in Psychology

Pundits and the Need for Certainty

The world is getting to be a whole lot more complex, and we seem to be reacting with increasing punditry, from cable news hosts to conference speakers (there are currently 14810 slideshows on Slideshare explaining the future of something or other). And of course I’m guilty of this as the next guy, so I thinking about this. Were we always like this, but now have more means of expressing it, or are we feeling more threatened by change and subsequently striving for relevancy by proclaiming our insights to the world?


Kurt Vonnegut had this to say about the guessers

We must acknowledge, though, that persuasive guessers—even Ivan the Terrible, now a hero in Russia—have given us courage to endure extraordinary ordeals that we had no way of understanding. Crop failures, wars, plagues, eruptions of volcanoes, babies being born dead—the guessers gave us the illusion that bad luck and good luck were understandable and could somehow be dealt with intelligently and effectively.

Without that illusion, we would all have surrendered long ago. But in fact, the guessers knew no more than the common people and sometimes less. The important thing was that they gave us the illusion that we’re in control of our destinies.

Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long—for all of human experience so far—that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to.

Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting….

If you actually are an educated, thinking person, you will not be welcome in Washington, D.C. I know a couple of bright seventh graders who would not be welcomed in Washington, D.C.

Do you remember those doctors a few years back who got together and announced that it was a simple, clear medical fact that we could not survive even a moderate attack by hydrogen bombs? They were not welcome in Washington, D.C.

  1. Kind of a follow-up question.

    If punditry is associated with vision and leadership (a leader is someone who mobilizes people behind their vision?), does more punditry mean we have more leadership?

    Is the world really more complicated, or is that what the pundits want us to think?

  2. Both good questions.

    We can’t all lead, and if so many are talking they can’t all be leaders. Except for the most lucid speakers, leading may require doing and hoping others follow.

    I think the world is more complicated, hence the slow but steady emergence of the Slow movement.

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