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Arrogance and Ignorance

Entry 1942, on 2018-10-20 at 10:59:13 (Rating 4, Comments)

While arrogance and ignorance are two mainly negative characteristics, they are often understandable, if not necessarily excusable. So you might see why a person is arrogant when their circumstances dictate that they have some right to be. A major political leader, or a great sportsman, or a Nobel Prize winner might feel somewhat arrogant after reaching the top, for example. And no one can know everything about everything so ignorance is inevitable. There are limits to this and I think there are some things which everyone should not be ignorant about, but in general it's not something we have the right to blame someone for.

But the problem with these two characteristics becomes more obvious when they are combined. Someone who is ignorant but doesn't have the humility to realise that and still acts arrogantly is not only annoying but downright dangerous.

It's not always completely the individual's fault, because the "system" often encourages arrogance and obscures ignorance. Political and other leaders often live in positions of such entitlement that their deficiencies are entirely concealed from them, and the fawning attitude of their subordinates ensures their arrogance.

Or maybe they only got to the position of power through ignorance and arrogance. After all, for anyone to really think that they can lead a corporation or a country or any large organisation really does take the epitome of arrogance before they even start. And ignorance of the subtleties and complexities of leadership surely helps with any individual's aspiration to attain power.

So there's probably a major positive feedback loop situation happening here: the most arrogant and ignorant people seek positions of power, and once they are there those underlying characteristics are enhanced by the way the system operates.

This dangerous combination creates a delusion of competence amongst our leaders, where they assume that they know what they are doing and that their decisions are good just because they are never in a position to discover the reality of the situation.

Critics of power in more inferior positions in the hierarchy are often admonished with criticisms like: you can't see the big picture, but the leader can. Well, there is some merit in that, but this idea of "the" big picture is problematic. Is there just one big picture? I don't think so, and I think the big picture many people see exists more in their imagination than in the real world.

Another phenomenon which seems almost universal is the "little guy" covering for his superiors. Every day I see the gross incompetence on the part of leaders causing all sorts of havoc for the people they are supposed to serve, and that potential disaster only being averted by the extraordinary actions of a person near the bottom of the hierarchy.

From the top it looks like everything is going great, because they only see their own personal "big picture". But at the level where the real work is done all that can be seen is the stupidity of the leadership being fixed with unofficial actions which would often get the person doing them into real trouble (I couldn't possibly comment on whether I speak from personal experience here).

I think all of this explains some of the most puzzling questions many people have about the world. Why is society organised so badly? Why is there so much corruption? Why are the legal, economic, and political systems so unfair? Why do we ignore the big issues while wasting time on trivia?

The answer is simple: contrary to what they would want us to believe, the people at the top have no idea what they are doing! They are ignorant of what needs to happen, yet their ignorance is never exposed to them because of their extreme arrogance.

When I make this pronouncement I am often challenged with a question like: well, do you think you could do any better?

Actually no, I don't. And that's probably why I really would do better. I have sufficient humility to understand that there's a lot I don't know. I am uncertain enough that I check my beliefs against people with opposing ideas and take those views seriously. I know that no pure ideology is worth taking too seriously, and that every situation is unique and must be looked at that way. And, most importantly, I know that the ideas of people I currently disagree with are far more important than the ideas of my sycophantic underlings (if they existed).

So having identified what is wrong with the world maybe now I should offer a solution.

There are two options really. The first is to abolish the idea of leadership altogether, and switch from hierarchical structures to flat ones where everyone is equal. If no one is at the top of the hierarchy then any arrogant, ignorant ideas cannot gain any traction. If that is too extreme then there is a more moderate alternative: that is, keep some sort of hierarchy but change the way the people at the top are selected.

So briefly looking at option 1. That would involve decisions being made by either running a ballot of the individuals affected, or by a committee decision of a recognised group of technical experts on the subject. Notice that I specifically said "technical" experts, as opposed to bureaucratic or executive experts. There is no room for professional managers in my system!

I know that the majority rule system is often criticised because it is assumed that it will often block decisions which are harsh but necessary. For example, everyone might vote to give themselves a wage rise. But I don't think so. When surveys of political opinion are done people often see the wider issues remarkably well, and often favour ideas which might seem to be immediately against their best interests but which are better in the long term. Examples might be setting higher taxes to invest in better public systems, imposing new rules and laws to increase social cohesion, and making existing systems fairer on those who are currently disadvantaged.

I'm sure we can all think of people who would disagree with all of those things, but in informal surveys I have seen it is surprising how many take a less self-centered approach.

So now for option 2 (my "less radical" plan). This might involve leaders being appointed randomly or through some voting system. The critical thing is that no one could offer themselves for a position, they would have to be invited by a secret vote. Also, they could only stay in that position for a set time (I would recommend 3 or 4 years) and then a new leader would replace them.

Notice that this solves two problems. First, it means that the most arrogant and self-entitled people are not the ones which automatically end up at the top of an organisation's command structure, and second (assuming we use the random system) the representation in leadership will reflect the people in the organisation. So problems with the under-representation of various races, ideologies, and genders would be gone.

Of course, with the random system, arrogant people can still find themselves at the top, but the people further down the chain of command would have little reason to not be honest about their deficiencies. And they can only cause trouble for the 3 to 4 years they are in command. And sometimes you might get a person at the top who really doesn't want to be there. But I think they should stay anyway, because their uncertainty and humility might be an asset.

Look at the world's problems today and I challenge you to deny that the points I have made above aren't often to blame. Even though there are clear problems with my alternative ideas, I think they are worth the risk. Whatever we do, we must eliminate that deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance!

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