“For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men,” said Mark Antony in the third act of Julius Caesar. He, of course, meant this ironically and in so doing, poetically captures the primary problem of modernity. The philosopher polymath Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his latest book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder:
A complex system, contrary to what people believe, does not require complicated systems and regulations and intricate policies. The simpler, the better. Complications lead to multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects. Because of opacity, an intervention leads to unforeseen consequences, followed by apologies about the ‘unforeseen’ aspect of the consequences, then to another intervention to correct the secondary effects, leading to an explosive series of branching ‘unforeseen’ responses, each one worse than the preceding one.
Yet simplicity has been difficult to implement in modern life because it is against the spirit of a certain brand of people who seek sophistication so they can justify their profession.
And so went the chain of legalistic rationalizations spewing from the mouth of Village attorney Michael T. Jurusik to justify the Honorable Mayor Yarbrough’s demented, utterly undemocratic idea to appoint someone as trustee who apparently loves the job of trustee so much she vacated it to run for Village clerk — and lost. So, too, went the chain of honorifics and encomiums with which the Honorable Trustee Jaycox wrapped herself to explain how she was the most qualified person to currently fill a seat that, up until the time she lost in April, she had no desire to fill.
The Honorable Jaycox’s defense was essentially this: ‘I was the highest-ranking this…’ ‘I represented Maywood several hundred miles away at that…’ ‘I traveled on behalf of Maywood to this…’ ‘No other trustee on the board did that like I did…’ ‘I got to wear fancy name tags at such and such…’ I know on the surface, this may not read like quality reporting, but trust me it is. Just ask anyone in the audience at tonight’s Special Meeting to recall Ms. Jaycox’s speech in defense of her appointment and un-reimbursed travel expenses as trustee in the past. That’s essentially what they’ll remember of it.
At no point did Trustee Jaycox, Mayor Yarbrough, Trustee Lightford and Trustee Rivers (all of whom, except Ms. Jaycox who wasn’t eligible, voted in favor of this appointment) directly confront the fairness or the rightness of this decision. The best that they could offer was a hackneyed attempt on the part of his Honor, the Mayor, to pull a fast one.
After attempting to make himself appear reasonable and fair and understanding by paying lip service to the simplest, fairest method of handling this appointment process, Mr. Yarbrough quickly descended into nonsense. “I’ve considered each and every comment [on the appointment matter] and appreciate the input,” he said. “Some of the comments made sense, one being that the next-highest-vote-getter should be the person to win the appointment […] If I recall, the next-highest-vote-getter might be Trustee Jaycox.” A wave of disbelief and indignation buoyed the audience before Yarbrough continued. “My mind was pretty much set on who I would choose to fill the nomination […] and that would be Trustee Jaycox […] and she did get more votes than just about everybody but the clerk.”
When this lazy attempt at sophistry fell to dust (countered succinctly by Ms. Lorretta Robinson during public comment: “If we’re going to talk about [Jaycox as] the highest vote-getter, we should talk about the category she was running [in]”) the residents in attendance still anxious and fidgety with outrage, Mr. Yarbrough then tried to appeal to Ms. Jaycox’s seasoned qualities, by which he meant her ‘sophistication’. If the Honorable Trustee Audrey Jaycox isn’t qualified to fill the vacancy, the Mayor insisted, no one on the Board is qualified.
For, you see, she’s been several hundred miles away representing Maywood at the this; she’s been in a high-ranking leadership position in that very prestigious-sounding organization few in the room ever heard of (at one point during Ms. Jaycox’s ode to herself, someone in the audience blared out something to the effect, ‘But what have you done here, in Maywood?’); she’s been the head of that; and has spoken in depth with who’s who about a very complex-sounding something or other that promised to do lots and lots of good for those decent and simple folks in the far-away land of Maywood.
As all of this transpired, perhaps the most sophisticated person in the room, Village attorney Jurusik (BA, JD), was on standby like a computer modem in hibernation, always ready with smart, sophisticated, legal explanations for why the most qualified, most sophisticated, most honorable people in the room were doing everything in their power to avoid implementing a solution so simple that it blinds the fool. And therein lies the rub.