Praise For The Polymath

I recently read a very thought provoking post on LinkedIn by Alberto Brea (a v. senior bod at Ogilvy NY) that made a compelling argument for depth.  It got me and many of the other readers reflecting, as I view myself, and pride myself,  on being a polymath. Doing my degree as a mature student has been an illuminating glimpse into subject focus and the super-smart wonks you come across in good universities.

Knowing a lot about a lot of things means that it is very difficult to be perceived as a subject matter expert on any one particular thing. No single thing has been a life’s work. The most I seem to know is about the construction of identity and how that can/may be changed.

To be clear: a polymath does not mean that the person is a chronic bulls****er. The fact is that I like knowing stuff. Lots of stuff: how a jet engine works, a clutch, the reasons for weather, some of the law, drug metabolism, the eye, how to make a golfball, etc etc. Not to lord it over others (as tempting as it can be when you hear someone talking rubbish about something) but because I hate the feeling of weakness that accompanies the situation where a power imbalance can be created by a knowledge imbalance.

Sure, it lets you bluff at times and I happen to think that in some circumstances it is a very useful skill. To bluff to intentionally deceive to gain an unfair advantage for purely personal gain at the expense of the other is wrong. However, to be able to credibly bluff when you are at risk of being dominated and weakened by someone who is using their in-depth knowledge of a topic to run roughshod over you is something else entirely. It is is how to deploy ones intellect in a different way.

Recently, I compiled a list of all the jobs I have done and the significant experiences I have had, to read it as if another was listening to me warble on. If someone else bought the same to me my initial reaction would be extremely sceptical, it reads as fantastical invention in places. It makes me alternately proud and horrified. The fact is that all these experiences haven’t killed me and I have used them to learn from and strengthen myself.

At the risk of sounding like a personal puff piece I am using myself (for I can hardly be alone in the 11 schools, multiple industries and some cool pick-up roles along the way) as an example that those of us who have had interesting and varied careers/lives are not automatically flaky and dangerous to have in an organisation. On the contrary, if we are employed in the right role we can tolerate some sameness and routine. What makes the polymath thrive is being able to constantly learn and to be able to share their experience for the benefit of others.

When is comes to decision making, the person that is super-knowledgeable on a single topic can add valuable context through their knowledge. But, and it is a big but, the polymath can see the issue from angles that the depth person simply cannot conceive of doing. Yin and Yang I guess.

There is no doubt that a polymath can cause a subject-matter expert to feel very uncomfortable. They may seem shallow and flighty and for a person that defines themselves by their in-depth expertise this often causes significant cognitive dissonance. To assuage this one often sees  employers and clients shying away from the polymaths instead of asking themselves why they feel uncomfortable and then trying to see if they can use the polymath as a useful addition to a team. Asking the oddball questions and saying the strange things. Not for the hell of it but to add to the effort and make the output a better thing.

 

In case you missed it, Alberto’s article, a nice short and snappy piece for LinkedIn, is here.

Thinking The Unthinkable

A brief recap of the political landscape sees us in an unaccustomed situation. May screwed the pooch and lived up to her internal nickname of “Submarine” by saying something, disappearing and resurfacing going another way entirely. It seems this wasn’t as carefully crafted a plan as we all believed. According to Guido Fawkes, she caught Tory HQ on the hop. It seems she believed her own PR a little too much and now she is so power hungry and desperate she wants to risk derailing the Northern Ireland peace process by cosying up to terrorist sympathisers/supporters, despite the brickbats hurled by her lot at Jezza for saying some pretty commonsense things about trying to achieve a resolution to a conflict. Not the way I’d do it but he has been resolutely consistent, something you can’t say for many politicians.

On the other hand, Momentum seems to have spiked Corbyn’s tea with something strong that worked to jolt him into towing the party line. Albeit for a short time.  Labour  is attempting to spin this momentous second place loss – trailing by 56 seats – as the second coming of Christ. Corbyn hailed this as, “an amazing response from the public…I think it is pretty clear who won this election”.  One ought to recall a certain person writing in The Morning Star in 2010 decrying the 48 seat difference as, “disastrous for new Labour”. It is funny how power changes people. Nonetheless, he has a messianic following so one can’t ignore that.

Both parties want a hard Brexit for different reasons. Now Labour think they may have a sniff at actual power they are softening their stance somewhat. May hasn’t got the mandate she sought so she can’t just bundle the country over the nearest cliff as planned. In the meantime the EU are doing good cop bad cop with the chief negotiator making withering remarks whilst the new centrist president of France (Macron) smiles sweetly and alludes that the door to EU membership hasn’t slammed fully shut. That combination of Michel Barnier and Macron will have sowed enough doubt in the minds of sensible people in the Lords and Civil Service that we may be able to wriggle free. The nerves will be getting frayed. Although, there is no doubt that any re-entry will come at a considerable price, both in pride and money.

But back to my party of choice, the Liberal Democrats. The  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the departure of our once glorious leader won’t last long. Many nauseatingly sycophantic comments along the line of, “Tim walked on water and people just need to see what an incredible human being he is”, type thing. There is a recurrent theme here of people having so incredibly strongly held personal viewpoints that they are unable to step back and take a bigger view. Many, in the party rank and file LibDems, seem to function with no distinction between a Parish Council style mentality of ‘dog fouling on the green has to stop’ compared to  National Government issues. There remains a depressingly recurrent theme of trying to blame electoral failure/Farron’s departure or anything else  they don’t like on anything other than themselves. It is the Orange Book believers, the bitchy sniping fringes, Clegg, tuition fees, coalition and so on and so forth.  (Caveat – I am, apparently,  one of the bitchy sniping outsiders. Though, in my defence, I and others are devoting time to try and think how the dire state of the political centre ground  can be fixed.)

Those of us that don’t think the purity of the political soul comes just from the hard graft of pushing leaflets through letter boxes as the answer to every setback are not just corporate bully-boys/girls. We just take a more businesslike view of things. Measuring output and not input is how we look at things.Tim Farron has resigned as leader and that is a very good thing. He singularly failed to get any traction with the press or the electorate regarding Brexit,arguably the most important issue of our time. Say what you like about Corbyn having the air of a divorced geography teacher, at least he has stuck to his guns. I find him deeply distasteful but I respect him nonetheless. People knew who he was and if they had even heard of Farron it was usually because of one thing. Just prior to the election I was at a function and fell in to chat with a retired Brigadier General. Not that old and still very sharp. The talk turned to politics and parties. I told him I was a LibDem and he thoughtfully replied that they were an ok bunch but, and I quote, “I am not keen on that poof-hating god botherer you lot have let into the driver’s seat”. And that, ladies and gents pretty much sums up the public perception of Farron.

Given his voting record, Farron clearly isn’t a homophobe, but try telling that to people who consume mainstream media. He was incapable of deconflicting his personal views and political stance and had had two, count them, two, years to put this to bed and yet he couldn’t. Couple that with external appearance of the cheery carer to Corbyn’s miserable old man persona and he really didn’t cut it. This weekend gone he was obviously handed a loaded pistol, a shovel and told to take a solo walk into the woods, make peace with his god and do the decent thing. And so he did. Kudos. All told, a very liberal regicide.

The Liberal Democrat party is such a big church of conflicting viewpoints that it is too overweight with competing opinions to ever get airborne. By contrast, we make the Tories and Labour appear as ideologically tightly knit units. I think that we try too hard to accommodate too many different positions and it just doesn’t work. Our poor results speak directly to being overweight on too many different opinions and underweight on slick electioneering.

The Social Liberals are perceived as the left wing and the Classical Liberals as the right. I have formed the view that many at the extremes of the Social Liberal position are just Labour supporters in Liberal clothing, scared of the big bad Labour party. The Classical Liberals are definitely just right of the general centre ground and I heard them described as Tories who aren’t bastards. Either way, the tension between the two seems too high. They spend their time arguing amongst themselves rather than winning power.

The wider electorate do not perceive the Liberal Democrats as having a defined leader and nor can they repeat any policy much past the legalisation of cannabis. Corbyn is someone to get behind and to some extent May is the same, though wounded and about to be dispatched soon. It doesn’t matter if you are economically illiterate, do not realise how illiberal both are, you can just be tribal and support a team. Part of that is slavish and unquestioning support for the team when the chips are down. Hell, even the latest Panorama about what happened in this debacle of a General Election never mentioned or showed the LDs at all. Caroline Lucas even got a 10sec slot. Us, nothing. If the LibDems are to ever prosecute a liberal agenda they need recognition and media, however distasteful they may find it.

I think that we may need to do a reverse ferret (apologies to Private Eye for I dip liberally – geddit? – into their terminology) and consider another centre party. At this point many people recoil, gasp and point to the failed SDP-Liberal Alliance that preceded the LibDems. To successfully form a new party one would have to discard convention and do it differently from how it has always been done. Additionally, you need at least three other things for a successful party – good candidates, a good team and money, lots of it.

To take the last one first: Money. Political donors may claim their donation is ideologically driven and altruistically motivated, though that is a little dishonest. We all want something, be it a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a shared ideology or  the time-honoured belief that donating to a party buys you influence. A new party needs to be treated like a start-up business with a great idea. Potential investors need to see a return. Their will be a period of burning cash, just like a start-up. When it succeeds you have to pay the piper so investors need to be chosen wisely because they will be microscopically scrutinised and require their return. Again, this needs to be carefully planned.

Whilst on the topic of scrutiny, any new party will need to have candidates.  Not in every seat but 5-10 (max) and targeted, mostly on LibDem seats. This may sound cruel, it ain’t personal, just business. Early successes are needed so that investors need to see the idea working, within the predicted timeframes.  There is a ripe pool of centrist candidates; from Chuka Umunna to Ken Clarke to Ruth Davidson and (gasp) George Osbourne. As an aside, no one seems to be enjoying May’s discomfort more than George. None of the aforementioned are in politics because they love campaigning in the rain, they are in it for themselves as much as anything else. A new party would need an attractive proposition, a plan even! If you ask a successful politician to give it all up and defect they need to see what is in it for them and their constituents. This proof of concept will work if we can back to the hilt a chosen few. The “Full Macron” will have to come later as we run a fundamentally different electoral system here.

Finally, planning. This is not about traditional reactive behaviour, it is treating the enterprise like a start-up business with big investors and lots at stake. A goal, a strategy, tactics and many what-if contingencies. Politics is a brutal pastime, the knives will be out. No planning equals no nothing. A blend of commercial, technical and political talent, people with contacts, people with a clear agenda for themselves. Being in at the launch can make or break them. No namby pamby clockwatchers. If the investment is right and the founding candidates are few then decent salaries can be paid to tempt the best talent away to the start-up. This is how business works. We are not creating a new market but rather trying to introduce a vastly improved product into an established and crowded market. We’ll need to test policy, cost policy, recruit, win backing and be pragmatic while all the time be mindful of our goal to introduce a purer liberal party that is unencumbered by the baggage of the existing one.

PS: This will take time. 18 months minimum to launch. Done under a decent cloak of secrecy. FWIW, I don’t think people have the stones to make this happen. This post is to just put the idea out there and get people thinking and talking. Perhaps it will, who knows.

UPDATE: Perhaps the Liberal Democrats need their own WtF? Rethinking the Democrats from within.

 

Dear Labour, Here Comes UKIP.

In Great Britain the Labour Party (the party of the left, in all its guises) has pulled off the astonishing trick of disappearing so far up its own arse by squabbling amongst itself that everyone can see it for what it has become; Labour is a bunch of power-hungry people, so focused on their own gain, that they will commit collective suicide rather than back down to one another. This public, Faustian style death pact that all the warring elements have bought into is very worrying. These self-obsessed clowns are no longer representative of the voters and nor do they provide an effective opposition, so the Tories just march around doing what they please.

Labour used to be the antidote to the so-called ‘Nasty Party’ (the right-wing Tories) and provided an effective opposition, sometimes got into power and occasionally mitigated some of the more egregious things the hardline Tories do. However, these days there is a new force and it is going to subsume Labour.  I watched the address of the new leader of UKIP on a Channel 4 clip and it was terrifying. Terrifyingly good and terrifyingly dangerous if you are the Labour party. In fact, just scary for any person with even a semi-liberal outlook on life.

In this post-factual political world Paul Nuttal, the new leader of a very unpleasant right-wing party, has marched up to the centre ground and declared that UKIP is the voice of the working classes. His message and delivery are very convincing. An apt metaphor is the new dog in the neighbourhood seen peeing higher on all the lamp posts. These lamp posts are the parliamentary constituencies that the Labour infighting has let go unattended. Anyone who has had a dog knows that they regularly remark their territory, lest the other dogs forget. Labour has failed to do this and the new dog is here.

Nuttal is appealing to traditional Labour voters and I believe that – important caveat now – if he can galvanise UKIP he will decimate the Labour party. If they think he won’t because commonsense dictates that no sane decent person will vote for such a bunch of unpleasant people as UKIP then I have just the one word: Trump. People identify with his message and he is skilled in its delivery. Watch out.

Let The Accommodating Begin

We have all heard the words of Lord Aston in 1887, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” True then, true now.

In the stunned aftermath – at least in the liberal intelligentsia – of the US Election result the thing that caught my attention was the amount of Republican politicians that were, at best, ambivalent about The Donald before his win.

There is no doubt that he terrified and confused them. On the one hand, apparently one of them as a rich white man yet on the other, he had the propensity to say worrying things in a scary shoot-from-the-hip manner. Whilst The Donald, seeing power came from embracing a more right-wing christian position (Guns, good. Abortion, bad, etc) he lacked a filter. That scares these folks, for what lurks underneath? More importantly: will it compromise them to be too close to a man who is emotionally akin to a hand grenade with the pin out?

Watch what happens now, for it has already started. The power obsessed, self interested, Republican establishment are all scrambling to (re-)establish themselves at the right hand of the amazing new leader. One who speaks to change and represents the suppressed voice of the downtrodden underclass of America etc etc. What a guy, what a visionary, what an extraordinary change agent and what a stunning bullshit artist.

What they see in Trump is a man whose victory is merely the figurehead vehicle to dismantle any social advancement seen in the last 8y. Bye bye Obamacare (it is terribly unfair you know, affordable healthcare), bye bye Roe v. Wade (gotta insert punishment in here. After all, a good grabbing by the pussy is hardly sufficient for defiling one’s own body against the wishes of god, even if it is The Donald doing the grabbing). Bye bye same-sex marriage. I mean, seriously, that is just sick and against the natural order of things. Love has nothing to do with it in the deranged christian view,. Marriage is about a woman being a procreation machine, and you just can’t make more people if the fags get in on the act, ergh.  Climate change: can’t say bye bye to liberal bullshit can we, we can but dismantle the ideas that are perpetuated by people trying to neuter the great benevolent nation that is the USA. Oh yeah, free trade agreements like NAFTA are just liberal bullshit too, designed to disadvantage the great benevolent nation. And so on and so forth.

Brace yourselves for a tide of Trump lovin’ by the right-wing fence sitters now he has made it. An undignified rush for plum jobs will ensue, as memories are not helpful things to have in politics. At last, getting off the fence will provide these poor people with well deserved crotch comfort and at least someone is getting some relief somewhere.

 

 

Why Trump Will Win

The words ‘President Trump’ are some of the most repulsive and terrifying ones imaginable. Nonetheless, I think it will happen. If you haughtily cock your head and allow the merest hint of a Billy Idol sneer then you are one of the reasons why.

In my earliest days of selling I remember the old adage that you never called someone else’s baby ugly. It can have a face that looks  like it has been chasing parked cars, but it is still beautiful to its mother.

Trump appeals to the masses. That mass of people that we, in our intellectual bubble (that is you, you can read, you’re reading this ergo you are intellectual to them, plus you know what ergo means) simply don’t understand.

These people  lack identity and Trump’s message resonates with them. He knows this and he assures them that they can identify as American again and that he will make America great again. They will be great. Many have never been great, feel overlooked, neglected, passed over, victims. Well, no more. With ‘The Donald’ at the helm America will be great and they will be great once more.

Whether that can be intellectualised away means nothing to them. Donald has told them what the problem is and has promised to fix it. A nice and clean message from a guy that talks their language.

The intellectuals think that this is stupid. I agree. There is no sense in the demented ramblings of this egotistical sociopath. However, what I think Does. Not. Matter. Whatsmore, I and my ilk are not the gun-totin’, immigrant blamin’, downtrodden minority . This not so small minority votes too and they are voting Trump.

Hilary isn’t peddling a heady cocktail of freedom, identity, God and whiteness. Oh no, she is a criminal elite that sucked the fine United States into this mess. Her and that pseudo Kenyan guy that made it into the White House. They are the people to blame according to Trump.

If there are more who swallow the rousing ‘yee-hah’ chorus of identity, greatness and blame, than us thoughtful folks then tough shit, common sense loses. In the meantime we can wrap ourselves in our intellect, make snide remarks about egomaniacal racists etc and write articles in magazines that the Trump voters never read, and cometh the day we’ll all be wringing our hands and setting the Internet on fire asking how it could have all gone so wrong.

The answer is you. You sneered at ‘those people’ who couldn’t think like you can. You called the dang baby ugly. It is more than scary: it is quite possible. Brexit anyone?

 

Not Much Then

My ambition is to win a funded PhD. Simple, low-level, not much. Just the hardest thing I have ever done.

It is easy to say it and sometimes hearing myself commit is an appropriate spur to action. I have now publicly nailed my colours to the proverbial mast. To this end I was going back and forth with a soon to be tutor and they kindly produced this simple guide for me:

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A PhD proposal should look along the lines of:

Rationale

• What’s the problem

• Why is it problematic

• What, therefore, is your Central Research Question

Aims and Objectives

• How will you answer this question 

• What are your sub-research questions

• What is your interesting angle

Research Context

• What is currently said in the literature?

• Where is the hole?

• How will you fill it

Methodology

• What methodological strategy will you employ?

• Why is that the most appropriate way of conducting this type of research

• What is it you will get out of doing this and why is this the most appropriate way to answer this question?

• How will you limit risk?

Personal Impetus (optional)

• Why this project?

• How will your UG diss and MA build into this project?

>

So, nothing much really. And I need to have this all nailed by Christmas. Which is why I intend to move to Sheffield in a rented room and become slightly monkish.

Up All Night

I can’t be the only one that snaps awake in the middle of the night and then can’t get back to sleep for worrying? It never seems as bad in the morning, which begs the question why it feels so worrying at 0200h? It is sometimes hard to tell if it is just bad dreams or actually lying awake. Am I being glibly dismissive now when I ought to be worrying more?

I got bad news yesterday regarding a scholarship I had applied for. I am not bitter, it was hard fought and I didn’t get it. Move on. Still, I can’t help but think what 10k would have meant to me. I wonder if that was what pinged me awake. I can’t remember.

Why, after the obligatory visit to the loo (Over 40 so it is always a good tactical move) I expect to lie down and just zonk out. That is how it used to happen. Someone has changed the script; I didn’t get the memo.

Dom

PS: I love nature. But birds, 0314h to start chirping? Wtf? Part of my irrational thoughts were devoted to devising a silent  toxic mist making machine to gas you little fuckers. Just saying.

PPS: If a prospective employer comes digging about, and surely they will, then this is how I roll.

Decoupling Eugenics From Race Class And Gender: Can It Be Done?

Is this even possible? I believe that with the advances in genetic (I use the term broadly) science the human race has gained a credible means of insight into the how and why of many inherited diseases. If eugenic practice was a voluntary undertaking where, regardless of one’s race, class or gender, the state offered equal access to all to discover more about their genetic predisposition, so that they can choose if they want to breed, that would be a good thing to eliminate some diseases.

There are many  many issues with this utopian view of choice being in the hands of the people. There are many issues and to touch on a few: Firstly, wealth is an issue. National wealth in the form of countries means that this would only be possible in some parts of the world. In others the richest could do this and the poorest could not even dream of it. Secondly, education is key. What is the point of clutching test results that you are unable to contextualise, analyse and render you liable to irrational influencers such as theists or racists? Thirdly, unless there exists (and there still doesn’t) an equality of the sexes then the more powerful, – usually us men – could exert a greater than 50% influence of a decision making process. Finally, until we look at ourselves as one human race then it is unlikely that eugenics will lose its Nazi/Racist/Sexist/Classist taint.

Eugenics is a fine theory for improving the health of the population but it is fraught with impossibilities that we, the people trying to improve ourselves, bring to it. Introduce me to someone who isn’t prejudiced. We are all prejudiced to a greater or lesser extent, so we are condemned to try and learn to be satisfied with who we are. Warts and all.

 

 

In which I mourn apostrophes

Musings from the sofa

So, I’m recruiting at the moment and it’s something of an eye-opener. The covering letters have been ghastly, to the point where I think there must be an automated covering letter generator, into which prospective employees load a few generic skills. Then they push a button and the generator vomits forth a few paragraphs of meaningless business jargon in seemingly random order. Still, at least they’re helpful in weeding out those who can’t be bothered to sort out even glaring errors.

If I have survived this trial by verbiage, I’m next faced with the CVs of doom. Time after time, hopeful candidates reference their ‘GCSE’s and A-Level’s’. It is, of course, difficult for me to imagine that anyone who can perpetrate such a horror has actually obtained so much as a cycling proficiency badge, let alone a degree and a couple of years of work experience. My colleagues tell me…

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Being Assaulted

Last night I was assaulted in my own bed, and it was great.

C. 2230h I was busy achieving a semi-comatose state when I became aware of a disturbance. All of a sudden the covers were whipped from me and with a fearsome thump a body landed in the space beside me.

Now I was awake and in the gloom I realised that I was in for a bit of a hard time. Right beside me was a thrashing, kicking, snuffling thing, breathing noisily through its mouth. My brain eventually worked its way through the syrupy gloom of sleep and I realised. It’s Héloïse.

I am too tired to care plus it’s kind of sweet I tell myself.  She proceeds to make herself comfortable and sod me. I eventually wrestle some duvet back, explain is some rather base language that I am not there to be elbowed and kicked, for what it’s worth.

I make it to 0430h before I start to toss and turn, woken because someone half my size and strength has managed to appropriate about 85% of the available duvet and mattress real-estate. It’s like the shifting front in WWI and I reclaim a bit more ground, though I know it will only be a temporary thing and with the weary resignation of Mr E Blackadder I eventually concede defeat and rise for coffee.

It’s wonderful and I hope that Neverneverland envelops Jericho, she doesn’t age and keeps coming to snuggle in my bed from time to time. Sadly, I know it is unlikely to happen that much more.