The bland tyranny of premature consensus

July 21, 2010

Tom Fishburne’s cartoons are a frequent tonic when they pop up in my RSS feed, but I really have to take issue with this post. He argues that we need angel advocates rather than devils advocates. Now I am happy to agree that destructive and personal criticism has little utility, but so does its opposite. This is however a major misunderstanding of the role of the Devil’s Advocate. For those who don’t know the role was a quasi legal one to argue the devils case when a person was being considered for canonization. It’s designed to prevent complacency or entrainment; the bland tyranny of premature consensus.

Any idea needs to be challenged, vigorously and early, not to destroy it but to make it more resilient. Techniques like Ritual Dissent can make this easier, but there is nothing wrong with good old fashioned criticism provided it is done with respect. As we say in Wikipedia address the content not the person. People who can’t cope with criticism and surround themselves with the like people; facilitators who prevent dissent or enforce a regime of positive stories are not doing anyone any favours. They are sacrificing sense-making for senselessness.

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