work conquers all?
Let's stop pretending
by Gene Lyons
With the possible exception of sex,
few topics make smart people stupid like anything to do with wealth,
and social class. Question the relationship among talent, hard work and
sheer good luck in any area of American life
-- business, academia, the arts, even athletics -- and prepare
yourself for a fight, likely a nasty one at that.
When the subject is "nature vs. nurture," people who understand the
pointlessness of debating whether dogs, say,
are superior to cats, can’t resist taking sides. Politics aside,
members of what psychologist Steven Pinker calls
"the Horatio Alger right and ... the egalitarian left" appear equally
inclined to extreme positions, fiercely defending
the barricades of folly against common sense.
Thankfully, in real life, hardly anybody acts as if they believed the
things they say...
In real life, moreover, most of us know that the only answer to "nature
vs. nurture" or "talent vs. practice" is: both.
Some imponderable, unpredictable, often unfathomable mixture of both.
Furthermore that, as Ecclesiastes has it, "The race is not to the
swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread
to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to
men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
But it’s impossible to have a serious discussion about it if
everybody’s playing let’s pretend.
Here’s the essence of it: Pick the
"genius" of your choice -- Bill Gates, Eric Clapton, Carl Sagan,
Ray Charles, Rafael Nadal, Meryl Streep, anybody. (I’ve listed several
who leave me cold.) Did they get rich and
famous through innate ability or practice and determination?
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