Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

12 May

My university’s philosophy department hosted a number of guest speakers earlier this semester so that students could have at least a very limited say in which of the newly anointed Doctors of Philosophy be hired for an open teaching position.  One applicant, who described himself as a “keeping-it-realist,” focused his lecture on honor-based cultures.

In this view– life is competition, with status, ranking, and position paramount.  A person who participates in this perpetual game with personal integrity would be considered honorable: ranking among honorable persons would be hierarchical, but any individual who didn’t lie, cheat, or distress damsels could walk down the street with head high.  An individual who did lie, cheat, or distress damsels would be considered dishonorable, with lesser status.

Now this is serious business, and why, quoth the speaker, “you don’t joke with a knight.”

But there’s a third category: the nonhonorable, who simply aren’t in the political game at all.  A court jester, for example, could joke with a knight (rather, joke at the knight) with impunity (tell me about it, Lear said).

This third category, the nonhonorable, is for me the more interesting option, and I was reminded of it while reading Cory Doctorow’s (fantastic) book Down and Out in the Magic Kindom (which you can read in its entirety, completely free of charge or guilt, if you click on this link, thanks to Creative Commons licensing).  Spoiler-free excerpt below:

“The ad-hocs who had built an Imagineering department in Florida and now ran the thing were the least political in the Park, classic labcoat-and-clipboard types who would work for anyone so long as the ideas were cool. Not caring about Whuffie meant that they accumulated it in plenty on both the left and right hands.”

Note: “Whuffie” equals status.  And yes, your thinking is correct– Disneyworld (or rather, the Bitchun Society) has taken over the world.

But what sparked my memory here is the reference to the researchers being a-political: the academic set, as our lecturer informed us, were traditionally considered nonhonorable too.

Wouldn’t that be something, if research or technology could be pursued just “so long as the ideas were cool,” without becoming entangled in an impenetrable web of political/ideological concerns (concerns concretized in legislation and regulation)?  As Doctorow might say– “very Bitchun.”


One Response to “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”


  1. Blog about Technology News - May 12, 2009

    […] here:  Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom    Posted in Technology, tech   […]

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