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Saturday, 12 May 2012

On being foolish


One of the most difficult aspects of life is our own foolishness. I don’t mean in some formulaic mea culpa aiming to find kudos in humble pie kind of way, but in the sense that society itself is foolish and it demands a certain amount of foolishness from us in return for supplying our needs. We often have to deliver our tithe of foolishness in order to get on with things we think aren't foolish.

What I mean by this is that we cannot live what we might describe as fully intelligent, rational and utterly self-determined lives. We can’t live as we might wish to live, do the work for which we are best suited among colleagues we would have chosen anyway if given the choice.

Life isn’t like that, it’s a constant stream of options where one option is probably better but choosing it is always a matter of guesswork or worse – social pressure. So we opt to do foolish things for which there is no reward such as aspects of our working life which we know perfectly well are a waste of time.

I don’t mean this in a nihilistic or defeatist sense either, although I know it sounds that way. I’m trying to express the obvious fact that foolishness is part of almost any complex society simply because foolish options are always there in their millions and inevitably we sometimes take the foolish option. 

We do it on all scales too – from the personal to the international. The EU was a foolish option which once taken presented us with numerous other foolish options such as the euro which we didn’t swallow and the Lisbon treaty which we did. The collective UK version of we I mean, because I’m sure you weren’t that foolish and neither was I. But I didn't take to the streets. Did you? 

Often we do nothing to avoid doing something foolish even though doing nothing might well be the foolish option. So it isn’t easy and it isn’t possible to opt out, because opting out may well be foolish too.

Living for the moment is foolish, as is not living for the moment. It’s impossible really, but there is a way to ameliorate this tangle of foolishness. Simplify wherever possible is generally a good policy for national governments, a means to trim the damage that foolishness causes.

But for a senior civil servant to support a simplifying policy – that would be foolish wouldn’t it? So in the end, foolish is in the design and it would be foolish to deny how foolish we can be in not tackling our own foolishness.

4 comments:

Roger said...

They say that you only understand something when it no longer matters. Therefore if you make decisions about things that matter you are likely to make mistakes. Anyway making mistakes is mostly quite fun and you sometimes learn something new. Dull indeed to be weighed down with a heavy tick-list for every decision in life.

The civil servant generally has a heavy tick-list, for him or her foolishness is to act against self-interest.

A K Haart said...

Roger - "They say that you only understand something when it no longer matters."

And you are too old anyway!

James Higham said...

As a fool, I couldn't possibly comment.

A K Haart said...

James - we all are really.