June 12th, 2008


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The untalented

One of my favourite blogs at the moment is AllMenAreLiars , which I don't always agree with, but constantly makes me think, which is something I value far more.

Today he's talking about success, fear of success and fear of failure, and had this fascinating set of quotes from Eric Hoffer
"It has been often stated that a social order is likely to be stable so long as it gives scope to talent. Actually, it is the ability to give scope to the untalented that is most vital in maintaining social stability."

"For not only are the untalented more numerous but, since they cannot transmute their grievances into a creative effort, their disaffection will be more pronounced and explosive. Thus the most troublesome problem which confronts social engineering is how to provide for the untalented and, what is equally important, how to provide against them."

Hoffer argues that when people are untalented, they tend to focus their energies "into the management, manipulation, and probably frustration of others. They want to police, instruct, guide, and meddle.

"In an adequate social order, the untalented should be able to acquire a sense of usefulness and of growth without interfering with the development of talent around them," he writes.
And this rings very true with me - most of the problems with society aren't with the people who are successful in life, but with the people fallen off the bottom of the ladder. And what I largely see is a lack of interest in providing the right kind of help, for fear of being seen as soft on people who, let's face it, frequently aren't very "nice". I'm a committed social meddler, not just because I want to help people (which I do), but also because I believe that massive social inequalities are bad for pretty much everyone in society, because of the amount of discontent they cause, and the problems that this in turn causes.

I vary back and forth, and sometimes seem to contradict myself on this one. Because on the one hand I believe that people are responsible for their actions, while on the other hand I believe that we are all made by our surroundings. These two things are different merely because they look at people from two different directions - the personal and the societal.

I know how malleable people are, and that if you train them to act in barbaric ways then they will tend to do so, and so it's vital to change the environment that trains them to do so. But I also also know that individuals cannot change without taking responsibility for their actions, because if you don't believe that you control your actions then you're never going to put in the huge amounts of work that are necessary to effect personal change.