The Forty-fiver syndrome

There are a good many people like Forty-five* in the world, brash, outspoken individuals who insist they have the answer to the problem at hand. Each of us has come across them. Forty-fivers have an inflated sense of their worth, but have no idea that they lack the competences needed for the task they insist on doing. On one level Forty-fivers are impervious to those around them in their conviction that they alone can solve the problem. As such they are the first victims of their own bullshit (1). They are convinced they can solve the problem, that they are the only people who can solve the problem. It is for this reason that, on another level, Forty-fivers are deeply affected by the slightest suggestion of their inadequacy. Anyone who gets in their way, has to be belittled as incompetent or disqualified as part of the problem. Forty-fivers blunder their way forward, leaving a trail of devastation behind them.

Perhaps the sole merit of a Forty-fiver is to insist on drawing attention to a problem that needs answering. Unfortunately, publicly hailing a problem doesn’t imply a Forty-fiver is the person to solve it. Generally they muddy the waters by deflecting energy away from really addressing the problem. Sadly, the Forty-fiver intuitively grasps that insistence on his capacity to solve people’s problems will sway a good many to believe his bullshit and support his cause which is then taken as a legitimation of their role and their capacity to fulfil it.

(1) See Harry K. Frankfurt’s delightful and enlightening little book, On Bullshit. See also the section on bullshit as a strategy in my article, From clockwork to webs of relationships. The relation between policy and practice on Connected Magazine

* 45? Forty fifth president

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