Monday, 3 April 2006

Hands up if you know what this means. You don’t?


I found out only recently, and feel rather self-conscious about using it. I tried it on a traffic warden but got a dusty answer. He said I was being unduly sesquipedalian. Not in so many syllables, of course.


Here, thanks to Hugh Fitzgerald, is the definition of a polypragmon, from Archaic and Classical Greece edited by Michael Crawford and David Whitehead.


"a polypragmon -- whether an individual (as in Aristoph. Ach. 833) or a whole polis -- must always be active, interfering in the affairs of others, neither keeping quiet themselves nor allowing others to be quiet...Athenians....were temperamentally, polypragmones whose dynamic imperialism disrupted everyone else’s lives”


Polypragmones are to be found all over Blair’s Britain. This wretched Government is full of them, continually passing laws regulating every aspect of our lives. Not content with banning smoking just about everywhere except prisons, they are now, in Scotland, banning actors from portraying smokers. Soon they will ban all references to Churchill. Saving us from Fascism pales into insignificance beside his smoking and drinking.


Polypragmonic behaviour takes three main forms in the UK, which I will deal with in ascending order of unpleasantness.


The first is the think tank. A think tank may be defined, admittedly by Wikipedia, as:


a group of individuals dedicated to high-level synergistic research on a variety of subjects, usually in military laboratories, corporations, or other institutions. Usually this term refers specifically to organisations which support theorists and intellectuals who endeavour to produce analysis or policy recommendations.


Think tanks are not always bad. Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, deserves an honourable mention. But is it possible to look without suspicion on a think tank like Demos, which has described itself as a “greenhouse for new ideas”?

"Demos is the think tank for everyday democracy. We believe everyone should be able to make personal choices in their daily lives that contribute to the common good." 



Its latest pamphlet, Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy: Why culture needs a democratic mandate, is rightly abused by Stephen Pollard in The Times. But you don’t even need to know what the pamphlet says to know that it is bound to be nonsense.

A think tank is not as bad as a quango. This may sound like a wild and dangerous Australian dog, but is in fact a dull and dangerous British committee, specifically a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation.

The UK government's definition of a quango is:

"A body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm's length from Ministers."


There are hundreds, possibly thousands of quangos in the UK, which, according to a report by Dan Lewis, are "financed with billions of pounds of taxpayers' cash – (and) are useless or duplicate each other's efforts". The people who serve on these committees are not elected and many have much more power to influence government thinking and policy than democratically elected backbench MPs. A typical example is Investors in People. Just about every organisation that has an Investors in People award is inefficient to deal with and intolerable to work for.


My third example of polypragmonics – if that is the right word – is the bastard child of the other two: the initiative. Whenever an organisation, be it Government or business, comes up with a “new initiative” my heart sinks. “Initiative” here invariably means its exact opposite, namely a new set of stultifying rules, designed to curb initiative, individuality and creativity. Employee surveys, together with surveys on the surveys – was this survey helpful to you? Strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree – fall into this category, as they often lead to dismal directives on such matters as “abuse” of post-it stickers. (This happened, by the way.) The management consultancy industry is awash with initiatives, usually involving delivering innovative solutions or a new mission statement.


Finally, it must be said that the polypragmonic are a joyless bunch. You can’t even make jokes about them. How many polypragmones does it take to change a light bulb?  See what I mean.

Posted on 04/03/2006 6:10 AM by Mary Jackson
3 Apr 2006
Send an emailMarisol Seibold
How many polypragmones does it take to change a light bulb?

Three will order a feasibility study on the replacement of light bulbs-- without consulting each other, but all billing the local government. A committee of five will look into environmental impact and fair-trade implications of where the light bulb is procured.

Seven others will engage in an exhaustive study of types of light bulbs-- frosted, tinted, black light, GE, Westinghouse, Sylvania. During this discussion, there arises the rumor that the CEO of Proctor & Gamble is Satan. Though utterly irrelevant, this must be followed up on.

Roughly nine weeks later, all parties reconvene to discuss their findings and draw up new "initiatives" (to borrow that neutered term mentioned above). Overwhelmed by the volume of data and the cost of replacing future light bulbs based on the precedent of this study, they hastily and unanimously vote to reinstate the candle.

So, the answer is fifteen, at a minimum, if one overlooks the fact that the lightbulb was never changed.

3 Apr 2006
Esmerelda Weatherwax
Light bulbs, don't talk to me about light bulbs.
I'm a senior lightbulb changer. I used to spend 90% of my time changing light bulbs and 10% of my time on other things. Now I spend 60% of my time changing light bulbs and 40 % of my time proving that I have changed them, providing data for the statistics team to show how we have met our light bulb targets, attending meetings on quality lightbulb assurance and dealing with members of the public who are unhappy that they have been waiting 6 weeks for their new light bulbs.
And the sisters collective with the clipboards (or these days a very expensive database that does not do what we need because nobody thought to ask us) are a higher grade and get paid more than me.

Q What do you call a dead parrot?
A A polygon.

11 Apr 2006
Send an emailTim Worstall
"How many polypragmones does it take to change a light bulb?" Is "A Toynbee" a uinit of account?

5 Jan 2007
Send an emailReactionry
Polygon Norwegian?/ Or: Change Diapers, Not Light Bulbs/ Or: Gelding the Blitzen/ Once as real as Churchill's surviving parrot, that bird has gone to join the sinecure invisible after opining for the Fjord Foundation. The head of Said foundation, former Finance Minister, Kristin Halvorsen, bristled at the suggestion that the foundation had rigged results of a study claiming that gender equity on off-shore platforms would not be increased by providing helicopter service to the last remaining North Sea moyel. She has also called for the sinking of off-shore "gypsy" radio stations, in spite of their service of providing timely reports of conditions at sea via the Romish Esmeralda* Weather Fax. Showing kinship with America's Henry Ford, she also called for denial of asylum to non-Muslim refugees transiting Germany, thus barring the Kyrghz Zwilinge./ No pots, kettles, Yid-rigging, Bris-led initiatives, or Sex Pistols' mondegreen, "frigid in the rigging" here. *See *Quasi-Mondo Cane*, the sequel to the previously mentioned flick which showed how Lapp lasses castrate Santa's reindeer. Also see "The Wind, Jammer and the Lion" and its beloved lyrics, "All the way from Norway."

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