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Obfuscation, power and corruption

March 4, 2010

Hugh of Gaping Void has his dark side, but that is a part of the attraction. This particular cartoon suits my mood at the moment and picks up on some of the themes of my last blog. Once an idea starts to take off many good things happen, but also some bad things. I have experienced

  • People who want to take a sophisticated idea in the early stages of its formation and represent it in terms that they can comprehend. I say they advisedly, they often argue they are doing everyone else a favour. They of course understand the idea, but they will simplify it so that other lesser mortals can understand it. This is often a power trip, or the response of someone who will never have an original idea themselves but feel that they should. They attempt in consequence to gain originality by proxy, but also to control access to those who are original.
  • Cultists, who pick up on the language of a new idea (which they may or may not understand) but then the language and the ability to speak that language is used to distinguish the inner circle, the cognoscenti from those who are other, the uninitiated, the impure. You see a lot of this with continental philosophy, sociology and psychology. In management you get the groupies who preserve the thoughts of the master (and end up drinking the purple liquid in the South American jungle if they don’t watch it). In order to engage, you first have to acquire the language and by the time you do that, you too are a cultist, you’ve lost your capacity to think.
  • Now while both the above mentioned groups are attempting to be faithful to the original ideas, there is a third group who don;t even listen or understand. They hear or see something which matches a deeply held or cherished belief. Generally one that no one else has ever taken seriously and seize on the new idea or model as a way of validating they own unrecognized ideas. As I have said previously this is a form of intellectual hijacking that I despise, but I also feel some pity of those who practice it. They often have good ideas, they are mavericks but they lack the ability to be taken seriously, so they latch onto anything that might given them respectability. The big problem with these guys is that they don’t understand they are doing something wrong, they live in their own little universe and only. In a variation of the cartoon above, G A Moore once said: Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism. If you want a metaphor then people are looking at reality through a distorting mirror, but are vehement in maintaining that the reflection is reality.

Part of the price of creating new things is that the above types will necessarily emerge. My general approach over the years has been to respond initially to elaborate of explain the differences, and then to get increasingly assertive if there is no attempt to meaningful engage. But overall a better approach might be to educate the first, exterminate the second and ignore the third. In practice its more difficult

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