Capitalism: How Expediency morphs into Reality

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism

Capitalism: The art of successful business and politics (morphing expediency into ‘reality’)

Yesterday I witnessed an intriguing display of a common human aptitude for merging expediency and reality. A contender for the most powerful political position in the world, the United States presidency, apparently intuitively recognized what ‘needed to be said’ to gain an advantage, said it, and believed it! (This, coupled with a healthy dose of ‘Gish-Galloping’, can be extremely hard to counter in a time-regulated debate.)

Through much of the debate, he was neither ‘lying’ nor prevaricating; he really believed what he was saying. The problem is that I had on a number of previous occasions seen and heard him saying very different things, and he clearly believed those just as surely as yesterday he believed what ‘needed to be said’. And, this morphing of expediency into ‘reality’ did not disadvantage him. I woke this morning to a news item in which I was told that 65% of voting Americans declared Governor Romney the ‘Winner’ of the first presidential debate.

So, is Governor Romney unique in his ability to morph expediency into ‘reality’, or is this a common talent in the world in which he lives, one which many ‘successful’ people have?

I would contend that this is an ability common in both politics and business; one which enables those who have it to live confidently and comfortably in a constantly shifting reality; a reality determined by expediency. And, it seldom works to the disadvantage of those who possess it.

In both business and politics, over many years, I have personally, and disconcertingly, witnessed this time and again. At first I was bemused by it, unable to comprehend how apparently intelligent, rational people could change their positions so radically from day to day, month to month and year to year. Then I became angry, sure that such people were inveterate liars who considered me too stupid to see the inconsistency in their positions over time. It took me a long time to realize what was actually happening.

I think the penny dropped (to use an antiquated sterling expression) while I was doing fieldwork on a Pacific Island. I had lived on the island about ten years before and had, as anthropologists are wont to do, kept notes of my findings there. On my return I decided to explore some of the same issues I had studied previously. It was not long before I found that people were saying and doing things which were often diametrically opposed to those they had said and done during my previous stay. A lot had changed over the ten years, and people had adapted to the changes.

Because I was a little disconcerted to find often radical shifts in their behavior and understanding, I decided to discuss it with a few of them. I went through my previous notes, identified the people, understandings and situations which seemed now to be contradicted, and raised the issues with those concerned. To my surprise most of those with whom I spoke told me that I must have been mistaken: they had never believed or done those things of which I was now ‘accusing’ them. I didn’t press matters since some people were clearly upset by my suggestion that they had changed their positions over time, but they had!

Over many years I have come to realize that it is common for human beings to live in a ‘reality’ which minimizes strain and accommodates what is expedient. Some are more versatile in their ability to adapt their reality to fit their circumstances than others. And this, very often, makes them appear inconsistent or even untruthful to those of us with less talent for living in a kaleidoscopic reality. But they are not lying! They are merely telling the ‘truth’ of the moment.

Some, like Governor Romney, seem to display a chameleon-like ability to change their reality to fit their surroundings with remarkable agility.

This can provide a significant advantage in business negotiation! People might find you ‘unreliable’ but they also find it almost impossible to challenge your version of reality. Self-doubt creeps in as those with whom you deal attempt to come to terms with your changing reality and, in business, the one who hesitates is very often the loser!

In politics I have witnessed this effect over many years:

  • At one time or another, Saddam Hussein was champion of modernity, democracy and the West; and arch enemy of all.
  • At one time Iraq was a beleaguered nation in need of modern weapons and military training; and at another, a possessor and supplier of weapons of mass destruction (they didn’t exist, but there are still large numbers of people in Western countries whose reality requires that they did).
  • At one time the mujahedeen were an oppressed people in need of military aid; at another, they were members of the Taliban; morphing into Al Qaeda; arch enemies of all that was rational and true (they aren’t, weren’t and never will be, but large numbers of people in Western countries share a reality in which they are, were and will be).

One could continue with this game, but why bother. Suffice to say that for most human beings, reality is molded by expediency. In both Western politics and business, a talent for facilely shaping reality to coincide with expediency is of enormous advantage. How does one argue with or ‘expose’ someone who ‘really believes’ a constantly shifting reality and is able, convincingly, to present anyone who challenges that reality as an enemy of truth?

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