Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - October 11, 2015
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
Tin Foil Hat Award
Yay Capitalism Prize
Quote of the Week
"We should put a premium upon thrift, hard work, and business energy." - Theodore Roosevelt
The real cost of something is what you give up to get it
It's too often and too easily overlooked that the real cost of anything is what you give up to get it. If there's one lesson that seems lost in our culture, it's the lesson that everything involves trade-offs. Just because we ignore them, fail to recognize them, or choose not to place a value on them doesn't mean they suddenly fail to exist.
This problem -- and it's a big problem -- keeps manifesting itself over and over in ways that should trouble us:
- Every time I take a look at Twitter or LinkedIn, I'm bombarded by messages from people trying to make the simple complicated -- or the trivial into something important. For example:
- "The Real Secret to Content Marketing: Know Your Values http://buff.ly/1VLD9HY via @Medium #startup #marketing"
- "Want to Go Viral? Here's How to Drive CRAZY #SocialMedia Engagement"
- "Content Marketing is Being Held Back by a Lack of Strategy"
- And that's not even to count the conventional mind-numbing clickbait material. I'm talking about the articles and posts that people write -- without any sense of irony -- trying to tell others just what a complex-but-valuable thing it is to try to sell people stuff by putting things on websites. But because there are so many people who fail to see through the detritus and who think this stuff is really worthy of attention, there's more and more of it.
- Rampant misuse of the word "professional". A professional subscribes to a code of ethics that includes putting the best interests of the client ahead of what's good for the provider. In return, the professional is shielded from certain commercial pressures that would otherwise distract from their efforts to become the best at what they do.
- Energy devoted in endless supply to literally the most trivial of pursuits (a certain satellite radio channel devoted exclusively to fantasy sports comes to mind) when the list of things we haven't really accomplished yet is long (curing cancer is the old standby, but the list is practically endless).
The problem of these substitutions of nonsense instead of thinking, and of the superficial for the important, is not one that can be solved with any wave of a magic wand or an aggressive change to some kind of "democratic socialism" or whatever it is that Sen. Bernie Sanders wants this system to be.
What it really requires is a combination of cultural force and political humility. If anyone talked today like the Theodore Roosevelt quote above, they'd be laughed out of most rooms. That's a tragedy -- a needless weight with which we are burdening ourselves.
But it's also quite wrong for people to dismiss that we could be doing better on many fronts, not by blindly throwing money at our problems, but by structuring incentives so that we get more of what we want. There are lots of desirable things that would benefit many or all of us that we refuse to incentivize or even to pay for at all because we substitute magical thinking for reality.
An example with which I am intimately familiar is the state of our infrastructure. We're coasting by on investments made in the past by our predecessors, many of whom overpaid for what they got. It's actually a bit ridiculous that we have public works projects that are still in active use 100 years after they were installed. That means great-grandpa paid for it with his sweat and tears, and we get to enjoy the benefits. He gave up too much, and we are giving up too little -- at least in proportion to how much we get to enjoy the investment.
That's not to say that we should think shorter-term. Quite the opposite. It says that we are being sheltered far too much from considering either the short-term or the long-term costs of what we want and what we enjoy, and by shielding us from the real costs of the trade-offs we should be facing, we're only delaying the inevitable day of reckoning and making it worse than it should be.