October 3, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell hosts another Pity Party for himself

Still smarting over the widespread criticism of his hilariously huffy response to Jane Galt pointing out the flaws in his theory of what's behind Ireland's prosperity in his last New Yorker article, Gladwell returns to the theme of just how hard it is to do what he does:

"We can see all the things that someone, in a different profession than us, does. What we cannot know is the relative difficulty of those tasks... I think that misunderstanding over degree of difficulty issues is one of the major reasons for conflict between insiders and outsiders.... I thought of this in trying to explain my prickliness a few weeks back over some of the criticisms directed at my "Risk Pool" article. I'm not usually thin-skinned in the face of critics. So why did I react the way I did? I think it was a degree of difficulty question. What I was saying, unconsciously, was not--"you don't understand how good that story was." It was, rather--"you don't understand how HARD that story was." Because, in truth, it was a really, really hard story. How on earth do you write 5000 words on pensions without putting your audience to sleep? It's pretty tricky, and what I wanted in my heart of hearts, I suppose, was for at least some appreciation of that effort. Even if it was a bogey, I wanted the announcer to point out what a great bogey it was."

But the criticism of his Irish theory that drove Gladwell over the edge came from "Jane Galt," who, just like Gladwell, is a correspondent for a famous magazine: in her case, The Economist.

Gladwell then responded in his own comments section to readers complaining about his theory of insider privilege:

I didn't mean to suggest that outsders can't criticize insiders. Of course they can. I was simply trying to understand why and when insiders are most sensitive to criticism. I think all of us tend to be less concerned with criticisms of the quality of our work than we are with the idea that the effort we put into our work has been overlooked. That's all. But since I didn't work particularly hard on that post, you can criticize it all you want. :-)

More realistically, all human beings "are most sensitive to criticism" when the criticism is correct. It's easy to laugh off stupid critiques; it's the accurate ones that hurt.

They especially hurt when you've worked your hardest, because if you gave it your best shot and it still turned out dumb, well, that says something about your capabilities that you'd rather not know.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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