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Maxed out

Pushing the envelope on BS

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Whenever someone tells me there’s a radical paradigm shift a’comin’, there is only one thing of which I am certain. T’ain’t necessarily so. It’s not simply because paradigms — organizing principles, patterns of behaviour and thought — are inherently difficult to shift, requiring something as fundamental as, say, the development of personal computers, which so fundamentally changed the entertainment paradigm that video arcades virtually vanished from suburban shopping malls and moved to large-screened suburban dens. It’s because the language chosen to express the possibility of such change is, well, bullshit.

Anyone who peppers their language with phrases like shifting the paradigm, thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope is, linguistically, spanking the metaphorical — and quite possibly literal — monkey. You can be relatively certain their paradigm doesn’t have any gears to shift, their thoughts have rarely even traveled to the edges of the box and they have an endless supply of infinitely large envelopes.

Borrowed from the sociology of science, a spatial concept exercise and test flight, respectively, these turns of phrase have been co-opted by that lowest of life forms, management consultants, because (a) they sound cool and (b) are devoid of any real meaning. Kind of like the word proactive. But being cool and meaningless, they’re like catnip to a fat tabby and you’d be hard-pressed to wade all the way through a consultant’s report or any business management strategy without rubbing up against them.

My BS radar swung into high gear when Globe and Mail writer, Lawrence Martin wrote Monday about the “results” of a poll conducted by Frank Graves of Ekos Research on the generational divide between Canadians over 40 years old and under that arbitrary number. Big as life, there it was. Suggesting Canada will be in for a significant shakedown when the reins of power are finally pried from the boomers’ aging, arthritic fingers, he wrote, “…the ingredients are there for a radical paradigm shift." Loosely translated, this clearly means less will change than even we could imagine.

How disappointing.

Had Mr. Graves — a pollster which is subvariant of consultant — used some meaningful term to describe the coming change, I might have been tempted to search beyond the synopsis offered by the Globe and Googled however much of his poll results are publicly available. That’s because I agree with his unstated premise: Boomers have pretty much made a mess of things, governancewise.

Whether in politics, business, mass culture, cuisine, social equality or environmental stewardship, the overarching achievement of my ge-ge-generation has been one of elevating sybaritic excess to greater and greater heights while simultaneously losing sight of whatever goals we came into the game with. Not to worry though; we’ve lowered expectations even further than the definition of success in Iraq, lowered them sufficiently to believe we’ve succeeded. We’re Number One… and don’t you forget it.

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