Michael Kinsley’s Failed Sense of Success
I recently read Michael Kinsley’s recent article in the Bloomberg View titled: Mitt Romney’s Failed Definition of Success. In this article, Mr. Kinsley attributes Romney’s success due to his being “born to a rich family.” Mr. Kinsley, in his effort to give a thorough dousing of Mr. Romney and his Republican mates, goes on to attribute success to external factors such as one’s birthright, something you may have gotten from the government or, and finally, simply to pure luck. As psychologists, we have labeled the internal locus of control as the inner ability of an individual to be motivated to strive for a better life by virtue of self-determination. However, according to Mr. Kinsley, success is driven by what psychologists have labeled the external locus of control, where the individual has little or no control of the events in his life. Rather, these events are controlled by outside forces such as luck or, as you may have, fate.
Of course, to some degree Mr. Kinsley’s argument makes sense. Thus, I can say that I was lucky that I was born in America and not in some other country like Tibet or Bangladesh. And, it is true, that I had no way of influencing where I was born or to whom my parents were. But from there to say, as Mr. Kinsley appears to do, that the subsequent successes of an individual have little or nothing to do with that person’s self-drive or self-motivation, I would maintain is oversimplifying the reality that each one of us confronts in our daily lives. Certainly, at best such an attitude, that implies an individual’s lack of control over any of the events he/she may face, does not say much for human nature. With this perspective, free will and the self-determination of an individual contribute little, if anything, to the development of his or her character.
Now let us look at some concrete examples. Was Michael Kinsley, a democrat, lucky when W.F. Buckley asked him to MC his wonderful show: Firing Line? Certainly, Mr. Buckley did not pick Mr. Kinsley because he was a democrat. He picked him for a number of reasons, some of which, probably were that he had an intelligent and insightful mind and was highly articulate (as, of course, Buckley was). Mr. Kinsley would probably argue that he was lucky to be born with such “native intelligence.” But I would argue back by saying that native intelligence, if not cultivated, will have little use in today’s society. By cultivating what intelligence he had, Mr. Kinsley made a decision, and it is this decision that is rooted in an internal rather than an external locus of control. President Obama presents us with another very good illustration of where the individual seeks control over his environment rather than chance factors. Accordingly, I ask was Mr. Obama lucky that his father was from Kenya, and was it mere luck that brought him, a black man, to the highest office in the most powerful and perhaps greatest country in existence today? Somehow I doubt it.