Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dispositional Forecast – Rising Levels of Global Humility

I’m generally an optimist and so have been trying to keep an eye out for some of the upsides to the giant toilet flush that is today’s global economy. Not a whole lot to work with, but here’s one: I predict, for the foreseeable future, rising levels of global humility.

Humility – that intangible inclination to suspect that one’s successes are caused less by individual actions than by larger forces out there in the universe – is a good thing. And just a tiny little bit (one part per million?) goes a long way. Wouldn’t the world be nicer if we could all unleash a bit of our inner Yoda / Dali Lama and be just one notch less sure that we Have It All Figured Out?

Fortunately, I have reason to believe that the aggregate global humility level moves in direct, inverse proportion to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. And so, as the markets continue to plummet, I predict that that humility will rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. All populations will be affected, in particular those that have historically been in the very the lowest quadrant of humility – the masters of the universe, financial titan types. So we’ve got that going for us, which (speaking of the Dali Lama) is nice. There’s probably a scientific way to measure individual humility levels – some kind of blood test or airport security-like scanning booth – but a loose, Justice-Potter-Stewart-looking-at-pornography approach (“I know it when I see it”) is usually quite accurate. One quick look at a person’s gait / posture / cock of the eyebrow can tell you how on top of the word he thinks he is.

The scientific explanation for macro-level shifts in humility has to do with internal versus external attribution of, respectively, good times and bad times. When good things happen, we think we’re the cause – the captain of the ship in full command of the seas. What Mollie Ivins said about George W. Bush, that “he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple,” could apply to just about anyone when things are all working out swimmingly. And when bad things happen, it’s crystal clear that bad weather or bad timing or an asshole brother-in-law are somehow to blame. When things go south, we’re just a cork being tossed around in the ocean. And all of this is nothing but natural. It’s the product of our hard wiring, smartly engineered to keep us from crawling back into bed every time the sun comes up in this tumultuous world.

What’s nice about humility is that it opens the door to inquiry and exploration. If you think that larger external forces have led to you where you are, you’re more apt to want to learn about those forces – the plate tectonics that heaved your hemisphere into an area with predictable annual rainfall, which caused big populations to stay put and form farms and then cities, which led to industrialization and specialization, which paved the way for a stable government and higher education and strong currencies – and all the other bricks in the pyramid upon which you found yourself perched upon exiting the womb. Without an awareness of all of those forces, with you yourself being front and center, ground zero of personal accomplishment, there’s no reason to look any further than your own self for an explanation of how you got to where you are. And then, of course, you’ve got to educate the world about the exalted path you took. And really, who wants to hear about all that? I bet, at some point over the course of his long life, Yoda “swung through Chicago and picked up his MBA” (exact words, I swear, used by a lecturer I heard at a continuing legal education seminar, describing his bio), but just chooses to focus on the bigger picture when approached for advice by the Luke Skywalkers of the world. Notwithstanding the fat autobiography advances ladled upon the likes of Jack Welch, Steve Jobs or Donald Trump, it’s usually just a lot more interesting to learn about the world outside than one guy’s individual road to becoming king.

All of that being said, let me now tell you about what I am going to do, and what you should do too, to achieve fame and fortune in the very short term. If you see a trend that is about to snowball, you have to capitalize on it (says Louis Winthorpe III to Coleman in Trading Places, “Pork bellies… I have a hunch something exciting is going to happen in the pork belly market this morning”). Humility clearly being the next blockbuster about to arrive on the scene, I just need to figure out a way to securitize it, slice it and dice it, package it up nicely and sell it on the market. SMUG now trading on the NASDAQ. It’s no more abstract, and probably a lot more sustainable, than a lot of the mortgage-backed products that everyone was clamoring to fold into their 401(k)s until the end of the last year. Humility futures are going to be a good, solid, counter-cyclical product offering a robust return on investment! This is an opportunity you do not want to miss! Supplies are limited! Call now to get in on the ground floor (prospectus and schedule of broker fees provided upon request)!


veryfrank said...

The world doesn't need more lawyers. We need more witty, astute and entertaining observers of the human condition as we are stuck with it today like Dan Janis.
The Janifesto rules!

Patrick Yerby said...

Great post! Either one could invest in humility or, as I saw somewhere, the company that makes downward facing red arrows.

Unknown said...

Proof that law school did not beat the creativity (nor the humility) out of the Janis! More off the record. :)