Fire for Effect: Consensus! The Truth Killer!

This is the improbable seventh salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Without any further ado, take it away Mike…

I keep trying to write this installment of FFE, and you guys on the blog keep changing reality… so then I try to re-write this installment… and you change reality again.  I’m behind, and I know it… so piss off.  Originally, this was intended to be an appeal for readers to submit new material for the Manifesto.  Then Andes, and Prasad started cranking out articles and I had to adjust.  And that article from Infinity was an excellent bolt out of the blue.  Bang!  Boom!  Doors flapping in the wind… Fresh air, and discourse.  Also, I’m going to throw out a preemptive acknowledgement to Vitreolum, because he also seems to “get” what I’m trying to say in this article.   What am I trying to say in this article?  Well, that’s in the article isn’t it!  What do you think this paragraph is called: The preview paragraph?  The introduction?  WRONG.  This is the namby pamby excuses paragraph.  You will find no real substance here fools!  So enough with all my disclaimers, qualifiers, and excuses.  Steel on target!  Fire for effect!

Keith and I agree on a lot of stuff, that’s why he lets me run my mouth so much here. But we disagree on some stylistic issues (like when Keith is WRONG for example).  For the most part though, we strike a harmonic cord.  And, many of you constant readers, seem to agree with us.  You are here because our tone, or our focus, or our slant appeals to your sensibilities.  So… we all agree on a lot of points and tend to downplay differences.  We agree with one another… a lot.

This climate of agreement or consensus is fine, wouldn’t you agree?

You are now entering the thesis paragraph.  Please pay attention.  While consensus is fine and good… it’s not the best, or most important, super ultimate goal in life.  In fact, consensus can be quite dangerous.  The desire for consensus can hurt dialogue, obscure important truths and in the Lego Hobby, it can curtail growth and inclusion.  We should guard against its seductive nature, and in fact, our hobby is best served by a culture that embraces not consensus, but rather which embraces the chaos of discourse and discord.  It’s true in much of life… but today I urge you to examine the hazard of placing consensus before discourse, as it applies to our Hobby, and specifically, right here, how it applies to our conduct on this blog.

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Now I don’t mean to dump on consensus here.  It’s not a vile or weak thing.  It’s not a “false virtue”. In fact, it’s a crucial and often lacking ingredient in any endeavor involving more than one person.  Consensus allows for participatory decision making, progress, unity, focus, team, commitment, sacrifice and lots of other cool stuff.  Consensus gets us past awkward issues like conflict, loss of face, embarrassment, and isolation.  Consensus gets “us” all into the same club house, and keeps the “them” outside, in the rain, with the zombies.  It puts the right sign on the door.  Consensus is inclusive and cozy. In the context of our hobby, consensus is essential for activities like conventions, LUGs, and even on line forums (what?  It’s both good and bad?  Is that possible?).  Consensus feels good, and so… we tend to seek it.  It’s not a crime.  It’s perfectly natural.  But “natural” is not a synonym for “best”.  Picking at your own scabs is natural, and what did our mamas tell us all about that?  Keith, sorry… your mama probably didn’t tell you… but don’t pick at your own scabs, it causes scarring

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Consensus is important, and the desire for it is very human.  It can be constructive.  But is can also be a seductive poison.  Consensus Poisoning (CP) happens when we value consensus to much.  When the need to be in agreement moves us to compromise our values or moves us to squelch the messages of others.  (no, I don’t think we do that on The Manifesto… but we easily could).   CP is an easy condition to deny, easy to ignore, and absolutely deadly to any forum concerned with the pursuit of truth.  We agree with everything we say, and we are doing all the talking… the perfect incubator for a raging case of CP.  El Manifesto may be a comfortable room full of comfortable people who are slowly and comfortably succumbing to CP.   Some of you may be thinking:  Consensus Poisoning?  Don’t you mean Groupthink?

Well, no… but almost!  Groupthink doesn’t quite fit here because The Manifesto is not really an organization that makes decisions.  Sure, every member of the reading audience is a decision maker, and sure… we would like to affect your decisions (editorial slant and what not).  But the decision making WITHIN El Manifesto is fairly autocratic.  Keith is the owner, chief editor, and El Alcalde.  Anybody else pretty much just offers opinions or recommendations.   Decisions about the blog might be made collectively from time to time, but only at the Alcalde’s sufferance.  So, no… I’m not really talking about Groupthink in the purest sense.  Although, it is a deadly and pervasive condition that affects many organizations and you should read all about it right here in this short concise article!

No, for our purpose today, let’s stick with our invented malady: Consensus Poisoning.  But let’s do take a look at two of symptoms of Groupthink I just stole from the above link:

  1. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  2. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

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As I said, Groupthink is more about “decision making”, as opposed to my focus today, which is “dialogue and Discourse”.  I highlight these two Groupthink symptoms, Pressure on dissenters and Self –censorship… because they overlap with CP and are the most relevant to what DOES happen on The Manifesto: Discussion.

Discussion is a mainstay of this blog.  Discussion, entertainment, and maybe a small slice of actual information or news… brought to us by our readers, mostly in support of goal #1, Discussion.  Most of us would agree (Yet again!  Cursed agreement!) that we do discuss LOTS of stuff here.  Brother, we got nothing if we aint got discussion!  So maybe… CP is not a threat here huh?  I mean, maybe we have a healthy climate of aggressive debate.  Open exchange of conflicting ideas… maybe CP isn’t really a thing here… Look at Prasad on the pen, and guys like Vitreolum keeping us honest.  Look at Infinity jumping in with both feet… Looks like we got CP beat… Wrong answer!

Because discussion itself is the beating heart of this otherwise ghetto little blog… we the citizen readers must be even more vigilant against CP than we would be other sites.  Other blogs show pics of new product.  They may have a fairly conformist culture, or a culture that dampens conversation… but so what?  You go to those sites to see pics of new product.  Once that’s done, that site has accomplished its mission.  But here?  If we lose the fragile guttering flame of discourse?  Then we have to join primitive man on a Quest For Fire!

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Remember, CP is like ground water around a dry basement.  Not a problem today, but always trying to seep in through tiny cracks… an ever present tendency.  I don’t complain about CP on El Manifesto right now, so much as I urge vigilance against complacency and the CP that follows right behind.  It’s a comforting belief that CP is not a threat on The Manifesto, but in reality, it’s always a threat.  And dismissing the threat, only increases the hazards likelihood exponentially.

I suppose the good news is that when CP is recognized (when, not if) it is easily treated.  TRUTH cures CP in a heartbeat.  Right now, I think The Manifesto is pretty good at truth.  I would give us a strong B, maybe an A minus in “Truth”.   We say lots of stuff, and then we talk about what we say.  Everybody has their say, and with a very few exceptions, people are not censured.  (but yeah… even we have to maintain a small, one cell “thought prison” for people who want to use El Manifesto as a platform for crazy talk.  Such is modern life).

So truth is an easy cure.  Truth is not found through the rapid establishment of a consensus. In our shared tendency to seek consensus, we often trample the truth!  Truth is not comfortable.  Truth is not the product of back slapping and “atta boy” rhetoric.  Truth is not always elegant or funny (but humor is one of truths favorite tools!).  Truth is not the BIG part.  Not the husk or the shell.  It’s the TINY part in the middle, the hard core.  A large group usually finds the truth through discourse (and discord!).  Argument, debate, even a little eye gouging at times… often reveals truths not initially known to either party when they started talking.

As I mentioned, Discourse (and Discord) is one of the corner stones of The Manifesto!

Discourse is something we seem to have lots of here on The Manifesto, but CP is an insipid toxin!  You don’t taste it, or smell it.  You don’t’ even feel it!  But you can PREVENT it.  In fact, ONLY YOU can prevent it!

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I wish many more readers would write stuff for this blog.  All credit to Simon, Ted, Achintya, and Infinity, your stuff is great!  Your insights, humor, candor… it’s the basic food stuff sold in the market place of ideas!  But I would like it if you guys were reduced from the excellent post of “Major Contributors” and relegated to the also cool but lesser post of “Trend Setters”.  I urge more readers to write stuff that you believe!  F popularity!  F common practice!  F the police!  Sting was better on his own!  Then spell check your stuff just like I never do… and send a draft to Keith.

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REALITY CHECK… BRACE FOR IMPACT… REALITY CHECK… BRACE FOR IMPACT…

Keith has to edit stuff.  He edits every word on this blog.  He has to!  He is responsible for every syllable that gets posted here, and he TAKES RESPONSIBILITY for the same.  Keith will edit, and that is good.  You think my spelling and punctuation are bad?  Foolish Samurai!  You have no idea how many juvenile errors Keith scrubs out of my shite before he puts it up!  So yes, Keith WILL edit your submissions… and yes, you WANT him to!

Second point: Don’t be an over sensitive Nancy about it!  He almost never hits the content.  Unless you’re going to try and post some crazy social, religious, political, gender, giant insect, or Mega Block extremist tripe… you’re inspired insights will survive the editing process!

So shut up and speak already!

Tortured artist… you people kill me… “Oh the Gods!  That blood stained editor has crushed the fragile flame of my thoughts under his jack booted right foot.  The horror!  The horror!… Think, re-think, write, and re-write already you filthy rabble!  Your thoughts contain truths… so share these truths already!  In fact, don’t just share them.  Impose them upon us!  Force your beliefs into our resisting minds with well-crafted arguments and persuasive examples!  Stick your truths into our brains as you would a bayonet into the chest of a remorseless invader!  If it’s the truth, it’s not an attack.  It’s badly needed aid!

You might ask about some administrative details at this point…

“What about the administrative details?”

Ah yes!  So glad you asked!

Write your article/essay/rant using your preferred program and send it to Keith through the contact form on this site, Flickr or Legomankeith@aol.com.  Include any pictures, videos or links you want embedded in the article.  No pics?  No problem!    Keith will pick some pictures for you!  (No!  How dumb are you?  You’re comfortable with Keith picking your pictures for you? It doesn’t end well!  What if he asks ME to pic the pics?  How do you think THAT will work out for you?)

So let’s summarize and ensure shared understanding by using a… using a… using a MISSION STATEMENT!   YES!

MISSION FOLLOWS:

WHO: Anyone except Matt rowntRee

WHAT: Writes an article for publication

WHEN: As soon as possible

WHERE: on El Manifesto

WHY: In order to fight Consensus Poisoning and support an ongoing search for TRUTH with discourse and discord!

Ah!  I thank that phantom Prometheus, who did steal the science of MISSION STATEMENTS from the blood-stained gods and who did then delivered it unto our unworthy and mortal hands.

I know that CP seems like a distant threat from where we stand right now.  We already have discourse, and discord.  We already have a pretty low threat environment.  We we we… lots of good stuff.  This place doesn’t suck ass.  I know that what I’m saying is counter intuitive.  Especially with the excellent new articles we just ran, and the excellent reader author point/counter point tradition we have established.  I got all that.  And I agree (yet again!  Ah the gods do mock me!).  But have a little respect!

Wait.  Respect?  I think we have that already… No, I don’t mean respect for one another.  I don’t mean respect for the people who are here, now, on this blog with you today.  I mean look back across the bow.  Look at the fleet of derelict vessels rotting at anchor behind us.  Blogs and LUGs and Web sites that were once busy, and are now empty and lifeless.  Why?  Why were they once mostly at mostly decent, and now totally dead?  Were they peopled by idiots?  Staffed entirely by morally weak or corrupt dullards who lacked vision and all succumbed to their own evil ways?  NO!  That is a stupid and simplistic assumption.  We should respect the people who built many of these groups.  We should respect what they built, and we should therefor “respect” the seriousness of whatever destroyed so many of them.  Respect for those who have gone before us is not just a romantic thing we say… there is a reason for it.  They built cool sites, and now many of their efforts have ground to a halt.  Respect the notion that these groups, or LUGs, or blogs succumbed to difficult challenges.  Many now dead sites were once banging joints!  Now silent.  Why?  What will stop us from the meeting the same insipid fate?  Not but our culture.  That’s what I mean when I say “have some respect”.  Respect the architects of now dead sites, and respect the serious nature of the threats that took them down and that stalk us even now.

Another angle.  El Manifesto seems to have a pretty good bead on discourse and discussion.  We do it, value it, and enjoy it.  OK.  True enough… as far as it goes.  But how many people in the hobby still don’t speak here?  Why not?  How many train heads?  Why not?  Castle heads?  Why not.  Bionicle folks?  How many people out there read this blog and still feel they can’t really “Open up and give those bellicose wind bags what for?”  I think we have established a tone (a pretty good tone actually) but… the stronger the tone gets, the more “Not any other tone” it becomes.  I like flavor and character.  I don’t want to write for a blog that is the Coors Beer of Lego Blogs (lacking in flavor, but generally inoffensive).  Character matters.  But while we enjoy it, let’s not forget the passive way it can “block” or “stymie” input from new comers.  Look at the number of first time comments we had in the wake of Infinities article.  Great!  But why only now?  Why are we not attracting more new commenters?  There is no ONE reason.  And I don’t say it IS BECAUSE OF this one thing… I only want us to remember the importance of celebrating new and contrarian perspectives, and the importance of trying to live up to an ideal of an open forum.  It’s hard to do, and easy to screw up.

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I think this is the vaguest FFE I have written yet.  It’s certainly proven to be the slipperiest topic to grab a hold of.  We are not yet suffering from CP.  In fact, right now, I think we have it on the run.  But I also don’t think we are so unique in this.  Things like tradition, convention, and “the way we do it here” are all notions that grow stronger over time.  They also contribute to CP.  I just wanted to try to get out ahead of it.  If you’re still reading at this point, then I have exceeded my expectations.  This entire article is more about a cautionary message than about identifying a current problem.  As I mentioned, the truth kept evolving as I tried to write this piece.  If I’m off the mark, I know I can count on some of you to sock it to me.  Poke my eye out with a stick, but I had to take a stab at this topic.  Orthodoxy, complacency, casual exclusion… the notions haunt me, maybe not because they are so vile and distant, but because they come so easily and so quickly.  If you think they’re not in your kit bag… I council another inventory.

I just want us all to think about where truth is found, and to celebrate the clash of ideas in the arena and the spectacle of influence achieved … over the soothing din of a harmonious banquet and the torpid stupor that follows… leading eventually to silence and the death of though.    Wow bummer!  I think I need to watch some more Monty Python or something… Geez.

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Think.

Re-think.

Write.

Re-write.

Submit.

Attack!