Digital Ischemia


Pratchett’s Prescience

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld counterpart for Capability Brown, Bloody Stupid Johnson, offers mindwarping clues to understanding our present political predicament

Lancelot Brown (born c. 1715–16, baptised 30 August 1716 – 6 February 1783), more commonly known with the byname Capability Brown, was an English landscape architect. He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure. He was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had “capability” for improvement.

Ironically his poor mother was too early to receive this assessment of potential, hence the inordinately long labour to bring Lancelot into existence. 250 years later, modelling one of his incidental, recurring characters on Brown, Terry Pratchett went three better.

Perhaps the Discworld’s most notable inventor is Bergholt Stuttley “Bloody Stupid” Johnson, an architect whose ability to get things wrong bordered on mythical. Although evidently able in certain fields, Johnson is notorious for his complete inability to produce anything according to specification or common sense, or (sometimes) even the laws of physics. This fact never stopped him from trying, however.

Johnson was not incompetent, far from it; indeed in many ways he was a kind of genius. Pratchett suggests on numerous occasions that he possessed a kind of “inverse genius;” as far from incompetence as genius but in the opposite direction. … While π ≈ 3.142 is a fundamental constant, in the backstory to Going Postal Johnson manages to produce a wheel for which π = 3 as part of his Automatic Mail Sorter. As with a significant number of his creations, the Sorter did work, but the implied distortion of space-time created some side effects, including the Sorter’s ability to sort mail (i.e. output sorted letters) that had not been written yet or might never be written.

This has dazzling ramifications for the Westminster Plan to Make Britain Best Blighter Again, a slippery beast that no one person knows in its entirety and does not exist in the conventional sense. So, if we can distort the fundamental rules of space-time, the Plan may actually work, for certain values of ‘work’, and of course with some interesting side-effects.

The fact that [Johnson] continued to receive commissions after the defects in his abilities became apparent is considered to be the ultimate expression of the apparent thinking behind the Victorian follies, i.e. an indication that the person commissioning the work can afford to waste money like this.

This is the first rational explanation for Brexit. Commissioning irrational, inept, inarticulate people to deliver this historic act of self-harm is the ultimate expression of British power. “We are so {insert current promotional superlative} we can afford to squander and destroy vast swathes of our resources and opportunities.”

No drawbacks really, just excepting that tiny wee issue: THIS ISN’T A FANTASY WORLD. It’s enough to make you wish for a transparent tyrant in the style of Lord Vetinari, but that’s just my personal fantasy.

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