Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A little internal struggling and frustration

One of my favourite authors is Douglas Adams.  I have to confess I am a great devotee of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and all its humour, wit and great knowledge.  I love the random improbability drive, pangalatic gargleblasters and of course, the ultimate answer being 42.

The great thing for me about Adams is his ability to burst pomposity and send up those who think they know best.  It is one way to keep yourself grounded and to try and avoid putting yourself in the position of someone being sent up!

One phrase that sounds like it ought to belong to Douglas Adams is 'the power of ignorance.'  

The power of ignorance is, so far as I am concerned, the power all of us witness everyday where those who know less than you or me do, say or  attempt things that we know are wrong, stupid or simply won't work.  You and me are, of course, terribly smart because you see the flaws in what is being attempted; we can see the errors and the fallacies.  Matters get frustrating when you attempt to explain the fundamental errors only to be met with the 'power of ignorance' in other words what can seem like a wilful failure to address what you know and have shown to be wrong.  This arises largely because the 'ignorant one' simply doesn't get it, or understand it whatever 'it' is.

For both the powerfully ignorant and the well-endowed-with-knowledge this can be an intensely frustrating experience.  There is no meeting of minds - often there is a clash of un-feasibly large egos.

I'm going through this problem at the moment.  For reasons of decency and decorum I won't go into details - however I know that my limits of tact and diplomacy will be tested probably beyond my normal sang froid and good humour - if I attempt to engage further.  It reminds me of one of the most startling comments I heard in my day job.  

I was advising a company being prosecuted for health and safety violations after a very serious accident.  A worker had his arm amputated from the shoulder after having become trapped in an in running nip - ie in between two cogged wheels each running in to each other.  The local health and safety rep for the company was also the trade union shop steward.  I asked him why, in spite of all the training he and his colleagues had had the worker in question had done something stupid which had led to his arm being amputated.  The reply was 'You can't educate wood.'  The comment shocked me then, especially coming from a trade union rep.

The phrase still shocks me today - although I cannot think of a better way of explaining the powerfully and persistently ignorant - in other words those who don't attempt to check whether they are being ignorant or stupid.

One good reason to keep quiet is I'm ugly enough to realise that whilst I may perceive myself as being on the 'knowing side' this time - I am sure there are many, many times I have displayed the powerful force of ignorance myself.  Good reason to remain quiet and humble.  I may even be wrong this time - but I doubt it!

And now back to Douglas Adams:

“One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphood was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so— but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence, the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous.”