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July 29, 2010

Update 5: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 1

A commenter asked last week, “So when are you going to finish [the book]?” 

That’s a legitimate question and deserves an answer:

"I don’t know."

I didn’t say it deserved a good answer.

That said, I think I’m realistically looking at the end of August. However, regardless of where I am on the book, I plan on resuming regular blogging after Labor Day (with the campaign season heating up then, I know I won't be able to resist such a target rich environment). 

In the meantime, I’m going to post excerpts from some of the early chapters, partly because it will give you a better feel for the book itself and partly because they’re done (or nearly done, since I am endlessly tinkering and copy editing).

Today, I’ll start with the beginning of Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Shut Up, That’s Why

“Do You Know Who I Am?” – Senator John Kerry 1

You hear people say it all the time, “everyone is a moron,” but they don’t mean it, not really.  What they really mean is “everyone else is a moron,” which is a very different thing. 

The necessary flip side to believing everyone other than you is a moron is that you yourself are not one. In fact, you are obviously quite smart.

Why would you be anything else?  You’re you, after all.

But where does this attitude originate?

One obvious source is the fact that most people are very good at one or two things.  You can be a moron like the rest of us and still be an imaginative artist, a skilled surgeon, or a mathematical prodigy.  Commerce, indeed civilization as we know it, rests on the notion that most people are really good at a few things, and pretty bad at everything else.  If we were all geniuses at everything we’d do everything, or most everything, ourselves.  Instead, we do the things we’re good at and trade the product of that labor for the things that other people are good at.

You can call it division of labor if you like, or comparative advantage.

I call it the idiot-savant theory of prosperity.

In other words, our modern industrial economy and the unprecedented prosperity it creates, is built upon the enduring principle that people are incompetent.

Inevitably, people who are good at one thing, who excel at doing something all day long, particularly in professions where there are too many opportunities for overt expressions of praise and admiration, come to believe that they are, in fact, so smart that they can do nearly anything. 

This is a universal proposition that spans millennia:

“But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom.” 2

And this is why doctors lose all their money in real estate.  This is why models think they can sing, singers think they can act, and Sean Penn thinks he can think.

This is why lawyers think they can do, well, anything…


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July 29, 2010 at 01:39 PM in Books | Permalink


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...with the possible exception of Michael Clayton.

Posted by: Martyd | Jul 30, 2010 12:22:30 AM

It has long been my contention that we are all ignorant. Just on different things. I am glad to see my judgement verified.

Posted by: barryjo | Aug 1, 2010 8:37:33 AM

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