Stating the Obvious | Against the Obvious | Belief in Limited Resources

Belief in Limited Resources

At the beginning of this text we glanced at a quote from Charlie Brooker, in which he described philosopher Alain De Botton as having “forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious.” At this point we should concede that Brooker is, amongst other things, a comedian; and as such, we aren’t to take his writings entirely at face value. However, inasmuch as they exhibit a recognizable attitude that exists at large they are useful to us, and it is in this sense that we shall use them as a jumping off point. With this in mind, our investigation of this attitude isn’t to be taken as a direct assailment of Brooker. It is also worth reiterating that, in questioning Brooker our project is not to be taken as a defence of De Botton; whatever merit his work has or does not have is of no interest to us here.

Getting back to the quote, it appears to imply that through stating the obvious De Botton’s ‘lucrative career’ is somehow undeserved. In speaking of the lucrative nature of De Botton’s work, Brooker’s overarching criticism appears to be rooted in a belief in limited resources. He is conscious of the fact that De Botton makes, in his estimation, a considerable amount of money from his work, work which draws value through telling us things that we know already.

Brooker’s unvoiced question may well be, ‘why should he forge a lucrative career through telling us things we know already (and therefore not trying very hard), whilst I am impelled to work hard for just rewards?’ Of course, it may be that Brooker is aware of the value of stating the obvious and merely feels that De Botton does so in an uninteresting or uninspired fashion; however, his criticism may be, as we touched upon, symptomatic of an attitude at large, the kind of attitude that does not see the value that could come from ‘stating the bleeding obvious.’ Because it allows us to elucidate an interesting point, we shall take him, in this instance, at face value.

So why might it be that someone would be opposed to a person making a career from stating the obvious, or, to a person simply stating the obvious in general? As we saw above, if we are all going somewhere, advancing, then the person stating the obvious – sticking with what is known – can be seen as standing still, and in this sense as going against the grain.

Capitalist values promote the idea of competition, of going out and taking before someone else takes it instead of you. Inherent within capitalist thinking (although not necessarily an exclusive product of it) is the idea we touched upon above, that is, the belief in limited resources. Ellen Langer talks of this idea; “One of the main reasons we may become entrapped by the absolute categories we create (or are given by someone else) rather than accept the world as dynamic and continuous is because we believe that resources are limited.”6

Langer goes on to mention how, “In discussions of limited resources, someone will always bring up money. Money, in most people’s experience, is limited.”7 Is this what we see in Brooker’s talk of a “lucrative career”? His criticism appears to rest on the idea that De Botton makes money from what, in his estimation, is doing very little of value. But why should it concern Brooker whether De Botton makes a lot of money? An ingrained and unexamined belief in limited resources (and by extension, absolute categories) may be partly to blame for this attitude, an attitude that is facilitated and fostered by the prevalent capitalist values that surround us.