen so that we may learn is misleading. The idea of learning ‘after the fact’ is a premise that is just as guilty of inviting error into play as having no desirable concern for the outcome at all. The crippling effect of this mindset is that it gives leeway to the credence (excuse) that mistake is unavoidable, natural and should not have its validity challenged as part of the everyday experience. As someone whose failed countless times in countless ways throughout their life I believe this is a most dangerous social experiment.

Perfection is not the goal or endgame. We should not be inflexible to the variables, that which can’t be seen or is uncontrollable. What our aim should be is to encourage intense observation, open and free dialogue and the ability for development beyond todays socially acceptable standards. Explosive growth of the mind and other abilities is not the desired outcome. Any type that resembles that is a cause for concern as its potential to be metaphorically cancerous is very real. No, what I am seeking is a society built on the premise that mistakes should be a continual point of contention in that they should occupy a healthy percent of our days.

There is this fear, particularly in America, of failing and in order to cope with this we have evoked a number of responses; denial and suppression are a pair that immediately come to mind but the two most dangerous have to be acceptance and intolerance. It’s these two extremes that lead to more problems than almost any of the challenges life throws at us. My solution is simple, make it a small part of our daily routine to examine both our own mistakes as well as those of others. Make it an exercise of analysis not of pure judgement. Find out why something was done, the history before the incident and the recourse afterward. The gift of critical thinking is a present we owe to ourselves as well as to those who come after us. Ultimately because something like mistakes happen don’t mean they should be left alone…some sleeping dogs aren’t meant to lie.

Fear + Guilt = Submission

Despite what film, artists, writers, scholars or humanitarians tell you there are two forces more powerful than any other that flow through the human experience and neither of them are love. Sad, I know, but a truth whether recognized or not. In fact, some of the most powerful structures on the planet solely exist based on these two emotions – religion and the legal system are examples that come immediately to mind. And while to a lesser developed mind these constructs may certainly have held a vital function the day of their role as the prime movers of mankind is in desperate need of an ending. They are like an error in our coding in need of debugging. Their existence serves only to slow down the software of our life.

The first necessary step is recognizing the source of these emotions. Fear is a simple one, it’s root is in the unknown and genesis can be directly traced to the fight or flight response in our sympathetic nervous system. Fear is built almost, if not completely, on the mechanism of self-preservation. In today’s modern context this includes a variety of offshoots of which the first that comes to mind is mistrust and warfare between nation states. Again, how this can be addressed will be explained shortly. Let us move on now to guilt.

Guilt, with the exception to a certain smaller variety of criminal offenses that result in unnecessary physical or financial damage, is a fundamentally misguided principle. In combination with fear guilt is (conscious or unconsciously) harnessed to induce near fanatical panic and in this panic, people are moved to an immediate sense of shame leaving them vulnerable. Vulnerability gives way to an instantaneous need for reconciliation (not necessarily in the religious sense) in order to correct their mistake. It is precisely at this point that they (we) are moved to a state of submission. Our constant movement between these two states of being, the individual and the servant, ultimately gives way to a condition of slavery.

Stripped of the remaining fabrics that bind the illusion of freedom (the state which a healthy concentration of people spend life living in) we trudge along on the path of life forced to give credence to our existence by either the choice of vicariously living through offspring, some type of religion/spirituality or a combination of the two. Existing in a manner of dependence based on being fulfilled by others and/or some mythical figure(s) is in itself a challenge the former I have no experience on the later I’ve discovered is an exercise in futility.

Moving forward the question requiring our attention is this, how do we separate ourselves from these two unnecessary weights? How do we purge ourselves of fear & guilt? While many experts (of which again I am NOT one) will offer up a novel’s worth of advice, or perhaps even a series of books, I have a small series of suggestions:

  1. NEVER GIVE MORE THAN YOU RECEIVE.
  2. DEMAND HONESTY FROM THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU & GIVE IT IN RETURN, THOSE WHO ARE NOT ON BOARD WITH THIS START DISCOUNTING THEM FROM YOUR LIFE.
  3. STOP SAYING SORRY ALL THE TIME. SORROW IS RESERVED FOR SERIOUS OFFENSES ONLY. APOLOGIZE IF YOU MUST BUT MAKE IT CLEAR AND CONCISE. IF YOU DON’T FEEL ITS NECESSARY TO APOLOGIZE YOU CAN ALWAYS COMMUNICATE THAT AS WELL.
  4. UNDERSTAND YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES YOUR WHOLE LIFE (SOME WORSE THAN OTHERS) – APOLOGIZE AND MOVE ON. FORGIVE YOURSELF & THE OTHER PERSON AND GET MOVING.
  5. NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE IS YOUR SUPERIOR. RESPECT IS ONE THING AND IS WORTH DEMONSTRATING BUT YOU (NO MATTER YOUR STATION IN LIFE) ARE SOMEONES SERVANT.

You owe it to yourself to stop the cycle before it starts…or if it has to develop a plan to get off the roller coaster and on the long but rewarding road to the nearest approximation to freedom a human being can experience.

A Profile of Genius: Gustave Le Bon

While I’m certain there are many definitions for what the word ‘genius’ means based upon the defining source both academically as well as personally I’d like to go ahead and give you mine. To me a genius is someone whose idea (or ideas) stand the test of time in that they theory or theories prove as close to accurate today as they did when they were postulated. For this first ‘profile of genius’ I’ve selected an individual I’m quite certain many have not before heard of – the French polymath Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon…or simply known as Gustave Le Bon.

Born the 7th of May 1841 in Nogent-le-Rotrou France, a tiny commune in Northern France – population roughly 11,000, Le Bon would go on to receive his qualification as Doctor of Medicine from the University of Paris in 1861. While his career in the practice never materialized he would later take the knowledge he acquired from his education and apply it to the field of anthropology after time serving in the Franco-Prussian war. Influenced by experiences in the Paris Commune of 1871 and time spent traveling throughout the world he would ultimately hone his focus on the field of sociology.

It was during this time period, the 1890’s, he would begin to release a series of well received works. Of them was my personal favorite and title from which I will share excerpts to unequivocally demonstrate his foresight and genius – ‘Psychologie des Foules’ or as it translated into English ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ published in 1895. So groundbreaking was this work at the time it was printed into 19 languages within the first year of its appearance. While acknowledging and highlighting the true inner workings of society his text dispelled many of the hard-held beliefs of the idealist socialist class throughout Europe.

Turning the fanciful doctrine of what is now modern liberal thought on it’s head he recognized that throughout the world cultural formation is built upon many similarities and that it is the assembly of individuals into not merely collectives but groups of immense proportion that self-sabotage the ability of people to make advancement whether it be personally, financially or through any other mechanism. As I’m sure you will read upon further research the cast of unsightly characters influenced by this and many other titles I’d ask that you reflect on the following passages I’ve pulled from the publication:

“It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them…that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them.”

“The heterogenous [those who are different] is swamped by the homogenous [those who are the same] and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand. This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence.”

“From the moment that they form a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally incapable of observation.”

“When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that, in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports. Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history.”

These four powerful statements, written over a hundred and twenty years ago and contained within just the first half of the book, are as true today as they were in 1895. Fight as we continue to do against the reality of things in an attempt to create an idealized world it is in the very process of coming together on a grand scale that we ultimately fall apart. With the exception of certain times of war, which can be argued are often spurred on by the sentiments of crowds themselves, our ability to come together to rectify problems or issues has rarely worked or been severely slowed by the enormity of the systems themselves. This insight, still likely to be repudiated by a healthy part of the population today, is as true in modern times as it was when Le Bon wrote this master piece. It is this observation along with the courage to catalogue and write about it that makes this renaissance man a true genius in the field of social science and someone whose works continue to be in desperate need of our attention.

Awarding everyone

Get your laptop or tablet out and launch your internet browser. Now I want to search “stand out quotes”. What came up? My guess is a healthy variety of links to websites with numerous sayings from a variety of people. “Only someone wishing to disappear would ever strive to fit in (Shaun Hick).” “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different (Coco Chanel).” And another gem “if you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be (Maya Angelou).” Touching right? Touching my ass, more like out of touch. This new obsession with every one having value makes NO sense and I’m no exception.

As I write this there’s a much greater chance this will gain zero traction than take off into a wild success. And guess what? I’m completely happy, a state of being beyond content, with that. Notice there’s no ads on the site and that’s not just because I’m too cheap to buy business plan service on WordPress. In the end I’m only doing this for…wait for it…myself. That’s right for me, the solid six I see in the mirror every day. Would it be nice to reach people on a much grander scale, sure – anyone that endeavors to do anything artistic (and yes writing is an art…maybe not as how I do it but as Joyce and Hemingway did you bet your ass sweet it is).

The problem today as I see it is this every person is something special thing that’s going on. From participation awards to recognizing things that even just a few decades ago were of no consequence we’ve ushered in an era of self-aggrandizement the likes of which humanity has never before seen. Snap chat, Instagram, Facebook and countless other social platforms have unleashed a new frontier of sharing. One in which there is no delineating between what is worth our time and what is a waste of it.

Without the ability to separate value we are left with a deflating human currency. Despite all the positive advancement made in areas of racial and gender inequality we continue to slow our progress by over planting the communication matrix with fruitless trees of knowledge. The story of us has become every single one of us and while that may seem utopic keep in mind the definition of this word given to us by the Greeks means ‘nowhere’. Which is exactly where we are headed if we don’t learn to return to lifting up those who truly contributing to society as a whole; regardless their race…regardless their gender. Some of us our special, many of us our not. We must learn to live within what chance and circumstance has given us, of course always staying true to the interests of one’s heart but remember in the end there is only what we give and what we take away. A prize for everyone takes away almost every ounce of meaning.

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.