A Question (or two) for Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is really smart, extremely insightful, and he’s used his considerable talents to figure out the why of the otherwise seemingly inexplicable. Have you read his books–Blink, The Tipping Point, and now his newest, Outliars? Each one explains the oddities of human behavior, especially those aspects of it that most of us never even perceive. He has figured out the hows and whys of things happening as they do when people are part of the formula.

Outliars tackles the ingredients necessary for success–and they’re not what we’ve traditionally been taught–all that stuff having to do with intelligence, drive, and relentless pursuit of a goal. Just look around us, and we can easily spot those who have supposedly “succeeded,” and yet we are left shaking our heads and wondering “how in the world?” Of course the preeminent example of that is about to vacate the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and using him as an example definitely requires defining “success,” because “successful” is not normally a term to ultimately describe his life.

So, for our purposes, and to clarify, the first question I want to ask Malcolm is, “How in the world did George W. Bush succeed in conning enough of the American public into thinking he was fit to do anything, other than have a few beers and hang out with the guys, that he got close enough to winning the 2000 presidential election that it only took some fancy footwork by his brother, then governor of Florida, to make it possible for the Supreme Court to catapult him into an office he did not have legitimate rights to? (Apologies for the endlessness of that sentence….that’s the unfortunate effect of the last eight years on me.) And then, after four less-than successful years, how in the world did he succeed in actually getting elected for four more to complete his reign of disaster?” Posing these questions at this time, as his gig is finally nearly up, does seem a bit past the point of usefulness, although maybe not…look what’s cropped up to take W’s place. Sarah Palin.

Now, I would ask Malcolm, what in the world is really going on here? There has to be some mass drugging with illegal substances in our drinking water involved, right? OK–we can blame John McCain for allowing Sarah to become noticed on a national scale, but why oh why are there apparently so many (I prefer to simply say, “any”) people who think she’s qualified to do anything other than captain the local PTA–or middle school hockey team? (I will forgive the people of Alaska for electing her governor–after all, brain cells must lose their potency when subjected to prolonged periods of below zero temperatures.)

Once the 2008 presidential election was over, why has Sarah continued to appear on our TV and computer screens? (I know I’m guilty of perpetuating that problem with this piece, but I really do want to have an answer.)

First, was Sarah Palin successful? She wasn’t successful if ascending to second in command is the definition of “success,” but many argue that she was hugely successful, if becoming known and popular, among certain segments of the population anyway, is the definition being used.

What I can’t understand, Malcolm, is why anyone could possibly consider her even capable of a coherent conversation, after her widely broadcast and very revealing interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, to say nothing of how she handled herself when she thought she was talking to French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Yikes. How could she consider herself capable?. The woman was spouting gibberish, Malcolm, and yet she has a following…and she thinks she did ‘well enough?’ What is going on? Are that many of us on hallucinogens not to be seeing this?

I am shocked beyond belief to actually know someone–a friend of mine–who voted for Sarah to be next-in-line to the button. This friend is a professional woman herself…oh but wait, there is a common denominator with the unfortunate people in Alaska that has just occurred to me. My friend lives in northern New England–same problem of low temperatures and resultant brain cell break down.

Then there’s Joe the Plumber, who has just come out as a Sarah supporter. With Joe, I can understand…remember, he’s the guy whose name is not really Joe and he’s been operating illegally as a plumber for years, he owes the IRS a lot in back taxes, and he couldn’t see that his taxes under Obama were not going up, given that his earnings are substantially less than the $250,000 Obama has designated as the amount one would have to be earning in order to see any tax increase. So, given Joe’s apparent lack of functioning brain cells, for whatever reason (it’s not that cold in Ohio), I can understand that he would like Sarah. Is Sarah leading a posse of Joes? That must be it.

In Outliars, which I’ve only had time to preview so far, Malcolm says that success is determined as much by what surrounds a given person as by what that person possesses in terms of brain and motivating powers–things like family, birth place, and birth date (are you referring to astrological signs here, Malcom?).

I just checked. Sarah is an Aquarian in astrological parlance–and that might explain some of this, although I also find it distressing. I’ve always liked Aquarians in general, but now just having learned this about Sarah, I will be far more skeptical of them as appropriate automatic shoo-ins for my affections.

I can’t wait to read Outliars for the signs of any answers to all of my questions. And maybe the answers, or part of them, can be found in Blink or The Tipping Point …we could be dealing with a kind of mob mentality here, which is never a good thing.

In the meantime, Malcolm, feel free to offer any insights you may have on all of this with all of us. We really need to know as long as there are Dubyas and Sarahs out there waiting to destroy whatever is left of our country and the world after the eight years just past. We need to stage a powerful counter offensive, and you are the man most qualified to mastermind it.

I’m submitting a suggestion through Obama’s transition site for you to become a top aide for him. Forget that you are Canadian. As bright and capable as Obama is, and he is definitely that, he would be first to agree that he needs all the help he can get. Obama needs you in his cabinet.

Go Malcolm!

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