The biggest celebrity story of the week was probably Katy Perry’s Brit Awards protest. I admit that I know little about this person, except that she makes pop records whose particular merit is that they lend themselves to videos in which she can ostentatiously flaunt her sexy body. I would not dream of criticising her for making her fortune in that manner, though the fact that she was married to Russell Brand for two years suggests to me that she’s not necessarily the kind of person you’d want to spend an evening with.
What amused me about her highly visible protest was its obtuseness. In lumping Trump and May together like Reagan and Thatcher, she presumably felt that she was cleverly bracketing two love-children of the devil. This probably makes sense in some binary Manichean universe where it’s all Good against Evil, Us against Them, Problem against Solution; but it falls apart when held up to the light. Ideologically, socially and temperamentally, Trump and May are about as far apart as Clinton and Corbyn. It’s particularly bizarre that Perry is vociferous in her excoriation of the sexist Trump, yet simultaneously has it in for a woman who is living the feminist dream by running an entire nation. With that quality of political insight, Perry would presumably see South and North Korea as equally objectionable because they both have the word “Korea” in the name.
The frantic pseudo-leftist virtue-signalling of unhealthily rich celebrities is one of the most unpalatable hallmarks of our age. Although it’s easy to understand why so many opt to do it – if they’re not put up to it by their PR consultants and/or tax advisers – that doesn’t explain why the public takes them seriously. You can became a celebrity with the political nous of a cartoon mouse, which may well be what Ms Perry has; but, to judge by some of the Twitter response she elicited (no doubt from the same types as enjoy her videos), her protest enjoyed a good “Yay” factor. Why?
The answer lies in Status-Enhancing Overconfidence. In short, if you shoot your mouth off with enough chutzpah, many people can’t help believing that you must be a big cheese; and, when they do that, they start according you reverence that is entirely unmerited, as per the phenomenon of Celebrity Worship that I covered a couple of blogs ago. Status-Enhancing Overconfidence is in fact the subject of my 7th Fable, ‘The Dam-Building Raccoon’, which tells the tale of a character who uses his high self-regard to sway the beasts into letting him build a dam for them, in lieu of the much better qualified beaver. The calamitous results are all too predictable. Though we westerners live in a society that likes to kid itself that anything is possible if only we believe in ourselves, the laws of nature are far stronger than mere strength of will.
Business management is particularly susceptible to infiltration by people with little to distinguish them other than their brashness. I once had a new CEO who was the epitome of self-assurance, and came with the chairman’s ringing endorsement even though his CV didn’t look too promising. He started recruiting lieutenants – six in total – who shared his penchant for charisma, big talk, and assertiveness. To begin with, the media were deeply impressed; but those of us close to it all wondered when the emperor was planning to don some clothes. He never did. Within four years, he and his cabal drove this previously thriving business into the ground, before dispersing to the four winds. Afterwards, we and our remaining clients could only wonder what on earth had induced the chairman to trust in him.
Status-Enhancing Overconfidence is just another of those human characteristics that the overly ambitious readily exploit for their own gain, and are able to because of flawed mental systems the rest of us have inherited. Since most of us will be susceptible to paying the flagrantly famous too much credit at some time in our lives, it behoves us to be on the lookout. Whenever I find myself thinking, “She sounds pretty sure of herself”, I make a point of looking up the individual’s biography online, to see whether there’s any more to her than bluster. After all, awarding your trust on the basis of someone’s self-assurance alone can be extremely dangerous. Ask any German.