December 13, 2019 by Rasmus Bjerg

No! that’s not what you want, you want this

No! that’s not what you want, you want this

Staying true to the main theme of this blog site, academic conceit; it would be unfair to claim that academics have monopoly on conceit as it is one of the omnipresent deadly sins, or at least it’s the cousin of pride. I’m definitely not above it, and guilty of occasionally being conceited, after all I’m a human and therefore I’m not perfect.

Yes, I’m on occasion conceited – but here is the big difference between me and the general population; I want, nay, I demand to be told even by strangers when they detect that I’m conceited, because it’s very difficult to see your own shortcomings so you really need others to see yourself reflected back at you. I have no desire to walk around as a conceited person, that’s the easy solution and it is very counter productive if you have higher goals in life.

People are generally not conceited out of malevolence, they are conceited because it’s a very facile thing for humans, and people have come to perceive conceit as a positive trait associated with power and high social ranking. Everyone has someone above them, and if you are met by conceit by your overlords – then you will, perhaps, unconsciously pass it on to the people that are below you. Conceit rolls downhill all the way from the top down to the very bottom of society, it’s poison to the soul and the sabot in sabotage, which means to "walk noisily" in french, as was done by poor sabot-wearing laborers when they interrupted production during labor disputes.

I really don’t have any problem with people being conceited, God bless their poor souls, as long as they don’t obstruct me in whatever venture I’m contemplating. However that’s apparently too much to ask, I find that I often hear variations of the below phrase when I impart to others what often can be considered as being unconventional in the literal sense.

“No! that’s not what you want, you want this”

That is what I consider to be a plain attempt at discouragement and not an open invitation for a collaborative and constructive discussion of whatever unconventional proposition I may have. No, my proposal is immediately identified as being unconventional and therefore it must be a blatant mistake on my behalf, and therefore it is the other person’s moral and civic duty to guide me back on the straight path without even extending me the courtesy of understanding my proposal.

You know crabs, those delicious spidery crustaceans best served with melted butter, if you take a bunch of live crabs and put them in a bucket they understandably start to feel trapped, and so they start behaving in a very particular way. While any one crab could easily escape the bucket on its own, its efforts will be undermined by the other crabs who keeps pulling the prospective escapee back into bucket, thus ensuring the group's collective demise. It’s easy to draw a human analogy here; members of a group will attempt to reduce the self-confidence of any member who achieves something beyond the others, out of – well, basically any of the seven deadly sins will serve the purpose here, to halt their progress.

I’m not suggesting that crabs have the ability to feel conceit, it could be that crabs are more evolved than humans, they have simply done away with all reason and feelings and just undermine their peers in the same way that we humans waft pesky flies away from our face without even thinking about it. Maybe the crabs are an eerie precursor of the next step in human evolution, or maybe not, but it’s an interesting thought though.

As the great scientist Max Planck, the originator of the quantum theory and a Nobel laureate in physics, said in his 1948 book Wissenschaftliche Selbstbiographie:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it

It seems that Max Planck believed that human progress only occurs from funeral to funeral. I have two issues with his deduction: I don’t believe that the natural death of the old guardians alone can sustain human progress, the new generation is educated under the auspices of the old guardians and the young and impressionable minds are inevitably contaminated to some degree, but here’s my biggest issue with Max Planck’s deduction:

I don’t have time to wait for other people to die.

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