It's not enough to be right
© 2 Feb 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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On trust and influence in politics.


One of the simple facts of life is that good ideas do not stand on their own feet. Marketing is often more important than R&D, spin doctoring more important than foresight, politics more important that policy. Some of these reasons are the human concerns I touched on earlier, but practicality comes into play as well.

Imagine that your nation is at war and that you have a clear prophetic vision that allows you to see clearly the best possible strategy to follow. What are the odds that you will be able to influence policy enough to have your vision realized?

The answer depends mostly on how much people in power trust you. If you send a letter to the military commanders stating simply “‍here is your best policy‍” you are likely to be ignored completely. Why should they trust your vision over anyone else’s? If, on the other hand, you send a thousand-page treatise explaining in detail every contingency and eventuality then why would they invest the time required to internalize your ideas?

Bill Watterson once had Calvin suggest the universe needed a cover charge to keep out the riffraff. Benjamin Dehoyos once mentioned that he asks a secretary to discard as many job applications as possible before they make it to his desk because there are always more applicants than he has time to screen. Technical conferences are rumored to reject out of hand papers that do not have university- or industry-affiliated authors. There simply isn’t enough time to consider everyone’s ideas.

Thus we find ourselves in the position of having “‍trusted advisors‍” and “‍recognized experts,‍” people that, for one reason or another, politicians have decided are worth heeding. There really isn’t much of an alternative. It takes a rare person to sift the wisdom out of the myriad ideas of the masses. Perhaps so rare as to be non-existent.

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