Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 18, 2013
Brian Gongol

Don't let wisdom die
Wisdom At one time, there was a thing called wisdom. It was thought to be earned (in fact, it was often called "hard-earned wisdom") as a result of experience, work, and practice. There are too many decisions for each of us to make individually, so we turned to the wise and entrusted them to make some of our decisions for us. Sometimes to protect ourselves, sometimes because it would save us from decision exhaustion, sometimes because they were thought to possess some kind of expertise.

Wisdom was held in high regard.

But then wisdom found a rival: Popularity.

It was no longer necessary to have earned wisdom, so long as one could be popular. Popularity is far easier to attain than wisdom. Telling people that they're terribly smart, and beautiful, and wonderful is a great way to attain popularity. Appealing to vanity wasn't the only route to base popularity. Promising wonderful things (regardless of their cost to someone, somewhere, at some time) could be enough, and so could looking beautiful, or being strangely crass, or becoming good at something that didn't necessarily require wisdom.

That was bad enough.

But then popularity and wisdom alike found another rival altogether. There's no name for it, because it's the celebration of the utterly banal. People volunteered to live in a house full of television cameras, or to report on the details of their every meal, or to fly to a tropical island and be stripped naked so as to prove they could survive like primitive cavepeople. But in each case, it would be enough merely to be seen. Not to have earned any kind of wisdom, or even to have won a competition to run faster or jump higher than anyone else in a crowd. Merely showing up became enough to lead to banal fame.

So now, instead of revering the wise and trying to achieve wisdom ourselves, or even trying to win a popularity contest, there are people whose sole mission is strictly to be seen. That alone is thought to be enough.

But merely being seen isn't actually enough.

Merely being popular isn't enough, either.

We need to be wise. We must do things to try to become wise. And wisdom is not simply surrounding ourselves with the messages of people who agree with us and racing to be the first one to nod in accordance with what someone else says -- even if we think it will be a popular thing to do.

Wisdom requires toughness of thought and motivation and a willingness to try and to fail. And that is what is needed most.

In the news this week...

Threats and Hazards More chaos in Egypt
The world's 15th-largest country is in a state of emergency. That puts 85 million people under martial law. Oh, and 8% of world trade, including 3% of the world's oil supply, passes through Egypt's Suez Canal. That seems to demand something more than waffling by the State Department.

News More violence in Egypt
And the President is having his dog airlifted in for vacation. Whatever the reality is, this imagery doesn't look like the administration is attending to a serious situation. Oh, but they definitely have time to try to block the US Airways/American Airlines merger.

Business and Finance Process matters
A Facebook posting laments, "If the USA can't afford to provide basic medical care, feed the poor, protect the environment, maintain our infrastructure, or teach our children anymore, then what exactly is our bloated [sic] military budget defending?" Putting aside the implication that the military budget is "bloated" (which it may be or not), the sentiment in theory is fine -- but the implicit assumption behind the post (and its admonition to "Go left") ignores the process. We can wish for many good things to happen, but environmental protection and infrastructure investments don't just happen because someone in government authority wills them. They can only be funded by a healthy and free economy. The poor are fed by high-yielding crops (brought to you by research and development by seed and fertilizer companies). The public infrastructure must be maintained by a great deal of tax money, but it's generally built by private contractors -- and the investment in plant and equipment by private companies (like Toyota's $2 billion in plant expansions and MidAmerican Energy's $1.9 billion in wind-power generation and the plans by BNSF to spend $4.1 billion on railroads and equipment) can't be overlooked, either. And don't even bring up the environmental records of socialist economies: Market economics are the best thing to happen to environmental quality. The lazy and ill-informed assumption that what we need is a leftward tilt -- away from market forces and towards greater government control over the economy -- assumes too much about the desirable goals and thinks too little about the process of achieving them.

Business and Finance 0.9% productivity growth: That's not good enough
America's economy only got more productive at a sub-1% annualized rate over the last few months. That's just not good enough.

Business and Finance Europe creeps out of recession with tiny growth rate

Business and Finance The Federal Reserve is trying to get back to 2% inflation
Important to know if you invest. Or earn a paycheck. Or draw a pension. Or take in Social Security. Or buy things. Or borrow money.

Health The accelerating evolution of pathogens

Business and Finance Texas tries to be not quite so gullible with this boom
The bust after the last oil boom really tweaked the state

Science and Technology Bill Gates on the connection between standardization and his charitable work
He notes similarities between the contribution that shipping containers have made to the modern world and the missing components he think would make the biggest contributions to fixing problems like malaria in poor countries and low educational standards in the US.

Iowa "[W]hen do we hold the parents responsible?"
A police officer in Cedar Rapids asks

Science and Technology It's tough to get good STEM teachers into rural schools

Agriculture USDA predicts Iowa will harvest 17% more corn than in 2012

Business and Finance More education means less unemployment

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