Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Malcolm Gladwell Gets It Right

First real post since coming back from my cage.

As I will be spending some time later detailing where I think Gladwell is wrong, it is fair to lead with something he gets right, and how delightful he can be to listen to. He has 3-season series called Revisionist History on podcast.  I listened to about one-and-a-half seasons, and as I was unable to read without great effort, listening was a blessing.  He has a tendency to automatically question the conventional wisdom and try to see things from 45, 90, or 180 degrees. It is a GKC, Maimonides approach which wonders "Perhaps the opposite is also true." He is persuasive.  He writes as Orwell insisted, putting forth his theories simply and forcefully, with no attention given to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussion.

There is a bonus track to Season 3: Malcolm Gladwell Debates Adam Grant, who I had not previously heard of. Grant, discussing which professions typically have special insight into human nature, suggests comedians, a conventional-wisdom answer I have heard for so long that I cannot even remember when I first heard it.  Gladwell will have none of it. He immediately counters that comedy audiences have typically had a few drinks, come from a few narrow demographic groups, and have voluntarily placed themselves in a situation where they expect to laugh and are surrounded by others who know that laughing is the expected response. Estimating what they will find outrageous is one-dimensional, as they are not amused by what will press their limits, but by statements they think would bother the squares, who they are not allowed to offend at work or family Thanksgiving. How hard can it be? Malcolm asks. Even if people don't laugh very much, the comedian is not much harmed.

Grant pushes back, but this has clearly caught him by surprise and his arguments are lame. Gladwell stands firm, offering that an elementary school teacher likely has a better understanding of human nature in general, by encountering a greater variety of personalities under more demanding circumstances. It is comedians who keep telling us how difficult their job is and how well they understand humanity.  Why should we believe them? All one can really say is that they have good insight into what makes the people who pay to go see comedians laugh. How is that even useful, let alone wise?


hugh lygon said...

you need to go back to your cage, read Mein Kampf, then repent and stop being a transvestite nazi.

hitler is the way the truth and the life.

---BGI volunteer

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I can't delete anything that makes me giggle this much.

james said...

How accurate is the stereotype of a comedian who cultivates laughs to help mask his personal pain? If accurate, that would suggest an origin for the claim: "I know secret pain, so I know more than you do." Of course, you could counter-argue that that kind of pain isn't quite normal...