I recently completed Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed the World; William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. As the bulk of my reading was done on the seventeen minute train ride between Kyoto Station and my soul-crushing, futile job, I initially took away the message of Smith's consistentlyhopeless efforts to have anyone notice his noble efforts and internalized it.
A large section of the book deals with Smith's exclusion by his betters at the Geological Society of London, mainly George Greenough. Smith labored in relative obscurity, known only to the most rabid of enthusiasts, as the authorities in the Society shaped the growing field of geology around him. Slowly things began to change:
"A new breed of scientists...who accorded as much honor to the practical men, the men who went out into the field in the damp and chill and happily dirtied their hands in the finding of facts, as to the theorists and thinkers in what was, after all, a fundamentally practical field of study."
Slowly I began to see Smith's struggle in a larger context. For some reason I pictured, completely apart from the field of geology, Amy Goodman- charisma vacuum that I feel she is notwithstanding- laboring away in her firehouse. I pictured people I will never hear of, powered shakily onward by a day's worth of caffeine, bringing me information that I wasn't even aware I needed. I pictured a kid at the local college station, absent even a trace ounce of personality, tracking down an interview because they think it is important that people hear it.
It was as these thoughts were murkily lurking in the back of my mind that Brian Williams' words of April 4th came to my attention:
"You're going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I'm up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn't left the efficiency apartment in two years."
In the book Thomas Webster describes the members of the Geological Society as:
"...a band of busy, jealous, active and revengeful witlings who have gained and kept their asendancy partly from contempt, partly from the indolence of others."
I had, for the last few years, viewed the contemporary media through the paradigm laid out in the description of scouts and GMs presented in Moneyball. That is to say that they are a bunch of marginal charlatans whose own job security is maintained only by convincing people that they must exist, even when their own effectiveness is seriously in question. Those in the hierarchy of the Geological Society seemed to be partaking of the fruit of the same rotten tree. Surely media is growing and changing, as it always has. Surely there are flawed people who will be often wrong and people with false motivations as well as people who are well-intentioned yet pathetically ineffective. Yet:
"There was tension in particular once such men began not simply to rise but to overwhelm and displace the smug 'little coterie' whose fossil collectors' dining club it originally was."
I suppose one can't blame people for protecting their racket, yet when it comes at the expense of society at large-not to mention at great personal cost to those on the wrong end- our betters should be able to realize that their are simply playing out an old and tried role and step back and reflect on how they could function to the larger good of society. Even the Geological Society now gives awards in Smith's name.