“Living is Easy with Eyes Closed”

January 9, 2021

IMG 0114Earlier today I got irritated by several things on social media. I admit that this is not unusual and some would argue that I obviously enjoy the stimulation too much.  The Trump being deplatformed was worrying rather than irritating by the way as I have a nasty feeling that is going to backfire.  I am long overdue a post on the whole free speech issue so more on that in the future. There were two immediate forms of irritation.  The first was a modern form of plagiarism in which people read your articles and blogs, take ideas and original sources from that and then represent them as their own discoveries.  You tend to be acknowledged in 5pt type somewhere at the end, or more cunningly you are referenced for one small aspect of the wider post.  Now that can happen, but if it is picked up you do expect the originator to acknowledge the origination rather than bask in the limelight.  The second, and the subject of this post was someone taking a single phrase from my Baker’s Dozen post (scroll back) and asking in public for help in translating it into English.  The phrase in question was a summary of a series of referenced blogs that elaborated on the quoted idea in some detail so it was by definition shorthand so I responded by pasting in a link to said exploration.  I’m pretty sure the post was done in good humour as well, but then a lot of claims to be The Translator (deliberate capitalisation) are similarly well-intentioned but thoroughly irritating.  It also tends to go with the assumption that if you use unfamiliar words to the reader, something that is regrettably all too easy these days, that you are being “academic”, one of the most misused types of pejorative stereotyping I know.  So earlier today I tweeted: Having had enough of lazy ‘intellects’ wanting dumbed-down material I am enjoying composing today’s blog post. I may use words with more than three syllables …

I made notes throughout the day, especially as responses started to appear, with varying levels of vitriol responding to events as they unfolded.  But by the time of writing I am in a more benign mode, not least because of the defeat of Llanelli Scarlets by the Cardiff Blues earlier this evening; red of shirt, red of card may well be the motto of those to the west of the Loughor Bridge – although we were on top of that game before the sending off.  So I’ve toned the first draft down a bit on a general assumption of goodwill by the various actors.  I also started to realise a lot of the connections with the current political tendency for popularism which makes this the first post of several this year looking at governance and the nature of government.

The quote which forms the title of this post is from John Lennon but there were a lot of other possibilities.  We have this from Issac Assimov:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

not to mention Walter Cronkite

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation

and of great relevance from  Harlan Ellison

You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Then finally from Voltaire

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.

Earlier that day I had also received an email from Iwan Jenkins, who had earlier foolishly predicted a victory for his beloved Scarlets.  He is currently stuck at his home near Toronto and prevented by Covid from his regular return to replenish his soul in the mountains of Wales.  Hiraeth means that while his feet are in Canada his heart is sundered from his native Wales.  He had been reading my Christmas Blog posts and my reference to a meal with him in Môn at the end of a day’s walk.  He picked up on a key paragraph in my last post namely “ln the Welsh tradition you may not have been privileged to have been gifted education but that does not remove the obligation to educate yourself.  You should not be deprivileged in a conversation by accident of birth or circumstances, but neither are those two conditions an excuse for not reading, questioning, talking and thinking.”  He read it to his parents and saw “Knodding heads all round”.  Anyone of an age in Wales will know the huge contribution the Workers Education Movement made to the Labour Movement and in an earlier generation, the Caban of North Wales are testimony to the thirst for education within an oppressed people.  My mother was the first in her family to get a University education and she did it through scholarships and in the face of fierce opposition from her immediate family, other than my Grandfather, who I never knew, who was brought by reason to the realisation that letting her go to college rather than the marriage market was what he had fought for all his life; he was one of the founders of the co-operative movement in South Wales.  She never forgot that and we had a fierce upbringing, advocating a point of view that you could not defend and above all not reading were unforgivable sins, never was never any abuse, of course, you just got that Welsh Mam look that had been further refined by a late-career in teaching to silence a whole classroom by presence alone.

The opening shot in this post is one section of my library at home; I built the shelves myself by the way.  The nonfiction section is over 1,500 books and I haven’t finished cataloging the books on History yet, let alone the novels.  I don’t form opinions lightly, not do I much respect people who do, although I can be polite.  The general desire for things to be made simplistic is a concern, I will not belittle the word simple by using it here.  The reality is that no one learns unless familiar pathways are disrupted to varying degrees.  That is going to be the subject of a longer post on Monday which will pick up some of the ways we can linguistically create Aporia (one of the words by the way that required translation) and I’ll link again (as it did in the offending post) to my original work (the first of five) on this as well as a post by Zhen.  There will be two other posts on using process & images for the same purpose and maybe some more, all next week.

There are strong links to my earlier post on necessary levels of abstraction and the need for a common language, experience and background for effective communication.  There is no right or wrong solution here by the way which is why I object to the crude dichotomy between academic and non-academic.  Generally, you have to balance the richness of conversation with broadness of reach but there are various forms of abstraction that have utility and I want to point out three:

  1. The most common academic form will have multiple references, often every few sentences, to the work of other people which I sometimes doubt is even known to the authors.  But being charitable, this form of abstraction places a contribution to the field in the context of other contributions and is intended only for those with that knowledge.  Generalists like me come along from time to time, get interested and burrow into those references often to find they are just the result of some citation engine, but as often they open up new ways of thinking.
  2. Language which is easier to understand, but can be understood at varying levels of comprehension with value.  I have made the point that I fell in love with Philosophy (but not Plato) when I read his The Symposium while a teenager.  I understood the language albeit with the occasional use of a dictionary.  I understood it differently when I studied it at University and I see it now in a very different light of taking a stance against neo-Platonism and what I consider the nonsense of the idea of an ideal, forget the Cave I just don’t buy it.
  3. Blogs provide a new form of writing, which I love, as you can use the shorthand of a HTML reference to something you have written before that people can divert into.  So if you know it, move on without having to read stuff you already know, if you don’t pause, read and come back.   A blog is not a book, it is a presentation of material that people choose to read and while there is an obligation to link to prior material there is no obligation to explain everything time and time again.  I think the fact that I had linked, but the phrase was put into social media without that link is what most irritated me.

I think that there is no issue in requiring people from time to time to read linked material or, God help us use a dictionary.  This is a lot easier these days than when I was young as they are online and you also have a google search and Wikipedia, which in general for Philosophy and Science is pretty good.  If you just want simplistic recipes served up on a plate then there are plenty of books and articles that will do that and which will require no intellectual effort or for that matter moral discomfort.  For good measure, they will generally be padded out with lots of ‘cases’, not of what people did when they used the idea, but retrospective purloining of material to match a hypothesis.   It only took me the time between sitting down in my seat on a Boeing 777 at Heathrow and my first G&T on reaching cruising altitude to read Reinventing Organisations as it was in the main a collection of well-intentioned platitudes, the spiral dynamics distortion of Grave’s work which has dubious origination in terms of its research all supported by aspects of cases that I had read about in several other sources.  I learned nothing, but I went on to DeLanda’s latest work and I had to stop and think a lot and it took the rest of an eight-hour flight to complete, and even then I had to make a lot of notes on things to follow up.  And remember I am dyslectic and don’t have a photographic memory so the effort is created, although using four fountain pens with different coloured inks helps.

There is an essential laziness to demanding that things are simple with lots of cases, and there is a corollary here that people may or may not like.  We have just seen the end, for now, of American politics reduced to the trivia of a reality show and I admit that I am missing the entertainment of Trump’s tweets, despite my horror at myself and at their content.  Dumbing down of discourse, and the legitimisation of ignorance and buffoonery is not the sole provenance of politicians it is ever-present in management literature, practice, and the idiotic constant cycle of new methods and tools that promise a quick and simple fix to what are, of their nature complex problems.  If you want to equally value all views and hold a space for them, then you are complicit in giving space for any ideas.  Post-modernism is in part responsible for the rise of modern fascism. But the limits of free speech, and by the way of free-will is something that anthro-complexity provides new insights and understanding so it is a subject to which I will return.

So three simple rules for those for when you don’t understand something on first sight:

  1. Use a dictionary and Wikipedia or other online sources, then think again
  2. Ask questions as to meaning rather than complaining about the language, listen to the answers, then think again
  3. Be grateful for the aporetic effect that comes with a lack of immediate understanding, reflect, then think again

Of course, none of this justifies nonsensical language such as talking about linear-based print media when you mean books  I fondly remember my mother incensed about that one when she came back from the Education Committee of Flintshire County Council on which she served.   Neither does it justify the mystical use of common language and platitudes by the many and various cults that have emerged in society and the management literature over the years.   But call it out from a position of knowledge, not ignorance.  Then of course there are made-up words, and if you really want long ones then come to the Welsh, we are good at it – see the banner picture.


Banner picture by Adriao at Portuguese Wikipedia. Foto tirada por mim, Adrião, em Março de 2005. – Transferred from pt.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain,



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My post of the day before yesterday expressed concern about the general dumbing down of ...

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