We often imagine that people who are exceptionally good at something are endowed with special strengths, extraordinary talents, or rare virtues. However, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb quite rightly maintains, this isn’t always, or even usually, the case: “Success in all endeavors requires the absence of specific qualities: 1) To succeed in crime requires absence of empathy. 2) To succeed in banking you need absence of shame at hiding risks. 3) To succeed in school requires absence of common sense.”
Success is often a function of some sort of absence. Seeing through camouflage is a case in point. We now know that there’s an upside to colorblindness: the colorblind can see through many kinds of camouflage. Because they’re not distracted by colors, they can often see the contours of a thing—its outline—with unusual clarity. Even so, despite this upside, being colorblind is, on balance, a net handicap to the colorblind individual. They’re missing out on a great deal.
I’ve always been amazed by people who know how to cut through the crap with ease, people with extremely well developed bullshit meters, people who are exceptionally good at discerning the real motives behind actions, people who always seem to know what’s really going on. People, in short, who are exceptionally cynical. But I’ve long since noticed that these very same people frequently fail to see a great deal that the rest of us mere mortals do see.
Cynics often sneeringly maintain that whatever they can’t see or experience isn’t real (e.g., true love, genuine altruism, empathy, divinity, spirituality, transcendence, communion with nature, etc.). And this leads me to suspect that those who are especially good at seeing through bullshit pay dearly for their gift. I suspect that being able to see past nuance comes at a cost. The ability to rapidly reduce complicated moral questions into simple either/or propositions is probably a function of an absence. To wit: the moral clarity of most cynics is probably a function of some sort of emotional colorblindness.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)