EXPERIENCE AND ALL OF IT

Hillary Clinton: “Experience not only counts, it is all that counts.”

Mrs. Clinton’s rhetoric here makes no account of an interesting division among Democrats. Barack Obama enjoys a substantial edge in that better educated, more affluent Democrats support him over Mrs. Clinton. How to account for this edge among people who are much more likely to understand what are the actual features of experience? After all, the term ‘experience’ points in the direction of a rubric, in the direction of a means for assessing what counts as experience. Obviously, experience itself is constituted by other features. Experience matters and it’s how to count it up that matters much more than any store of experience.

Reflect on what is meant when someone is characterized as having experience. This characterization is against the notion of inexperience. First, experience means that someone has been through various situations. Second, it means they have been through those situations with awareness. Third, it means this awareness has engendered learning. Learning about: what to do; what information is needed; which resources are possibly worthwhile; what are possible options for responding–in effect what are the possible solutions to a problem posed by a situation.

Taking experience as being the central aspect of developing awareness and problem-solving capability in going through problem-posing situations we come to the idea that the ability to analyze, interpret, hypothesize, synthesize, respond supports experience rather than an amorphous ‘experience’ being the support of arrays of capability.

Far from representing a kind of gas tank full of just situations, Experience is the praxis via which awareness and capability is deployed. It is a term of process rather than a mere term of storage!

Looked at this way, (looked at as the term for how situations are cognized,) then it becomes clear how it comes about that greatly experienced persons screw up. Sometimes the word stupid describes the screw up neatly. It was stupid of the Nazi General Staff to invade Russia without anticipating an adequate support infrastructure. History offers a legion of examples of the purportedly wise and experienced tending to repeat mistakes made in previous situations, or, tending to use old operations to resolve new problems. (*comment on Hillary Clinton’s Iraq judgment inside the fold.)

Unfortunately, the appeal to experience doesn’t break apart until you consider what are the details of the structure of experience. We don’t need to know what is the foundation of our airliner’s pilots’ experience to understand that we wish those pilots to be experienced. This said, we also don’t want to know of any difference whatsoever between a pilot with decades of experience and the rookie pilot who is commanding the 767 for the first time. Yet this is just another way of exemplifying the idea that it is the capabilities evoked via experience which make all the difference.

It cannot be, then, that, experience is ‘all.’

A mistaken judgment in the past begs the question: should the mishandled situation arise again in a new form, how will it be approached differently?

Hillary Clinton voted for the war authorization in 2002. This turned out to be a mistake and turned out to be the kind of judgment that belies in some way whatever capabilities and experience informed this judgment. However, there are some elements to the original decision that leap out as issues should one evaluate her judgment at the time.

The paramount issue, forming here a question, is: what was the material evidence and how was it analyzed?

The material irrevocable fact is singular: the UNSCOM inspections had found no WMD by the late autumn of 2002, the time of the vote. The only interesting questions that remain with respect to all other mistaken material evidence is: how did this evidence come to have so much import, and, what might have counter-advocacy looked like?

A secondary fact is that some congresspersons argued for the tenuousness of the speculative evidence. Although we now know something about the actual qualifications which supported this evidence at the time, other qualifying information has remained classified.  Mrs. Clinton likely knew about some of this information. She is not telling of how her thought processes allowed for counter-advocacy at the time. She should tell of this because it would help clarify what she’s learned about her own procedures for evaluation and decision making, and about how to improve them.

Her experience did not protect her from making a serious mistake.  Alas, this is a somewhat subtle, even esoteric, point to make in the scheme of insipid punditry and the absurdities of the 24-7 news cycle. Still, it’s as good an example as any about how it is that cognitive capability drives the benefit of experience rather than the other way around.

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