Friday, 22 February 2013

* "Intellectual autism" plagues our elites

Mar 18, 2001

Bob F. Y. Kuo is a professor of information systems at National Sun Yat-sen University 

Why do smart people suffer from "intellectual autism"? According to research conducted by modern management guru Chris Argyris, many clever people get this disease after their successful climb to the top.

 Argyris surveyed graduates from top US universities, including Harvard, as well as senior executives from Fortune 500 companies. He found that these people can talk about things they know nothing about and often do things which they should not, thus creating "skillful incompetence."

In other words, these people's words often sound brilliant while their actions reveal otherwise. They are unaware of their own contradictions and are able to skillfully play a leadership role while being inefficient policymakers.

The same is true with Taiwan's politicians. Most elite politicians are either graduates from Taiwan's top universities or famous doctors and scholars with diplomas from foreign schools. They have created pandemonium in Taiwan politics for the past year, and refuse to accept that they are responsible.

It is understandable why smart people in Taiwan suffer from intellectual autism and become self-defeating. First, they have one thing in common -- they are good at taking exams. In other words, they are good at memorizing words written in books and then reproducing them onto test sheets. Having gone through such training, they are able to make good use of words. Faced with any situation, they are easily able to invent brilliant arguments. They can even support or oppose a particular matter with the same argument.

Second, they stay indoors and do not know what's going on in the outside world. This does not mean that they have magical powers. After achieving both fame and success, these isolated, lonely, smart people have lost not only true friends but also channels of learning. They obtain information by watching TV or reading newspapers rather than through life experiences.

But what they learn is often irrelevant in the real world, often vague, sensational and exaggerated.

These smart people inevitably degenerate intellectually, but they still try to pander to the media and end up becoming their slaves.

In this culture which attaches much importance to "face," these smart people in high positions never want to admit that they -- or their opinions -- are often insignificant.

As a result, they shut their minds and then develop intellectual autism.

Hence, the "Peter Principle" (that people tend to be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence) eventually applies to them. When a smart person faces too many difficult challenges, is eager to show off and has too much pride, he or she becomes very ordinary and even incompetent.

Taiwan's is a strange culture. It prefers people who are proficient at taking tests to lead the nation, and tends to accept good scholars into politics. Taiwan's government officials therefore inevitably end up with "smart people's intellectual autism." Our laws are great but impractical. Our legislators often open their mouths simply to ask others to shut up or resign.

Our leaders have to deal with a host of problems every day, but they do not have enough time for comprehensive thought. Most politicians are used to playing word games, and seem to think that they should be worshipped. Eventually, when encountering frustrations, they will try to make those who comply with them prosper and those who resist them perish.

Of course, intellectual autism is not limited to politicians. Some high-ranking people in the media vow to serve the people, but instead serve the one-party communist dictatorship of China, or a minority of politicians who make a killing from "black gold."

When the media is seen as the source of social disorder, it does not conduct self-criticism but avenges itself on its opponents. Classic cases of intellectual autism can be found among the media.

Perhaps the illness is inevitable in Chinese culture. In the past 1,000 years, China has been conquered by the Mongols, the Manchus and Western powers due to its internal failings, but the Chinese pass the buck to others. Chinese also praise themselves as "the most superior people in the world." If they were really intelligent people who didn't suffer from serious intellectual autism, they would never praise themselves in such a way.

If Taiwan wants to see a promising future, it has to get rid of such a culture!

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