Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Saturday, February 12, 2005

No signal, some complaints

It's generally considered impolite to admit certain people had a point. Hitler, for example. Thatcher, Major and all those other tyrants certainly. But I'm starting to wonder about the Unabomber. And there's a song on my walkman that neatly sums up what's on my mind.

I'm several hundred feet below the nearest phone signal on my way over to my sister's. Heading to her place has always been a good way of taking a break from the world for a few days, and I always use the journey to reflect on successes and, er, errors of judgement.

It was my first psychology tutorial this morning, and I was making a very good impression right up until the moment we moved onto ethics in experiments. There's quite a famous set of ethically questionable work carreid out by Henry Murray; it involved lying to and manipulating young volunteers and essentially messing with their heads. And no-one's really quite certain what the aim of the experiment actually was. So far so academic, but one of the volunteers was a brilliant but asocial young student called Theodore Kaczynski. Admittedly the majority of students didn't go on to become Unabombers, but you have to wonder.

Of course, when someone asked who the Unabomber was, I may have betrayed the depth of my knowledge. And I was getting some very strange looks right up to the point I finally shut up.

I've never liked those people who have an encyclopedic knowledge of criminals; they tend to be the mostly ones to become copycat killers. But Kaczynski's story has everything; genius, insanity, some sort of misguided plan for reforming society, and, well, some beliefs that aren't a million miles away from my own. Before retreating to his shack in the woods, this man carried out work in an obscure field of pure mathematics that's still unrivalled in its brilliance; admittedly I couldn't pass a physics degree, but I think it's a story with salutory lessons to all of us that think about things a little too much. How could it go so badly wrong?

I was sounding a bit Unabomberish yesterday with my rant about advertising. Kaczynski had a conviction that scientists were developing ways of manipulating people's behaviour. There's a school of thought that he got that idea from Professor Murray. And you see where I'm going with this one, right? All these people in pain in the world, and psychologists get into bed with advertisers.

So, just how mad is this man? Well, I decided to bite the bullet and acquire a pair of tongs and the Unabomber's manifesto. It's been a painful 20 paragraphs, and I can safely say that it's so far rambling and valueless. Not least in that he seems to think it's the Left destroying American society. So far so barking. But maybe it will be a valuable lesson; 1 or 2 good points in 250kb of nonsense does not make someone a great sociologist or representative of a rich seam of thought lurking under the surface of society. Technology and modern society are what you make of it and not things to despise; the secret is to make it work for you whilst living a life that is definitively yours. Sending mail bombs just makes a mess.

I'm still a long way underground, and still waiting to pick up a signal. I'll probably get one at Canary Wharf and I'll tell my sister what time to expect me and yes fajitas for dinner would be fantastic.

Next tutorial in a month. Maybe I should talk about my clients a bit.


Anonymous Mr F said...

Congratulations, I believe you're the first person to ever have referred to John Major as a tyrant. And in the same paragraph as Hitler too!

As far as I understood, JM was the complete opposite in that he did everything by committee, because he was trying not to be Maggie. He failed for the opposite reason to Mrs T.

Also, No Signal No Complaints has the undertone that he wants to get away from his daily life, which technology is keeping him from doing. Anyone else round here want to get away?

8:38 pm

Blogger presenttense said...

Alright, it may just read that way! Like the time I appeared to refer to Esther Ranzen supporting Apartheid...

Hmm, been listening to that song quite a lot lately. And we all need to get away for a bit.

Haven't got your current email btw, can you send me a mail? And Look Around You if you have it on video!

10:32 pm


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