Great article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell (he of Tipping Point fame) based on a review of some recent books — one of which I’m reading at the moment. He starts with a history of the comedy show Saturday Night Live but manages to link it to The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow by comparing what the two stories can tell us about successful groups. The Lunar Men focuses on the story of a group meeting in eighteenth century Birmingham to discuss the latest scientific and philosophical developments.
“Uglow’s book reveals how simplistic our view of groups really is. We divide them into cults and clubs, and dismiss the former for their insularity and the latter for their banality. The cult is the place where, cut off from your peers, you become crazy. The club is the place where, surrounded by your peers, you become boring. Yet if you can combine the best of those two states — the right kind of insularity with the right kind of homogeneity — you create an environment both safe enough and stimulating enough to make great thoughts possible. You get Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and a revolution in Western philosophy. You get Darwin, Watt, Wedgwood, and Priestley, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. And sometimes, on a more modest level, you get a bunch of people goofing around and bringing a new kind of comedy to network television.”
Read the full article here