Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Why "Pragmatist"?

A pragmatist is simply someone who acts in an informed way to control his or her personal environment, using a combination of theory and practice. Or as John Dewey put it, "intelligent practice versus uninformed, stupid practice". As a lawyer working on innovative solutions to consumer problems, I see plenty of examples of both types of practice.

A pragmatist does not slavishly follow rules, or political dogma, or "positive thinking" or the herd. To do so would assume a world that is somehow ordered, whereas almost all significant events in history are Black Swans - surprise events that have a huge impact and which we rationalise by hindsight. Rules and dogma can turn out to be badly wrong. The herd is eventually caught out. So it's dangerous to follow. Instead, we must rely on experience and critcial thought to minimise our exposure to the downside of these surprise events, and maximise our exposure to the upside.

The combination of theory and practice that qualifies as "intelligent practice" involves trial and failure. It involves being sceptical and "contrarian". It encompasses the aggressive "tinkering" of entrepreneurs - facilitators - who have helped us wrest control of our own life experiences from the one-size-fits-all experience offered by the established music labels, book publishers, retailers, package holiday operators, banks and political parties. These facilitators make the difference between us 'raging against the machine' in a lone, fragmented way and acting together as individuals in a highly concentrated fashion. And this giant, boundaryless online community of practising individuals and facilitators characterises the "architecture of participation" that lies at the heart of "Web 2.0".

It's perhaps no surprise that the rise of Web 2.0 has coincided with a decline and low levels of trust in our institutions, and findings that "the level of alienation felt towards politicians, the main political parties and the key institutions of the political system is extremely high and widespread [yet...] very large numbers of citizens are engaged in community and charity work outside of politics. There is also clear evidence that involvement in pressure politics – such as signing petitions, supporting consumer boycotts, joining campaign groups – has been growing significantly for many years".

In other words, it may be that institutions are being marginalised by people pragmatically engaging with each other in their own digital communities, not only for retail purposes but also political, environmental, health, and economic reasons.

Big questions arise.

How do the institutions get it so wrong? How do facilitators succeed where institutions fail? How can we bridge the gap between what institutions say is right for us, and what is actually right for us personally? Could today's successful facilitators become tomorrow's institutions? Are today's institutions doomed? Or can they respond, re-organise and align themselves with how "we" individual citizens and consumers behave?

I explore these questions here, and look forward to discussing any thoughts or comments you have along the way.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would argue that, with concepts such as democracy and communism, they are fantastic and pure ideas in themselves. However, it’s those that assume control of these institutions that attempt to mold it to their own desires. Society as a whole is doomed to fail as long as the many follow the few. Why do the majority of people believe they need leaders in order for society to properly function? Leaders controlling politics and the government themselves, albeit they may have altruistic intentions, create ripple effects that eventually lead us into the same situations throughout history - wars, famine, genocide, generalized hate, and ethnocentricity. We as a race simply cannot open our eyes to these realizations and continue the historical patterns of our ancestors. History truly is doomed to repeat itself in a never ending cycle. Those that truly are altruistic and pure, to the extent they can possibly be, will never have positions of power because they desire no power. The contradiction that those in power consistently show is that once the power they claim to want and use for societal benefit is achieved, tge person is corrupted and the use of such power molded to their will. It is how it is and will be as it always has.

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