Building Blocks

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
~Noam Chomsky

Every now and then I run into a word that sounds like a good thing. “Tolerance” is one such word, which I’ve blogged on before. Surprisingly, consensus can be another. Mind you, it’s not always, just sometimes. Groups of people try to reach consensus so they can agree upon a plan for accomplishing something without anyone being left out of important decision-making, or without missing good ideas to be gleaned from a variety of viewpoints.

But “consensus-building” exercises can sometimes have the terrible effect of watering everything down to the lowest common denominator, and eliminating novel ideas in favor of mediocrity. Other times they just result in the dread ‘paralysis by analysis’. In worst-case scenarios, they can “railroad” decisions through an unsuspecting group, leaving individuals feeling slightly queasy and dissatisfied at the results, but not understanding why that would be because they seemed to have reached that consensus from a lot of thoughtful group effort.

I’ve sat through a lot of meetings in my life. Usually they begin with lots of carbohydrates & caffeine, useful additions to the social grooming-behaviour necessary to boost bonhomie and settle the humans down to coöperative activity. After the pleasantries, we start off with a positive programme goal, the sort of thing that everybody can agree upon. That’s cool. We now begin with shared vision and collective purpose.

Then at one meeting I felt like everything went sideways and inside-out, a sort of seminar-vertigo. Worse, no one else seemed to be experiencing it. Read the rest of this entry »