Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Socialism*

So... I am back from the Hot Place. I missed a night's sleep in the process and am going through that weird not-quite-jetlag conflict-zone thing where you are fine for most of the day then fall heavily asleep at a random time and wake up in the middle of the night disoriented, thirsty and tearful.

Off and on, there and here and in between, I have been thinking about tomato's razor-sharp post on disaster tourism.

So... why did I go? The short answer is because they asked me to. There isn't much I can say about the specifics, but there are some serious information management 'challenges' (quite how serious I had no idea till I got there, to be honest).

Did I make any difference? Yeah, a bit. And could make more if a) I follow a few things up from here with the high-ups and the techies, and b) I go back early next year to do a bit more work with people there. I represent reasonable value for money. You get a lot out of me.

But those are the easy questions. I thought about some of the harder ones as well.

Why was I there to be asked? Mmm. Because I have more or less worked out what I'm good at, and I have more or less worked out that a) I need to be doing it -- ie that indolence is not good for me -- and that b) the end result of my labours needs to be convergent. I'm not an artist, I'm not a capitalist. But I'm not an altruist either. My motivations are as selfish as the next person's, but maybe less realistic: I think the best chance we have is via a fairer world. But I don't go out literally feeding the poor or negotiating with the G8. I'm an applied egalitarian. It's a bit weak, when you look at it hard. Unless you can be sure that good information management changes the world.

Which of course you can't. The biggest question of all is... should well-meaning organisations intervene in times of conflict, famine and flood (or is it true, as John Cage might say, and M points out from time to time, that if you try to improve the world you only make it worse)? There is no such thing as a neutral intervention, and even those with the most benign intentions can have, over decades, over centuries, potentially catastrophic unforeseeable consequences. The road to hell etc.

On the other other other hand...
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. (Mohandas Gandhi)
All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men (sic) to do nothing. (Edmund Burke)

What's a girl to do?


* with apologies to Max Weber, who, in his way, changed my life.



Blogger tomato said...

I'm not sure what a girl's to do...still thinking on that one and probably always will, all the while saying yes and no to this and that, as and when I think it might matter. Or not. It's *that* clear to me. :-/

I imagine your presence has had a significant impact on the tangle that is the information in that little part of the Hot Place...people's jobs will be a little easier, things will happen with less friction, wheels might turn with fewer bumps...

...I guess a girl's to do what she thinks and feels is relevant, based on what she knows and believes her part to be. That, or we could all just head to Starbucks and stage a mass suicide by mocha foam inhalation.

6:04 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

A little easier, yes. I hope. If I asked the right questions and listened hard enough to the answers and people believed I knew what I was talking about (if indeed I did know) and decided the benefits were worth the cost of doing something differently. It doesn't take much for it all to fall apart, does it?

But then you have to do *something*. Even doing nothing is doing something, once you're doing more than staying alive. It's enough to send you running for the nearest Nick Drake album.

8:14 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

... and I was in a Starbucks on Friday, for the first time in ages. They've got enough foam for all of us, for sure. One of their giant mug-fulls would probably do it. We could suggest it as part of their corporate social responsibility program?

8:17 pm  
Blogger tomato said...

'We could suggest it as part of their corporate social responsibility program?'

Your snarl makes all of me laugh, even the Nick Drake bits :-)

6:12 pm  

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