Death to the Infidels

Who knows where the phrase came from, but it’s interesting that we think it’s Islamic; or maybe Christian. Actually, the protocol is built into all species. If you meet someone who’s not of your clan, kill him or run from him seems to be the rule. Many tribes have a term that translates as “human” and another word that means the opposite. It turns out the first term refers to tribe members and the second to non-tribe members.

Howard Bloom, in The Lucifer Principle, describes how cuddly a nest of rats is. They snuggle and preen each other like a litter of kittens. But drop a rat from another nest in there, and they tear the newcomer from limb to limb.

The harsh but interesting experiment is to take one of the nest mates out, clean off the scent, and roll him around in another nest’s materials until he smells like one of the others. You guessed it: drop him in with his loving kin and they tear him from limb to limb. Death to the strange-smelling-carrier-of-my-genes.

Bloom uses the story to demonstrate the beginnings of the meme as a support system for the selfish gene. It’s a reasonable enough marker to make the hostilities manageable, except for the occasional meddling researcher.

The Inclusion Revolution

I’ve suggested before that we, the inclusionists, are the interlopers here. We’re inclusionists because we’re computer/Internet/blogging people with real problems to solve and we need real help from each other. If you need to get your server back up, you’ll take help from anyone. If you disagree with someone’s sound bite, her blog may let you in on the quality of her thinking, and you’ll begin to see your similarities hidden among your differences.

When you’re troubleshooting, the enemy of your problem is your friend.

Troubleshooting doesn’t have much of a history. It’s not clear that prehistoric humans even possessed consciousness, if you buy Julian Jayne’s point of view. In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, He argues convincingly that, until about 22,000 years ago, the halves of the brain didn’t communicate so well, so their world was not causal but inspirational. When Homer describes the gods speaking to the Greek warriors, Jaynes takes it literally: the voice came from outside the brain the warriors normally used. If you’ve ever tried to manage a rigorous data or IT project through an organization, you know that most of the forces acting on its design are about turf, image, wishful thinking and ego as they are about listening to the technology.

Now that most of us have to deal with computers and complicated systems, we’re developing new skills. The adoption seems glacial, but it’s happening.

In his current InfoWorld article, XML for the rest of us, the ever insightful Jon Udell describes the enabling technology for developing useful XML schemas to map Office 11 docs to company needs:

…you can bind one or more XSLT stylesheets to the [Word] document, each of which can generate WordML styles and formatting.

The XML expertise needed to create schemas and XSLT transformations is scarce today. Once Office 11 hits the streets, its mainstream applications could arguably commoditize those XML skills more quickly and broadly than have Web services technologies.

Naturally, my ears prick up at the mention of carbon-based solutions, since that’s the world Xpertweb wants to support.

Shared Problems, Shared views

The nearly atrophied visionary within me has a sliver of hope. What if a public utility, Find-The-Expert, were developed, available to all and decentralized enough to be as scalable as the BIND DNS protocol. What if the mere availability of the right expert at the right moment unearthed a mountain of expertise to contain the reservoir of confusion that technology never promised but delivered anyway?

What if Udell’s recruits for building WordML XSLT transformations and WiMedia’s need for circuit designs and HP’s need for printer drivers and our useful web logs could be found and indexed and groomed and rewarded and partnered with to master these technologies that have made us so efficient we don’t have weekends any more?

If enough of us emigrate to a virtual workspace on the Internet, solving common problems to realize common dreams, we might learn that people are not believers or infidels, but rather children who become parents.

4:24:13 PM    

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