Seven capacities

The capacity to describe a situation in all its factual, practical and meaningful dimensions, doing justice to the full experience of the situation is one thing.

The capacity to explain the situation by modeling it as a dynamic with particular causes and effects, inputs and outputs is a second thing.

The capacity to assert an ethic, an meaningful (or emotional) stance toward the situation, which permits evaluation of the situation and its constituent elements, and which orients oneself to the situation is a third thing.

The capacity to envisage an ethic that is not merely a response to a situation, but an independent ideal capable of serving as a positive goal for overcoming an undesirable situation is a fourth thing.

The capacity to discern an ethical vision from an idealized, emotionally-satisfying situational image is a fifth thing.

The capacity to apply an ethical ideal in concrete situations in a way that can, in concrete reality, actually change the facts, dynamics and meanings of the situation from an undesired state to a desired one is a sixth thing.

Finally, the capacity to keep the faith — to cultivate and adhere to a positive ethic — while navigating undesirable situations which compel negative ethical responses which conflict with and threaten to distort or obscure one’s positive ideal is a seventh thing.


Unfortunately, people do not distinguish these abilities, and the consequences are often disastrous.

Exercise of the first capacity, the ability to empathize, makes people feel understood, and gives them a sense of solidarity with those who share their experience. Exercise of the second capacity, the ability to produce an explanation, makes people feel clear. Exercise of the third capacity, the ability to give someone a feeling of moral orientation toward a problem, makes people feel resolve.

By this point, people stop paying attention to consequences, and begin to simply act for the pleasure of acting with a feeling of solidarity, clarity, and resolve they lacked before. And the action produces all the ideals and images — and eventually, fabricated facts and derivative explanations — to justify, perpetuate and intensify its action.

Every ideology proceeds along this path, winning generic credibility, lower capacities one to create an impression of higher capacities. It all works because all who believe, are invested with the qualities they believe in, and in the belief that these capacities are not only sufficient, but comprehensive.


This line of thought is similar to the one behind my criticism of the Peter Principle.

To put it simply: We tend to flatten qualitative difference into quantitative degree.

This tendency reduces greatness into double-plus goodness, genius into double-plus smartness, leadership into double-plus administrative competence, etc.

Real difference means we actually need each other’s strengths in order to develop our own and to apply them to greatest effect.

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