Rendered Fat Content


Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)

"Zealots sure seem to receive the higher quality experience …"

Success seems an especially Slippery substance. It rarely seems to become what it's anticipated to become, but arrives in some different guise, often surprisingly different. We seem to pursue it with naive intensity, capable of dedicating ourselves to the merest shadows of understanding what we're actually pursuing. In the heat of such passion, clarifying questions only very rarely get warmly received. We behave as if further analysis might just spoil the possibility for Success, and our concern might well be well advised. It seems as though we can't afford to simultaneously know and pursue, that the pursuit of success requires some deep ignorance of the true nature, the actual potential for what we might actually achieve. Throughout history, the chroniclers have wondered what they must have been thinking when trying to reconstruct the causal chains of the greatest successes and failures. Mostly they marvel that nobody seemed to be thinking all that deeply. Both Success and failure seem particularly Slippery substances.

In the weeks leading up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Mitzi Wertheim scoured the Pentagon, asking anyone who would accept her questions what was supposed to happen once the invading force gained Baghdad.
She knew virtually the entire senior staff. She found nobody able to answer her question. Even now, twenty years later, I'd be surprised if anyone even in retrospect could manage a crisp response. The most powerful country in the world employed the most powerful military force this world has ever known to invade a tiny Middle Eastern country for purposes unknown. Sure, a story was haphazardly concocted which featured non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but nobody with any authority ever really believed that sorry story. It was an excuse for a failing President to bolster his poll ratings and a distraction from another failed mission he'd hurriedly initiated in Afghanistan, another purposeless mission seeking some Slippery Success. Neither achieved whatever they were seeking, but then nobody was asking after achievements once both missions became prominent embarrassments. We just moved on.

Likewise, the insurgents who on January 6, 2021 stormed our Capitol building could not have offered anything like a clear description of the Success they pursued that day. They were insurgents filled with phony patriotism and absolutely dedicated to their mission, which was objectively heading precisely nowhere. Many, perhaps most, were under the apparent delusion that the Capitol was the seat of our government rather than a prominent symbol of that seat. Their government no more lived there than did any of the people's representatives and senators. Had they managed to hang the Vice President that day, they would not have much affected history, accomplishing little but to even more completely discredit the legitimacy of their objective which, being based upon a lie could hardly weather even a tiny suggestion that it was even more improper than it already appeared to most. They seemed to believe that we have a country of personalities rather than of laws, a fundamental misunderstanding. I warrant that not a single one of those self-described insurgents had a clear idea of how their Success might have appeared had it manifested.

It might be that the most passionate pursuits have always been essentially fictions. They are fueled by happily-ever-after objectives, ones which both blind and motivate in perhaps equal measure. It seems certainly true that deeper analysis proves universally sobering. Connecting dots reveals daunting details almost certain to quell deeper passions. We'd much rather believe that we could conveniently storm a castle than accept that a frontal assault carries little hope for Success. We want to find a pot of gold at the end of our imaginary rainbows, so much so that we'll dedicate ourselves to destruction in seeking them out. Few experiences come close to matching the passion of ignorant pursuit. In fact, we might easily gauge the reasonableness of any pursuit by calculating the inverse of the passion fueling the chase. Zealots sure seem to receive the higher quality experience than do those of us less passionately pursuing our inevitably Slippery Successes.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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