'Mobs, Messiahs and Markets'
Review: Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets
By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract
With scimitar-sharp wit, withering one-liners and sledgehammer-subtle analysis, William Bonner and Lila Rajiva embark on an amusing and fascinating study of human nature. Along the way, they skewer just about everyone: Republicans, Democrats, fascists, communists, CEOs, hedge-fund managers, journalists and patriots all line up for a good tongue-lashing from the authors. Funny, irreverent and thought-provoking, this treatise is a joy to read, even if you don't agree with all of Bonner's and Rajiva's conclusions. (And who could?)
Human nature itself is the true villain in this sweeping work. Enjoyable as it is, this study tackles too much and at times turns into little more than a rant, albeit a readable and persuasive one. Even so, getAbstract recommends it to anyone who hopes to understand human behavior in business and politics.
World-changers gone wrong
What do Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush and Alexander the Great have in common? Not much, at first blush. But on closer inspection, they do share something. All are first-rate world improvers. They belong to a class of "do-gooders gone bad" who believe they know what's best for everyone else, and that they can impose their will on the rest of the world - whether the rest of the world likes it or not.
The atrocities of Hitler, Mussolini and bin Laden are well-documented. George W.'s do-gooder tendencies were exposed by his foolhardy decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to turn ancient civilizations into Middle Eastern versions of the United States. Bush followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, another world improver who conquered the Middle East only to find he couldn't permanently bend the world to his will.
George W. Bush is not the only one who's narcissistic enough to believe that he can miraculously morph Mesopotamia into a democracy. Tony Blair is his accomplice, as are the American people who suddenly have made it their mission to fix the rest of the world. No longer do Americans revere English literature, Gallic style, Teutonic organization or Japanese industry. Instead, Americans revere only themselves.
What's more, Americans have shown themselves susceptible to manipulation by scare tactics. The sensible response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks would have been to ignore them. What's the risk that the typical American will be the victim of a terror attack? About the same as the odds of drowning in a bathtub or being carried away by a tsunami. So how did Americans respond? With hysteria and a misguided war in Iraq that has accomplished little more than breeding anti-American sentiment.
The missteps of the do-gooders flow from a principle flaw in human nature. People think of themselves as logical, analytical beings who respond to crises with cool-headed intellect. Humans think they react rationally based on careful cost-benefit analyses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether people are responding to the threat of terrorism or deciding how much to invest in dot-com stocks or residential real estate, they're almost always behaving viscerally, unthinkingly and emotionally.
In nearly every case, the primal urge to be more appealing to the opposite sex drives human decisions. A man drives a Hummer and lives in a McMansion to prove to women that he's a worthy mate. This brand of emotional decision making holds true in a variety of endeavors. Investors would like the CEOs of the companies they own stock in to be tall and self-confident; competence doesn't seem to be as important.
After all, humans - whether they are men and women looking for mates or investors seeking places to stash their retirement savings - place a higher value on confidently expressed views than on actual knowledge or integrity. Otherwise, why on earth would anyone pay $135 million for a painting by Gustav Klimt or $140 million for a Jackson Pollock? ...
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May 24, 2010; 12:54 PM ET |
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