Sunday, May 31, 2009

Renaming the wheel: a parable

In the last days of the Kingdom of Israel, before the ten northern tribes rebelled against the House of David (~930 BC), the whole assembly came before Rehoboam son of Solomon King of Israel to make a request. The key issues were around labor conditions, but recently discovered papyri document some heretofore unrecorded conversations with the cart-makers' guild.

"Your majesty," they said, "we have this innovation we call the axle; since last year we have improved efficiency with the wheel, but this combination of wheel and axle will bring glory to the kingdom and wealth to the royal treasury, and also be more environmentally friendly."

Rehoboam told them to come back in a few days. According to 1 Kings 12:5-7, he got some good advice from his father's former senior officials: "If you want them to serve and obey you, then you should do what they ask today. Tell them you will make their work easier." About the cart-makers guild, the advisors said: "That 'wheel and axle' thing looks way cool. If you offer them additional supplies from the royal machine shop, our wheeled-vehicle technology will be the envy of the region. About the terminology -- that's beneath your majesty's notice; let them call it what they want. Should not decisions be made at the lowest reasonable level in the organization?"

Tragically, Rehoboam rejected this good advice (1 Kings 12:8) and turned to some young hot-heads who told him to answer the people harshly.

Even worse, one architecture astronaut said, "Rather than 'wheel' and 'axle', your highness, I suggest that 'rod' and 'reel' would be more appropriate and bring more glory to your majesty, and they all begin with your majesty's initial. And besides, you're the king; you get to decide."

Three days later, the people returned, and Rehoboam answered them harshly (1 Kings 12:12-14). In an unrecorded further comment, Rehoboam also told the GM reps, uh, the cart-makers' guild, "You have to use the words 'rod and reel', not 'wheel and axle', or no more access to the royal machine shop."

"But your majesty!" they replied, "All our papyri use the words 'wheel' and 'axle'!"

Rehoboam was unmoved. "Forget all the innovation crap until you rework your documentation to use the new approved words, 'rod' and 'reel'. I'm king; I get to decide."

The results were unfortunate, as recorded in 1 Kings 12:15-19. The ten northern tribes separated from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. They were never reunited. And after being beaten down, the cart-makers' guild gave up their wheeled-vehicle technology and went into the manufacture of cast idols instead. They never recovered either.

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