“Cleanup on Aisle Collaboration, please.”

There is a game I read about years ago.

In that game, four kids each hold onto a broomstick, and try to push it downward into a cup on the floor.

That can already be a little tricky.

But there is a fifth kid at the bottom and it’s their job — with one hand on the broom — to keep the broom from hitting the cup.

That one kid always keeps the broom from landing. It’s trivial. That one kid only has to distract the broom with a lateral force in any direction at all to keep it out of the cup.

To me, this has always been a metaphor for science and knowledge and achievement.

A person working alone can achieve things. A group working together can achieve great things, but it’s sometimes tricky.

And one asshole can fuck it up. Effortlessly.

“I’m only providing an alternative perspective.”

This is an unprecedented age where people can interact with people from around the world in a nearly instantaneous fashion. Never before in human history have we had that ability.

The result can be a lot more power. A lot more hands guiding that broom into the cup.

But it can also be a lot more people available to keep knocking the broom aside. It takes hardly no effort at all, and rewards them with attention.

This can be problematic.

“I’m only playing devil’s advocate.”

I read somewhere that it takes ten times as much energy to refute horseshit as it does to shovel it out in the first place. I agree, mostly because shoveling horseshit is practically no effort whatsoever, and — like the kid on the bottom of the broom — it can spray in any direction whatsoever and still ruin the efforts of all the people above.

Now that we have this big world where everybody can participate, we need to start recognizing and compensating for this effect. We need to start being a lot more careful about who we let play with our broom handle, about who we let help us achieve something.

But there is also a valid reason not to become an echo chamber. Anyone who’s watched “Twelve Angry Men” and walked away with the right lesson can tell you about that. An echo chamber may miss out on an important voice. A voice that is saying “Wait – this is problematic, or dangerous, or won’t achieve what you think it will achieve, or “given what we know of battery technology, this proposition isn’t actually possible — you are all being ripped off.”

Sometimes that dissenting voice has outstanding value, or at least isn’t malevolent.

So, we need to be discriminating. We need to be careful. Because where there’s easy access to disruptive power, scoundrels (And sometimes the scoundrels are holding the cup) will flock there, just for the glow of recognition.

Even if that recognition is “You’ve ruined it. You’ve ruined it all.”

Yes. Sadly, that has value to them.

Keep an eye on where your broomstick is going. Keep an eye on who’s helping and who’s not. Keep an eye on the cup.

Achieve great things.