Six cardigans of doubt

In 1985 Edward de Bono wrote a book called Six Thinking Hats, which taught us all how to think things, which was brilliant, because up to that point we’d all just been ham-fisted, masturbating idiots. De Bono’s metaphorical hats were coloured white, red, black, yellow, green and blue, which I don’t need to tell you correspond to factual thinking, intuitive thinking, thinking about octopuses, Ringo, cherry and a sixth thing. This radical new system for conceptualising thought was a revolution in the way people did important things like brainstorming improvements to the payroll system wearing a range of colourful hats and a piece of paper with ‘yellow’ written on it because they couldn’t find a yellow one.

What you probably don’t know is that de Bono didn’t stop there. In 1991 he wrote and evidently persuaded someone to publish a sequel to Six Thinking Hats called Six Action Shoes, a title so inherently ludicrous and redolent of satire that it requires me to break character at this point and say that this isn’t a bit I’m making up to be funny, it really is actually true.

The concern of de Bono in writing Six Action Shoes appears to have been that, having taught us how to think things, we had spent the intervening six years milling about, wielding thoughts but unaware that we could act on those thoughts, because Edward de Bono hadn’t told us how to yet.

The six action shoes of Six Action Shoes are, and again I have to pause to insist that these are genuine things a person wrote in a real book, as follows:

  • The Navy Formal Shoes of Routine
  • The Grey Sneakers of Investigation
  • The Sensible Brown Brogues of Sensibleness
  • The Orange Crisis Gumboots
  • The Pink Slippers of Caring
  • The Purple Riding Boots of Authority

And so we all learned how to think things, and then act on those thoughts. And then someone invented the internet, and we all went mental.

The internet, having been originally designed and built in the Middle Ages to satisfy the near-insatiable cravings of medieval monks for high-definition tentacle hentai, is now more or less entirely comprised of confidently amateur opinion, confidently amateur derision of other people’s confidently amateur opinions, and pictures of baby sloths cuddling monkeys.

Even the cute animal pictures are subject to our compulsive need to have thoughts about things. It’s no longer possible to have one picture of a baby sloth cuddling a monkey; instead there must be thousands of pictures of the baby sloth cuddling the monkey, plastered with our bold, white, all-caps thoughts about what the baby sloth might be thinking about the monkey, or what the monkey can be made to say about today’s news headlines, or what both make of this baby-sloth-and-monkey meme. ERMAHGERD, they are forced to say to each other over and over as their images degrade from infinite repetition, like a reflection caught between two mirrors. BERBEH SLERTH. MERNKEH.

And it’s all Edward de Bono’s fault. How foolish we were to worship him all these years. Let’s kill him.

Except that we weren’t, though. It is actually both helpful and important to think things, and if you’re going to have thoughts, acting on them sounds like a terrific plan. But there’s one element missing, one clothing-metaphor-based skill the lack of which has led to this messy, instant-O-pinion omni-tsunami of noise and certainty.

What it is, right, is it’s this: shut the hell up.

Just for a while. If everyone’s talking, and there’s something you think you might be forming a sudden thought about, and here you are, cherry hat on, riding boots tight and high, reaching for your keyboard, searching for a relatively unsullied picture of a baby sloth cuddling a monkey, stop. Wonder about this new opinion you’ve just had. Where did it come from? Am I sure it’s right? Do I even know about the thing it’s about? Can I even say with certainty that this baby sloth and monkey are into this?

In short: doubt.

In our mad lustful idolatry of Edward de Bono we forget that he neglected to teach us to doubt our millinogenic thoughts and our now barely-contained shoe-compulsions to act on them. So I’ve decided to step into this breach. I present to you, as an instructional guide, Six Cardigans of Doubt.

1. The Hot Pink Shrug of Insouciance

The first and most potent form of doubt, the Shrug evokes in its wearer a wordless, teenage disaffection with whatever happens to be passing by. When wearing the Shrug, treat your thoughts as any fourteen year-old would treat someone your age attempting to unselfconsciously deploy the term ‘Gangnam Style’ at a family barbecue.

2. The Second-Hand Hipster Cardy of Insufferably Ostentatious Difference

Don’t be fooled: even the expensive, faked-up, faux-ho doubt of the alternative, non-mainstream, I’ve-never-heard-of-whatever-you’re-into-because-I-know-a-better-one-from-Brooklyn hipster is, like the hipster herself, a useful tool. Adopting a posture of difference by dressing up your thoughts in identical big glasses to the thoughts of everyone else around you is a cunning metacognitive tool for exposing your own tribal allegiances and conformity. It will also gain you entry into smart pubs in Newtown, North Fitzroy and New Farm, where they do some really nice artisan ciders.

3. The Moth-Eaten Tracky Top of Genuinely Not Giving a Crap

The antithesis to the Hipster Cardy, the Tracky Top is for practicing authentic disengagement with the whole stupid meaningless mess. Careful though: visiting every news article on your local tabloid newspaper’s website to comment ‘THERE ALL LIERS FUKEN BURN THE LOT LOL’ does not constitute Tracky Top behaviour. The maximum allowable engagement with the news cycle in Tracky Top mode is having a covert early-morning slash behind the big stack of Herald Suns outside the milk bar while holding a Choc Top in the other hand.

4. The Three-Armed Harlequin Yak’s Wool Cardigan of Baroque Craziness

Rationality is the root of all cogent, intelligent thought, and it’s about time you stopped. Don this cardigan and try out the insane polar opposite to all your reasonably held beliefs. Feminists are Nazis! Any gas you can’t taste can’t warm the planet! My chosen sport team is no better than all the other chosen sport teams! I actually understand the scientific processes I sneeringly privilege over religious idiots! My opinions, unlike those of people I disagree with, will seem to future generations at best quaint and antediluvian!

5. The Actually Perfectly Defensible Straight Jacket of Moral Relativism

This is of course the worst, most tedious form of doubt; wearers spend their entire time saying things like ‘quick to condemn’ and ‘rush to judgement’ and talk a lot about defending the right to unpopular free speech. It is impossible to have an opinion at all in the Straight Jacket; wearing it tends to remind us of how much fun it is to just call someone we don’t like a toasty funge-mungler, and that is its primary virtue.

6. The Form-Fitting Fair-Isle Pullover of I Quite Fancy Sarah Lund out of The Killing

Ooo, controversial. Although not technically a cardigan, the Fair-Isle pullover embodies the forensic doubt of the investigator, the scepticism and … um … Scandinavian tradition of … oh who am I kidding, I just dig on Sarah Lund. Everyone get those jumpers, they’re brilliant. D’you remember when she wore that red one? Crikey.

Originally published in the King's Tribune, which you should definitely read even though there's hardly any other fashion advice in it.