Posts Tagged ‘James Fallows’

The Return of the Jester

April 8, 2011

There’s a scene in the movie Fight Club, where Ed Norton’s character has blurry dreams of Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter romping in the bedroom. Norton wakes up from those dreams in a disoriented haze. The Jester has had similar experiences recently, except that instead of wild nights with Bonham Carter, the dreams were of blogging for The Atlantic online on topics beyond ICT4D.

Maybe “similar” isn’t the right word. In any case, all this is to say that the Jester apologizes for two months of absence. To recover from his own disoriented haze, he will attempt to recapitulate what his alter ego has been up to, some of which is relevant to readers in that it begins to attempt to answer a question that the Jester is asked frequently: “I get that human intent and capacity is what matters. So, what then is worth focusing on?”

In six parts, the Jester’s other (better looking) half, tried to answer this while guest-blogging for James Fallows:

  • Technology Is Not the Answer: Standard Jester fare about technology amplifying human intent and capacity, but hinting at generalizations beyond technology to other packaged solutions called TIPS — technologies, institutions, policies, systems.
  • The Enduring Power of Virtue: Trying out the word “virtue” instead of the cumbersome “intent and capacity.” Confucius’s view of it; virtue as benevolence, self-control, and wise judgment. How virtue is the ultimate controllable cause of good outcomes.
  • The White Lie of the Self-Made Person: Tackling the hairy question of “blaming the victim” that immediately arises when successful outcomes are ascribed to virtue.
  • Why Can’t We Talk about Virtue? Entrenched Cynicism: Why many smart people don’t like to talk about virtue.
  • Fostering Virtue: Virtue is not easy to grow, but it’s not impossible. What can be done to foster virtue.
  • Lost in Transition: Virtue for people in developed countries.

Of these the “White Lie” article received the most feedback, and the Jester agrees that it is the most interesting of the series. It attacks head on, the sensitivity around any suggestion that character traits matter in international development. The Jester recommends passing it on to anyone who says that people are equally capable, but differ only in the opportunities available to them. (Just two days ago, the Jester heard repeated that “Talent is universal; opportunity is not.” More on that in the next post.) Of course, the other articles are also worth committing to memory.

The Jester is not sure whether “virtue” really captures the idea of “human intent and capacity” that is amplified by technology. Intent and capacity, at least as the Jester understands it, seems to involve a little more than good intentions and the self-control to follow through. The Jester welcomes other suggestions for a word or phrase that succinctly captures the essential element that makes development work. He promises to mock those only ideas that are not thoroughly exemplary.