Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Shirky’s Rants are Quirky, and let’s hope he’s got it wrong!

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 7:36 am

Media and technology maven, Clay Shirky rants about women in a recent blog post. What they need, he surmises, is to learn how to over promote themselves by playing fast and loose with the facts because that’s how one gets ahead. The unbridled cynicism in his portrayal is stunning, and could be true, if we really want PT Barnum in charge of the media.

If one needs to fabricate skills in order to get in the door, then what will that person do when bribed with a promotion to reveal a confidential source?  Once deceit is a given, where does it end?  I’ll tell you, it ends with everyone Going Rogue where no one can be trusted.  If women stand for higher ideals then the answer is not for women to become more like men, but men to become more like women. People who stand for principle, honesty, decency and humility–a word that is not in Shirky’s lexicon–should not be criticized for those values, they should be praised.

Moses, the reluctant leader, was chosen precisely because he was not a self-promoter.  Shirky opens his gender bender with the following:

So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.

Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved?

Well, if it was me writing that recommendation–and I have written scores if not hundreds– that student wouldn’t have fared as well.  What is the difference between misleading an employer, and plagiarism? So what, if I didn’t have time to write the paper, I could have written an excellent one, and if called upon, I could meet the task, so, you see, it’s not really cheating, because I could do it really well! I once had a student who, in passing, let it drop that he misrepresented something on an application because he thought it would help him be accepted to the program I was running.  Even twenty years later I would find it difficult to write him a letter of recommendation because of  his dishonesty.  The fact that people lie is bad enough, but the fact that they think there is nothing wrong with it marks the beginning of the end of civilization.

It is shocking to me that probably eighty per cent of all college students plagiarize, and do so with impunity and without remorse.  It is equally shocking that people think they cannot get a job without lying, that somehow they believe that everyone takes shortcuts.

Reading the comments on Shirky’s rant was also instructive.  The gender issue was the onlyone that seemed to concern the young media folk of the future.  They all indicated  that Shirky was at least correct about how the game should be played, even if his analysis regarding women and men may have been flawed.

Marketing ones self is like a first date. You put your best face forward, but it still should be recognizable as your face. The world according to Shirky now teaches that one should lie if one can get away with it.  One can extort money temporarily, if one can pay it back before anyone notices.  It doesn’t matter that you haven’t done it, can you learn how to do it before you have to.  This is the society that Shirky is promoting and presumably this is what he teaches. He should be ashamed of himself.

We’re in deep doodoo.

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  1. “If we only did what we knew how to do, we would never do very much.”

    • Platitudes should never be confused with facts, no matter how cleverly rendered. Learning how to do something is different than lying about knowing how to do something and then learning quickly how to do it. Many have accomplished much without resorting to dishonest tactics.

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