Those high and mighty “leaders” you work for? Kurt Vonnegut dismissed ’em all as mere “guessers”

“Human beings have had to guess about almost everything for the past million years or so,” Kurt Vonnegut pointed out in his book of essays, A Man Without a Country. “Our most enthralling and sometimes terrifying guessers are the leading characters in our history books.”

I will name two of them: Aristotle and Hitler. One good guesser and one bad one.

The masses of humanity, having no solid information to tell them otherwise, have had little choice but to believe this guesser or that one. Russians who didn’t think much of the guesses of Ivan the Terrible, for example, were likely to have their hats nailed to their heads.

We must acknowledge, though, that persuasive guessers—even Ivan the Terrible, now a hero in Russia—have given us courage to endure extraordinary ordeals that we had no way of understanding. Crop failures, wars, plagues, eruptions of volcanoes, babies being born dead—the guessers gave us the illusion that bad luck and good luck were understandable and could somehow be dealt with intelligently and effectively.

Without that illusion, we would all have surrendered long ago. But in fact, the guessers knew no more than the common people and sometimes less. The important thing was that they gave us the illusion that we’re in control of our destinies.

Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long—for all of human experience so far—that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to.

To the extent this is true—and it is certainly true to an extent—how should it affect the work of the guessers’ ghostwriters?

Talk amongst yourselves. —DM

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