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 appears to become what it's anticipated to become but arrives in some different guise, often surprisingly different. We 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 rarely get warmly received. We behave as if further analysis might 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 profound ignorance of the true nature and the actual potential for what we might actually achieve. Throughout history, chroniclers have wondered what the perpetrators must have been thinking when reconstructing 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 about 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. Twenty years later, I'd be surprised if anyone could manage a crisp response, even in retrospect. 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, featuring non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but nobody with any authority ever really believed that sorry story. Instead, 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 sought, but nobody was asking after achievements once both missions became prominent embarrassments. We just moved on.

Likewise, the insurgents who stormed our Capitol building on January 6, 2021, 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 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 we have a country of personalities rather than laws, a fundamental misunderstanding. I warrant that none of those self-described insurgents clearly knew 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, which both blind and motivate in perhaps equal measure. Deep 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. We might quickly gauge the reasonableness of any pursuit by calculating the inverse of the passion fueling the chase. Zealots sure seem to receive a higher quality experience than those of us less passionately pursuing our inevitably Slippery Successes.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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