David Brooks in the NY Times writes about the tenor of public impatience with public institutions. “Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.”
Our modern tendency to understand human beings as analogues of computers, which I have begun to call “compumorphizing, gives this kind of result.
I saw that this had happened a short while ago. William Saletan has asked good questions about what happened here.
This inevitability was anticipated by an early joke of the computer era, about the world’s first fully automated flight, in which a the computer-generated recording announced, more or less, “Welcome to the world’s first computer-managed flight. You will enjoy a new world of comfort, conveniences, speed and safety on this flight. … Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong…can go wrong…can go wrong.”
The joke got the danger wrong. The problem is not malfunctioning computers. Nor is the problem malfunctioning people. People “malfunction” as an essential feature of our existential design, and our machines malfunction because we, imperfect and blind to our functioning, are their designers. On the other hand, our “malfunctioning” is the ground in which our freedoms are born, including what we call free will. Without malfunctioning, we have no invention, no new possibilities.
The danger is that the kind of beings we are is being redesigned by the tools and the world we have invented, and we are not observing what is happening.
This is an example of why I spoke so strongly against the metaphoric background that Jill Bolte Taylor spoke from in her poetic and inspiring TED Talk. When we are in the business of inventing what it is to be human and human futures, we should take care about what we are inventing.
Following the line of another joke, we should be careful that we do not end up where we are headed.
Tell me what you think.
For a decade or so I have been saying terrible things about our automobile companies, and for a couple of years I have been saying them here. (Bullshitting in the Economist is a suitably provocative example. You can search the blog for automobile, Toyota, or Detroit and you’ll get a bunch more.)
Now Toyota is about to pass GM as the #1 auto company in the world. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are not catching up. They are headed in the other direction. Yes, I know the same old excuses are still on the table, to which now we see added “this unexpected economic turnaround.” “Who could possibly have predicted….?” Anyone who was paying attention. Many are culpable. The auto executives, who stopped thinking and learning a long time ago. The media, who have been buying the excuses. The rest of us, who have not spoken out early enough or strongly enough. Our American style of bravado, in which, Rocky style, we praise what is “ours” no matter how obviously troubled it may be.
Business Week, in a December article about the world’s most influential companies, doesn’t spend much space on their automobiles. They tout the way that the quality of thinking in the company is being applied to other fields. Healthcare in this case. (Anne Miller gave me the article.)
Toyota deserves the praise it is getting. What a pity that with 50 years to listen to them – and they have been talking to us for that long, and they have not been hiding their secrets under baskets – we still don’t know how to listen to them.
Last week I had my first meeting with my new primary care doctor. He works with Qliance Medical Group here in Seattle. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with their services. I have already recommended here looking at what they do.
On March 26th, Dr. Garrison Bliss, who founded Qliance Medical, spoke to the Washington Association of Health Underwriters about the situation of healthcare in the US, and what to do about it. If you are concerned about healthcare, for yourself or for the nation, or for both, I strongly recommend listening to this talk. Listen here.
Bliss asks, Why do we have the healthcare system we have? His answer: we designed the system to work this way, albeit not with the intention of producing the results we have produced.
He asks, with the current system, who wins?
I offer homage to Waylon Jennings, for his song which echoes in my head as I think about what I want to say here, to Joe Alberti, the acting and drama coach whose comment I have been interacting with, and which inspired this posting, to Fernando Flores, teacher and mentor, and to Greg and Margaret and Shirah, faithful partners for reflection.
This posting has a moral: Be bloody careful about the language in which you make important interpretations, or your language will “invent you” as something you may not be happy with. Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons on October 28, 1944, said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (http://drmardy.com tells us that Churchill made the speech during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after it sustained heavy bombing damage during the Battle of Britain.)
We shape our language (our interpretations of the world, and the moods and distinctions in which we listen and speak), and afterwards our language shapes us.