Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pondering "failure"

SusanG responds to this quote by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida (speaking about Iraq):
"Failure is not a part of the American nature nor of our moral fiber. It is certainly not a concept that is acceptable to our men and women in the armed forces."

What? Americans are a new breed of super-human demi-god? We don't ever, ever fail at anything? We have overcome the limitations of flawed human nature? We have attained the perfected nature of the Almighty?

This is truly weird stuff, thinking that trying something and not succeeding speaks to our lack of "moral fiber" (whatever that is). The time-honored process of trial and error is simply unacceptable to some Americans, a stain upon our collective national soul, it seems. How odd. How distant from everyday reality. How ... nearly insane this belief appears to me to be.
I think it's clear that SusanG is reading a bit much into that sentence, and it's possible to parse Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's words more generously. For instance, that accepting failure is not what Americans do, or planning for failure, or something like that. Even though it's absurd when taken to its literal extreme, there's something coherent about it. And that sort of coherence in spite of the plain text is a hallmark of a "frame." Think about "pro-life" supporters of the death penalty. 'Nuff said.

But that second paragraph got me thinking about creationists. They love to complain about the moral consequences of evolution. Precisely what those moral consequences are eludes me, but I think SusanG got a piece of it.

Evolution involves a whole lot of failure. There are these random mutations. Some make life better, most make it worse, or at least no better. Some individuals survive, others don't. Some fail, others succeed. And if failure didn't happen, the whole kit-n-kaboodle would collapse.

Evolution is a process of trial and error, and I think that some people do find something about that process unacceptable on a moral level.

Trying Your Luck” by The Strokes from the album Is This It (2001, 3:29).