My examination of ‘failure’ continues over at Rooted In Prosperity. I’d say this is less an examination, and more of a series of impressions; how failure manifests positive results.
I’ve spent a lot of time here thinking about failure, and how it’s the great contradiction of our age. We absolutely need it, and yet, no one wants to be associated with it. We strive to avoid it at almost all costs, but without it, we wouldn’t have anything like the prosperity or opportunity we enjoy.
Hayek and Mises both argued that the inherent limits on knowledge meant that central planning was doomed; in recent years scholars like Will Wilkinson and Micheal Devitt have expanded this thesis to argue that there is no a priori. I’m not sure I buy their claims in full, but I think the suppositions are broadly correct. On the one hand we have failure as a constant force, a deadening weight forever bound up with action and production. On the other hand, we can easily observe the mind-boggling achievements of the last two hundred years, arguably capped by the early aught’s. Progress, growth, and advancing freedom have been constant features, despite the sickly shadow of persistent failure.
I doubt that’s an accident, and why I began my discussion of MBM principles with a rambling examination of the phenomenon of failure. Before we start a project, we ask “what does success look like”; similarly failure comes in myriad forms. MBM gives us a useful framework for evaluating failure, and ways to consider which particular lesson the failure is teaching us. So in the spirit of Andy and Jeff examining commercials, let’s look at a movie that prominently, and poignantly, discusses failure.
You might have missed (500) Days of Summer when it came out in 2009. Twee romantic comedies might not be your thing. Not really mine either. But the movie has one spectacular scene, where the (misguided and often unlikeable) protagonist, Tom, goes to a party hoping to reunite with his former lover, Summer. The scene is a wonderfully shot, carefully plotted contrast of expectations and reality, and the moment I saw it I thought “that would be a perfect illustration of mbm on the individual level”. I’m not writing that because it makes this post work; Sometimes, liberty-lovers nerd out that unredeemingly hard. Sigh. Anyway, here’s the scene. (Safe for work, unless you object to kissing).
That’s failure on both a personal and epic scale.
For those that haven’t seen the movie, this scene starts Tom’s long process of coming to grips with reality, of embracing failure, and of turning the often ugly and sad detritus of his life into a constructive, rewarding beginnings of a real life. Tom eventually realizes that he didn’t understand Summer, and didn’t understand himself. Coming to grips with those twin truths is rewarding and difficult and beautiful, but filled with pain. Failure is a necessary step on the road between where we are, and where we are going. It’s the human condition to not fully understand, except in retrospect, where either of those positions truly lay. For us that might mean a job well done, or a raise well earned. For Tom, it means a date with Minka Kelly. Some guys have all the luck.