Worthy Reads (04/10)

Expertise, wit, selfness, ethics, meritocracy and emotional [im]maturity

Teapot by dangerlam for Dr Jason Fox

Every month or so I share a bunch of ‘worthy reads’ in my museletter. Occasionally I share them here, too.

And so here we are.
Some worthy reads. Enjoy!

The Death of Expertise

I want to read The Death of Expertise. I haven’t yet. But this article—The Distrust of Intellectual Authority—brought it to my attention. Then I read this summary of the book, in which it is clear the author “mourns the decay of our ability to have constructive, positive public debate. He reminds us that we are increasingly in a world where disagreement is seen as a personal insult. A world where argument means conflict rather than debate, and ad hominem is the rule rather than the exception.” The book seems to hit on things like Google’s role in reinforcing the conflation of information, knowledge and experience, the ‘feelings as facts’ phenomena, and our increasingly odd notion of equality. I suspect this book will simply reinforce my own biases—but it seems to crop up as a reference point from a few minds I pay attention to. Who know’s if I’ll get time to read it, but hoho: perhaps you will enjoy it?

Wit’s End

This is the book I am currently reading, and I’m loving it. Wit’s End is—while sometimes daggy—an incredibly well written thesis, given the subtly complex, ambiguous and paradoxical nature of wit. It offers a timely message of creativity and wisdom, and, infuriatingly (wondrously), it is very hard to provide you with a sample quote. Because wit often involves associative knowledge and the juxtaposition of meaning in subtext… I’m in a quandary as to what to do. The answer will come to me not in this museletter, I’m sure, but in the muse later (after this has been sent). Haha? Sigh.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

Okay, this is a summary of a summary of a study that had weak findings. Here’s the final paragraph: The researchers said: ‘Our findings suggest that the experience of systematically reviewing one’s life and identifying, describing and conceptually linking life chapters may serve to enhance the self, even in the absence of increased self-concept clarity and meaning.’ If you are currently lacking much confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, it could be worth giving the life-chapter task a go. It’s true that the self-esteem benefits of the exercise were small, but as Steiner’s team noted, ‘the costs are low’ too. I’m including this here not because I think this, on its own, would boost self-esteem. Indeed, the very notion of self-esteem is a tricky one (it’s benefits are probably parabolic—albeit in a skewed sense… low self-esteem is not good, and neither is narcissism—particularly if we fall in love with a ‘fixed’ notion of self). I’m off track here but long story short—I thought there were some neat parallels here to some of the themes I discuss in Choosing One Word.

Ego is not the enemy

Dear gosh my musings are quite self-ish these days, aren’t they? Oh well. Here’s a very apt article for anyone struggling to get their head around the notion of ‘ego’. “You are fluid, not fixed. Don’t stick to an illusionary self—one aspect of you is not you. Avoid being defensive when someone hurts one side of who you are.” This is perhaps best read in conjunction with David Chapman’s stub on ‘selfness’, and Galen Strawson’s brilliant book Things That Bother Me: Death, Freedom, the Self, Etc

Overview of ethics in tech practice

It’s over half a year old now, but the list of 13 ‘growing concerns in technology ethics’ is one to be mindful of. (This isn’t a ‘shaking cane at bad things’ article, btw. It’s quite reasonable.)

A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you

In case you missed this link in the feature piece I wrote for this museletter, this is an article very much worth reading. Rich white dudes generally seem to love the notion of meritocracy (in my experience). Here’s an excerpt from the article that alludes to why. “Meritocracy is a false and not very salutary belief. As with any ideology, part of its draw is that it justifies the status quo, explaining why people belong where they happen to be in the social order. It is a well-established psychological principle that people prefer to believe that the world is just. // However, in addition to legitimation, meritocracy also offers flattery. Where success is determined by merit, each win can be viewed as a reflection of one’s own virtue and worth. Meritocracy is the most self-congratulatory of distribution principles. Its ideological alchemy transmutes property into praise, material inequality into personal superiority. It licenses the rich and powerful to view themselves as productive geniuses. While this effect is most spectacular among the elite, nearly any accomplishment can be viewed through meritocratic eyes. Graduating from high school, artistic success or simply having money can all be seen as evidence of talent and effort. By the same token, worldly failures becomes signs of personal defects, providing a reason why those at the bottom of the social hierarchy deserve to remain there.”

The benefit of taking things too far

Another mighty fine piece from Dougal and Jen Jackson of Jaxzyn. Here’s an excerpt from the opening premise. “Organisations tend to glorify the idea of disruption, innovation and change. Yet, few leaders have the appetite for doing what it actually takes. // Not that you can blame them. There are few environments where risk is less tolerable than the business world. Doing things differently here often carries a worse stigma than chaining yourself to a tree in front of chainsaws. // Pushing boundaries means challenging the status quo, and there are plenty of people in the workplace (at all levels) very comfortable luxuriating in the safety of mediocrity. And given that we’re social creatures who use our peers as a yardstick for our own behaviours and beliefs, it can be incredibly difficult to shake things up. // Ahh, but for the bold and pioneering leader — how do we push our ideas and communication far enough to make a real difference?” I may be flattered by the link they through in at the end of their article, but I absolutely love the point they land. It may have you rethinking your need for feedback.

When do you know you are emotionally mature? 26 suggestions

I suppose you can work on these systematically—one per fortnite—and then in a year you might be just a tad more emotionally mature. Either way: I love this article. Possibly because it makes me feel quite smug, nodding to myself with my eyes closed, sporting a half-smile. Yep. But anyhoo: I think you’ll love it too.

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MiscellanyJason Fox