Hive mind

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Oldsmobile whale damaged.jpg
Umenhofer’s “whale of a deal”.
In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.
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Hive mind
/haɪv/ /maɪnd/ (n.)

The theory of consciousness that asserts that a new, independent and better personality emerges from the networked minds of those in an organisation. This new mind then generates its own ideas that are not traceable to any particular individual mind in the “hive”.

The theory seems nice, accords with evolution and so on, but still — it is hard to identify any of these brilliant emergent ideas in the wild, since the first thing that anyone will do should they stumble on one is to claim credit for it.

Therefore, no good ideas emerge from the hive mind. Just bad ones. What we are left with is a welter of transparently preposterous ideas that to this day lie unclaimed on the face of the collective: debt value adjustments, mark-to-market accounting for non-existent forward markets, performance appraisals, SMART goals, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, and environmental, social, and corporate governance.

Such poor ideas will persist and flourish as long as plausible livelihoods can be made from them, but they have a habit of imploding, catastrophically and without warning when the reality distortion field fails. Here, the hive mind comes into its own: as an emergent property of a super-brain, these bad ideas turn out to have been no-one’s idea, and therefore no-one’s fault. Responsibility has been sublimated. There has been a kind of diffusion by escalation.

In vain will regulators, auditors, and prosecutors look for culprits among burning wreckage, choking smoke and dazed staff, stumbling around outside the building clutching Iron Mountain boxes.

The exploding whale

Take the celebrated exploding whale of Lane County, Oregon, from 1970. See the entertaining news report in the panel.

What is most amazing here is not that onlookers, held behind barriers a quarter of a mile away, had to run for their lives while brick-sized lumps of stinking, fetid, whale flesh rained down on them from from the sky, but that no-one — not the highways authority, not the project manager, not the forklift driver, not the reporter, not the film crew, not the gelignite vendor, not those hundreds and hundreds of spectators, fleeing for their lives — not one asked: “you are proposing to detonate a rotting sperm whale with half a ton of dynamite. Have you completely lost your mind?”

Well, one man did, and this is where the irony gets positively Homeric.

That fellow, one Walter Umenhofer, was a military veteran with explosives training. He came to the area to take advantage of a “Get a Whale of a Deal!” promotion in a nearby car dealership. When he heard the plan, he warned anyone who would listen that half a ton of dynamite was far too much. Four kilogrammes would be plenty.

But no, the hive mind knew best: his advice went unheeded. The hive mind went with half a ton.

Miraculously, no-one was hurt during the blast, which showered a half-mile radius with brick-sized bombs of rotten blubber.

There was just one casualty: a brand-new Oldsmobile Regency 98, purchased off the lot that day, which was flattened by a hunk of meat the size of a truck tyre. It was parked up while its owner, one Walter Umenhofer, beseeched the project manager, in vain, not to be so stupid as to use half a ton of explosives to remove a deal whale.

A whale of a deal, indeed.

See also