THE OPPOSITE OF X IS NOT Y, IT IS Q. (Thinktool #17)

Ben Taylor said, elsewhere on this blog: ” I like your Johann Hari connection (I had tweeted this article from other sources with the pull quote

“the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s human connection.”

(You can find the Hari item, and Ben’s comment by entering ‘Hari’ in the search box over there on the top right. There should be only two results, unless I have mentione JH before and forgotten)

There’s a famous quote from Brian Sutton-Smith:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression”

I riffed on that, earlier this year, like this:

“the opposite of quirk isn’t cool, it’s oppression”.

(The concept of quirk in playwork comes from Bob Hughes and Penny Wilson.)

It seems to me that this construction is enormously valuable (when it works!).


Let’s call it the ‘opposite isn’t’ thing. Its fun to do. and bloody difficult.

It seems to me that it depends on a genuine, hard-won insight. It functions like a parable, a zen teaching story, a Mullah Nazrudin story, an Irish joke, a Jewish joke or one of my dad’s stupid stories about a bloke training a monkey. Or a haiku. The thing about haiku is that there are two kinds: the haiku* and the desk haiku. The desk haiku is the haiku you get when, like a columnist with copy to file and a deadline, you sit down and go “Hmm, what shall I write a haiku about”, whereas the haiku* is the kind you get when you witness something fleeting in the world, like a kingfisher, or a fox, or a baby flipping from a cry to a laugh, or a rainbow, or four big lads after closing time crossing the road with great intent shouting “Oi mate, mate, you dropped your wallet.”

This ‘opposite-isn’t’ is a fun thing to play with. Have a go. Here’s mine: “The opposite of employment isn’t unemployment, it’s purposelessness.” Hmm. I’ll gove that 4/10. (I didn’t mean to type Gove, the previous Tory minister of Education, and yet…) It is clearly a desk ‘opposite-isn’t’, not a ‘genuine, hard-won insight’, so only four Marx out of ten.

Over to you, readers.

FOOTNOTE: Haiku*. The temptation is to say ‘original haiku’ or ‘real haiku’ or ‘authentic haiku’. Twas always thus. A distinction emerges, and it changes. It undergoes memetic warping. If we are comfortable with that we might say ‘old-school’. If we aren’t we might say ‘New Labour’ or ‘so-called New Wave’. Stuff happens. you can’t fight it. What you can do is make the distinction, when a distinction is called for.

SECOND FOOTNOTE: just heard this one on Radio 4: “The opposite of truth isn’t lies, it’s euphemism”

what we lose when when we fear prolixity and live brevity

Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ who goes on and on.  Besides, one-liners are cool.

So if you have a lot to say, maybe you should blog (kettle? black?)? Of course, that’s why I do – right now I’m channelling Seth Godin.

Yet sometimes extreme brevity is uncool. Like:

  1. More haste, less speed.
    1. Oh boy. A work colleague sends you an email. It’s 3 words. It might be ambiguous, so at the risk of looking a bit silly, you reply asking: Did you mean x or y? they reply, tersely, in what appears to be confirmation. So you then say: So what we are saying is the blah blah is x and not y because of [reason]. You don’t need me to tell you how much longer that took.
    2. And multitasking is a myth. Every time the inbox pings, your concentration on that important thing pings away. Hey.
  2.  Some things can’t be explained in a text, or a one-line email.
    1. Like love, or systems.
    2. Or why?  why usually needs space, which, increasingly, we ‘don’t have time for’.

Call me Captain Prolixity, for reasons that you don’t have time for.

This posting doesn’t have a heading that’s because…

This posting doesn’t have a heading, that’s because it is entered on a desktop machine* via a browser**, rather than from the SUPERIOR android WordPress app.

Very very interesting item. Lying as a topic, and bad TV.

What I take from it is this:


What is the noun, is shrewdity, shrewdience, shrewdness? The latter probably, boringly.

What happened to shrewdness? I suspet it vanished at the same time that multi-tasking became fashionable. In the same accident, the deaths of free-speech, free-thinking and the near-fatal injuries to critical thinking were reported. The authorities said ”Someone must be at fault. There must be reasons, and blame. Someone did this. Someone is to blame. We do not accept that the world is complex, and we reject the charge that we have further encomplicated it“.

The Shrewd is an endangered species. Save the shrewd!

* Mac, ** Safari v.4.1.3, the last version that works under Mac OS 10.4 aka ‘Tiger’. Obsolescent? Not just yet…