in joke

Malcom Gladwell is a very clever journalist and essayist who in primarilly interested in groups, communities, movements and how people are related to each other. His most recent book is “The Tipping Point.” He writes in the New Yorker. His articles, which appear in the New Yorker, are all available on his web site as PDF files.

His most recent essay “Group Think” pretends to be a book review, but really it’s a discussion of how little very intense creative communities tend to be where great things happen. It’s a nice way to look at the role of the issolated niche as the place where fresh stuff emerges.

The book as about Saturday Night Live, which is a sweet oportunity for Gladwell since it gives him a series of jokes he can use as exemplars of how an artistic movement (or any movement for that matter) creates a fresh way of looking at the world. The movement’s “in joke” so to speak.

In the Open Source Movement one of our traditional stories contrasts the open market with the hierarchtically control. It’s an old story – the open source community version was told by Eric S. Raymond in an essay called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. Eric tells it in a the libertarian version.

Gladwell’s essay includes this version of the story from a 1960s British satirical piece. The setup: The speaker is playing Sir Basil Spence, the architect of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. The Cathedral was distroyed during the second world war.

“First of all, of course we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the German people for making this whole project possible in that first place. Second, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Coventry itself, who when asked to choose between having a cathedral and having hospitals, schools and houses, plumped immediately (I’m glad to say) for the cathedral, recognizing, I think, the need of any community to have a place where the whole community can gather together and pray for such things as hospitals, schools and houses.”

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