Subway Sceptic

In amongst the standard issue ‘New York stylie’ graffiti I walked past yesterday was a quality thought. ‘Question everything’. This struck me as rather profound for a coastal Cornwall underpass. But who inspired the phantom sprayer? Was it:

1) The Sex Pistols – a call for ‘Anarchy in the UK’.
2) David Hume – there are absolute limits to what we can know.
3) Pyrrho – hold back on your judgements for a less troubled existence

I reckon a mix of 1) and 3). Two fingers to authority and a nod to the inalienable right to your own freedom to escape society’s preconceptions.

I read Wilhelm von Humbolt quoted by John Stuart Mill in his seminal ‘On Liberty’ yesterday:

From the union of ‘freedom’ and ‘a variety of situations’ arise ‘individual vigour and manifold diversity’ in society.

Mill himself goes on to say:

Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.

Graffiti is vandalism. And if we buy this weeks analysis that the cause of the UK’s ills is gangsta rap and consensual policing then the callow youth who sprayed his question (lots of assumptions here…) deserves his head cracking with a ‘zero tolerance’ truncheon.

But ‘epoché’. After Pyrrho, this week ‘I hold back’. I’ll suspend judgement and ignore Hesiod. Some questions are worth asking – and some liberties worth defending.

Corporate Punishment i) Questions

I’ve decided to begin an irregular series on ‘corporate’ behaviours which one encounters in large organisations.

Most of these start with the germ of a good idea from some management book or coach. Some are learnt through imitation and emulation. Taken to excess or with the wrong intent they stymie progress, sap energy and scupper decision making. A common feature is they are safe and look clever but often aren’t. As with so much in life, too much or too little is a vice – only the golden mean is a virtue.

Number one in the series is always asking questions and not stating your own view. Aristotle (not himself a man to beat around the bush) quotes a prior Greek, Hesiod, on this topic.

Hesiod is pungent as an old sock in his critique:

“He is best of all who of himself conceiveth things; Good again is he too who can adopt a good suggestion; But whoso neither of himself conceiveth nor hearing from another layeth it to heart; — he is a useless man.”

It takes Aristotelian effort to develop a new insight and the courage of Achilles to present a new idea. Listening, thinking, improving, adapting and adopting is what you want in return. Questions are too easy.