Ten years ago, I was leading content production in 24 languages for language learning games at Company L2 . It was terrible. R&D refused to document their game ideas beyond 2-page pitches but reserved the right to tell us we were doing it wrong at any point in the production cycle. The guy who told us “You’re asking all the right questions” literally fell asleep in a requirements meeting. Morale was low. So every time something absurdly idiotic happened, I bought the team medals with “Everything is Fine” engraved on the back. In a new language each time. I still have them hanging on the door to my office: Alt går bra (Norwegian), Tutto va bene (Italian), Zenzen daijobu (Japanese ), Har sa kha dei (Pashto), Alles paletti (German), Tout est bien (French), Da jaldoego iss-eoyo (I don’t remember!). And my personal favorite: Bahala na si Batman, which translates from Tagalog as “Leave it to Batman.”
In retrospect, I think the team interpreted the medals as ironic acknowledgements of our shared suffering. Or perhaps as gestures towards an absurd victory, as in the Oedipus quote that Camus apparently invented in The Myth of Sisyphus and attributed to Sophocles : “Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.” In truth, it was neither and both and something else too. Or, to rephrase: I don’t find the distinction to be interesting.
In management, sincerity matters. Insincere euphemistic management jargon merits whatever pillory it receives. Honesty matters too. I try to be as honest as my role allows and to be transparent when I can’t be forthcoming. Yet it’s important to be positive. Positivity is an infectious inflection. So. Everything was terrible. Everything was fine. I simply accepted both of those statements. It’s the mental equivalent of relaxing your eyes to see the hidden image in an autostereogram. And that’s where ‘Pataphysics comes in. ‘Pataphysics is to metaphysics as metaphysics is to physics: one step beyond. It is the science of imaginary solutions. Although it is often seen as ironic or parodic, it is neither sincere nor insincere; it is beyond sincerity. It is imperturbable. Like paraconsistent and dialetheist logic, it accepts the possibility of true contradictions.
Did the medals help morale? The only possible answer is a pataphor. While a guy in a Ben Hur costume beat time on a huge drum, the team rowed in the same direction over a waterfall Gannt chart. Then the boat caught on fire. There was rejoicing and swimming. Everything was fine.
1. I’m going to give companies pseudonyms that will remain consistent across posts. So “Company L2” will always refer to the same company.
2. The use of all Roman characters was a restriction of the medal engraving services I used.
3. Reverse plagiarism!
4. A fuller quote: Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and the sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man’s heart: this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Thus, Oedipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: “Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.” Sophocles’ Oedipus, like Dostoevsky’s Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism. I’ve never been able to find that quote in Sophocles, although I’ve heard it’s possibly a paraphrase of a line in Oedipus at Colonus.