Look around the world, and you'll find a flock of dysfunctional societies: countries where the people are wretchedly unhappy, agonizingly poor, and often scaldingly angry. Look within your own society, no matter how prosperous it seems on the surface, and you'll find subcultures that are similarly broken.

Why? Nobody wants to fail; nobody sensible wants compatriots to fail; nobody with any large-scale perspective wants other nations to fail. It's too dangerous to live in a neighborhood (local, regional, or global) with crazed and potentially violent folks nearby. So how come some groups never achieve anything near their potential?

A couple of big reasons come to mind. First, learning. Successful societies have figured out that good schools, libraries, and other avenues of education are a stellar investment. Youngsters who spend their first couple of decades as scholars pay huge dividends in productivity and creativity. Older individuals who keep studying become great leaders in all areas of life. Not everybody has to be an egghead. But if a civilization drops below a critical fraction (maybe 10% or so?) of thoughtful, well-educated members, then it's in serious trouble.

The second key to success, paradoxically, is acceptance and encouragement of good losers. Not everyone can be top dog; in fact, hardly anyone can. If those who don't win are scorned, if they seethe with hatred, if they expend their energies on revenge --- then they lock themselves and their fellows into a deadly spiral of defeat. Consider the countries that are still obsessed about battles that they lost literally centuries ago. Are any of them healthy? Would a "victory" today make them so? The obvious secret: learn from your losses, congratulate your opponents, and come back another day to try again. (see OnFailure, 13 July 1999) And for society as a whole, applaud good sportsmanship and creative compromise, console those who fall short, and offer lots of alternative paths --- so that anybody who keeps trying can eventually make it.

TopicSociety - 2001-12-23

This is another great essay, Mark. One that I will email to
friends, especially those in education. Combine this with Bo's comments on power and yours on money... that lustful desire for power(or money, or the ring of Tolkien) by those that don't have it bestows the power. There is a book of ideas here on how to 'sell' education, to cause lustful desire for education in our culture beyond its being the doorway to career. New information and better information on programming and on investments translates to power and money directly, but learning for the sake of thinking bigger thoughts is still the realm of
the few. -- Judy Decker

(correlates: GoodFailure, AnAcknowledgement, RecombinationEra, ...)