Jason Kottke pointed me to a passage from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Bluebeard, where he outlines the three types of specialists that are needed for success in a revolution. Remarkably, one is an explainer.
Here’s the passage:
Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening teams with a peculiar membership goes to work on them.Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius -- a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in in general circulation. "A genius working alone," he says, "is invariably ignored as a lunatic."The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. "A person like this working alone," says Slazinger, "can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be."The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. "He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting," says Slazinger. "Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of sh*t as a Christmas turkey."Slazinger, high as a kite, says that every successful revolution, including Abstract Expressionism, the one I took part in, had that cast of characters at the top -- Pollock being the genius in our case, Lenin being the one in Russia's, Christ being the one in Christianity's.He says that if you can't get a cast like that together, you can forget changing anything in a great big way.
This would have been a good thing about to know before writing The Art of Explanation.