This is me thinking outloud. It’s spoken from a fairly certain tone… but that’s only because that is the only one my fingers seem to be able to type. My bad. But I’ve been mulling this around in the car driving back home today and was going to just mail it off to a few folks but chickened out and posted it. Butcher as you like… but think about it if you can.
Where I’ve been
I suppose it’s always been positive membership karma for people to lay waste to the popularisers of ideas. I remember my own lambasting of James Redfield’s rediculous remixing (uncredited of course) and popularisation of the works of Shakti Gawain in the Celestine Prophecy. It was tacky, it was short sighted it overlooked the ‘important parts’… you name it. And, in truth, it’s really badly written. And it… uh… sold 20 million copies.
And so we of the no-million copies but very high philosophical standards maintain our memberships in our communities and our adhrence to a traditional view of rigour, research, citation and ‘best’ and shake our heads knowingly. We have a new crop, I’ve heard nothing but sly remarks and frustrated mutterings (and I’m one of the worst ones) regarding Malcolm Gladwell and his butchering of everything from neuroscience to postmodernism. I was sitting amongst friends and colleagues a few weeks ago and his name came up and a practiced ‘meh’ shuddered through the group.
The old best
Our best, to speak broadly, is about either practical applied experience (good points there) or about specially researched and confirmed study (also good but ‘specially’ changes drastically depending on who’s speaking). Popular success, like in many communities on or offline, is seen as a failure of the creed. As a betrayal of the covenant. So we have our best teacher practitioners out there who are allowed to be cool. And we have our senior officianadoes who have done the work and speak with authority and, as long as they don’t get too popular, make too many concessions to the man or, ‘popularize’ can be best of best.
Change of perspective?
But I’m having misgivings. When i think of all the work that we are doing around trying to remix things and make our work open and make it accessible (think broadly about accessible here) I’m wondering if we ourselves shouldn’t be seeing ourselves as horses in front of the plow on this. Our best may be pulling said plow… but the harvest is elsewhere and the farmers are those
Who can speak in ways that can be remixed.
The amazing thing about the James Redfields and the Malcolm Gladwell’s of the world (Dan Brown comes to mind as well) is that they can get first time readers to contemplate ideas that have taken traditional experts years to get their minds around. They get people to try and blend these ideas into their lives. The repulsed response is usually “yes, but they’re doing it the wrong way” and “putting the work in is important” and even “they’re only getting a surface reading”.
Are we not being a little silly, maybe, may I say it, traditional by taking the names of the popularizers in vain? Are they not the actual arms of change out there in the wilderness? Are they our politicians? Our capitalists? Because one way or the other, they are the ones that are capitalizing on change, if by capital we mean money. Or broad recognition. Or broad status.
We can easily say that these are not the things that we want. And this may be true. But one of the things that most of us are interested in is change… and the popularizers are, more often then not, the ones at the table of change.
So. I’m going to stop taunting our new overlords and thank them for making my job easier. (that really hurts)
The new equation
So… if a vague understanding of philosophy, science and society combined with a keen sense of language and marketing is the new best and the ‘experts’ that they are lifting from are the new cart horse, then what is this equation that we are using to measure? and why is it happening? How can we measure this kind of expertise and how do we recognize it when we see it?
Does it really matter if someone completely understands network theory before they write a book about it? Need someone actually know anything about cave paintings before they use them as a balance point for an entire argument?
Our pre-knowledge abundance views of accuracy were founded on the potential spread of non-canonical ideas. On the idea of the scarcity of paper. of the pain of the publishing cycle. of polluting the knowledge stream. Here we stand polluted. Everyone can publish.
Is it the ideas themselves that matter or is it the social change that they bring about?
Thinking for remixing
So if toning down on an idea and speaking simply about it allows for people who are not specialists to get a handle on things… why is that wrong? And we think it’s dirty business, are we just being exclusive and inaccessible? The market for an academic paper has not gotten wider (and i still quite value the academic paper for getting my thoughts clear and deep thinking… cart horse) but the market for thought is huge. How do we think for remixing other than just talking in soundbites. (something that i find myself doing more and more and not admitting to… before now)
Is there some kind of assessment of this new best that we can do to make our own work more palatable and more effective for the social change (whatever that might be) we are looking for?
Is thinking for remixing the new best?