Saturday, March 12, 2005

Analysis Paralysis

During the late presidential campaign I observed of John Kerry:
The difference between Kerry and Bush isn't experience, it's temperament. I worked for a Kerry-like CEO -- always asking questions, probing answers, asking more questions, ad infinitum. He always postponed decisions as long as possible, not because he lacked the facts but because he had confused himself with the facts. He sought facts for their own sake, not because they would help him plot the best path toward a specific goal. He was almost purely inductive, hoping to find his principles in a morass of information.

That's how Kerry, with his limitless flip-flopping, has struck me -- a man without principles who hopes to discover them in the next piece of information that he receives....

To change metaphors: You don't advance the ball down the field by counting the laces on it. You advance the ball down the field by knowing where the goal is and then choosing the plays that will help you reach it. Kerry knows how many laces there are. Bush figures out where to throw the ball, and all Kerry knows how to do is carp like an armchair quarterback when some of the passes aren't caught.
I was reminded of that passage by this one, from an essay by Larry McMurtry:
A compulsion to over-informedness is most apt to occur in individuals who have been arrested at a graduate school level of development; it is an intellectual infirmity, rather than a sign of health, and is so common now that it perhaps deserves to be elevated to the status of a syndrome: the Star-Pupil syndrome. If the desire to shine as a pupil is sustained too long it can cause even the most committed worker to work badly. [Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood, "Movie Tripping: My Own Rotten Film Festival," p. 204.]
That is why, in my experience, persons who have acquired a Ph.D. -- or who lack one but work in a "learned institution" -- tend to count the laces on the football instead of trying to advance it down the field.

Shakespeare said it best, in Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1):
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.