29 June 2011

People Ruin Ideas, or Why We Can't Have Nice Things

The stated aim of The Palace is "to champion freedom and justice", blah, blah, something, something, dark side, etcetera. Where I get my personal kicks is trying to understand the Universe. It is both annoying and satisfying when you discover that someone has already encapsulated the truth of the point towards which you are struggling, in an infinitely more succinct and pithy statement than you.

To whit; Eleanor Roosevelt posited that "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."1

I like this quote, not because it is or isn't true - who's to say? - but because it supports my world view, and there's nothing more conforting than having ones world view validated.

Taking the statement as read for a moment, it does nicely explain something that has resulted in several aborted posts over the years; people ruin ideas.

Exhibit A: Football

Now, the core nature, the idea of Association Football is delightfully simple. A competitive game, played fairly between two teams comprising individuals of enormous skill, is one of the finest spectacles humans have ever and will ever produce. It's simplicity and attraction are what make it the most played2 and most watched sport on the planet.

Over the years, the idea has been corrupted by small minds. The greed of commercialism has infected almost every arena in which "the beautiful game" is played. The focus these days is on the people that inhabit football; the players, the managers, the agents, the leaders of the associations, even the fans. The core idea is lost in the melee of small minds shouting over each other.

Exhibit B: Politics

A well-flogged horse on these pages, Politics. Again, at it's core, Politics is a fantastic idea. Elect representatives, chosen from the people, to speak for the people, to work together for the greater good.

None of which sounds familiar, does it? As with football, we're obsessed with the politicians themselves, rather than that which is important; policies, the core ideas designed to improve life. Policies take a back seat to the bickering of the tiny minds who spend years to become politicians and who then spend their tenure arguing with each other.

The very word, whose root words clearly define it's meaning, has become it's own antonym. Again, small minds have so corrupted the original idea, it makes it so hard to see the gleam of the idea through the layers of small mindedness that encrust it.

Exhibit C: Celebrity

The very core of Eleanor's statement. Elevate certain people to the point where other people want to discuss them, not because of anything worthwhile - like an original idea, or even their participation in a noteworthy event - but purely because society has determined that these people are worthy of discussion.

Looking at the nature of celebrity through my Monocle of Cynicism, it is not hard to see that there is money to be made in cultivating small minds. Simon Cowell, for example, has become fabulously rich by feeding the small minds with (usually) even smaller minds to discuss; fodder for the millions of Huxley's Gammas that make up a large chunk of our population.

And finally, The Big One...

Exhibit D: Religion

At it's core, Religion has some fantastic ideas. Thou shalt not Kill. I can get behind that one 100%. Thou shalt not steal. Ditto.

Again, over the years, small minds have got the ideas out of the box and mussed them up with their grubby fingers. Religion, at a grassroots level, is probably still focussed around ideas, rather than events or people, Jesus / Mohammed / etc notwithstanding.

But over the centuries, the core ideas of Religion have been corrupted by small minds bent on furthering their own interests to the point that, to many, Religion has become a sickness, a force for evil rather than for good.

The prosecution rests.

Each of the cases cited above is a hostage situation. The original idea is held captive at the core of the towering eyesore that small minds have constructed about it over the years. The idea is rendered powerless, capable only of calling faintly through the cell bars. And only those who are not distracted by the din of smaller minds loudly discussing events and people take the time to listen.

There is nothing so rare, so valuable, and so fragile, as an idea. And Nothing so careless, so selfish, and so destructive, as people.

And that's why we can't have anything nice.

1 It occurs that I am quoting a people here, thereby confirming my tiny mind and therefore the suspicions of my RocketBootMum and lots of baffled specialists over the years.
1 "played by over 250 million players in over 200 countries, making it the world's most popular sport".

And don't say it's "fascinating"...

Aren't brains brilliant? As well as doing all the useful stuff like adding up and taking mental notes and making Thursday afternoons hilarious, it also quietly does lots of little backgrounds tasks that aren't immediately obvious to you.

For example, you could be driving around the town where you live, like you do every day of life and, for some reason, you end up taking a different route and, just like a Japanese car issues a baleful "bong" when you leave your lights on, your brain raises a little "You've never done that before." flag.

Now, quite why it keeps track of everywhere you've been and the route you took, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's some hunter-gatherer technique to identify places where we haven't killed / eaten everything yet. Who knows.

Another weirdness you can expose is to probe the ephemeral nature of meaning. That sounds very grandiose, but really all I mean is that you make a word stop meaning anything. Observe.

If you take a word out of it's context, isolate and repeat it, it very quickly rots into its phonetic constituents, losing all meaning in the process.

I watched a video on YouTube the other day which was a compilation of Spock saying "fascinating" over and over again. It very quickly stops being Spock repeating his favourite word and becomes Spock making the same slightly odd noise over and over again.

It's not fascinating. But it is ...... interesting.

EDIT: I have since learned that this phenomena is called Semantic Satiation. So now we know.