Nobody Knows Anything

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barsotti nobody knows anything
It’s been forty years since I graduated from high school, and I’ve spent most of that forty years in the business world. Now I’m about to retire and I’m thinking back on what I’ve learned that will be useful as I begin my nine intentional practices that I hope will really make a difference in the world.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is captured in Charles Barsotti’s cartoon above: Nobody knows anything.

Because of our horrific overpopulation and exhaustion of our planet and its resources, we have entered into a period of chronic, massive, global stress, and it’s made us all crazy, like rats in a lab fighting over the last few scraps of food. We’ve stopped listening to ourselves and started looking for saviours — ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ to show us and tell us what to do.

The so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ I’ve met are mostly very intelligent people, but they haven’t a clue. They’re buoyed by their own press and by sycophants fighting their way up from the bottom or desperate to believe that someone is in charge, in control, and knows what needs to be done. These ‘leaders’ hang out with other people just like themselves, and their groupthink persuades them that they’re right, they’re important, that what they say and do and decide really matters.

gaping void hierarchy

But it’s all fraud, papered with self-delusion, self-aggrandization and hubris. What gets done in large organizations (corporations, non-profits, governments) is the sum of what everyone in those organizations does. The people at the top generally have no more real impact, and no more useful knowledge with which to make decisions, than the people at the bottom. The ‘leaders’ are responsible neither for the organization’s successes, nor its failures — a few people just don’t make that much difference, except when they make some hugely expensive, incompetent decision or rip the company off so it goes bankrupt.

Almost all mergers and acquisitions actually destroy value — their only real purpose is to eliminate competition. The “competitive advantage” and “economies of scale” that big organizations lay claim to are a fiction. Their success is really mostly due to massive, incessant propaganda aimed at dumbed-down customers, subsidies, discounts and favours bought with political donations, the crushing of competition and innovation through legal intimidation and offshoring, cornering and squandering precious natural resources and treating the natural environment as a free dumping ground.

Economists, financial ‘experts’, psychologists, consultants, pundits, celebrities, policy wonks, advisors, barons of industry, doctors — none of these people really know what they’re doing. They want you to believe they know what they’re doing, so that they can justify what they’re taking out of the system in salaries, bonuses, perks, commissions and fees. But they’re making it up as they go along. They have come to expect bailouts when they fail financially, and indemnity from prosecution when they screw up, or get caught breaking the law. And they get away with it.

It’s all veneer. Beneath each $2000 suit, behind all the swagger, from the boardroom to the office of the commander in chief, there’s an insecure, terrified little boy pretending to be in charge, faking it, and easily swept away by the first pretty young adoring intern who will go down on her knees before him.

We would be much better off looking to the crowds for wisdom. The collective knowledge of employees, customers, community members, while far from perfect knowledge for decision-making, would at least be better than the staggering ignorance of megalomanic ‘leaders’ making decisions in their echo chambers and information vacuums.

No one is in control. Obama isn’t getting anything done, despite being the most powerful person on the planet, because he can’t. The ‘leaders’ aren’t going to deal with climate change or peak oil or pandemic disease or unsustainable debts, because no one has the power or authority to do anything, and because it would be political suicide to admit that the only solutions that might work will be radical, painful, and require a lot of sacrifice from everyone. So all you get is posturing, and it’s just going to get worse.

This is what unsustainable means.

We have destroyed this planet for future generations and for all-life-on-Earth, and the worst culprits are still doing it, while we sit around stupidly watching them, wondering what to do, waiting for someone, anyone, to save us from us.

We need to stop listening to these know-nothing, cowardly ‘leaders’. We need to stop paying them. We need to stop working for them. We need to stop investing in them. We need to stop trusting them, and stop believing the nonsense they are telling us. We need to stop voting for them, and paying taxes to finance their backroom deals. We need to stop buying overpriced crap from their fat, mismanaged organizations. We need to send some of them to jail for criminal fraud and the rest out to pasture, and take back our society, our economy, our Earth from these thieves, these self-deluded con men. No more leaders.

We could start, one community at a time, to know, again, what it means to live responsibly, meaningfully, modestly, sufficiently, sustainably.

But we will not. We have become disconnected from all-life-on-Earth, and forgotten the simple knowledge of how to live as part of it. And we’re too busy to think about what that means for our grim future, as the dark and gathering sameness of the world rolls over us, like an impenetrable fog.

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14 Responses to Nobody Knows Anything

  1. Ivor Tymchak says:

    This is too pessimistic Dave. Some people do make a difference but they are like individual coins dropped into those amusement arcade coin cascades. They push hard in the area immediately around them but very quickly their energy gets dissipated amongst all the other interconnecting coins. When you look at the last cascade in the process it appears nothing has happened but there has been movement further back.Admittedly, the progress is too slow for our dire situation. The machine will probably stop before enough people reach the tipping point of change.

  2. Jon Husband says:

    But they’re making it up as they go along. They have come to expect bailouts when they fail financially, and indemnity from prosecution when they screw up, or get caught breaking the law. And they get away with it.It’s all veneer. Beneath each $2000 suit, behind all the swagger, from the boardroom to the office of the commander in chief, there’s an insecure, terrified little boy pretending to be in charge, faking it, and easily swept away by the first pretty young adoring intern who will go down on her knees before him.Oh, the stories I could tell from off-the-record conversations with clients from 25 years of consulting ;-)We would be much better off looking to the crowds for wisdom. The collective knowledge of employees, customers, community members, while far from perfect knowledge for decision-making, would at least be better than the staggering ignorance of megalomanic ‘leaders’ making decisions in their echo chambers and information vacuums.In essence, this is what “wirearchy” is all about .. IMHO

  3. Jon Husband says:

    Oh, and one of my favourite quotes (various attributions) … It takes a long time for change to happen quickly”

  4. mattbg says:

    Nobody knows what they’re doing, yet the system continues to function. Dilbert is right, but the company continues to function. That was one thing that always made me think twice about my condemnation of what was going on around me: if it’s all so bad, how are things still functioning?If we have a pyramid of sociopaths, the clueless, and losers, then how does our society get anything done? How do our millions of people put food on the table every day, heat their houses in winter and cool them in summer, get to work, browse the Internet at night, and otherwise carry out their lives?Lots of people seem to be enjoying life just fine. It might not be your idea of a good life, and you might be constantly asking, “but are they really happy?”… but what does that matter?Climate change? We have been duped there, too. By a different set of money-grubbers and careerists: Al Gore, David Suzuki, etc.I’m only pointing out these things because they are inescapable facts that I’ve been forced to recognize myself. I don’t think the way we are doing things now is sustainable, but I am constantly being proven wrong.

  5. vera says:

    Whoo-wee! Dave gets radical! Amen, and amen.Matt: even sociopaths, clueless and losers can get some stuff done… the problem is not that stuff is not getting done, it’s just that a great deal of the stuff that does get done is the wrong kind of stuff. Our civ is like one of those fly-wheel toys that run for a while after you’ve given them some wroom. And I only recently realized that all those paeans to economic efficiencies are largely lies and BS. Thank goodness someone in the business world is saying it.Whee! Fly on, little bird…. :-)

  6. Thank you! Your post made me laugh–don’t worry, I laughed because I always see so much of myself in you. I love your bursts of pessimism, which seem so vexing to so many readers. How can we live in these times and NOT be pessimistic. The last few paragraphs of your post were so similar to things I’ve written and thought, it just made me laugh. We always seem to be on the same page, even though we don’t know each other. I just love the way different parts of this web of existence (people like you and me)can be so tuned in to the same realities. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for all the validation it gives me.I feel like we’re at the cusp of some great revelation–there are those of us who seem to be sensing a novel new paradigm lying just outside of our grasp. How do we get to that? Doesn’t it feel like we’re close? Isn’t that what you’re reaching towards? Throw out all of the ‘leaders’, yes. And what else? There is some way in, I firmly believe it, and “idea people” like you and me are the ones who need to find it. There has to be some small act that will start an avalanche of change.

  7. Martin Roell says:

    Dave, you have analyzed this so often before. I don’t understand why you continue to spend time thinking about and describing the systems you don’t like. Does it help you with anything? Why not put the effort into something you love more?

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t do posts like this often anymore, but sometimes I think it’s worthwhile to say out loud what is obvious to those of us who have made sense of how the world really works, but rarely stated. Is it helpful, Martin asks? I don’t know. But if we don’t say it from time to time, we’re complicit in it continuance. A lot of Joanna Macy’s work revolves around naming what we see and feel, as an essential step in coping with it, taking responsibility for it, connecting with others who also see/feel it, and moving from there to action.

  9. I agree very much with your comment on this post, it is sometimes worthwhile to repeat these kinds of musings, because so often we are encouraged towards a false optimism that we’re not feeling when we really need to express the pessimism….

  10. gregorylent says:

    lucky you did not understand this forty years ago .. you could not have had your career ..understanding just how much of our economy depends on this ignorance you write about lets you know the amount of change we will undergo as the planet forces us towards the “sustainable”..it is rather huge .. everything must change, starting with the fundamental understanding of what it means to be a human being ..toss a loaf when you pass by on the way to whole foods ..enjoy, gregory lent

  11. Well, you certainly have an attitude which diverges a lot from other businesspeople whose ideas I have heard. You seem to allay yourself which Noam Chomsky’s “socialist libertarian” ideology? Is this right?Yes, I agree with you that we ought to help people to become critical thinkers. But that’s a big project which is going to be accomplished only through careful strategy. If you do it the wrong way, you end up with the problem that Plato moaned about in his “allegory of the cave.”If a sculptor has clay in front of him, he works with clay; if he has metal in front of him, that becomes his medium; if he has wood, he’s going to be tossing off some wood chips that day. Governmental and business systems are neither good nor bad, in my view – they are simply there, in front of us. And they can be used as forces for good or for ill. It’s easy to lay the blame at the feet of those people who are perceived to “have power.” But, in fact, as you point out: “What gets done in large organizations (corporations, non-profits, governments) is the sum of what everyone in those organizations does.”So, really, I think that the answer is to get people active at a grassroots level. What does a nation or a city or a community consist of? Its people. And those people are those who create the medium in which they live. They are the ones who volunteer at their schools, who smile at their neighbors, who talk about their vision for their communities, and who strive towards their personal goals. Government doesn’t do that. My feeling is that your frustration with “leaders” has to do with the general rift which is there, between people like me and you – who are thinkers – and others who are “face value” kinds of people. It’s easy to get frustrated, when one earnestly talks with others who have entirely different methods of forming conclusions about the world. It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking of people as being “sheeplike,” and just following their leaders. But that’s not how those people see themselves. They just see the world as being a self-evident place, and they simply go about living their lives and pursuing their aspirations in that world.Yes, you and I and others like us need to find eachother, and have a little community of folks who like to reason with eachother; and we ought to pool our resources and skills. But I think that we ought to be a bit more gentle and accomodating towards those people who are not disposed to be deep thinkers.Now, on a more literal level, you seem to be saying that the “cooperative” business model should supplant corporations. I agree that would be a better thing. Workers ought to own the means of production. But that brings us to the question of how is this going to be accomplished. Businesses are built with free money today from venture capitalists and other investors. One gentleman I spoke with one day described it this way: “You can paint all sorts of beautiful pictures in the world with money.” How do you get that capital flowing into cooperative ventures in greater measure than it would flow into corporations?

  12. storyspice says:

    This is absolute pessimism. If we uproot corruption, everything will be alright. Stop printing currency and digitize currency system, world over is the ultimate idea to curb corruption

  13. jerry says:

    Remember the book “Future Shock?” A lot of your ideas are similar to the ones in that book.I like to think of our society as a train headed for hell and everyone is fighting for the best seat.

  14. David says:

    Great Post, I agree with you completely, but I’ll take it one step further. We are all doomed due to stress. Stress is the Fight or flight sense ingrained in all of us through the process of evolution.We’re not being chased by tigers or bears anymore so stress manifests itself in other ways money, relationships, ect. Stress only allows us to look after our own interests, which is exactly why our leaders and bosses can continually take the ridiculous courses of action that they do. For every scientist that claims global warming is real and is a threat, there’s one that claims it is not and global warming is a fraud. Someone in power who’s only interest are there own wealth and that of the corporations that lobby them, are going to side with the scientists that supports their cause. Not only that but they feel justified based upon his or her evidence.Someone who is worried about thier own personal wealth rather than policies that will help create a sustainable planet, is the exact opposite of what you would want in power. Yet our two party system only allows for these types of leaders. Human society has been broken since the first two tribes went to war, rather than work with each other.It remains broken today, and it will until the end, my guess is somewhere between 20-40 years.p.s. any society based on profit is not sustainable

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