Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Fashionable idiocies as belief systems

I'd been meaning to write something on beliefs and then stumbled on this while I was waiting for a train -- and that's another post I may write after

"Together with relabel, repackage and rebrand, [relaunch] smacks of market tradecraft, diligent attention to focus groups, flipcharts and that ritual called the presentation which is conducted by young men from advertising agencies who, tieless, crop-headed and sermonizing, might easily be priests [...]and if you accept their sacraments the product is born again, which is to say that it looks dramatically different to convey a change of substance, though substantially it remains the same

Ian Jack
Granta 62, Summer 1998"

I'd want to go further. I am not happy with limiting it to people who look like priests. It's the belief itself, usually invented or inherited as an assertion of what the person wants to be true or which he / she thinks will give them power over another that I want to nail.

And the oppressed and suppressed, anxious to keep the bully off them, try to anticipate. They pick up quickly on the new thing. I have often quote the mild satire of one aspect of this in C S Lewis's That hideous strength -- there's a new science of Pragmatometry invented by someone who wasn't actually very good academically. We hear an opinion that the inventor of Pragmatometry is academically a bit of a joke and barely deserved his third class degree. (I often think of this when I hear a particular person pontificating about ideas on R4 though she did manage a 2.2.Better not say the name.)

Joke or not the nasty people take up the idea.

"Up to now, everything has been haphazard. This is going to put science itself on a scientific basis. There are to be forty interlocking committees sitting every day and they've got a wonderful gadget - I was shown the model last time I was in town - by which the findings of each committee print themselves off in their own little compartment on the Analytical Notice-Board every half hour. Then, that report slides itself into the right position where it's connected up by little arrows with all the relevant parts of the other reports. A glance at the Board shows you the policy of the whole Institute actually taking shape under your own eyes. There'll be a staff of at least twenty experts at the top of the building working this Notice-Board in a room rather like the Tube control rooms. It's a marvellous gadget. The different kinds of business all come out in the Board in different coloured lights. It must have cost half a million. They call it a Pragmatometer." [...]  "Pragmatometry is going to be a big thing. Hundreds of people are going in for it. Why, this Analytical Notice-Board will probably be out of date before the building is finished!"

[C S Lewis That hideous strength 1946 (probably)]

Now I think that's spot on anyway. What is even better though is the way that here and there more recently people have read it and said "This is the internet! He foresaw the internet"

No, Sir or Madam, he observed and listened to airheads; and then he sent them up. He used a daft futuristic idea boith because he knew about sf and many daft ideas are futuristic. It is the standard ploy and defence of the fool to claim they are ready for the future and you are not, that they have the new idea and you do not.

I apologise to those who know me and groan "Oh he's quoting Pragmatometry again"

But I just want to say (again): what is to be done when we have people who cannot see the innate idiocy of that idea as it's offered? The myth of doing everything quickly.

I also used to have an acquaintance who seemed to deny the validity of the satire here because C S Lewis was a deeply-believing Christian. I dropped the acquaintanceship for another reason but also because the chap couldn't pick out the relevant from the irrelevant. Whatever Lewis got right or wrong, he clearly had a good crap detector in some ways. And an idea can be sound even if the person having it also believes in fairies.

And from that to all the people who say that there is no money in this country. As a cow recently voxpopped: The farmer told me hisself. He said "4756327," he said, "I may not be able to feed you cows fresh stuff no more; you'll have to eat each other." And I said, "Well, Farmer Osborne, I wouldn't like that at all; but if you say it's got to be, then I dare say there's a deal of truth in it. Just tell me when and who to bite and I'll make a start. We're all in this together. And tell me about any extremists getting in the way and I'll roll on them."

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