May 28 2009

Nexus and Small World Theory

by at 10:13 am under Uncategorized

The “lightbulb moment,” in which one’s eyes widen, breath is drawn in, and a rude interruption of ones conversant inevitably follows, represents the act of having an “idea.”  The experience of it is a surprise, as if the idea could not have happened if it was expected.  Ideas are rarely something ordered a la carte, wholesale or for take out.  Insomuch as we have little control over ideas, it is exceptional how much ideas reflect our own experiences, learning and attitudes.  The pervasive way in which we inhabit others’ ideas, however, is even more profound.

I confess, my ideas are rarely my own.  Even those fleeting brain spasms that I might believe novel or original are inevitable outcomes from the accumulation of experience—an imposition by my parents’ values, for example, or a knee-jerk effort to fit into a social group.  To say that ideas are socially constructed is to state an obvious fact, as if the hermetically sealed brain could find the stimulation amidst its environment to make something of nothing.  Fat chance.

Recently, I watched a documentary about the Mass Games, an institutionalized instantiation of the North Korean cult of personality.  My interest in this subject was inspired by a certain close somebody, the font of many of my ideas these days.  The strong ties I have with this somebody were built through our proximity in graduate school, shared interests, network of friends, and other, less definable things.  Yet, my interest in the ghastly lives of the North Korean people is not ‘because’ of my close tie here in the District, but rather because of the many other connections beyond that person: to Asia, to cultural identity, to a particular group of people.  Lacking personal connections to the Mass Games is not an obstacle in the way of thinking about them, considering them in relation to my other, more derivative ideas of personal fulfillment, political leadership, art, and spectacle.

The degrees of separation between me and the Mass Games are many, but ideas form the bridges that bring me close to the Mass Games.  While abrupt, let me consider this in relation to international development: it was a lack of ideas that doomed the Washington Consensus to groupthink.  Their lack of ideas stemmed from their homogeneity, the lack of ideas became malignant when combined with the power to impose their values of the structures that controlled the lives of the countless millions in the developing world.  It would follow, then, that local expertise needs to infiltrate the 19th St. institutions in DC, but it also suggests that the expertise must be varied.  A Bangladeshi economist educated in the London School of Economics might not provoke the new ideas required to bridge the gaps between the traditional international development strategies and those that are game changing.  Perhaps, I submit, the local expertise needs to be a bit more conventionally local, the better to inspire more the unconventional in the minds of the insular.

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