The Elite are Not Good at Strategic and Long-Term Thinking: 1

Many apparently non-retarded people seem to believe members of the so-called “elite class” are very good at strategic and long-term thinking. This particular belief is the basis for pretty much all conspiracy theories which you would have ever heard or read about. But is that belief true? or is it just a case of wish projection? Remember, I am not denying that people try to conspire or scheme. The real question is whether they can achieve anything beyond pissing in the rain.

In my opinion there are two types of reasons why the “elite” are far less competent than most people can imagine.

1. A ‘winner takes all’ system, like the one we live in, favors luck and chance over competence.

Let me clarify this point with a few examples. Would Microsoft be what it is today if it had not gotten a few important lucky breaks in the beginning or its now-extinct competitors made fewer mistakes? Think about it.. Was MS-DOS or Windows the best or even only Operating System for 1980-1990 era PCs? Was IBM the most popular PC manufacturer throughout the 1980s? Were all of its competitors such as Commodore, Apple and Amiga or even IBM staffed with incompetent engineers and programmers? So why did they not win the PC race? Could it be that it was luck and chance, not competence or ability, that made Microsoft the still undisputed leader in PC operating systems?

Let us take WalMart as another example. Beyond all the talk about their wonderful supply chains and logistics lies the real reason for their success- cheap manufacturing in developing countries. Ask yourself- How much of its success is dependent on the neo-liberal policies followed by the USA since the 1980s and concurrent mercantilism practiced by totalitarian low-wage countries such as China? The success of WalMart is largely due to being the right place at the perfect time with the right attitude. Changing any one of these pre-conditions would have changed the outcome of retail shopping in the USA.

2. Money and reputation from previous “wins” can be used cover current mistakes.

Ok, here are some rhetorical questions. Would any company other than Microsoft Have been able to survive the flops known as ‘Windows Me‘ and ‘Vista‘? In both cases, revenue from their previous successes such as Win98, Win NT and WinXp allowed them to weather failures that would have killed pretty much any other company. But what does repeatedly making such potentially lethal mistakes say about their intrinsic competence? Or take Apple, which also made many mistakes (Lisa, Newton) and took many mistakes (they initially resisted independent apps on the iPhone).

Another good set of examples concerns the recent failures of new drugs in Phase II and Phase III human clinical trials. Many of these new drugs were supposed to be blockbusters, and yet they failed miserably after each consuming billions of dollars and years of research by thousands of people. How could so many thousands of “super-smart” people fuck up so badly? In many cases, the fuck-ups were so basic and obvious that even a bunch of semi-retarded people would have figured them out.

Or look at the F-22.. they still cannot fix problems in the oxygen supply for pilots for an airplane that cost over 200 million dollars a piece. Even worse, the F-22 program has suffered from even more basic failures in the past– in many cases after induction of the aircraft in the USAF. How can people who are supposedly “smart and competent” make such big mistakes.. again and again? Or take Donald Trump.. How many times have businesses run by that guy defaulted on their creditors? and yet he seems to have little problem raising money for his next batch of hare-brained schemes. Or ask yourself- How many of Warren Buffet’s “wins” are due to legalized corruption, sweetheart deals and discrete influence peddling?

The reality is that the so-called “elite” are often less competent than your average village idiot. Only social inertia, slick image manipulation and the willingness of people to believe in a ‘fair’ world keep them relevant.

These people don’t have even the basics of what they claim to excel in. Take strategic thinking. People often forget that quality strategic thinking requires a high degree of objectivity which in turn requires a certain level of detachment from your immediate environment to see the bigger and less obvious picture. The “elite”, on the other hand, use their money and position in society to insulate themselves from the bigger picture. They tend to focus on the minutiae such as status jockeying (where they studied, traveled, ate, drank or what they read, saw, listened to etc). They spend their whole lives trying to think about as small a slice of reality as possible, while claiming to be good at seeing it all.

The “elite” also claim to be good at ‘long-term’ thinking- but the bulk of evidence suggests otherwise. Let us first consider the obvious problem with any ‘long-term’ planning aka our inability to predict the future. Given that many “super-smart” people have been repeatedly shown to be so wrong, should we even trust anybody who claims to predict the future? How can you predict any process which you neither understand nor control? Look at human history.. it is full of so many actions and decisions which in retrospective look like the handiwork of severely retarded persons. However all of these actions and decisions were conceived, executed and supported by the “best of the best” and the “brightest” minds of that era. How come these “most respectable” and “meritorious” people kept on fucking up so badly- century after century, millenia after millenia? Note that many of these fuckups hurt the “elite” in power as bad or even worse that the populations they were lording over.

I believe that the best way to model “elite” thought, behavior and actions in any human society is to ask yourself the simple question- What would a parasite do? aka WWPD?

What do you think? Comments?

  1. Matt Strictland
    June 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Basically true with the caveat that most people in government and industry are not selected by merit but by political machines and patronage . This certainly includes the military.

    And yes most are parasites, though like all parasites they have some place in the ecosystem.

    Historically few, maybe no human societies outside of a pirate crew or mercenary band (both you’ll note despised far beyond the harm they cause) are meritocratic in any way or are designed around allowing consequences for failure. Human societies just don’t work that way.

    The 1st society that manages to find a way to work that way, replace itself and make it stick will dominate for a very long time unless as I suspect though the others gang up on it and nuke it first .

    Likely though it will be something akin to the Culture by Ian Banks, probably a benevolent AI technate. This is within the real of physical science though obviously not politics.

  2. webe
    June 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    History is written by the winners. Their accounts thus tell very little usually.

    Most people who are promoted or succesful retroactively ascribe their “success” to all kinds of innate qualities, actually believe it, and are often able to coast great distances on their false sense of superiority (or “confidence”). This is known as the arrogance of power. Rather insufferable. Many other people go along with this: After all, their success must be “caused” by something, otherwise everything becomes rather random and unjustified.

    In any organization, as soon as there is a call for a new policy, all kinds of people go along with it, whether they believe in it or not, out of self-preservation. In the end, the only people left are the one that went along, proving retrospectively their acuity.This is the mechanism that can blind whole societies to obvious realities and in the end even prove to be their demise.

  3. June 17, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    The elite will likely burn eternally in hell. Only the adoption of a total new system will do.

  4. P Ray
    June 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    The biggest proof as to the system being rigged:
    Innovation is always a surprise, and competition is something they don’t expect.
    Along with the homilies “work hard and you will succeed” (only if others recognise your work, which they won’t if it is going to mean you can command greater pay or leave for a better job — they will actively work against you then), and “only a loser sees the downside” (I’d have thought that participation in any activity, you need to see the downside, as besides the obvious costs and obvious profits, there are also such intangibles and unknowables as reputation and whether you are increasing your competence).
    Which is why companies try to keep staff stagnant and limit their exposure to the whole business picture – so that they can be easily replaced, as competition be easily talked and FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt)-ed away while keeping the level of service mediocre and an “information fiefdom” in place.

  5. Chris
    June 17, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Noone knows what the future will bring. That is true both for the 2,000 IQ Harvard/Yale graduate who works for finance as it is for the bum who asks for change.

  6. hoipolloi
    June 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    “How many of Warren Buffet’s “wins” are due to legalized corruption, sweetheart deals and discrete influence peddling?”

    My answer, all of them.

    “How could so many thousands of “super-smart” people fuck up so badly? In many cases, the fuck-ups were so basic and obvious that even a bunch of semi-retarded people would have figured them out.”

    I can recall several instances where the so called smart people not knowing text book knowledge of what they are supposed to do. It is the organizational power that gives legitimacy to these people. Proper decision making is incidental. They will always blame it on a subordinate. When the mob is present, duck will win in the cockfight.

  7. jhbowden
    June 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Every sector of life is saturated with myopic status-jockeying. It has always been this way, and always will be this way.

    Status jockeying is a side issue. The real question is- Do the consequences of your stupidity catch up with you?

    It only seems otherwise to nerds employed in the STEM fields, who, to be effective at their careers, must impersonally understand some part of the world in a detached fashion. Many such nerds have always been in an environment with other nerds with a similar professional orientation; hence the shock they feel when they eventually discover that most human beings simply do not give a damn about realities, only the appearances of the moment.

    Whether people care about reality is irrelevant on a longer (beyond 20 year) time scale.

    • jhbowden
      June 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

      The real question is- Do the consequences of your stupidity catch up with you? Whether people care about reality is irrelevant on a longer (beyond 20 year) time scale.

      We’ve answered our own question.

  8. LP 999
    June 19, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Always great reading.

    Is it the usual failures of humanity or stupidity – which seems like an oxymoron. Perhaps, some policies seem great but in reality they are complete disasters, like Keynes’ work or feminism.

    Some wonder if its interbreeding or an encephalitic brain.

  9. DieHard
    June 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Another solid, insightful post.

  10. MaMu1977
    June 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Spot on post again, AD.

    My favorite example of myopic elitism: in 2007, WWE debuted a new wrestler with a pirate gimmick. Aside from being large enough to look like a convincing “entertainer”, he was essentially a xerox copy of Captain Jack Sparrow (accent, aesthetics, flambouyance, etc., and the female fans loved it.) Within two months, the CEO (Vincent McMahon) scrubbed the gimmick because (in his own words), “A pirate? Who gives a fuck about pirates!!?” Due to living in a bubble, he had no clue about the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (given the fact the pro wrestling is run on popularity power, grabbing onto a gimmick based on a billion dollar series was common sense.)

  11. June 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    the wwe can do what ever they want right now because they have a loyal customer base and really no competition in the market since like 99. any mistakes they make will not really be fatal

  12. June 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    “Would Microsoft be what it is today if it had not gotten a few important lucky breaks in the beginning or its now-extinct competitors made fewer mistakes? Think about it.”

    Absolutely not. So many success stories are exactly the same. They all get their “breaks”

  13. May 27, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Microsoft would never have been what it is today without the tacit approval of The Powers That Be. The criminal charges alone should have sunk them, but they were never filed or even if they made it to court, they didn’t really stick and they just got a slap on the wrist.

  14. P Ray
    August 13, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Update for your criticism of the F-22:
    US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor grounded by BEES: Maintenance crew discovers nearly 20,000 honey bees swarming the fighter jet’s exhaust nozzle
    The colony weighed eight pounds, translating to almost 20,000 bees
    Experts say they were likely relocating from larger hive on the base
    The colony was safely transferred, to be housed by a local beer producer

    Just one question:
    How long was the plane stationary so that the bees could take root?
    And how often is maintenance done on the F-22 anyway? Important tactical information, there.

  1. June 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm
  2. June 23, 2012 at 5:03 pm
  3. August 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm
  4. August 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm
  5. July 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm
  6. September 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm
  7. January 14, 2017 at 6:19 pm
  8. April 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm

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