The promise broken by robo-job armageddon

The difference between the world you were promised and educated for …and the one that’s hurtling towards you.


Beating up clowns

Hugh Romney was a political activist in the tempestuous, flower-powered, revolutionary1960s. He was frequently arrested at demonstrations. Recovering from one particularly bad beating at a protest he decided to serve as a clown at a local children’s hospital. This he felt would help his recovery from a severe post-surgical depression.

“One day I had to go to a political demonstration at People’s Park and I didn’t have time to change my clothes or take my makeup off.”

And because he “just shot down there” in a rush he discovered that he was wearing a magical cloak of protection. ” I discovered that the police did not want to hit me anymore. Clowns are safe,” he said.

The police it turns out just don’t like beating up clowns. Certainly they don’t like being filmed beating up clowns. After that Romney attended all protests as a clown.

Everyone has biases and prejudices. Most of them are unknown to us. Some prejudices cause certain groups to get beaten up more. But others can be a surprising source of protection.

Romney became known as Wavy Gravy after a pop festival in Texas. Romney was the MC and had collapsed with exhaustion on the stage and asked BB King just to play around him while he lay on the stage. You’re all “wavy gravy” said King.  And like the clown suit  - he decided to stick with it.

Ben & Jerry’s named one of their ice cream flavours after Wavy Gravy.

Ben & Jerry’s have baggage too. It’s unlikely they would ever have called an ice cream flavour, Hugh Romney.


The bear’s house


A grumpy one-eyed bear?

Not so.  This is the bears’ house.

The bears rumble homewards after a long day catching trout in mountain streams. In the dusk the moon rises over the hills. And from the cave-house the golden glow of a warm fire shines out of the door, warning that someone is home sitting in their chairs, eating their porridge…

bears house 3

(a growing collection of sidewalk inkblots can be found on my tumblr)


Sidewalk inkblots

If I had a view like this to look down on every day, I would have the energy and inspiration to conquer the world.

The trouble is, when you most need such a view, no-one gives it to you.

- Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad


I mean, who doesn’t know about ink blot experiments? A psychologist asks a patient to tell them what they see when they look at random inkblot patterns and from the answer they infer something about their personality.

I’d like to show how the creative catalyst of inkblots can be found in pavements.

But first, the inkblots. Named after the Swiss psychologist who invented them, “Rorschach” tests are used to assess a patient’s emotional state, mental acuity and so on.

In the typical Rorschach test the patient is given ten inkblots to consider and discuss. Only a small part of the insight comes from what the patient actually perceives.

It’s *how* they behave that tells the psychologist a lot. For example – Does the patient rotate the cards? Do they ask permission to rotate the cards or do they just do it? Do they stare at them long and hard or just peremptorily? Are they careful about what they say or do they talk long and freely about the different things they see?

There’s an even older history of interpreting inkblots for fun. Initially in Germany Justinus Kerken produced book called Klesksographien in which he decorated inkblots with embellishments and poems.

Then at the turn of the century some US writers proposed that Gobolinks, as they called them were a fun way to imagine monsters and fire up your creative daemon.

Which brings me to the pavements that I have been photographing (which surely tells a psychologist a lot).

It began when, for an art project, I was building an alphabet out of photographed cracks in pavements. I’m still building that and it’s just as hard as you always thought it would be (Right? because you’d often wondered….).

So all of a sudden I’m interrogating sidewalks for their creative potential. And I saw that the cracks and dents in pavements are like inkblots.

cracks and dents


The random and ambiguous patterns they create can be interpreted as almost anything. Like a gobolink.


This is good news for those of us who spend too much time in the urban jungle staring at their feet. Because God knows such poor souls as we are, need to work harder for inspiring views than our friends living by the sea, mountains, fields and woodlands.


So here’s my cure for boring sidewalks. Let your imagination loose and see whether there isn’t a better view really hidden in that boring tarmac and those implacable paving stones.

And this of course, is a heart shaped sun rising over the pyramids.



Sure, I’d rather have a view of the snow-capped Alps, the Mediterranean sea, or sip my coffee while gazing at the Wildebeest surging across the Zambezi pursued by crocodiles and lions.

But “when you most need such a view, no-one gives it to you”.

So now I’m finding them myself.

(a growing collection of sidewalk inkblots can be found on my tumblr)

The very convincing prejudices of smart people

On the whole, if someone agrees with you then they seem intelligent, understanding and their opinion well-reasoned.

If they disagree then they  seem arrogant, ill-informed or just plain prejudiced.

We all share this tendency and it leads to narrow thinking and won’t get you very far (Though you may do well in politics).

When a challenging piece of information or a new interpretation of an event comes your way you can do one of two things.

i) You can accept it which requires changing your view of something or someone.

ii) Or you can apply  billions of grey cells to explaining how this proves your opinion is right all along OR that the new information is flawed.

Both approaches demand brain power.

As Charles D Ellis wrote:

“Faced with information that contradicts what they believe, human beings tend to respond in one of two ways. Some will assimilate the information, changing it – as oysters cover an obnoxious grain of silicon with nacre – so they can ignore the new knowledge and hold on to their former beliefs, and others will accept the validity of the new information. Instead of changing the meaning of new data to fit their old concept of reality, they adjust their perception of reality to accommodate the information and put it to use.”

The oyster approach, as Ellis describes it, seems daft. It’s a denial of reality.The advantage goes to the person who accepts the new knowledge and does something with it.

So the person who accepts the new knowledge would be the smart one. Or so it seems.

The trouble is it’s people with the intellectual firepower and creativity who are best able to convince themselves that the old, invalid position remains the right one and screw the new information.

Maintaining such conviction despite the facts requires twisting and turning reality, swapping cause and effect and other elaborate mental con-jobs.

And yet, if you’re smart enough to do all this then you’re smart enough to see the holes in the shoes of your thinking. So what’s going on?

Ellis explains: “Psychologists advise us that the more important the old concept of reality is to a person – the more important it is to his sense of self esteem and sense of self-worth the more tenaciously he will hold on to the old concept and the more insistently he will assimilate or reject new evidence that conflicts with his old and familiar concept of the world. This behaviour is particularly common among very bright people because they can so easily develop and articulate self-persuasive logic to justify the conclusions they want to keep.”

It’s why very bright people can hold some absurd prejudices and magical beliefs. Such prejudices , self-serving arguments and ego-driven thinking are hidden from each of us. And the smarter you are the better you can hide them.

What’s the solution?

Being humble is a start: Put your own ideas under the microscope in the same way that you examine those of someone else. try to see the baggage you are carrying with you.

The Cambridge psychologist Robert Thouless explained:

“If we see another man holding opinions that correspond to his wishes we suspect that these opinions are prejudices, and if we notice ourselves holding opinions that correspond to our own wishes we have equally good grounds for suspecting prejudice. If we find ourselves getting angry when some cherished belief is questioned, we may suspect that that belief is a prejudice based on irrational grounds just as we would if we observed another man unreasonably touchy about an opinion. We are not likely to understand fully the irrational sources of our opinions, but we can have some knowledge of them if we examine our own opinions as critically and un- sympathetically as we do the opinions of others.”


Fickleness as strength

Always be abandoning your best ideas.

The strength of your best opinions is that you hold them in low regard. Only such humble arguments will be whittled and moulded, or cast aside and replaced to accurately fit the facts as they emerge and morph.

Principles on the other hand, are fundamental truths that do not change like the wind. These are your values, your moral code, the things that matter. Your true north.

But for your opinions it’s a different story. So long as you are prepared to discard these whenever new facts emerge and invalidate them, then you may easily change your mind without a sense of dread. That’s how you trade up the quality of your ideas.

Such fickleness is a big advantage in our hyper-speed, uber-connected world where facts change all the time. Consequently, those with the humility to admit current ideas are wrong, accept change and adopt new thinking are the ones who will adapt best and think the biggest.

Admitting an idea is no longer valid may feel like a weakness but in reality it is how you grow.

Because here’s the flip side:  If your opinions are too important to your sense of self to dare change them, if you must resist and defend every argument no matter what the facts are or what the reasoning is then you will not learn much that is new.

In a world that changes as fast as ours this is a self-defeating stance to take.

Insisting on always being right increases the chances of always being wrong. After all, defending your opinion may also mean denying new facts or clinging to old consistencies. This is a loser’s game.

Winners, perversely, are those that are the fastest to realise their understanding is wrong or out of date. This liberates them to do something about it.

In our world of permanent accelerating change you might be right when you form your opinion but you will probably be wrong by the time you defend it to the death.


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