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April 17, 2020

We’re all together on this Ship of Fools

The loudest claim to leadership is rarely the most qualified.

That’s one way to summarize the main idea from the Ship of Fools allegory, which was presented by Plato as a critique of democracy.

The basic idea consists of a ship full of sailors, each one of them clamoring to be captain. The person who emerges as captain is the one who argues the loudest and most insistently that he is the best choice, regardless of any actual captaining skills. The captain viciously attacks anyone with any real skills in running a ship, in order to maintain his control.

Predictably, under the leadership of this unfit captain, the sailors consume all the resources on the ship and run it aground, with disastrous results.

Sound familiar?

Plato wasn’t a fan of democracy, he advocated for an aristocracy governed by “philosopher kings” – men with souls of gold who seek only the Good, which is beyond material wealth and personal gain.

Well these days, there seems to be a shortage of philosopher kings, so we’re stuck with democracy, and the inherent challenge of selecting our leaders from amongst ourselves.

That’s a tricky task, because it’s extraordinarily difficult to identify true leadership, often we only recognize it in retrospect.

But for fuck’s sake, regardless of political party, education level, personal wealth, or work experience, the best leader is never the person who always insists they’re the smartest, most qualified person in the room.

Maybe the answer is we all need to become more like Plato’s philosopher kings. We all need to break free from our consumer-culture ideas that happiness can be bought online or learned in a retreat in Bali.

Maybe now that we’re all in lockdown we can finally stop looking outside ourselves and instead look within for the answers we seek. And then realize we’re asking the wrong questions…

I don’t know – it’s complicated, the world is a mess. I’m not sure a correct ‘answer’ even exists. All I can do is sing this song:

Here’s one of my weird originals. I wrote this a couple years ago, but it seems like it’s becoming more and more relevant…

Posted by Matthew Busse on Monday, April 13, 2020

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