The Status Quo

Anyone with experience practicing law or dealing with lawyers knows that a significant subset of lawyers are stubborn, difficult to deal with, poor communicators, uncivil, or generally assholes. This isn't too surprising. The educational process for lawyers screens people for verbal and analytical intelligence and a high level of literacy, not for their interpersonal negotiation skills and overall mental health.

Politicians and other leaders also often have very negative personality traits and behavioral patterns that conventional wisdom would assume is ill-suited to cooperating constructively with others to get things accomplished in a manner that doesn't lead to extreme conflicts.

This also isn't too surprising. Politicians are screened mostly for the mass marketing abilities, their ability to raise money from wealthy individuals with strong ideological preferences, and for their loyalty to a set of ideologies that produce the most change possible while securing majority support in a particular geographic area. Playing well with others, building broader than majority coalitions, and overall mental health aren't screened for very rigorously in the hiring process (at least in the U.S. with a relatively open access to candidacy process — parliamentary systems with strong political parties can be another story).

The Primary Question

How viable would it be, however, to create a guild or profession (perhaps they might be called "diplomats" or "ambassadors") that was screened primarily based upon the good mental health and strong interpersonal interaction and negotiation skills of the members, who would then be given responsibility for tasks within the society such as dispute resolution and establishing societal level political compromises?

Some of the things the scope of "good mental health" and "strong interpersonal interaction skills" would include a tendency to pick up the phone and talk things over with someone before taking action, a lack of a tendency to procrastinate, promptness, good emotional control, a strong capacity for empathy, good listening skills, clear communication styles, etc.

The professionals within the guild would receive education enabling them to carry out their various tasks, just as professionals carrying out those tasks do today (i.e. this wouldn't just be a group of people selected for personal traits but not trained in their specific jobs). But, the personal traits would be a prerequisite to entering this training regime, and lots of the evaluation and ranking of people within the guild during the course of their educations, when they were hired to first and later jobs, and as they are evaluated for promotions and prime opportunities down the line, would incentivize being exemplary in these personal traits.

In this society, you would no more put someone without this kind of professional screening in charge of litigation or negotiations or political decision making, than you would put someone without engineering/architecture training in charge of designing a bridge or a skyscraper or an automobile.

General intelligence might be necessary at some level to do guild work, but it would not be the focus of the criteria used to evaluate people in this field, it would only be relevant to the extent that someone was too low in general intelligence to carry out other aspects of the profession in an adequate manner.

Subordinate Issues

  1. Would it be viable to establish screening mechanisms sufficient for the task with behavioral science knowledge only modestly (a decade or two more of progress tops) better than what already exists today? Assume that this society has technology more or less comparable to that of our current world in all other respects.

  2. Would this kind of rigorous character and personality screening really make a difference in how tasks entrusted to this profession were carried out, or is the ugly side of behavior in the professional lives of people like attorneys and politicians mostly a product of the context in which they are placed such that anyone in their shoes would act similarly?

  3. Would a guild established on this basis, once in place, be able to maintain their dominance over this kind of activity, in the face of efforts of other people who are disqualified from guild membership by virtue of their lack of the personal traits necessary to be a guild member? Or, would people ineligible to be guild members successfully steal guild member's business. In particular, would they be able to steal this business because something about the personal traits that would make people like many existing lawyers, politicians, leaders and negotiators ineligible for guild members, has intrinsic positive value that is superior to the collective value created by having a group of people who have undergone guild personal trait screening. In other words, are assholes and ideological nutjobs more effective at their jobs because they are the way they are, than people who have traits that conventional wisdom assumes are better suited for negotiation and cooperation?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Isn't this exactly how lawyers and diplomats are selected? What's the concrete difference between this "guild" and the "Bar" or lawyers or the "diplomatic service"? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 26, 2017 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Lawyers are screened more or less exclusively of LSAT scores and high school grades, and from there on class rank determined by law school grades. These are glorified IQ tests. There is almost no meaningful screening based upon interpersonal skills, social virtues, mental health, etc. (apart from lack of serious criminal convictions). $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 26, 2017 at 17:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Relevant: "In India, a whopping 21% of the Members of Parliament have serious criminal cases against them. Why are criminals successful in politics?" marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/01/… $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 26, 2017 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


A guild who has a monopoly on "good people" would result in several very obvious natural consequences:

  • The cost of getting help from anyone in a guild monopolized profession would skyrocket astronomically as the supply is immediately dwindled. If you don't see a massive decrease in supply, your initial assumptions of the large number of bad apples must be called into question.
  • The guild's success will be 100% dependent on their abilities to screen individuals. If you put a huge barrier to entry into the more lucrative jobs in the world, you must expect people to teach to the test. Schools will spring up teaching people how to outwit the guild's screening so they can land the good jobs.
  • Unless the guild is 100% perfect at screening every single applicant, expect corruption to start to form in the guild because you've literally given them the keys to the kingdom. They are the kingmakers of this world.
  • How do you measure candidates aptitude. Every time a "personal nature" test has come forth in the history of mankind, it has failed to properly measure its people. With your example metrics, how would you score an individual who is habitually tardy and sometimes unreliable but, once they're in the room, everyone in the room is almost immediately unified into one positive workforce by their mere presence?

Really, the devil is in the details. How you implement the guild is key. However, its not easy. Remember, some selection process has to be chosen:

  • If the selection process is "I want the people in power to have the attributes I like," then you are custom tailoring the process to yourself, and it will likely fail for someone else who values different character attributes.
  • If the selection process is "There is an objective set of criteria to distinguish good people from bad," then you run into the enormous challenge of defining good people. This task has eluded humanity for so many millennia that many would argue it literally cannot be dune.
  • If the selection process is "The guild leaders subjectively distinguish good people from bad," then your process is identical to that which is used by inner party leadership in countries run by dictators. They also started with a set of subjective ideals for what would make a good leader for their country.
  • If the selection process is something in between, the answer gets interesting. People have been writing up in-between solutions to this specific problem for as long as there has been writing. However, it will not be possible for WorldBuilding to weigh in on such a solution until it is fully written and embedded in a particular culture. Typically this is the subject of 1 or more books (Dune, for example, explored some of these answers for 10+ books)

Most countries have a diplomatic corps. that cater to exactly the needs you've identified, being able to get along with people, or "Telling people to go to hell in a way that makes them look forward to the trip". This isn't new, it's been around for millennia, especially, as, until a few centuries ago, a messenger to a foreign land would literally be taking their life in their hands, when delivering a message--a major incentive to learn to talk their way out of a sticky situation. Later, priests and other protected individuals began to take over the job,as they faced lower risk of losing important body parts, which eventually led to "Diplomatic Immunity".

As regards lawyers and politicians, remember, people look for results over attitude. If your lawyer wins your case, you don't care how big an ass (s)he may be. The significant subset of lawyers are stubborn, difficult to deal with, poor communicators, not civilare that way because that gives them results. Their opponents don't want to talk with them any more than you do and are eventually willing to make extra generous compromises just to not have to deal with them again in future. At least half of all lawyers started out as idealists when they enter the bar.

Politicians, on the other hand, are con people by default. The only difference is whether they're out for themselves, or for some other (not necessarily higher) cause. Strangely, the self-serving opportunist is often less dangerous than the one with the agenda. People can only lie for so long without losing sight of themselves, or reality, for that matter.

With all that said, the major reason for not doing as you've suggested is the role of the screeners. Who recruits them? On what qualifications? How do we evaluate the people screening the screeners? What should be their qualifications? Even assuming your system works perfectly, Times change, and sometimes you need a borderline sociopath in charge, but your entire system is geared to preventing this. Not all negotiations are equal, just as not everybody is the same, Some situations require a different skillset than empathy and understanding.

In practice, this leads to nepotism, and oligarchy, with only "the right sort of people" being recruited through a non-transparent process that "you wouldn't understand". This, too, already happens, and it isn't helpful to society either. Whether it's CEOs or political nominations or bureaucracies, people get ahead based on the fact they know people in the right circles, rather than any merit of their own.

In summary, most of what you've suggested is either already in place, or has been tried and didn't work.


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