Monday, 27 May 2013


I love that moment when one discovers a good, new word, the sort that one wants to use a lot in the certain knowledge that 99.9% of the population will look at you blankly when, with superior triumph, you use it.
I recall in advertising when a client gave the agency, through me, a bollocking that one feared was the prelude to the process of a messy firing. We had failed to do something important on time. So I said to him
somewhat sadly:

“This is I’m afraid my fault. I’ve been dilatory.”

To which he replied

“My dear chap, I’m so sorry, I quite understand. Don’t worry and I hope you get better soon.”

The word I found was “akraisia” in Ian McEwan’s latest book “Sweet Tooth”.  It means literally lacking self-control or more usefully, acting against one’s better judgement. Now, for those of you familiar with Greek philosophy (or more likely Wikipedia) you’ll know that Socrates – rather naively it would seem – said no one willingly goes towards the bad so it’s illogical to do so (I suppose Spock was a disciple of Socrates) whilst Aristotle thought the opinion of others could make us do things we otherwise wouldn’t.

Ian McEwan, whose books always lead one inexorably towards a bad ending is a frequent user of the “why did I do that?” plot line. He is a profoundly akratic writer (probably a cheery soul) but to whom the happy ending is rather alien and he’s also has a very astute judge of the zeitgeist.

And it occurs to me that in this marketing-mad world that politicians and company heads are constantly listening to opinion and doing things against their better judgement.  The current furore in the coalition (and politics in general) is a vivid story of akraisa on all sides.

Richard French (the skilled ad man) used to say “tell the truth because then you don’t have to remember what you said.” He and Margaret Thatcher never acted against their better judgement – even when they were wrong.

Nor did Steve Jobs, whose attitude to consumer research is well known. Here he demolishes someone else’s opinion.

In my advice to people running businesses I advise them to “train their gut” so over time their intuitive instincts and values become so clearly embedded that, without having to consult a corporate manual to discover, for instance, that stealing is wrong or that lies catch up with you, they know what is right and wrong.

As I get older I realise my better judgement is one of my strongest assets and, whatever the consequences, I intend to use it more and more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

to paraphrase plato 'sciolism be the route of all opprobrious'


as it saith in the bible of the king james (cica 1812) "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." therefore hume's comment
"That Suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves, no one can question, who allows, that age, sickness, or misfortune may render life a burthen, and make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping. For such is our natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to reconcile us to it."

would mean that although people willingly let themselves be led down a path, that is against their better judgement, on the greater issues (that plato, socrates et al) spoke/wrote on one cannot go against their better judgement.

wait! i hear you cry! what of the nazis. many helped them. 'yes, but', i reply 'they either thpught it was in their best interest (self interest- survival- hello darwin) or they thought that what they were doing was correct. ultimatley to say that one goes against one's better judgments on matters of great importance is spurious as someone (i cannot recall who) said that 'god has intrusted me with the most precious thing, myself' so to go against self preservation without a sound, logical reason would be where your arguement succeeds, the lack of which would bring doubt as to its validity

(enjoy mozart!)