An Analysis of BLINK (Malcolm Gladwell) by Joseph Suglia
Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) is not a meticulously researched book. Nearly all of its ‘research’ was derived from studies in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In the book’s Notes (a mere seven pages in length), you will count fifteen references to that journal and a few references to other sources.
It seems appropriate that Gladwell’s research is so slipshod. After all, Blink is like a war machine pitted against research in all forms. There simply isn’t time to investigate and deliberate, after all. And the more you research, the less you will know.
The more you think, the less you will know.
Blink celebrates and affirms pre-knowledge, the uncritical reflex, the snap judgment, the spur-of-the-moment decision.
Our initial perception of things is always correct, according to Gladwell, unless our minds are led astray by some extraneous matter. All of us would come to the same conclusions, as long as we were to refine our “thin-slicing” skills. “To thin-slice,” in this context, means to extract the salient meaning from an initial impression. All of us are afforded an immediate and direct insight into the atemporal essences of things.
All of this is ‘argued’ anecdotally. As I mentioned in the opening of the review, nearly all of the anecdotes were stolen from a single source. And in many cases, misappropriated. Gladwell tells us that students can instantly judge a teacher’s effectiveness as soon as s/he walks into the classroom. What Gladwell doesn’t tell us is that the article from which he derived this ‘truth’ concerns the impact of a teacher’s perceived sex appeal on course evaluations.
How the ‘glimpse’ actually works is never explained; we are told, in several places, that instantaneous intuition “bubbles up” unbidden from the recesses of the “adaptive unconscious.” “The” adaptive unconscious, mind you, as if there could only be one. This is, of course, monism, and Gladwell believes in absolutes.
Of course, one’s initial impressions might yield profitable results. But to say that one’s immediate intuition of the world is inherently superior to slow and careful thinking is madness. One should beware of any form of mysticism, and Gladwell’s blank intuitionism could easily be put in the service of a fascistic Wille zur Macht.
Blink’s target audience is composed of Hollywood producers, literary agents, advertisers, and military strategists. You will learn in this book that films that exhibit Tom Hanks are superior to those that do not, that margarine tastes better when packaged in foil, that music sounds better when marketed the right way to the right people, that military strikes should be carried out without discipline or forethought. The surface impression is everything. Submit to your impulses!
Blink is American pop-culture’s defense of its own stupidity.