Sunday, February 3, 2013

Koinoniphobia





I have a fear of groups of people inside conference rooms dressed up like this, talking like this.  It's like self-importance has been given its own holiday, and the celebration entails gathering around a laptop and talking for three hours about absolutely nothing.  And then lunch. 

"Groupthink" is dangerous but it has no way to be critiqued once it's given a room.  Once you are inside of it you become a molecule inside an organism, and even though you know it is a waste of time you still proceed because nobody else is saying anything about it, and the bull-shit is on track to sucking the life out of the whole day, and once the life is sucked out of the whole day you are home-free:  tabula-rasa baby.  You are snug as a bug in a rug.  "Complacency" isn't the word.  It's more like "efficiency," I guess.  Or one of those other businessy buzz words you can slap onto anything you want.  Like "outcomes" and "metric" and "taskforce" and the ever popular "buy-in." 

When you are in meetings like this you lose whatever momentum it takes to not be in meetings like this.

I looked it up, and the term for this phobia I have is "koinoniphobia," literally "fear of rooms full of people."  It's a little different than claustrophobia and agoraphobia, because this phobia takes on the fear of the collective inside one room, which is what I'm talking about.  "People coming together to solve a problem" may sound really nice and magical, but it also has a dark, crisp underbelly.  When people come together to do such a thing a lot of complications are un-imagined or even dis-imagined, meaning simplified to the point of not really solving the problem as much as saying the problem is solved.  Moving on.  Shaping the narrative to fit the meeting agenda. 
  
Which brings me to a movie I love that totally exemplifies what I'm trying to get at.  It's called Shattered Glass, and stars Harden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard.  Based on a true story, Shattered Glass gives us a fly-on-the-wall view into the scandal involving Stephen Glass, a reporter for The New Republic and other upscale magazines and newspapers.  Glass was a hot commodity in the late 90s.  His writing was snarky and hyper-original, but it turns out he was a great big liar, writing fiction and claiming it was journalism.  The movie has a deft grim pace to it, and as you watch it you begin to understand how entrenched groupthink is not just to The New Republic (the self-styled "in-flight magazine of Air Force One"),  but probably to every organization that has an office and a staff.  It's the meetings that damn everyone to hell.  In Shattered Glass, it is the pitch meetings where Glass rolls out all of his lies, and all the other writers and editors and managers sit and listen, captivated by the inner-circle bull-shit he's spilling.  Sarsgaard plays Chuck Lane, Glass's editor and ultimate nemesis, a down-to-earth guy who has to wake himself and his staff up from Glass' spell once he finds out what the superstar reporter is up to. 

In one of the final scenes, Lane tells another reporter played by Chloe Sevigny (who is trying to defend Glass after he has fired him):

Jesus Christ! Don't you have any idea how much shit we're about to eat?   Every competitor we ever took a shot at, they're going to pounce.  And they should.  Because we blew it, Caitlin.  He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact.  Just because... we found him "entertaining."  It's indefensible.  Don't you know that?

After that speech, the movie pivots back to "happier times," the conference-room, no sound, just the image of a self-sanctified Glass pitching his bull-shit, and everyone in the room laughing and starry-eyed, loving what he is dishing out, probably a little envious too. 

No one ever had any idea he was a sociopath.  He was the most popular guy in the room.