Revisionism

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I haven’t got into Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, but I’m really enjoying this podcast, which is quite short and high-level, but has some interesting scenarios. In the two episodes I’ve listened to so far, Gladwell has talked about moral licensing (how making a small concession is used as an excuse to withdraw from wider change), and the point that intelligence failure is inevitable as each agent listens to reports through their own lens.

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These points aren’t new, but his comparison of a Vietnam project spiralling out of control in search of more data with the current war on terror ($1m in 1965, versus 1271 state agencies investigating counter-terrorism in the US today), and of an 1870s artist who nearly became the first female member of the RA with Julia Gillard are interesting.

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My only suspicion is that Gladwell’s eagerness to demonstrate that the “forgotten” situations are still relevant to today skews his summaries of the past. I’d also argue that the past doesn’t need to be relevant to the future in order to legitimise it, and it’s a complex point how far we can learn from the past in any case, but that unaddressed overtone just makes the podcast more thought-provoking.

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