Everyone Is Totally Just Winging It, All The Time

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Amid the acrimony surrounding the firing of Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, there’s one point of near-universal consensus: the whole thing was remarkably poorly handled. (Even the Times’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, seems to agree about that.) Whatever your views of the people involved, it seemed hard to believe: how could an institution as august and smoothly competent as the Times have stumbled so badly?

There were echoes of that same incredulity in Britain this week when Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, revealed in a car-crash of a regional radio interview that he didn’t know who he was campaigning for there. Whether you love him, hate him, or hadn’t heard of him before reading this blog post, you’d be forgiven for shaking your head. Surely the head of the most popular party in the world’s sixth-largest economy has someone to brief him on such basics?

We’re similarly shocked whenever authority figures who are supposed to know what they’re doing make it plain that they don’t, President Obama’s healthcare launch being probably the most serious recent example. We shouldn’t really be shocked, though. Because all these stories illustrate one of the most fundamental yet still under-appreciated truths of human existence, which is this: everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.
Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and politicial parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.

In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.


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“Everyone Is Totally Just Winging It, All The Time”