robertogreco + alanjacobs   123

how I drew my mental map of politics – Snakes and Ladders
The Reagan years were for me an education in political cynicism. In the 1980s I came to believe what I still believe: That almost no elected politicians have principles that they’re willing to stake their careers on, and those who have such principles typically last a single term in office; that the rare politician who has integrity almost certainly lacks courage, while those who have courage lack integrity; that the extremely rare politician who has both courage and integrity will surely lack judgment; that the members of both major parties care primarily about getting and keeping power, secondarily about exerting that power over the powerless, and beyond that about nothing else whatsoever; that both parties are parties of death, differing only on their preferred targets (though they are equally fond, it seems, of military action in Asia); that the only meaningful criterion by which to judge who to vote for is encapsulated in the question Who will do less damage to our social fabric?

And because they’re all going to do damage, just of different kinds, for the last thirty years I have voted for third-party or write-in candidates. For much of that time I knew that I couldn’t vote for Democrats and debated whether I could vote for Republicans. The answer to that question was always No. But recently I have come to be absolutely certain that I can’t vote for Republicans, and have debated whether I can vote for Democrats. The answer to that question is, so far, also No, and I cannot envision that changing.

I oppose false equivalences as forcefully as anyone. But there are also true equivalences. And so I say, as I have said for three decades now: A plague on both their houses.
alanjacobs  politics  2019  democrats  republicans  thirdparties  us  elections  cynicism  history  ronaldreagan  jimmycarter  integrity  courage  policy  consistency  reliability  falseequivalences  death  destruction  war  harm  society 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
teachers at the margins – Snakes and Ladders
“Lisa Marchiano, a psychoanalyst, describing her encounter with a student who had a “panic attack” during an exam and didn’t want to take any more exams:
I asked this young patient of mine what in fact had happened during the first exam. She responded again, I had a panic attack. I lightly pressed her to move beyond the jargon and tell me about her actual experience as she took the exam. Eventually, she was able to tell me that, as the papers were being handed out, she become flushed and light-headed. Her heart was pounding, and her hands felt clammy. What happened then? I asked. She felt like running out of the room, but she was able to calm herself down enough to take the test. Though she successfully completed the first exam — and did okay on it — the fear that she might have another “panic attack” had prevented her from attempting the second exam.

What had happened here? One way of understanding this young person’s experience is indeed that she had had a limited-symptom panic attack. According to the diagnostic criteria for panic attacks in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a limited-symptom panic attack can be diagnosed based on a pounding heart, sweating, and shaking. Of course, as anyone knows who has ever taken an exam, performed in front of an audience, or asked someone they like out on a date, these are in fact utterly normal reactions to feeling nervous. I gently attempted to reflect this back to my young patient. “So you were nervous about taking the exam, but you didn’t run out of the room. You did it. You pushed through the fear feelings.” I wanted her to see this as a success, one that she could build on, that could help alter her stuck story that tells her she is too anxious to function adequately. Her response to my positive reframing was telling. She looked up at me from under her brows and held my gaze. “Yes,” she responded firmly. “But I had a panic attack.”

Reflecting on this experience, Marchiano raises a key issue: “I found myself wondering where she had learned that she ought not to be expected to tolerate ordinary distress or discomfort. How have we come to the point where we believe that emotional disquiet will cause harm, that we ought to be soothed and tranquil at all times?”

Some years ago I had a student — I’ll call her M — who came to me and said that she could no longer take the reading quizzes that I give at the beginning of many classes. If she had to take them, she preferred to do so in the office on campus that deals with students who have disabilities, even if that meant missing most or all of my classes. And M clearly, though in no way angrily or aggressively, expected that I would do as she preferred.

I ended up talking with the case worker assigned to M, and the case worker told me that M was anxious about not having time to finish the quizzes, and, further, that M had problems, not to be disclosed to me, that made it necessary for me to accommodate her preferences.

Several elements of this situation puzzled me. First, M was usually among the first to complete her quizzes. Second, she had the highest quiz average in the class, and it wasn’t even close. Third, her very intelligent contributions to class discussions about the quizzes added significantly to the value of our class time. And fourth: those facts, and my observations, had absolutely no bearing on the expectations my university had for me. M’s feelings and preferences, as interpreted by her case worker, were all that mattered — I was strongly discouraged from sharing with M any of my thoughts, no matter how positive.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I agreed to make any accommodation necessary. But M kept coming to class, kept taking the quizzes, and kept excelling in them. Why she didn’t follow through on her request I can’t say. Maybe her knowledge that I would do what she wanted was enough to relieve the pressure the had been feeling.

I’m glad M stayed in class, and that there was a peaceful resolution to the situation, but the whole sequence of events troubled me then and troubles me now. The first, and larger, problem is that we’re now in a moment at which any attempt to resist the pathologizing of perfectly ordinary experiences of nervousness or uncertainty is tagged as indifference (at best) or cruelty (at worst). To encourage students to believe that they can overcome their anxieties is, it appears, now a form of abuse.

And second — perhaps not as important but still significant to me — there is the marginalization of the teacher-student relationship. It was made very clear to me that the case worker — who had never been in my class, who had never observed either M or me — could dictate the response to M’s concerns. I didn’t push back, because I didn’t want to bring any further anxiety to a student who was already anxious, but I wonder what would have happened if I had insisted that my own view of the matter, which was after all backed by some experience, should be taken into account.

More seriously, it seemed to me that the case worker was constructing, or allowing M to construct, a narrative in which I was M’s antagonist and it was the case worker’s job to intervene to assist M in her struggle against her antagonist. The idea that I might be on M’s side and want to help her, and indeed should, as part of my job, help her was never considered.

The work done by the “bias prevention units” or “diversity offices” that have proliferated in many universities might seem to be a very different phenomenon, but that work has a similar effect on the relationship between teachers and students. A key premise — sometimes unstated but sometimes quite explicit — of such administrative offices is that faculty are often the enemies of diversity and the perpetrators of bias, and therefore these programs must step in to correct the injustices inherent in the system. Again the faculty member is cast as the students’ antagonist, or at least as a possible antagonist. I do not know of any circumstances in which the “learnings” or “training modules” produced by these offices — which are often mandatory for all students — have received any faculty input, though I suppose some faculty may occasionally be involved. The “learnings” seem to be designed to emphasize the untrustworthiness of teachers.

I think students in general have a pretty good grasp of these dynamics. My observations suggest that disgruntled students these days rarely take their complaints to department chairs or deans, but rather to these amorphous “offices” which exist independently of the faculty structure and are typically empowered by the university to impose decisions without consulting anyone in that faculty structure.

I also think that this way of doing our academic business exacerbates, quite dramatically, one of the worst features of academic life, which is its legalism. Knowing that they are being overseen by these distant and almost invisible “offices,” faculty end up writing more and more detailed syllabuses, working to close every possible loophole which might be exploited by students to get what they want even when, from the faculty point of view, they don’t deserve it. And the more desperately faculty look to close such loopholes, the more the students search for them. It’s no way to run a university — at least if the university cares about learning.

There were certainly flaws in the old way of doing these things, in which individual teachers almost certainly had too much power. But certain experiences of learning were possible in that system that the current, or emerging, system is rapidly making impossible. The marginalizing of the student-faculty relationship is not a good recipe for addressing those old flaws.”
alanjacobs  2019  teaching  howwelearn  howweteach  highered  highereducation  academia  administration  management  services  anxiety  relationships  lisamarchiano  psychology  trust  power 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
against lectures – Snakes and Ladders
"At the very heart of the academy we find a series of genres — discursive genres, which are also genres of social interaction — the mastery of which constitutes, more or less, mastery of the academic profession itself. Some of these are universal: that is, they may be found in all academic work. Others are specific to certain disciplines or disciplinary families. Some of them are performed in relation to colleagues, others in relation to students. Here are a few that I, as a professor of humanities, have had to practice:

- the classroom lecture
- the “job talk” lecture
- the invited public lecture
- the short lecture that you give when you’re on a panel at a conference
- the conference-panel discussion
- the “Socratic” seminar discussion
- the symposium based on a paper everyone is supposed to have read
- the peer-reviewed article
- the book review
- the peer-reviewed monograph

Some of these wear, over several decades, better than others. Some I will probably never do again (the peer-reviewed article, the job talk); others I will be doing to the end of my career (the classroom discussion, the monograph). Some I enjoy, some … not so much.

But I have one definitive and unshakeable opinion: I never want to hear, or deliver, another lecture as long as I live.

For one thing, lectures are very, very hard to do well. I’ve surely heard more than a hundred public or semi-public lectures in my life, and only one of them has been excellent: when I was a grad student at UVA I heard Stephen Greenblatt deliver a lecture that later became his famous essay “Shakespeare and the Exorcists,” and it was electrifying. (I was sitting next to one of my professors, and at the end of the talk he leaned over and said to me, sotto voce, “Do you still have your wallet?”) Otherwise they have been not-crushingly-boring at best. And while I work hard to make my lectures vivid and interesting, I am always aware that there are better ways to accomplish what the lecture is supposed to accomplish.

The lecture is an unfortunate holdover from the pre-Gutenberg age. It makes no sense to have me come and talk to you on a subject in circumstances in which I could write something, send it to you, and have you read it and think about it, after which you could bring me to your institution for a conversation. That would be more intellectually productive for everyone concerned. Of course, one might reply that a lecture is not as polished as a finished, publishable essay or article. Indeed: that’s a major reason why lectures aren’t much fun to listen to. Better to embrace the tentative and unfinished character of your thoughts by having a conversation about them instead.

It is true that fewer people can participate in such a conversation than can attend a lecture. But note the difference between “participate” and “attend.” Certain kinds of intellectual exchange simply do not scale. I truly believe that if, instead of asking me to deliver a lecture at your institution, you asked me to come prepared to talk with four different groups about my published work, or even my work-in-progress, the experience would be better for all of us. (And I would be much more likely to say yes, since I wouldn’t be committing myself to all those hours of lecture-writing — a problem for me, because my conscience won’t allow me to deliver the same lecture repeatedly at different places.)

Well, one can hope. Or lose hope. But this I am sure of: When I am lying on my deathbed, I shall heave a breath and whisper to whoever is near, “Thank you, Lord. I shall never have to attend, or deliver, another lecture.”"
alanjacobs  lectures  teaching  academia  conversation  2019  howweteach  howwelearn  print  writing  whywewrite  highered  highereducation  unschooling  deschooling  change  tradition  buckingtradition 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
Middle-Aged Moralists – Snakes and Ladders
"When C. S. Lewis gave the Memorial Address at King’s College, London in 1944 — the occasion being very like an American university commencement — he began by commenting, “When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising. I shall do my best to gratify it.”

It was a shrewd move. Lewis himself always loathed the pompous didacticism he had found endemic to the English educational system, and expected that his audience would too. “Everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” But with a smile on his face, he declared that he would play to type: “I shall, in fact, give you advice about the world in which you are going to live.”

Let’s fast-forward about sixty years, to a commencement address at Stanford University. The speaker this time is not a professor but rather a businessman named Steve Jobs, and he makes it clear from the outset that he’ll not be doing any “middle-aged moralising.” Rather, he says, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”

And yet it’s not clear, when you think about it, that Jobs’s message is any less moralistic than Lewis’s. It just bears a different moral.

Lewis warns his listeners against the power of what he calls the “Inner Ring” — the desire to belong to a certain admirable group, to be allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table — because he believes that, among all our desires, that one is the most likely to make un-wicked people do wicked things.

Jobs also warns his listeners, but warns them not to allow Death, when he knocks on their door, to find them “living someone else’s life.” Lewis points to the dangers of letting the desire to belong make you a “scoundrel,” and while Jobs too thinks others can endanger us, he frames that danger very differently: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

This is the permissible moralism of 2005: College graduates can be exhorted, but not to the old-fashioned virtues that Lewis implicitly appeals to, but rather to self-fulfillment: For Jobs, what is “most important” is this: “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

This makes a neat story, once which can be read either as emancipation from constricting rules or as a decline into egotism. But the story gets slightly more complex if we look at one more middle-aged moralist: David Foster Wallace.

Wallace was, I’d say, barely middle-aged when he delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College just a few weeks before Jobs spoke at Stanford: he was 43. (Jobs was 50, and when Lewis gave his “Inner Ring” address he was 45.) If Lewis acknowledges that the genre invites moralism and cheerfully accepts the invitation, and Jobs disavows moralism but delivers it anyway, in a new form, Wallace seems almost desperate to avoid any such thing.

Having begun with a little story about fish, he continues, “If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish.” Then: “But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called ‘virtues.’” And: “Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re ‘supposed to’ think this way.” Finally: “Obviously, you can think of [this talk] whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon.” Please.

Yet for all those disavowals, Wallace’s speech may be the most passionately moralistic of them all, though in a complex way. He tells us to be suspicious of that inner inner voice that Jobs wants us to listen to, because that voice always says the same thing: “There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of.” Consequently, our “natural, hard-wired default setting … is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

And why should we want to think otherwise? Why should we turn outward? Not in order to avoid becoming scoundrels, Wallace says, but because such other-directedness can bring us freedom. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

Substantively, it seems to me, Wallace’s ethic is far closer to that of Lewis than to that of Jobs, though he and Jobs were near-contemporaries and formed by much the same culture. (Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters was one of Wallace’s favorite books.) But he could not, and knew he could not, speak as Lewis spoke — even with an ironic nod towards the inevitable clichés of the commencement-speech genre.

Universities still invite middle-aged moralists (professors rarely, writers and business leaders more often) to give speeches to their graduating students, even though those students are generally inoculated against middle-aged moralism — the moralism of self-fulfillment always excepted. What’s remarkable about Wallace’s speech, which has become the great canonical example of the genre, is that he found a way to rescue the occasion; and that he rescued it by pretending to refuse it."
commencementaddresses  2019  1944  2005  alanjacobs  via:lukeneff  davidfosterwallace  cslewis  stevejobs  moralism  morality  advice  middleage  commencementspeeches 
june 2019 by robertogreco
#ShunTheTake – Snakes and Ladders
"Last week I walked into one of my classes to discover fourteen students sitting in complete silence. Each one of them — I believe; there may have been a single exception — was reading or typing on a phone. I said, “Hey everybody!” No one looked up or spoke. I suppose I should be grateful that when I pulled out the day’s reading quiz they put their phones away.

If I wanted to produce a #HotTake, boy, did I have a prompt for one.

But: two hours earlier I had walked into another classroom to find the students already in animated conversation about the reading for the day. I sat and listened for several minutes, gradually realizing that I could ignore my plan for the class session because the students had, without my assistance, set the agenda for the discussion.

I’d advise all of you who read this post to remember those two moments the next time someone tries to tell you what an entire generation is like. Those two classes were occupied not only by people of the same generation, but by people who are studying in the same program (the Honors Program) in the same university. And yet, for complicated reasons, their behavior in my classes was very different.

Most things that happen happen for complicated reasons. Don’t stop looking and enquiring the moment you find an anecdote that confirms your priors.

#ShunTheTake"
alanjacobs  2019  generations  genz  generationz  smarthphones  attention  hottakes  bias  youth  complexity  inquiry 
may 2019 by robertogreco
getting a new Mac up and running – Snakes and Ladders
"Things I do when I get a new Mac, more or less in order:

• install Homebrew [https://brew.sh/ ]
• use Homebrew to install pandoc [https://pandoc.org/ * ]
• install BBedit
• install MacTex
• type this into the terminal: defaults write com.barebones.bbedit FullScreenWindowsHogScreen -bool NO
• type this into the terminal: defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool true (followed by killall Dock)
enable Night Shift
• install TextExpander
• install Alfred
• install Hazeover
• install Hazel

Everything else can wait; once I have the above in place — plus of course syncing all my existing TextExpander snippets — I can do almost everything I really need to do on a computer, with maximum focus and speed."

[*"About pandoc

If you need to convert files from one markup format into another, pandoc is your swiss-army knife. Pandoc can convert documents in (several dialects of) Markdown, reStructuredText, textile, HTML, DocBook, LaTeX, MediaWiki markup, TWiki markup, TikiWiki markup, DokuWiki markup, Creole 1.0, Vimwiki markup, roff man, OPML, Emacs Org-Mode, Emacs Muse, txt2tags, Microsoft Word docx, LibreOffice ODT, EPUB, Jupyter notebooks ipynb, or Haddock markup to

HTML formats
XHTML, HTML5, and HTML slide shows using Slidy, reveal.js, Slideous, S5, or DZSlides

Word processor formats
Microsoft Word docx, OpenOffice/LibreOffice ODT, OpenDocument XML, Microsoft PowerPoint.

Ebooks
EPUB version 2 or 3, FictionBook2

Documentation formats
DocBook version 4 or 5, TEI Simple, GNU TexInfo, roff man, roff ms, Haddock markup

Archival formats
JATS

Page layout formats
InDesign ICML

Outline formats
OPML

TeX formats
LaTeX, ConTeXt, LaTeX Beamer slides

PDF
via pdflatex, xelatex, lualatex, pdfroff, wkhtml2pdf, prince, or weasyprint.

Lightweight markup formats
Markdown (including CommonMark and GitHub-flavored Markdown), reStructuredText, AsciiDoc, Emacs Org-Mode, Emacs Muse, Textile, txt2tags, MediaWiki markup, DokuWiki markup, TikiWiki markup, TWiki markup, Vimwiki markup, and ZimWiki markup.

Interactive notebook formats
Jupyter notebook (ipynb)

Custom formats
custom writers can be written in lua.

Pandoc understands a number of useful markdown syntax extensions, including document metadata (title, author, date); footnotes; tables; definition lists; superscript and subscript; strikeout; enhanced ordered lists (start number and numbering style are significant); running example lists; delimited code blocks with syntax highlighting; smart quotes, dashes, and ellipses; markdown inside HTML blocks; and inline LaTeX. If strict markdown compatibility is desired, all of these extensions can be turned off.

LaTeX math (and even macros) can be used in markdown documents. Several different methods of rendering math in HTML are provided, including MathJax and translation to MathML. LaTeX math is converted (as needed by the output format) to unicode, native Word equation objects, MathML, or roff eqn."
mac  alanjacobs  computers  osx  macos  via:lukeneff  homebrew  pandoc  files  filetype  conversion  text  plaintext  markup  html  epub  latex  setup 
march 2019 by robertogreco
maybe it’s time to give up – Snakes and Ladders
"Some of them thank me for opening their eyes to the realities of our current socio-technological order, but more of them admit, either ruefully or a little defiantly, that nothing we’ve read or discussed is going to change their habits, because it’s just not important enough to invest time and energy in. They’re worried about whether they’re going to get into law school or medical school, and they want to have fun at football games, and when you add up the work hours and the leisure hours there just aren’t any left over for questioning the moral legitimacy of Instagram. And anyway that’s where their friends are. Usually there’s a shrug at this point.

And you know what? I don’t think I can say that they’re wrong. Maybe that’s a rational decision they’re making, all things considered. In which case I need to find a new topic for my first-year seminar."

[See also:
"“Gen Z” and social media"
https://blog.ayjay.org/gen-z-and-social-media/

"The Digital Age, Fall 2018" (syllabus)
https://blog.ayjay.org/fys18/ ]

[via: "Christian humanism in a technocratic world: Alan Jacobs's biography of T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain, and C.S. Lewis"
https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/christian-humanism-technocratic-world

"In a recent blog post, Jacobs reflects on his experiences teaching technological and media literacy to freshmen in Baylor’s honors program. Despite finding the material compelling, many students acknowledge that they are unlikely to change their behavior. He re­flects their voice perhaps in saying there “just aren’t (enough hours) left over for questioning the moral legitimacy of Instagram.” The title of Jacobs’s post? “Maybe it’s time to give up.” It seems that the protagonists of 1943 ended in a similar posture.

Jacobs is right to point out that a technocratic worldview is powerful in its appeal to scientific objectivity. It is “a gospel that liberals and conservatives alike are drawn to.” The problem is un­likely to shrink in importance anytime soon. Whether in the “ranches of isolation” or “the valley of making,” to use Auden’s language, we are in need of re-enchantment. Jacobs’s protagonists re­mind us that our savior might not come in technocratic packaging and might instead exist woven into the theologically informed poetry that “makes nothing happen.” Perhaps all we can do is to live transformed by this power within the fields we plow, acting expansively as we pray for a thousand flowers blooming."]
alanjacobs  genz  busyness  2019  socialmedia  internet  online  work  learning  education  highered  highereducation  technology  society  time 
march 2019 by robertogreco
To survive our high-speed society, cultivate 'temporal bandwidth' | Alan Jacobs | Opinion | The Guardian
"It is hard to imagine a time more completely presentist than our own, more tethered to the immediate; and is hard to imagine a person more exemplary of our presentism than the current president of the United States.

Donald Trump is a creature of the instant, responsive only and wholly to immediate stimulus – which is why Twitter is his exclusive medium of written communication, and why when he speaks he cannot stick to a script. In this respect he differs little from anyone who spends a lot of time on social media; the social media ecosystem is designed to generate constant, instantaneous responses to the provocations of Now.

We cannot, from within that ecosystem, restore old behavioral norms or develop new and better ones. No, to find a healthier alternative, we must cultivate what the great American novelist Thomas Pynchon calls “temporal bandwidth” – an awareness of our experience as extending into the past and the future.

In Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, an engineer named Kurt Mondaugen explains that temporal bandwidth is “the width of your present, your now … The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.”

If we want to extend our bandwidth, we begin with the past, because exploring the past requires only willingness. Recently, I was teaching the Epistles of the Roman poet Horace to a group of undergraduates. Though Horace comes from a world alien in so many ways to ours – and though he would surely fail any possible test of political correctness of the left or right – we found ourselves resonating powerfully with his quest for “a tranquil mind”. Indeed, Horace recommends just what I am arguing for now: “Interrogate the writings of the wise,” he counsels his friend Lollius Maximus:

“Asking them to tell you how you can

Get through your life in a peaceable tranquil way.

Will it be greed, that always feels poverty-stricken,

That harasses and torments you all your days?

Will it be hope and fear about trivial things,

In anxious alternation in your mind?

Where is it virtue comes from, is it from books?

Or is it a gift from Nature that can’t be learned?

What is the way to become a friend to yourself?

What brings tranquility? What makes you care less?”"



"Another benefit of reflecting on the past is awareness of the ways that actions in one moment reverberate into the future. You see that some decisions that seemed trivial when they were made proved immensely important, while others which seemed world-transforming quickly sank into insignificance. The “tenuous” self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes – often incorrectly – that the present is infinitely consequential. That frame of mind is dangerously susceptible to alarmist notions, like the idea that “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die” – a claim that many Trump supporters accepted as gospel, without even inquiring what “die” might mean in that context.

Only a severe constriction of temporal bandwidth could make such a claim seem even possible. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton and cannot envision circumstances in which I would have done so, but the idea that her election would mean death (even metaphorical death) for conservatives and Christians is absurd. It would, rather, have meant the continuation of the centrist policies of her predecessor. The idea that the United States in 2016 was faced with a choice between Trump and Death, an idea driven by ignorance of even the recent past, also had the effect of disabling care for the future.

What will Trump’s policies do to international trade? What will they do to immigrant families, including those in this country legally? What will they do to the increasingly toxic state of race relations? What will they do to the health of the planet? The Trump-or-Death binary dismissed all those questions as irrelevant, and we are living with the consequences.

But these questions are essential, if we are to extend our temporal bandwidth into the future as well as the past. (And the refusal of them shows how indifference to the past makes it impossible to consider the future.) I am a Christian, and I have been dismayed at how easily many of my fellow Christians have cast aside their long-held convictions, merely to exchange their rich birthright for a cold serving of Trumpian triumphalism. As David French recently wrote in National Review, in an open letter to his fellow evangelicals: “Soon enough, the ‘need’ to defend Trump will pass. He’ll be gone from the American scene. Then, you’ll stand in the wreckage of your own reputation and ask yourself, ‘Was it worth it?’ The answer will be as clear then as it should be clear now. It’s not, and it never was.”

The bitter irony here is that so many American Christians, who often claim to have “an eternal perspective”, turned out, in 2016, to have no perspective beyond that of the immediate moment. They have left their own future, and that of the country they claim to love, uncared for and unreflected on. Someday, along will come some politician they despise whose personal morality will be even more contemptible than Trump’s, and they will be reduced to silence – or, if they insist on speaking out anyway, will merely testify to their own rank hypocrisy. “Was it worth it?”

Forty years ago, the German philosopher Hans Jonas, in a book that would prove a vital inspiration for the Green movement in his country, asked a potent question: “What force shall represent the future in the present?” In other words, what laws and norms will embody our care for those who come after us, including those already here and those yet to be born? But this is a question that we cannot ask if our thoughts are imprisoned by the stimulation of what rolls across our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Pynchon’s Mondaugen comments on the personal tenuousness of those who live only in the moment: “It may get to where you’re having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago.” And of course, no person so afflicted can recall, much less be accountable for, what he said yesterday, which is why those who work for Donald Trump have had to learn that yesterday’s truth is today’s lie, and today’s lie will be tomorrow’s truth.

But, again, Trump didn’t create this situation: he found in social media and soundbite TV news an environment ready-made for the instincts he already possessed, an environment in which tenuousness is less a condition to lament than the primary instrument of ultimate celebrity and ultimate power. Trump may be 71 years old, but he is the future of our collective temperament – unless we develop some temporal bandwidth. It’s best that we start now."
alanjacobs  time  attention  politics  religion  2018  donaldtrump  thomaspynchon  temporalbandwidth  horace  futue  past  vulnerability  precarity  immediacy  socialmedia  twitter  inequality  greed  longnow  hansjonas  entanglement  facebook 
june 2018 by robertogreco
choice – Snakes and Ladders
"You can’t understand the place and time you’re in by immersion; the opposite’s true. You have to step out and away and back and forward, through books and art and music, and you have to do it regularly. Then you come back to the Here and Now, and say: Ah. That’s how it is.

But maybe 2% of the people you encounter will do this. The other 98% are wholly creatures of this particular intersection in spacetime, and can’t be made to care about anything else.

You can, then, have understanding or attention. Pick."
alanjacobs  2018  zoominginandout  immersion  place  time  atemporality  books  art  music  culture  perspective  seeing 
february 2018 by robertogreco
against consequentialism – Snakes and Ladders
"If we have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, should we not also have memorials to the unrecognized and unthanked workers of charity and kindness?"
2016  alanjacobs  kindness  charity  via:robinsloan  consequentialism 
november 2017 by robertogreco
my writing advice – Snakes and Ladders
"Given that I’ve written a book about reading, and a book about thinking, maybe I should write a book about writing? I don’t think so. Writing has always seemed to me such a strange act, and one that can be pursued in so many different ways, that it’s extremely difficult to make useful generalizations about it. If you were to read all the Paris Review interviews with writers, I bet the primary lesson to take away from the whole experience would be: Writers are different — different from one another.

But insofar as I do have any general advice for writers, it boils down to this:

1. Find the time of day when you do your best thinking — when your intellectual energy is at its highest — and set that time aside for writing. (If that’s impossible because of work or other responsibilities, then find the best time that’s available to you.) Then preserve that time. Be flexible and generous all the other hours of the day, but be rigid and ruthless about your writing time.

2. Write to think. Don’t try to know where you’re going before you start writing, but write to find out what you think, or find the story you need to tell. Never expect that a particular time-unit of writing will produce a given number of publishable words. You must learn to think of your writing time as a period of discovery, in which you find out what you think, or what images and rhythms tend to emerge from your mind, or where a story seems to want to go. If you focus on discovery, then something worth sharing with others will emerge, in its own way and on its own schedule. But that’s not the kind of thing that can be forced. Allow yourself the freedom to explore.

Of course, these rules can be, and by some should be, broken. Anthony Trollope’s time for writing was determined by his work day at the Post Office — he had to get the writing in before heading off for work — and in order to get the most out of the limited time he had, he always thought out, in the hours after work, what he would write the next morning. But I think most people who want to write will benefit from following the two suggestions I make above."
alanjacobs  writing  advice  2017  differences  howwewrite  howwethinking  thinking 
september 2017 by robertogreco
FYS 2017: Living and Thinking in a Digital Age – Snakes and Ladders
"Instructor: Alan Jacobs

Office: Morrison 203.7

Email: alan [underscore] jacobs [at] baylor [dot] edu

This class is all about questions: How is the rise of digital technologies changing some of the fundamental practices of the intellectual life: reading, writing, and researching? How does writing on a computer differ from writing on a typewriter, or (still more) writing by hand? Has Google made information just too easy to find? Is the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPad significantly different from that of reading a paper codex? Moreover, how are these changes affecting the intellectual culture and communal practices of the Christian faith? We will explore these questions through a range of readings and conversational topics, and through trying out some interesting digital and analog tools.

But this is also a class in which we will reflect more generally on why you are here, in the Honors College of Baylor, and what you need to do (and be) to flourish. So we will also spend some time thinking about the character and purposes of liberal education, and I will explain to you why you need to buy earplugs and wash your hands regularly.

I have ordered two books for you to buy: Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape the Future and David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. All other readings will be PDFs available in this Dropbox folder. [https://www.dropbox.com/sh/54uu45mhespvubo/AAAETUCU6U0YuyXgl6HbxVTva?dl=0 ]

Assignments

1. There will be frequent (pop!) quizzes on your readings; these will count a total of 25% of your grade.

2. You will choose a digital or analog tool with which to organize your academic life this semester, learn to use it well, and give an oral report on it to the class, along with a handout. 15%

3. You will write a 3500-word research essay on a topic of your choosing, subject to approval by me. I will work with you to choose a good topic and focus it properly, and will read and evaluate a draft of the essay before you hand in a final version. 40%

4. In lieu of a final exam, you will write a personal narrative identifying the most important things you leaned in this class; as part of that you’ll offer a final evaluation of your chosen organizational tool. 20%

5. Borderline grades will be decided by class participation.

Here’s a handy list of organizational tools you might try, starting with digital ones:

• emacs org-mode
• Evernote
• Google Keep
• OneNote
• Pinboard
• Trello
• Workflowy
• Zotero

And now analog (paper-based) ones:

• Bullet Journal
• Hipster PDA
• Noguchi filing system
• Personal Kanban
• Zettelkasten

Here’s a guide [https://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-getting-things-done-1551880955 ] to helping you think through the options — keyed to the Getting Things Done system, which is fine, though it’s not the only useful system out there. The key to this assignment is that you choose a tool and seriously commit to it, for this semester, anyway. You are of course welcome to ditch it as soon as the term is over. But what I am asking for is a semester-long experiment, so that you will have detailed information to share with the rest of us. N.B.: All the options I am suggesting here are free — if you want to pay for an app or service, you are certainly welcome to, but I wouldn’t ask that of you.

Policies

My policies on attendance, grading, and pretty much everything else may be found here [http://ayjay.org/FAQ.html ]. You’ll find a good deal of other useful information on that site also.

Schedule

This is a course on how the digital worlds we live in now — our technologies of knowledge and communication — will inevitably shape our experience as learners. So let’s begin by trying to get a grip on the digital tech that shapes our everyday lives:

8.22 Introduction to course (with handouts)
8.24 boyd, It’s Complicated, Introduction and Chapter 7
8.29 Wilmer, Sherman, and Chein, “Smartphones and Cognition”
8.31 Rosen, “My Little Sister Taught Me How to Snapchat”

But you’re not just smartphone users, you’re college students. So let’s try to get a better understanding of why we’re here — or why we might be:

9.5 Meilaender, “Who Needs a Liberal Education?“
9.7 Carr, “The Crisis in Higher Education”; Robbins, “Home College”

With some of the initial coordinates in place, let’s get some historical context:

9.12 Jacobs, “Christianity and the Book”
9.14 Blair, “Information Overload”

And now let’s take a deeper dive into the conditions of our moment, and of the near future:

9.19 Kelly, The Inevitable, Introduction and Chapters 1-4
9.21 Kelly, Chapters 5-8
9.26 Kelly, Chapters 9-12
9.28 Sax, The Revenge of Analog, Introduction and Part I
10.3 Sax, Part II
10.5 Concluding discussion of Kelly and Sax

We’ll spend a couple of days finding out how your experiments in organization have been going:

10.10 reports from half of you
10.12 reports from the rest of you

Now that we’re pretty well equipped to think more seriously about the technological and educational challenges facing us, we’ll spend the rest of the term learning some practical strategies for information management, and revisiting some of the key issues we’ve raised in light of our recently acquired knowledge. First, you’re going to get a break from reading:

10.17 Dr. J’s Handy Guide to Owning Your Online Turf, Part 1
10.19 Dr. J’s Handy Guide to Owning Your Online Turf, Part 2

So, back to reading:

10.24 Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Parts I-III
10.26 Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Parts IV-VI
10.31 further discussion of Web Literacy
11.2 Piper, “Out of Touch” and Clive Thompson, “Reading War and Peace on my Phone”
11.7 Mueller and Oppenheimer, “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard”; Hensher, “Why Handwriting Matters”; Trubek, “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter”
11.9 Zomorodi, “Bored and Brilliant”; draft of research essay due

And finally, we’ll put what we’ve learned to use in thinking about what kind of education we’re pursuing here in the Honors College at Baylor:

11.14 Jacobs, “Renewing the University”
11.16 writing day; research essay due 11.17
11.21 “Engaging the Future of Higher Education”
11.23 THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY
11.28 continued discussion of “Engaging the Future”
11.30 Wrapping up
12.5 Personal narrative due"
alanjacobs  syllabus  online  internet  tools  onlinetoolkit  reading  education  highered  highereducation  classideas  gtd  productivity  kevinkelly  davidsax  readinglists  technology  cognition  socialmedia  christianity  humanities  infooverload  webliteracy  wen  handwriting  notetaking  thewhy  digital  analog  digitalage  syllabi 
july 2017 by robertogreco
avoiding the high-brow freak show | sara hendren
"Oliver Sacks is probably the only author many people have read about disability at length. Sacks wrote many books with such a keen eye for description and also a literate, humanitarian lens—he was able to link together ideas in natural history, the sciences, and the humanities with sincerity and warmth, and always with people at the center. But which people? The subjects of the book, or the reader who is “reading” herself, her own experiences, as she takes in these stories? In any good book, many characters are involved: author, characters, reader. But there’s some particular tricky territory in disability narratives.

It’s challenging to write about this subject for a mainstream audience, perhaps because there are so many well-rehearsed pitfall tropes in characterizing bodily and developmental differences. Descriptions of physicality, speech, or idiosyncratic movement can slide so easily into spectacle. And revealing the ways that disabled people* cope, make sense, and create joy and humor in their lives can collapse into inspiration, easily won.

I’m thinking about Sacks as I write my own words, interpreting my own many encounters with disabled people in a way that both engages readers for whom the subject is ostensibly new, and that also does justice to the integrity and singularity of those people involved. I’m trying to write about disability and its reach into the wider human experience, that is, without making individual people into metaphors. Now: those ideas might be laudable—interdependent life, a critique of individualism, all bodies and lived experiences as endless variation, necessarily incomplete in their own ways—but they are ideas nonetheless. How to make this tradeoff? How to help the uninitiated reader by saying See, see here, your life is caught up in these stakes too, but without flattening the individual subjects on whom those ideas are based?

I keep circling around this review in the LRB of Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars and The Island of the Colorblind—analysis of which includes his book Awakenings and could also be applied to The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. Jenny Diski admires Sacks’s projects and his craft, but she also has this to say:
“A story needs a conclusion whereas a case-history may not have one. In fact, stories have all kinds of needs that a case-history will not supply, and Sacks is insistent that he is writing the stories of his patients, not their cases. This is not intended to fudge fact and fiction, but to enlarge patients into people.

On the other hand, he is describing people with more or less devastating illnesses— that is his raison d’être—and his explicit purpose is to generalize from these, usually unhappy, accidents of life and nature, to a greater understanding of the human condition. In Awakenings he states: ‘If we seek a “curt epitome” of the human condition—of long-standing sickness, suffering and sadness; of a sudden, complete, almost preternatural “awakening”; and, alas! of entanglements which may follow this “cure”—there is no better one than the story of these patients.’

He is offering life, death and the whole damn thing in the metaphor of his patients. And it is true that these patients and others show us what it is like, as he says, ‘to be human and stay human in the face of adversity’. But metaphors are not in fact descriptions of people in their totality. They are intentional, and consciously or unconsciously edited tropes, not complete, contained narratives.

I don’t know any kind of narrative, fictional or otherwise, that can present people in their totality, so perhaps it doesn’t matter, but Sacks is offering us people because of their sickness and the manner of their handling it. This is hardly an overturning of the medicalizing tendency of doctors. And when we read these stories, as we do, to tell us more about ourselves, we read them as exaggerations of what we are, as metaphors for what we are capable of. Their subjects may not be patients as freaks, but they are patients as emblems. They are, as it were, for our use and our wonderment. Around their illness, the thoughts of Leibniz, Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Proust are hoisted like scaffolding, as if to stiffen their reality into meaning.”

Stiffening their reality into meaning! It’s a cutting and exact criticism, especially when it seems that Sacks was utterly sincere in his search for human and humane connection—with these patients as clinical subjects and in his engagement with readers.

Diski hints at the pushback Sacks got from scholars in disability studies, too; scholar Tom Shakespeare took a swipe at him as “the man who mistook his patients for a career,” calling his body of work a “high-brow freak show.” And when I re-read Sacks’s New Yorker essay, excerpted from the Anthropologist book, on autistic self-advocate Temple Grandin, I see a little bit what Shakespeare meant. There is something of the microscope being employed in that encounter, and somehow we walk away fascinated but maybe less than conjoined to Grandin’s experience. It’s rich with connection and with pathos (in a good way!), but there’s distance in it too. So—it’s not perfect.

And yet: people read and loved that book, saw themselves in it. And Grandin went on to write several books in her own voice, to have a wide audience for her work and wisdom. The visibility of autistic self-advocacy has been greatly amplified since Sacks’s writing about it. (And yet—also—Diski says that Sacks has a way of making meaning out of disability that’s essentially a wonder at the human body via its ailments, as in “My God, we are extraordinary, look how interestingly wrong we can go.”) Is there a way to affirm the extraordinary without ending at: there but for the grace of god…? Without ending with gratitude that we don’t share someone’s plight? I want readers to come away uncertain: about where there’s joy and where there’s pain, about how they might make different choices, ordinary and extraordinary choices, if handed a different set of capacities in themselves or in their loved ones.

But can a writer really calibrate that level of nuance? Lately I’m thinking that I can only write what I can write, knowing that it will be incomplete and partial in its rendering.

I want a world full of disabled voices, people telling their stories in their own ways, with their own voices intact. But I also want a world of people to read about the collective stakes inherent in disability—and not just the rights issues that are being ignored, urgent as they are. I want people to see that spending time thinking about disability is an invitation to see the world differently, and to locate one’s own experiences differently. Not to erase the particularity of any one person’s very material experiences, but to help remedy the invisibility of disabled experience outside the inner circle of people who talk to one another, who know that these issues are important. And some audiences will need some interpretation, some cognitive-linguistic bridges to understand the import of disability—its wonder, its overlooked importance, and yes, even its lessons, if we may call them such. Lessons without moralizing, lessons without abstractions.

*Yes, “disabled people,” not “differently abled” or even always “people with disabilities.” There’s no one right answer or moniker, but soon I’ll write a short piece on why “disabled people” is a preferred term among many activists."

[See also this response from Alan Jacobs: http://blog.ayjay.org/writing-by-the-always-wrong/ ]
sarahendren  oliversacks  disability  2017  diversity  morality  moralizing  difference  humanism  individualism  interdependence  variation  jennydiski  conclusions  case-histories  sickness  sadness  suffering  life  death  storytelling  narrative  tomshakespeare  templegrandin  pathos  correction  autism  self-advocacy  meaning  meaningmaking  uncertainty  joy  pain  grace  writing  howewrite  voice  invisibility  visibility  erasure  experience  alanjacobs  disabilities 
july 2017 by robertogreco
some thoughts on the humanities - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"The idea that underlies Bakhtin’s hopefulness, that makes discovery and imagination essential to the work of the humanities, is, in brief, Terence’s famous statement, clichéd though it may have become: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. To say that nothing human is alien to me is not to say that everything human is fully accessible to me, fully comprehensible; it is not to erase or even to minimize cultural, racial, or sexual difference; but it is to say that nothing human stands wholly outside my ability to comprehend — if I am willing to work, in a disciplined and informed way, at the comprehending. Terence’s sentence is best taken not as a claim of achievement but as an essential aspiration; and it is the distinctive gift of the humanities to make that aspiration possible.

It is in this spirit that those claims that, as we have noted, emerged from humanistic learning, must be evaluated: that our age is postmodern, posthuman, postsecular. All the resources and practices of the humanities — reflective and critical, inquiring and skeptical, methodologically patient and inexplicably intuitive — should be brought to bear on these claims, and not with ironic detachment, but with the earnest conviction that our answers matter: they are, like those master concepts themselves, both diagnostic and prescriptive: they matter equally for our understanding of the past and our anticipating of the future."
alanjacobs  posthumanism  2016  humanities  understanding  empathy  postmodernism  postsecularism  georgesteiner  kennethburke  foucault  stephengrenblatt  via:lukeneff  erikdavis  raykurzweil  claudeshannon  mikhailbakhtin  terence  difference  comprehension  aspiration  progress  listening  optimism  learning  inquiry  history  future  utopia  michelfoucault 
july 2017 by robertogreco
advice to teachers – Snakes and Ladders
"Just a quick follow-up to my last post [http://blog.ayjay.org/excerpts-from-my-sent-folder-kids-these-days/ ]:

So you’re a teacher, and your students don’t meet your expectations. They’re not well-informed. They know nothing of Shakespeare. None of them get your sly biblical allusions. They can’t write elegant sentences. When they speak they punctuate every third word with “like.” When they think of God at all, they think of Him as a celestial fairy godfather who’s supposed to ensure that they get what they want in life.

Here’s my advice to you:

Teach them. Nobody promised you that all your students would know everything they need to know — everything that you didn’t know when you were their age. And if at their age you knew things they don’t know, then give thanks to God for your blessings and have pity on those who were not so blessed. Teach them. Take them wherever they are and move them a step or two forward. Stop your ceaseless, pointless whining and do your job. For the love of God, do your freakin’ job and shut the hell up."
alanjacobs  2017  teaching  valueadded  work  learning  howweteach  education 
february 2017 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses — Fusion’s Patrick Hogan counted 47 institutions and...
"
Fusion’s Patrick Hogan counted 47 institutions and industries that millennials have been accused of destroying so far, including credit, car culture, the American Dream, relationships, and golf. Of course, in each of these cases, there is a real story to be told: Yes, young people are buying less on credit; yes, car sales are down; and, not surprisingly, 48 percent of economically squeezed under-30s don’t buy into the uplift of the American Dream, according to one poll. But the language of these articles tells another story on top of those, one that isn’t backed up by any evidence at all: that millennials are ‘killing’ those things, choosing to eliminate them from our shared life. That’s a deeply frustrating story to keep reading, when headlines of 'Millennials are killing the X industry’ could just as easily read 'Millennials are locked out of the X industry.’ There’s nothing like being told precarity is actually your cool lifestyle choice.

—The Myth of the Millennial as Cultural Rebel, by Laura Marsh [https://newrepublic.com/article/136415/myth-millennial-cultural-rebel ]

This is right, and right in an important way. Now, by way of full disclosure: I think pretty much all generational characterizations are bullshit. But the blame-the-millennials narrative is one of the most pernicious.

However: I want to say something about that last sentence I quote. I know dozens and dozens of young people who could have boring 9-5 jobs in their home towns, or in other places lacking evident cultural amenities, but who have decided instead to live in New York or Austin or Chicago or L.A. in order to pursue certain intellectual and artistic aspirations which they believe they can only seriously pursue in such environments. To seek the way of life they want, they piece together temporary and poorly-paying work in the gig economy, they live in sketchy or downright dangerous neighborhoods, and they typically do without health insurance.

You can argue that the decision to live this way is a reasonable one, given these young people’s temnperaments and hopes. You can argue that in a well-ordered society people wouldn’t have to make choices like that. But you can’t say that these particular people haven’t made choices. They could have social and financial stability, or at least a lot more of it than they currently have, because in the places they come from they’re among the best and brightest; they’re desirable commodities. But they’ve chosen the risks of precarity because there are certain goods they believe they can only get access to by doing so.

The question I want to ask is: Do they really have to make that trade-off? Is it really impossible to pursue their aspirations in towns and cities other than the handful that seem, to them, to burn always with a gem-like flame?"

[See also: https://www.wnyc.org/story/truth-millennials-narrative/ ]
patrickhogan  alanjacobs  2016  millennials  generations  precarity  choices  cities  urban  stability  economics  socialsafetynet  lauramarsh  smalltowns  place  preference  risktaking 
september 2016 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses — Now how about this: We know that greenhouse gases...
"
Now how about this: We know that greenhouse gases are producing destabilizing changes in the Earth’s climate. And that human beings evolved from other species over millions of years. And that Barack Obama is a Christian. And that Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with the death of Vince Foster.

Large numbers of Americans deny those and many other assertions. Why? Because the trustworthiness of the authorities that make the claims has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades — and because the internet has given a voice to every kook who makes a contrary assertion. What we’re left with is a chaos of competing claims, none of which has the authority to dispel the others as untrue.


—Damon Linker [https://theweek.com/articles/645664/rise-american-conspiracy-theory ]

Most of what Damon says here is exactly right, but he’s leaving out another major factor: the toxic combination of habitual arrogance and habitual error that afflicts so many of our “authorities.” Consider the amazingly inaccurate track record of expert economic forecasters [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/finance-why-economic-models-are-always-wrong/ ]. Consider the vast claims made by neuroscientists wielding fMRI machines — machines that consistently yield false results [http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/07/algorithms-used-to-study-brain-activity-may-be-exaggerating-results/ ]. And consider the constant cheerleading for expert bullshit from much of the media.

It is true that “the trustworthiness of the authorities that make the claims has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades” — but it is also true that some of those authorities deserve to be attacked, and indeed to be attacked more strongly than they are. So in this situation, what is the ordinary person to do? How is she supposed to tell the difference between the reliable expertise of climate scientists and the unreliable “expertise” of yet another neuroscience charlatan? Isn’t it perfectly understandable that in such a noisy environment she will say, “Yeah, right, ‘experts’ — who needs that crap?”"
alanjacobs  damonlinker  arrogance  experts  trustworthiness  science  neuroscience  2016  confidence  skepticism  economics  economists  politics  debate  information  criticalthinking  media 
september 2016 by robertogreco
on expertise - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"One of the most common refrains in the aftermath of the Brexit vote was that the British electorate had acted irrationally in rejecting the advice and ignoring the predictions of economic experts. But economic experts have a truly remarkable history of getting things wrong. And it turns out, as Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, that there is a close causal relationship between being an expert and getting things wrong:
People who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists. Those who know more forecast very slightly better than those who know less. But those with the most knowledge are often less reliable. The reason is that the person who acquires more knowledge develops an enhanced illusion of her skill and becomes unrealistically overconfident. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” [Philip] Tetlock writes. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” The more famous the forecaster, Tetlock discovered, the more flamboyant the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” he writes, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”

So in what sense would it be rational to trust the predictions of experts? We all need to think more about what conditions produce better predictions — and what skills and virtues produce better predictors. Tetlock and Gardner have certainly made a start on that:
The humility required for good judgment is not self-doubt – the sense that you are untalented, unintelligent, or unworthy. It is intellectual humility. It is a recognition that reality is profoundly complex, that seeing things clearly is a constant struggle, when it can be done at all, and that human judgment must therefore be riddled with mistakes. This is true for fools and geniuses alike. So it’s quite possible to think highly of yourself and be intellectually humble. In fact, this combination can be wonderfully fruitful. Intellectual humility compels the careful reflection necessary for good judgment; confidence in one’s abilities inspires determined action....

What's especially interesting here is the emphasis not on knowledge but on character — what's needed is a certain kind of person, and especially the kind of person who is humble.

Now ask yourself this: Where does our society teach, or even promote, humility?"
experts  expertise  authority  alanjacobs  psychology  2016  danielkahneman  philiptetlock  brexit  economics  politics  predictions  dangardner  judgement  self-doubt  intellect  reality  complexity  clarity  character  hyperspecialization  specialists  specialization 
july 2016 by robertogreco
The World Beyond Kant's Head - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Crawford does some of both, but in many respects the chief argument of his book is based on a major causal assumption: that much of what’s wrong with our culture, and with our models of selfhood, arises from the success of certain of Kant’s ideas. I say “assumption” because I don’t think that Crawford ever actually argues the point, and I think he doesn’t argue the point because he doesn’t clearly distinguish between illumination and causation. That is, if I’ve read him rightly, he shows that a study of Kant makes sense of many contemporary phenomena and implicitly concludes that Kant’s ideas therefore are likely to have played a causal role in the rise of those phenomena.

I just don’t buy it, any more than I buy the structurally identical claim that modern individualism and atomization all derive from the late-medieval nominalists. I don’t buy those claims because I have never seen any evidence for them. I am not saying that those claims are wrong, I just want to know how it happens: how you get from extremely complex and arcane philosophical texts that only a handful of people in history have ever been able to read to world-shaping power. I don’t see how it’s even possible.

One of Auden’s most famous lines is: “Poetry makes nothing happen.” He was repeatedly insistent on this point. In several articles and interviews he commented that the social and political history of Europe would be precisely the same if Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart had never lived. I suspect that this is true, and that it’s also true of philosophy. I think that we would have the techno-capitalist society we have if Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Immanuel Kant, and G.F.W. Hegel had never lived. If you disagree with me, please show me the path which those philosophical ideas followed to become so world-shapingly dominant. I am not too old to learn."
philosophy  correlation  causation  history  kant  alanjacobs  2016  matthewcrawford  illumination  hegel  whauden  via:lukeneff  individualism  atomization  dunsscotus  williamofockham 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Prince, tech, and the Californian Ideology - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"I recently gave some talks to a gathering of clergy that focused on the effects of digital technology on the cultivation of traditional Christian practices, especially the more contemplative ones. But when I talked about the dangers of having certain massive tech companies — especially the social-media giants: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat — dictate to us the modes of our interaction with one another, I heard mutters that I was “blaming technology.”

I found myself thinking about that experience as I read this reflection on Prince’s use of technology — and his resistance to having technological practices imposed on him by record companies.
Prince, who died Thursday at 57, understood how technology spread ideas better than almost anyone else in popular music. And so he became something of a hacker, upending the systems that predated him and fighting mightily to pioneer new ones. Sometimes he hated technology, sometimes he loved it. But more than that, at his best Prince was technology, a musician who realized that making music was not his only responsibility, that his innovation had to extend to representation, distribution, transmission and pure system invention.

Many advances in music and technology over the last three decades — particularly in the realm of distribution — were tried early, and often first, by Prince. He released a CD-ROM in 1994, Prince Interactive, which featured unreleased music and a gamelike adventure at his Paisley Park Studios. In 1997, he made the multi-disc set “Crystal Ball” set available for sale online and through an 800 number (though there were fulfillment issues later). In 2001, he began a monthly online subscription service, the NPG Music Club, that lasted five years.

These experiments were made possible largely because of Prince’s career-long emphasis on ownership: At the time of his death, Prince reportedly owned the master recordings of all his output. With no major label to serve for most of the second half of his career and no constraints on distribution, he was free to try new modes of connection.

No musician of our time understood technology better than Prince — but he wasn’t interested in being stuffed into the Procrustean bed of technologies owned by massive corporations. He wanted to own his turf and to be free to cultivate it in ways driven by his own imagination.

The megatech companies’ ability to convince us that they are not Big Business but rather just open-minded, open-hearted, exploratory technological creators is perhaps the most powerful and influential — and radically misleading — sales jobs of the past 25 years. The Californian ideology has become our ideology. Which means that many people cannot help seeing skepticism about the intentions some of the biggest companies in the world as “blaming technology.” But that way Buy n Large lies."
alanjacobs  prince  technology  socialmedia  twitter  copyright  music  ownership  2016  californianideology  facebook  snapchat  instagram 
may 2016 by robertogreco
intimacy gradients - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Pay attention to the links here: Tim Maly pointed me to this 2004 post by Christopher Allen that draws on the famous 1977 architectural treatise A Pattern Language to talk about online life.

Got all that?

The key concept is intimacy gradients. In a well-known passage from A Pattern Language the authors write,
The street cafe provides a unique setting, special to cities: a place where people can sit lazily, legitimately, be on view, and watch the world go by... Encourage local cafes to spring up in each neighborhood. Make them intimate places, with several rooms, open to a busy path, where people can sit with coffee or a drink and watch the world go by. Build the front of the cafe so that a set of tables stretch out of the cafe, right into the street.

That's the passage as quoted in the book's Wikipedia page. But if you actually look at that section of the book, you'll see that the authors place a great deal of emphasis on the need for the ideal street café to create intimacy as well as public openness. Few people want always to "be on view"; some people almost never do. Therefore,

In addition to the terrace which is open to the street, the cafe contains several other spaces: with games, fire, soft chairs, newspapers.... This allows a variety of people to start using it, according to slightly different social styles.

And "When these conditions are present" — all of these conditions, the full appropriate range of intimacy gradients — "and the cafe takes hold, it offers something unique to the lives of the people who use it: it offers a setting for discussions of great spirit — talks, two-bit lectures, half-public, half-private learning, exchange of thought."

Twitter actually has a pretty highly developed set of intimacy gradients: public and private accounts, replies that will be seen automatically only by the person you’re replying to and people who are connected to both of you, direct messages, and so on. Where it fails is in the provision of “intimate places”: smaller rooms where friends can talk without being interrupted. It gives you the absolute privacy of one-to-one conversations (DMs) and it gives you all that comes with “being on view” at a table that extends “right into the street,” where anyone who happens to go by can listen in or make comments; but, for public accounts anyway, not much in between.

And you know, if you’re using a public Twitter account, you can’t really complain about this. If you tweet something hoping that your friends will notice and respond, that’s fine; but you’re not in a small room with just your friends, you’re in a vast public space — you’re in the street. And when you stand in the street and make a statement through a megaphone, you can’t reasonably be offended if total strangers have something so say in reply. If you want to speak only to your friends, you need to invite them into a more intimate space.

And as far as I can tell, that’s what private Twitter accounts provide: a place to talk just with friends, where you can’t be overheard.

Now, private accounts tend to work against the grain of Twitter as self-promotion, Twitter as self-branding, Twitter as “being on view.” And if we had to choose, many of us might forego community for presentation. But we don’t have to choose: it’s possible to do both, to have a private and a public presence. For some that will be too much to manage; for others, perhaps for many others, that could be where Twitter is headed.

Okay, I’m done talking about Twitter. Coming up in the next week: book reports."
alanjacobs  2014  intimacygradients  apatternlanguage  christopheralexander  cities  twitter  society  sociology  internet  culture  architecture  space  public  private  privacy 
april 2016 by robertogreco
The Outgroup and Its Errors | The American Conservative
"One of the most troubling features of our current political and social climate is how powerfully it is shaped by sheer animus.

A couple of years ago, Scott Alexander wrote a post titled “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.” I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing, but essentially Alexander sets out to answer a question: How is it that, say, straight white men can be gracious and kind to, say, lesbian black women while being unremittingly bitter towards other straight white men? What has happened here to the old distinction between ingroups and outgroups? His answer is that “outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.”

Then Alexander gives a powerful example. He mentions being chastised by readers who thought he was “uncomplicatedly happy” when he expressed relief that Osama bin Laden was dead.
Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us. […]

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in.” From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”


Even when he pointed this out, none of his readers saw a problem with their joy in Thatcher’s death. And that’s when Alexander realized that “if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.”

Since Alexander wrote that post, an article has appeared based on research that confirms his hypothesis. “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization,” by Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood, indicates that Americans today do not simply feel animus towards those who disagree with with politically, but are prepared to act on it. Their research discovers a good deal of racial prejudice, which is to be expected and which is likely to grow worse in the coming years, but people seem to think that they shouldn’t be racists or at least shouldn’t show it. However, people of one Tribe evidently believe, quite openly, that members of the other Tribe deserve whatever nastiness comes to them — and are willing to help dish out the nastiness themselves. “Despite lingering negative attitudes toward African Americans, social norms appear to suppress racial discrimination, but there is no such reluctance to discriminate based on partisan affiliation.”

That is, many Americans are happy to treat other people unfairly if those other people belong to the alien Tribe. And — this is perhaps the most telling finding of all — their desire to punish the outgroup is significantly stronger than their desire to support the ingroup. Through a series of games, Iyengar and Westwood discovered that “Outgroup animosity is more consequential than favoritism for the ingroup.”

One of my consistent themes over the years — see, for instance, here and here — has been the importance of acting politically with the awareness that people who agree with you won’t always be in charge. That is, I believe that it is reasonable and wise, in a democratic social order, to make a commitment to proceduralism: to agree with my political adversaries to abide by the same rules. That belief is on its way to being comprehensively rejected by the American people, in favor of a different model: Error has no rights.

What is being forgotten in this rush to punish the outgroup is a wise word put forth long ago by Orestes Brownson: “Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.”"
alanjacobs  othering  politics  society  scottalexander  outgroup  us  2016  filterbubbles  bias  animosity  favoritism  democracy  procedure  proceduralism  error  orestesbrownson  polarization  shantoiyengar  seanwestwood  disagreement  discrimination  partisanship 
april 2016 by robertogreco
a suggestion about the future of Wheaton College – Snakes and Ladders
"But what if the narrow scope of “the culture” is a bug, not a feature? What if a more ethnically diverse faculty, even if it contained people who made some of the existing faculty and administration and alumni and donors uncomfortable, helped the college to achieve its mission? I made a similar argument some years ago in suggesting that Wheaton should be open to hiring Roman Catholics — my logic here is fundamentally the same. What if an institution’s existing culture, and its concern to hire people who “fit” its existing culture, actually inhibit its ability to fulfill its mission?"
alanjacobs  institutions  fit  diversity  inclusivity  culture  2016  wheatoncollege  sameness  groupthink 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Reverting to Type: A Reader’s Story |
"It did become my thing. I transferred to what we thought of as the University of Alabama, the one in Tuscaloosa, largely because it had a better English department. I double-majored in English and history, and at some point decided — what considerations went into the decision I no longer remember — that I wanted to go to graduate school to study more literature. So I attended the University of Virginia. I developed a historical sense — my love for Browne’s prose led me to spend most of my time in the seventeenth century, until a relatively late encounter with the poetry of W. H. Auden made a modernist of me — amassed a repertoire of critical gestures, learned to invoke the names and terms of High Theory in the proper ways and at the proper times. I was initiated into the academic guild; I became a professor.

It wasn’t always easy, of course. In my last weeks as an undergraduate one of my professors had taken me aside and whispered to me the sacred names of Barthes and Derrida, and told me I should make fuller acquaintance with them. I dutifully wrote down the names and immediately forgot about them. Since none of this Theory stuff had previously been mentioned to me in my undergraduate career, how important could it be? So when I plunged into my first graduate classes — including a theoretical survey in which we read Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Gramsci, Georg Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno, Husserl, Heidegger, Ricoeur, Jakobson, Althusser, Brooks, Frye, de Beauvoir, Kenneth Burke, and, yes, Barthes and Derrida, among others — I was immediately transformed from a confident critic-in-the-making to a lost lamb, baahing reproachfully, petulantly.

Ten weeks or so into my first semester I decided that I just couldn’t cut it and needed to drop out. But I was a newlywed, and had carried my bride hundreds of miles from her family, set her down in a strange town, and effectively forced her to hunt for compartatively menial jobs, all to support this great academic endeavor of mine. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how miserable and incompetent and just plain lost I was.

Our apartment in Charlottesville had a small windowless room that I used for a study. One evening after dinner I went in and closed the door and tried to sort through the vast pile of photocopied theoretical essays I had bought at Kinko’s on the first day of class. (We could violate copyright in those days, too.) But it was useless. I could scarcely bear even to look at the stuff. My professor had copied from his own well-used books, and every essay was full of confident underlinings and annotations that seemed by their very presence to judge me and find me wanting. I couldn’t bring myself to read another word.

My eyes wandered to a nearby bookshelf, and were caught for a moment by the glit of a gold cardboard box: it contained the three volumes of the Ballantine mass-market version of The Lord of the Rings. I had never read Tolkien: I was a science-fiction guy, not a fantasy guy. But of course I knew that The Trilogy (as I thought of it) was important, and that someday I ought to get to it. Almost thoughtlessly, I picked up the first volume and began to read.

When bedtime rolled around I set the book down and emerged from the sanctuary. “How’d it go tonight?” Teri asked.

I said, “It went well.”

The next evening I re-entered the study, under the pretense of continuing my academic labors with all due seriousness, and picked up where I had left off in the story. For the next week or so, though during the days I went to classes and did generally what I was supposed to do, I did none of the reading or writing I was assigned. I got further and further behind. I didn’t care; I was somewhere else and glad to be somewhere else. Teri seemed pleased with my scholarly discipline, as each evening I washed the dishes, gave her a kiss, and closed the study door behind me.

When I finished The Lord of the Rings I drew a deep breath. I felt more sound and whole than I had felt in weeks, maybe months. But, to my own surprise, I did not conclude that all that academic crap was a waste of time and I should do something else with my life, something that gave me time to read lots of fantasy novels. Instead, I experienced a strange refreshment, almost an exhilaration. My confusion and frustration seemed like small afflictions, conquerable adversaries. Barthes and Derrida weren’t so fearsome after all. I could do this.

I don’t believe that I was thinking, “Literary theory is as nothing in comparison to the power of Mordor!” Or, “If Frodo can carry that Ring to the Cracks of Doom I can write this paper on Paul Ricoeur!” Rather, I was just benefiting from spending some time away from my anxieties. We had been too intimate and needed separation. So I resumed my studies in a far better frame of mind; as a result, I did better work. I completed my doctorate and began my career as a teacher, but I didn’t forget the debt I owed to that week I spent in Tolkien’s world."



"In a sense I am only talking here about expanding my repertoire of analogies, my ability to make illuminating and meaningful comparisons. For many years now Douglas Hofstadter, drawing on the work of the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, has been convinced that the secret to creating artificial intelligence lies in teaching machines to recognize analogies. (Ulam says somewhere that it’s all about “as”: we see marks on a piece of wood pulp as a portrait of a beloved child, a cairn of stones as a monument to a dead chieftain.) Similar principles underlie the methods of Google Translate, which collects an enormous corpus of sentences and then tries to match your input to something in that corpus, and Apple’s “digital personal assistant,” Siri. Siri can’t parse what you say to her unless she can connect to the network, which undertakes a comparison of your utterance to other utterances on record. All this might be called brute-force analogizing, but it seems to me that my own understanding develops as I pursue the same method, though with far less force and (I hope) less brutishness.

In one of his most beautiful poems, Richard Wilbur writes, “Odd that a thing is most itself when likened.” And this is true no matter the thing: a book becomes more fully itself when we see both how it resembles and how is differs from other books; one discipline of study takes on its proper hues only when we see its relations to other disciplines that stand close to it or very far away. My repertoire of analogies is my toolbox, or my console of instruments, by which I comprehend and navigate the world. It can’t be too large; every addition helps, at least a bit. And that’s why I’m thankful for my gradual recovery of the books I adored, and thoughts I lovingly entertained, when I was forty years younger."
alanjacobs  howweread  reading  2015  analogies  metaphor  text  pleasurereading  richardwilbur  harukimurukami  jrrtolkein  thelordoftherings  stainslawulam  loreneisley  sciencefiction  understanding  literarycriticism  genrefiction  fiction  literature  academia  writing  howwewrite  howwelearn  books  jacquesderrida  rolandbarthes  whauden  sirthomasbrowne  williamfaulkner  nealstephenson  joycecaroloates  twocultures  cpsnow  jamesgleick  linux  learning  canon  digressions  amateurism  dabbling  listening  communication  howweteach  teaching  education  silos 
december 2015 by robertogreco
On Having Roots in More than One Place | The American Conservative
"I’m reading Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton right now, and in a particularly interesting passage he — writing in the third person, as he does, annoyingly, through the book — explains why he wrote The Satanic Verses:
The strange truth was that, after two novels that engaged directly with the public history of the Indian subcontinent, he saw this new book as a much more personal, interior exploration, a first attempt to create a work out of his own experience of migration and metamorphosis: To him, it was the least political book of the three.

(The other two books being Midnight’s Children, set in India, and Shame, set in Pakistan.) The Satanic Verses is, in its author’s view, “a personal, interior exploration” in this very important sense:
It was unsettling not to understand why the shape of life had changed. He often felt meaningless, even absurd. He was a Bombay boy who had made his life in London among the English, but often he felt cursed by a double unbelonging. The root of language, at least, remained, but he began to appreciate how deeply he felt the loss of the other roots, and how confused he felt about what he had become. In the age of migration the world’s millions of migrated selves faced colossal problems, problems of homelessness, hunger, unemployment, disease, persecution, alienation, fear. He was one of the luckier ones, but one great problem remained: that of authenticity. The migrated self became, inevitably, heterogeneous instead of homogeneous, belonging to more than one place, multiple rather than singular, responding to more than one way of being, more than averagely mixed up. Was it possible to be — to become good at being — not rootless, but multiply rooted? Not to suffer from a loss of roots but to benefit from an excess of them? The different roots would have to be of equal or near-equal strength, and he worried that his Indian connection had weakened. He needed to make an act of reclamation of the Indian identity he had lost, or felt he was in danger of losing. The self was both its origins and its journey.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and maybe I’ll get a chance to unpack it as I continue reading the book. But let me just note two things right now:

1) Nothing is more important to the modern self that to possess, or to feel that it possesses, authenticity. This manifests itself in a lot of ways, including, most obviously and perhaps superficially, choices about food. For many people there’s no higher commendation of a restaurant than to call it “authentic.” (This used to, and probably still does, drive the great food writer Calvin Trillin nuts. To the claim that a restaurant is “authentic” he would typically reply “No it isn’t.” But then he would ask, “Who cares? What matters is: Was it good? Did you clean your plate?”) A deeper problem is that nothing could be less authentic than thinking about authenticity, as Lionel Trilling noted forty years ago when he wrote a book on this topic that’s still deeply incisive, Sincerity and Authenticity.

2) The question of whether it’s possible to be “multiply rooted” — not rootless, but rooted in different places — is an increasingly insistent one not just for immigrants but for all kinds of people in a transient and mobile world. I have lived in Illinois for much longer than I lived in Alabama, but don’t feel rooted here: is that inevitable? Is that my fault? Have I somehow failed to put down the roots that I should have? Is just being an American, whether in Alabama or Illinois, a sufficiently rooted identity? (Few would say yes. Why not?) Can online identity provide roots? (Some people surely believe that it does.) And why does a felt lack of rootedness bother people, including me?

Things to think about…."
salmanrushdie  writing  identity  culture  authenticity  rootedness  roots  2012  lioneltrilling  food  thirdculturekids  belonging  unbelonging  modernity  alanjacobs  calvintrillin  sincerity  unrootedness  online  web 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Facebook, communication, and personhood - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"William Davies tells us about Mark Zuckerberg's hope to create an “ultimate communication technology,” and explains how Zuckerberg's hopes arise from a deep dissatisfaction with and mistrust of the ways humans have always communicated with one another. Nick Carr follows up with a thoughtful supplement:
If language is bound up in living, if it is an expression of both sense and sensibility, then computers, being non-living, having no sensibility, will have a very difficult time mastering “natural-language processing” beyond a certain rudimentary level. The best solution, if you have a need to get computers to “understand” human communication, may to be avoid the problem altogether. Instead of figuring out how to get computers to understand natural language, you get people to speak artificial language, the language of computers. A good way to start is to encourage people to express themselves not through messy assemblages of fuzzily defined words but through neat, formal symbols — emoticons or emoji, for instance. When we speak with emoji, we’re speaking a language that machines can understand.

People like Mark Zuckerberg have always been uncomfortable with natural language. Now, they can do something about it.

I think we should be very concerned about this move by Facebook. In these contexts, I often think of a shrewd and troubling comment by Jaron Lanier: “The Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?” In this sense, the degradation of personhood is one of Facebook's explicit goals, and Facebook will increasingly require its users to cooperate in lowering their standards of intelligence and personhood."
williamdavies  markzuckerberg  communication  technology  2015  facebook  alanjacobs  jaronlanier  turingtest  ai  artificialintelligence  personhood  dehumanization  machines 
september 2015 by robertogreco
on microaggressions and administrative power - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Let’s try to put a few things together that need to be put together.

First, read this post by Jonathan Haidt excerpting and summarizing this article on the culture of campus microaggressions. A key passage:
Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim. This is why we have seen the recent explosion of concerns about microaggressions, combined with demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, that Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in The Coddling of the American Mind.

Now, take a look at this post by Conor Friedersdorf illustrating how this kind of thing works in practice. Note especially the account of an Oberlin student accused of microaggression and the way the conflict escalates.

And finally, to give you the proper socio-political context for all this, please read Freddie deBoer’s outstanding essay in the New York Times Magazine. Here’s an absolutely vital passage:
Current conditions result in neither the muscular and effective student activism favored by the defenders of current campus politics nor the emboldened, challenging professors that critics prefer. Instead, both sides seem to be gradually marginalized in favor of the growing managerial class that dominates so many campuses. Yes, students get to dictate increasingly elaborate and punitive speech codes that some of them prefer. But what could be more corporate or bureaucratic than the increasingly tight control on language and culture in the workplace? Those efforts both divert attention from the material politics that the administration often strenuously opposes (like divestment campaigns) and contribute to a deepening cultural disrespect for student activism. Professors, meanwhile, cling for dear life, trying merely to preserve whatever tenure track they can, prevented by academic culture, a lack of coordination and interdepartmental resentments from rallying together as labor activists. That the contemporary campus quiets the voices of both students and teachers — the two indispensable actors in the educational exchange — speaks to the funhouse-mirror quality of today’s academy.

I wish that committed student activists would recognize that the administrators who run their universities, no matter how convenient a recipient of their appeals, are not their friends. I want these bright, passionate students to remember that the best legacy of student activism lies in shaking up administrators, not in making appeals to them. At its worst, this tendency results in something like collusion between activists and administrators.

This is brilliantly incisive stuff by Freddie, and anyone who cares about the state of American higher education needs to reflect on it. When students demand the intervention of administrative authority to solve every little conflict, they end up simply reinforcing a power structure in which students and faculty alike are stripped of moral agency, in which all of us in the university — including the administrators themselves, since they’re typically reading responses from an instruction manual prepared in close consultation with university lawyers — are instruments in the hands of a self-perpetuating bureaucratic regime. Few social structures could be more alien to the character of true education.

Friedersdorf’s post encourages us to consider whether these habits of mind are characteristic of society as a whole. That seems indubitable to me. When people in the workplace routinely make complaints to HR officers instead of dealing directly with their colleagues, or calling the police when they see kids out on their own rather than talking to the parents, they’re employing the same strategy of enlisting Authority to fight their battles for them — and thereby consolidating the power of those who are currently in charge. Not exactly a strategy for changing the world. Nor for creating a minimally responsible citizenry.

In a fascinating article called “The Japanese Preschool’s Pedagogy of Peripheral Participation,”, Akiko Hayashi and Joseph Tobin describe a twofold strategy commonly deployed in Japan to deal with preschoolers’ conflicts: machi no hoiku and mimamoru. The former means “caring by waiting”; the second means “standing guard.” When children come into conflict, the teacher makes sure the students know that she is present, that she is watching — she may even add, kamisama datte miterun, daiyo (the gods too are watching) — but she does not intervene unless absolutely necessary. Even if the children start to fight she may not intervene; that will depend on whether a child is genuinely attempting to hurt another or the two are halfheartedly “play-fighting.”

The idea is to give children every possible opportunity to resolve their own conflicts — even past the point at which it might, to an American observer, seem that a conflict is irresolvable. This requires patient waiting; and of course one can wait too long — just as one can intervene too quickly. The mimamoru strategy is meant to reassure children that their authorities will not allow anything really bad to happen to them, though perhaps some unpleasant moments may arise. But those unpleasant moments must be tolerated, else how will the children learn to respond constructively and effectively to conflict — conflict which is, after all, inevitable in any social environment? And if children don't begin to learn such responses in preschool when will they learn it? Imagine if at university, or even in the workplace, they had developed no such abilities and were constantly dependent on authorities to ease every instance of social friction. What a mess that would be."
academia  preschool  conflictresolution  japan  alanjacobs  freddiedeboer  akikohayashi  josephtobin  machinohoiku  mimamoru  disagreement  rules  freespeech  culture  discomfort  collegiality  jonathanhaidt  power  authority  children  activism  management  administration  schools  society 
september 2015 by robertogreco
Alan dreams of suya | Snakes and Ladders
"I woke up in the middle of the night last night with an inexplicable but overwhelming craving for a food that I haven’t eaten in nearly 25 years. Suya: marinated, highly spiced slices of beef cooked over a wood or charcoal fire and served with sliced onions and, when I had it, anyway, plum tomatoes. (It turns out, comically enough, that the Wikipedia page for suya links to an article I published in 1992.) It’s a Nigerian treat, especially favored by the Hausa people in the north of the country, but I first tasted it in the city of Ilorin in the heart of Yorubaland.

It was early evening, and the suya vendor had set up his cart at the side of a road on which the chief government building of Kwara state stood facing the sharia court building, in a kind of standoff. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled anything more mouth-watering than the aromas wafting from that cart, and though I haven’t thought about the experience in years, probably, when I woke up last night everything about that evening came back to me with an uncanny clarity — spreading the suya on its bed of newspaper out on the hood of a minivan, eating and talking quietly with my friends as others drifted to and from the cart … how wonderful that was. So many moments in life get lost in the jumble of everyday busyness, it’s a gift when something small and sweet makes a gentle return to memory, to presence."
food  taste  smell  senses  memory  suya  nigeria  2015  alanjacobs 
august 2015 by robertogreco
the blind man's stick - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement, by Lambros Malafouris, is a maddening but also fascinating book that is seriously helping me to think through some of the issues that concern me. Malafouris wants to argue that the human mind is “embodied, extended, enacted, and distributed” — extensive rather than intensive in its fundamental character.

He starts his exploration wonderfully: by considering a thought-experiment that Maurice Merleau-Ponty first posited in his Phenomenology of Perception. Merleau-Ponty asks us to imagine a blind man navigating a city street with a cane. What is the relationship between that cane and the man’s perceptual apparatus? Or, as Gregory Bateson put it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind,
Consider a blind man with a stick. Where does the blind man's self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick? These questions are nonsense, because the stick is a pathway along which differences are transmitted under transformation, so that to draw a delimiting line across this pathway is to cut off a part of the systemic circuit which determines the blind man's locomotion.

(Bateson does not mention and probably was not aware of Merleau-Ponty.) For Malafouris the example of the blind man’s cane suggests that “what is outside the head may not necessarily be outside the mind.... I see no compelling reason why the study of the mind should stop at the skin or at the skull. It would, I suggest, be more productive to explore the hypothesis that human intelligence ‘spreads out’ beyond the skin into culture and the material world.” Moreover, things in the material world embody intentions and purposes — Malafouris thinks they actually have intentions and purposes, a view I think is misleading and sloppy — and these come to be part of the mind: they don't just influence it, they help constitute it.
I believe this example provides one of the best diachronic exemplars of what I call the gray zone of material engagement, i.e., the zone in which brains, bodies, and things conflate, mutually catalyzing and constituting one another. Mind, as the anthropologist Gregory Bateson pointed out, “is not limited by the skin,” and that is why Bateson was able to recognize the stick as a “pathway” instead of a boundary. Differentiating between “inside” and “outside” makes no real sense for the blind man. As Bateson notes, “the mental characteristics of the system are immanent, not in some part, but in the system as a whole.”

If we were to take this model seriously, then we would need to narrate the rise of modernity differently than we’ve been narrating it — proceeding in a wholly different manner than the three major stories I mentioned in my previous post. Among other things, we’d need to be ready to see the Oppenheimer Principle as having a far stronger motive role in history than is typical.

When I talk this way, some people tell me that they think I'm falling into technological determinism. Not so. Rather, it's a matter of taking with proper seriousness the power that some technologies have to shape culture. And that's not because they think or want, nor because we are their slaves. Rather, people make them for certain purposes, and either those makers themselves have socio-political power or the technologies fall into the hands of people who have socio-political power, so that the technologies are put to work in society. We then have the option to accept the defaults or undertake the difficult challenge of hacking the inherited tools — bending them in a direction unanticipated and unwanted by those who deployed them.

To write the technological history of modernity is to investigate how our predecessors have received the technologies handed to them, or used upon them, by the powerful; and also, perhaps, to investigate how countercultural tech has risen up from below to break up the one-way flow of power. These are things worth knowing for anyone who is uncomfortable with the dominant paradigm we live under now."
alanjacobs  2015  technology  modernity  blind  blindness  lambrosmalafouris  mauricemerleau-ponty  gregorybateson  oppenheimerprinciple  culture  assistivetechnology  disability  mind  materiality  bodies  body  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco
climate science and public scrutiny - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
Eric Holthaus writes in Slate about a new climate study led by James Hansen that argues that we are likely to see ocean levels rising higher and far more quickly than has been expected. To say that the study is frightening is to master understatement.

But right now I just want to call attention to how the study is being presented to the world:
One necessary note of caution: Hansen’s study comes via a non-traditional publishing decision by its authors. The study will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open-access “discussion” journal, and will not have formal peer-review prior to its appearance online later this week. The complete discussion draft circulated to journalists was 66 pages long, and included more than 300 references. The peer-review will take place in real-time, with responses to the work by other scientists also published online. Hansen said this publishing timeline was necessary to make the work public as soon as possible before global negotiators meet in Paris later this year. Still, the lack of traditional peer review and the fact that this study’s results go far beyond what’s been previously published will likely bring increased scrutiny. On Twitter, Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist whose work focuses on Greenland and the Arctic, was skeptical of such enormous rates of near-term sea level rise, though she defended Hansen’s decision to publish in a non-traditional way.


It’s interesting that Holthaus says that this decision calls for “a note of caution”: we need to be careful before placing any trust in studies that haven’t been peer-reviewed. And that’s true — but not the primary lesson to be taken from the decision Hansen and his co-authors have made.

Hansen et al. are saying that having their conclusions — and the data from which they drew those conclusions — evaluated in as ruthlessly public a way as possible is infinitely more important than keeping any possible errors secret or achieving maximal prestige through publishing in a Big Journal. They are saying: What we believe we have discovered matters enormously, and therefore we want to expose everything we have done to the most rigorous possible scrutiny. That means opening their work to the world and saying: Go at it. When Holthaus says that this decision “will likely bring increased scrutiny” — well, yes. Precisely the point. Feature, not bug.

So whatever you think about what’s happening to our climate — and therefore to “our common home” — I don't see how you can’t applaud the way Hansen and his co-authors are handling the presentation of their work. This is science done in the most ethically responsible, and most ethically urgent, way imaginable. Every scholar ought to pay close attention to how this scholarship is being put before the world — and everyone who shares “our common home” ought to pay attention to how the ongoing public peer-review plays out."
scrutiny  alanjacobs  science  climatechange  urgency  review  2015  ericholthaus  jameshansen  discussion  debate  ethics 
july 2015 by robertogreco
G O S P E L  O F  T H E  T R E E S
"The Bible is a story about trees. It begins, or nearly enough, with two trees in a garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The pivotal event in the book comes when a man named Jesus is hanged on a tree. And the last chapter of the last book features a remade Jerusalem: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” If you understand the trees, you understand the story.

The words and images here are presented in no particular order: this is a mosaic rather than a narrative. Clicking on the arrow at the top right of each content page will take you randomly to another page on the site.

Also, this mosaic is a work in progress: more text and images will be added to it over time.

This site is one of the lesser fruits of the Project on Lived Theology. I am greatly indebted to Charles Marsh, the founder and Director of PLT, and to the other members of the Virginia Seminar, who have greatly enriched my life in recent years. Further support for the site has been provided by the Faculty Development Fund of Wheaton College.

My name is Alan Jacobs. Any text and images on this site that are not explicitly credited to others are created by me.

The site is designed by my very talented friend Brad Cathey. Hosting is by Highgate Cross."
trees  alanjacobs  religion  bible  theology 
july 2015 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses - Things I Hate about Tumblr
"A partial list:

1. Tumblr Radar on the Dashboard

2. Recommended Blogs on the Dashboard

3. Occasional promoted content on the website

4. Constant promoted content on the iOS app

5. When I try to post something using the Tumblr bookmarklet on Chrome, I can’t resize the posting window: when I drag it to the size I want, it instantly resizes itself

6. Once I get something posted, instead of a simple confirmation message I get an outrageously, violently animated image of celebration, complete with falling confetti and a leaping avatar, as though I’ve just won the lottery

7. Significantly inconsistent posting behavior among (a) the website, (b) the iOS app, © the share-sheet in iOS — for instance, the iOS app doesn’t recognize Markdown

I just don’t know whether I can put up with this crap any more. There’s so much of it."

[And a response from Naum Trifanoff https://twitter.com/naum/status/617076055547883520 +
http://azspot.net/post/123143841390/things-i-hate-about-tumblr :

"Permit me to add:

1. Total bookmarklet failure for an increasing number of sites – when you click on the bookmarklet bar tab and the resultant dialog panel containing url info and highlighted text never returns. Then, I must close that tab, open up a browser tab, and manually fill in a post with all the details. Sort of defeats the raison d'être for Tumblr.

2. The act of reblogging is a far more complex one than simply posting a link or quote – often, your post type is restricted, and then there is addendum content added that grows ever more tricky to format or suppress. I dare say that Tumblr reblogging is more laborious than creating a simple blog post.

3. Default dashboard view doesn’t show my Tumblr blogs. Yes, they’re accessible from a menu pulldown, so this probably falls into the category of minor nitpicking.

4. Search, though it has improved in recent months. [Yes, it has improved. Very much so!]

5. “Activity” dashboard panel is nice, but it could be a lot more useful. Also, when you have ~100K followers, the “Latest Notes” scroll is not very useful – a simple filter where I could just see where somebody added text (or content) instead of just all the likes and reblogs would be awesome.

I suppose we all should be thankful and celebrate that since moving to the online place where things go to die, nevertheless, Tumblr is still chugging along." ]

[My responses to Alan:

"@ayjay I've got #8 (related to #7) for you, right from your post. Tumblr thinking it’s smarter than it is. pic.twitter.com/lI7MTSYzto "
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/617063344000733184

"Also noting that the markdown editor struggles with > for blockquotes. It works, but open again to edit & they revert to ASCII codes."
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/617063915353079808

Additional notes:

- I'm nowhere near quitting, but Alan's #7 (and the wonkiness of the Markdown editor, which I have abandoned for the rich text editor and its own problems) really wastes a lot of my time.

- My version of the iOS app (an old one since I'm stuck in iOS6) is nowhere near as bad as the version Alan is running, doesn't even show promoted content.

- I haven't used the bookmarklet but for a handful of times in the last few years precisely because of the problems mentioned above. I guess that's why my complaints are fewer — through my workflow, I've abandoned parts of Tumblr slowly over times and that leaves me with a narrower view of features that mostly work.

- Of what he notes, Naum's #2 is the one that gets me the most. I think this is related to the broken editors (Markdown, rich text, and even HTML). ]
tumblr  interface  markdown  alanjacobs  2015  yahoo  bookmarklets  naumtrifanoff 
july 2015 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses - frequently unobserved distinctions
"(a) Approving the outcome of a judicial decision
(b) Accepting as valid the legal reasoning in support of that outcome

(a) Believing in the need to enshrine in law a great social good
(b) Believing that that social good is already enshrined in the Constitution

(a) Believing in traditional Christian teaching on a given subject
(b) Believing that that teaching needs to be enshrined in secular law

(a) Wishing to commend to the whole society the excellence of Christian teaching
(b) Believing that legislation is the best way to do that"

[See also:“The Six Axioms of Politico-Judicial Logic”
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-six-axioms-of-polito-judicial-logic/

"These six axioms provide all you need to know to navigate the landscape of current debates about judicial decisions:

1) The heart wants what it wants.

2) The heart has a right to what it wants—as long as the harm principle isn’t violated.

3) A political or social outcome that is greatly desirable is also ipso facto constitutional.

4) A political or social outcome that is greatly undesirable is also ipso facto unconstitutional.

5) A judicial decision that produces a desirable outcome is (regardless of the legal reasoning involved) proof of the wisdom of the Founders in liberating the Supreme Court from the vagaries of partisan politics so that they can think freely and without bias. The system works!

6) A judicial decision that produces an undesirable outcome is (regardless of the legal reasoning involved) proof that the system is broken, because it allows five unelected old farts to determine the course of society.

From these six axioms virtually every opinion stated on social media about Supreme Court decisions can be clearly derived. You’re welcome."]
alanjacobs  law  legal  constitution  courts  christianity  belief  religion  society  legislation  2015 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd. | The American Conservative
"Here’s a puzzling report from the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/06/your-money/skimping-on-the-splurges-even-as-a-millionaire.html?smid=tw-nytimes ]:
A recent report from UBS Wealth Management found that people with more money are generally happy, which probably doesn’t come as much of a shock. “I would say that millionaires in general are very happy,” said Paula Polito, chief client strategy officer at UBS Wealth Management Americas. “I wouldn’t confuse happiness with contentment or satisfaction or achievement.”

Got it. Happy but not necessarily satisfied or content.
The UBS report found that satisfaction rose in line with wealth: 73 percent of those with $1 million to $2 million, 78 percent of those with $2 million to $5 million and 85 percent of those with over $5 million reported that they were “highly satisfied” with life.

Oh. So they are satisfied. Satisfied and happy? Satisfied and happy but not content?
What piqued my curiosity was how conflicted the report’s respondents seemed to be about the source of their wealth. They often have jobs that entail long hours, high pressure and working vacations.

Are those things satisfying? Happiness-conducive?
‘Part of this pressure to keep going is less about greed and more about insecurity that might be self-imposed,’ Ms. Polito said. ‘If you ask people, ‘If you knew you had five more years to live, would you act differently?’ they say they would. That’s a showstopper.’

Happy and satisfied but insecure?
Money buys happiness, the report said. But what good is that happiness if the millionaires who have it cannot enjoy the freedom the money gives them, the freedom that most people would love to have?

But if the inability to enjoy freedom doesn’t make you less happy or satisfied, is it a problem? If so, why?

My takeaway from reading this article: no one involved, from the investigators to the respondents to the reporter, has any idea what they mean by “happy” or “satisfied” or “content” or “free.”

Let’s try to think about these things, starting perhaps with W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen.” [http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/unknown-citizen ] Everyone’s assignment: read this poem, think about it for a month, and then try again."
happiness  satisfaction  2015  alanjacobs  contentment  insecurity  money  freedom 
june 2015 by robertogreco
art as industrial lubricant - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Holy cow, does Nick Carr pin this one to the wall. Google says, "At any moment in your day, Google Play Music has whatever you need music for — from working, to working out, to working it on the dance floor — and gives you curated radio stations to make whatever you’re doing better. Our team of music experts, including the folks who created Songza, crafts each station song by song so you don’t have to."

Nick replies:
This is the democratization of the Muzak philosophy. Music becomes an input, a factor of production. Listening to music is not itself an “activity” — music isn’t an end in itself — but rather an enhancer of other activities, each of which must be clearly demarcated....  

Once you accept that music is an input, a factor of production, you’ll naturally seek to minimize the cost and effort required to acquire the input. And since music is “context” rather than “core,” to borrow Geoff Moore’s famous categorization of business inputs, simple economics would dictate that you outsource the supply of music rather than invest personal resources — time, money, attention, passion — in supplying it yourself. You should, as Google suggests, look to a “team of music experts” to “craft” your musical inputs, “song by song,” so “you don’t have to.” To choose one’s own songs, or even to develop the personal taste in music required to choose one’s own songs, would be wasted labor, a distraction from the series of essential jobs that give structure and value to your days. 

Art is an industrial lubricant that, by reducing the friction from activities, makes for more productive lives.

If music be the lube of work, play on — and we'll be Getting Things Done."
nicholascarr  2015  alanjacobs  music  google  muzak  geoffmoore  productivity  latecapitalism 
june 2015 by robertogreco
first thoughts on <em>Laudato Si'</em> - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"2) A key passage comes early (pp. 16-17): “Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.” (My emphasis.) That there is such a mysterious network of relations is central to Franciscan spirituality, and this concept points to a wholly different understanding of “network” than our technocracy offers.

3) “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” It is therefore simply immoral to act in such a way as to generate changes in the climate that affect others — especially those who because of poverty cannot adjust or adapt. “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited” (p. 20).



9) A book frequently quoted in this encyclical is Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World. Pope Francis has long been interested in and influenced by Guardini, who was also a major influence on Benedict XVI. If I had my way, I’d spend the next couple of months preparing to teach a class in which this encyclical — a far richer work than I had expected it to be, and one that I hope will have lasting power — would be read alongside Guardini’s book, with both accompanied by repeated viewings of Mad Max: Fury Road. The class would be called “Who Killed the World?”"

[Additional notes by Alan Jacobs on Laudato Si':

“more thoughts on Laudato Si'”
http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/06/more-thoughts-on-laudato-si.html

“on sustainability”
http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/06/on-sustainability.html ]

[Direct link to Laudato Si'
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html ]
laudatosi'  popefrancis  2015  alanjacobs  environment  interdependence  capitalism  sustainability  climatechange  rossdouthat  ecology  christianity  catholicism  elizabethkolbert  lynnwhite  patriarchbartholemew  technology  technosolutionsim  anthropocentrism  snthropocene  biocentrism  disposability  throwawayculture  consumerism  nature  humanism  jacquesmaritain  romanoguardini  ethics  morality 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Life in the Garrison | The American Conservative
"To think in this way — to think seriously in this way — is to commit oneself to slow and incremental change, to what W. H. Auden in one of his poems calls “local understanding.” It is also to acknowledge that the order and value you crave will not be handed to you by your environment; rather, you must build it ad hoc, improvising as you go with like-minded people, as you can find them."



"A genuinely conservative — i.e., conserving — counter-culture of any kind, including the Christian kind, will be similarly improvisatory, small-scale, local, fragile. It will always be aware that “to inhabit an ecology of attention that puts one squarely in the world” is a task to be re-engaged, with more or less success, every day. Over its (imaginary) gates it will carve a motto, one taken from a late Auden poem, “The Garrison”:

"Whoever rules, our duty to the City
is loyal opposition, never greening
for the big money, never neighing after
a public image.

Let us leave rebellions to the choleric
who enjoy them: to serve as a paradigm
now of what a plausible Future might be
is what we’re here for."
whauden  poems  poetry  futures  utopia  small  presence  attention  slow  scale  improvisation  local  conservatiism  christianity  alanjacobs  2015  engagement  everyday  canon 
june 2015 by robertogreco
more on the "Californian ideology" - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"A brief follow-up to a recent post [http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/05/pynchon-and-californian-ideology.html ] ... Here's an interesting article by Samuel Loncar called "The Vibrant Religious Life of Silicon Valley, and Why It’s Killing the Economy." [http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/the-vibrant-religious-life-of-silicon-valley-and-why-its-killing-the-economy-by-samuel-loncar/ ] A key passage:
The “religion of technology” is not itself new. The late historian David Noble, in his book by that title, traced its origins in a particular strain of Christianity which saw technology as means of reversing the effects of the Fall. What is new, and perhaps alarming, is that the most influential sector of the economy is awash in this sea of faith, and that its ethos in Silicon Valley is particularly unfriendly to human life as the middle classes know it. The general optimism about divinization in Silicon Valley motivates a widespread (though by no means universal) disregard for, and even hostility toward, material culture: you know, things like bodies (which Silva calls “skin bags”) and jobs which involve them.

The very fact that Silicon Valley has incubated this new religious culture unbeknownst to most of the outside world suggests how insulated it is. On the one hand, five minutes spent listening to the CEO of Google or some other tech giant will show you how differently people in Silicon Valley think from the rest of the country — listen carefully and you realize most of them simply assume there will be massive unemployment in the coming decades — and how unselfconscious most are of their differences. On the other hand, listen to mainstream East Coast journalists and intellectuals, and you would think a kind of ho-hum secularism, completely disinterested in becoming gods, is still the uncontested norm among modern elites.

If religion makes a comeback, but this is the religion that comes back....

More on this later, but for now just one brief note about bodies as "skin bags": in the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is captured and branded and used to provide blood transfusions to an ill War Boy named Nux. Nux calls Max "my blood bag." Hey, it's only a body."
alanjacobs  californianideology  samuelloncar  2015  davidnoble  christianity  siliconvalley  technology  technosolutionism  faith  economics 
june 2015 by robertogreco
prosthetics, child-rearing, and social construction - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"N.B.: I am not arguing for or against changing child-rearing practices. I am exploring how and why people simply forget that human beings are animals, are biological organisms on a planet with a multitude of other biological organisms with which they share many structural and behavioral features because they also share a long common history. (I might also say that they share a creaturely status by virtue of a common Maker, but that’s not a necessary hypothesis at the moment.) In my judgment, such forgetting does not happen because people have been steeped in social constructionist arguments; those are, rather, just tools ready to hand. There is a deeper and more powerful and (I think) more pernicious ideology at work, which has two components."



"Those who look forward to a future of increasing technological manipulation of human beings, and of other biological organisms, always imagine themselves as the Controllers, not the controlled; they always identify with the position of power. And so they forget evolutionary history, they forget biology, they forget the disasters that can come from following the Oppenheimer Principle — they forget everything that might serve to remind them of constraints on the power they have ... or fondly imagine they have."

[See also: “Blueprint for a Better Human Body: People who wear and design prosthetics are rethinking the form of our species.” http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/05/a-blueprint-for-a-better-human-body/389655/ ]

[Follow-up post: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/05/ideas-and-their-consequences.html

"I think there is a great tendency among academics to think that cutting-edge theoretical reflection is ... well, is cutting some edges somewhere. But it seems to me that Theory is typically a belated thing. I’ve argued before that some of the greatest achievements of 20th-century literary criticism are in fact rather late entries in the Modernist movement: “We academics, who love to think of ourselves as being on the cutting-edge of thought, are typically running about half-a-century behind the novelists and poets.” And we run even further behind the scientists and technologists, who alter our material world in ways that generate the Lebenswelt within which humanistic Theory arises.

This failure of understanding — this systematic undervaluing of the materiality of culture and overvaluing of what thinkers do in their studies — is what produces vast cathedrals of error like what I have called the neo-Thomist interpretation of history. When Brad Gregory and Thomas Pfau, following Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain and Richard Weaver, argue that most of the modern world (especially the parts they don't like) emerges from disputes among a tiny handful of philosophers and theologians in the University of Paris in the fifteenth century, they are making an argument that ought to be self-evidently absurd. W. H. Auden used to say that the social and political history of Europe would be exactly the same if Dante, Shakespeare, and Mozart had never lived, and that seems to me not only to be true in those particular cases but also as providing a general rule for evaluating the influence of writers, artists, and philosophers. I see absolutely no reason to think that the so-called nominalists — actually a varied crew — had any impact whatsoever on the culture that emerged after their deaths. When you ask proponents of this model of history to explain how the causal chain works, how we got from a set of arcane, recondite philosophical and theological disputes to the political and economic restructuring of Western society, it’s impossible to get an answer. They seem to think that nominalism works like an airborne virus, gradually and invisibly but fatally infecting a populace. "]
alanjacobs  posthumanism  prosthetics  technology  culture  2015  biology  multispecies  cyborgs  humans  humanism  control  power  robertoppenheimer  roseeveleth 
may 2015 by robertogreco
rant of the day - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Fantastic rant this morning from Maciej Ceglowski, creator of the invaluable Pinboard, about this new service:

“Hello Alfred Raises $10.5M To Automate Your Chores”. Part of the white-hot trend in scriptable people.
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

“Customers are assigned their own home manager, also called an Alfred, and those nameless managers take care of the work”
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

I’ve seen luxury apartments with a built-in “servant call” button resembling a doorbell, but I never expected the world wide web to get one
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

A nameless, fungible class of domestic workers is antithetical to a democratic society. That’s what undocumented immigrants are for
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

Next up: on-demand service that offshores your guilt about creating, enabling and participating in a new Gilded Age
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) April 14, 2015

The chief reason I keep arguing with Ned O'Gorman about whether things can want — latest installment here — is that I think the blurring of lines between the agency of animals (especially people) and the agency of made objects contributes to just this kind of thing: if we can script the Internet of Things why not script people too? Once they're scripted they want what they've been scripted to do. (Obviously O'Gorman doesn't want to see that happen any more than I do: our debate is about the tendencies of terms, not about substantive ethical and political questions.)"
alanjacobs  nedo'gorman  maciejceglowski  labor  inequality  iot  internetofthings  2015  helloalfred  alfred  servants  gildedage  siliconvalley  californianideology  domesticworkers  distancing  othering  taskrabbit  sharingeconomy  outsourcing  chores  homemaking  domesticwork  ethics  agency  capitalism  latecapitalism  maciejcegłowski 
april 2015 by robertogreco
79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation. | The Infernal Machine
"Alan Jacobs has written seventy-nine theses on technology for disputation. A disputation is an old technology, a formal technique of debate and argument that took shape in medieval universities in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In its most general form, a disputation consisted of a thesis, a counter-thesis, and a string of arguments, usually buttressed by citations of Aristotle, Augustine, or the Bible.

But disputations were not just formal arguments. They were public performances that trained university students in how to seek and argue for the truth. They made demands on students and masters alike. Truth was hard won; it was to be found in multiple, sometimes conflicting traditions; it required one to give and recognize arguments; and, perhaps above all, it demanded an epistemic humility, an acknowledgment that truth was something sought, not something produced.

It is, then, in this spirit that Jacobs offers, tongue firmly in cheek, his seventy-nine theses on technology and what it means to inhabit a world formed by it. They are pithy, witty, ponderous, and full of life. And over the following weeks, we at the Infernal Machine will take Jacobs’ theses at his provocative best and dispute them. We’ll take three or four at a time and offer our own counter-theses in a spirit of generosity.

So here they are:

1. Everything begins with attention.

2. It is vital to ask, “What must I pay attention to?”

3. It is vital to ask, “What may I pay attention to?”

4. It is vital to ask, “What must I refuse attention to?”

5. To “pay” attention is not a metaphor: Attending to something is an economic exercise, an exchange with uncertain returns.

6. Attention is not an infinitely renewable resource; but it is partially renewable, if well-invested and properly cared for.

7. We should evaluate our investments of attention at least as carefully and critically as our investments of money.

8. Sir Francis Bacon provides a narrow and stringent model for what counts as attentiveness: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

9. An essential question is, “What form of attention does this phenomenon require? That of reading or seeing? That of writing also? Or silence?”

10. Attentiveness must never be confused with the desire to mark or announce attentiveness. (“Can I learn to suffer/Without saying something ironic or funny/On suffering?”—Prospero, in Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror)

11. “Mindfulness” seems to many a valid response to the perils of incessant connectivity because it confines its recommendation to the cultivation of a mental stance without objects.

12. That is, mindfulness reduces mental health to a single, simple technique that delivers its user from the obligation to ask any awkward questions about what his or her mind is and is not attending to.

13. The only mindfulness worth cultivating will be teleological through and through.

14. Such mindfulness, and all other healthy forms of attention—healthy for oneself and for others—can only happen with the creation of and care for an attentional commons.

15. This will not be easy to do in a culture for which surveillance has become the normative form of care.

16. Simone Weil wrote that ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’; if so, then surveillance is the opposite of attention.

17. The primary battles on social media today are fought by two mutually surveilling armies: code fetishists and antinomians.

18. The intensity of those battles is increased by a failure by any of the parties to consider the importance of intimacy gradients.

19. “And weeping arises from sorrow, but sorrow also arises from weeping.”—Bertolt Brecht, writing about Twitter

20. We cannot understand the internet without perceiving its true status: The Internet is a failed state.

21. We cannot respond properly to that failed-state condition without realizing and avoiding the perils of seeing like a state.

22. If instead of thinking of the internet in statist terms we apply the logic of subsidiarity, we might be able to imagine the digital equivalent of a Mondragon cooperative.

23. The internet groans in travail as it awaits its José María Arizmendiarrieta."

[continues on]

[A collection of follow-ups and responses is accummulating here:
http://iasc-culture.org/THR/channels/Infernal_Machine/tag/79-theses-on-technology/

For example: “79 Theses on Technology: On Attention”
http://iasc-culture.org/THR/channels/Infernal_Machine/2015/03/79-theses-on-technology-on-attention/

And another round-up of responses:
http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/04/more-on-theses.html ]
alanjacobs  anthropology  culture  digital  history  technology  attention  dunning-krugereffect  anosognosia  pleasure  ethics  writing  howwewrite  jaronlanier  alextabattok  stupidity  logic  loki  cslewis  algorithms  akrasia  physical  patheticfallacy  hacking  hackers  kevinkelly  georgebernardshaw  agency  philosophy  tommccarthy  commenting  frankkermode  text  texts  community  communication  resistance  mindfulness  internet  online  web  josémaríaarizmendiarrieta  simonwiel  society  whauden  silence  attentiveness  textualist  chadwellmon  surveillance  2015 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Hack Education Weekly Newsletter, No. 101
"Every week, I take all the essays and articles that I’ve bookmarked and sift through them in order to craft this newsletter. I’m always struck by how many weird and ridiculous claims are made about education and technology, both in the “mainstream” and industry press. (I don’t know why this continues to surprise me, and the right response, quite arguably, is to neither link to nor write for [http://www.jessestommel.com/blog/files/dear-chronicle.html ] these publications…)

There’s the continuous clarion call for more data collection, more automation, more engineering, more scientific management, and of course more disruptive innovation. These are the narratives loudly trying to shape the future.
Of course, these narratives are intertwined with power and policies. As Alan Jacobs notes [http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/surveillance-and-care/ ], we confuse surveillance with care. We confuse surveillance with self-knowledge, Rob Horning adds [http://robhorningtni.tumblr.com/post/112618248845/your-permanent-record ]:
I don’t think self-knowledge can be reduced to matters of data possession and retention; it can’t be represented as a substance than someone can have more or less of. Self-knowledge is not a matter of having the most thorough archive of your deeds and the intentions behind them. It is not a quality of memories, or an amount of data. It is not a terrain to which you are entitled to own the most detailed map. Self-knowledge is not a matter of reading your own permanent record.

We confuse individuals’ acts of (self-)documentation with structural change and justice. We confuse the “sharing economy” for the latter as well. According to Evgeny Morozov:
The citizens, who are not yet fully aware of these dilemmas, might eventually realise that the actual choice we are facing today is not between the market and the state, but between politics and non-politics. It’s a choice between a system bereft of any institutional and political imagination – where some permutation of hackers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists is the default answer to every social problem – and a system, where explicitly political solutions that might question who – citizens, firms, the state – ought to own what, and on what terms, are still part of the conversation.

It doesn’t help that so many of these narratives comes from “a town without history,” as Mike Caulfield observes in “People Have the Star Trek Computer Backwards.”

[See also: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:450933ec9018 ]
audreywatters  alanjacobs  robhorning  evgenymorozov  2015  surveillance  care  education  edtech  mikecaulfield  data  datacollection  management  scientificmanagement  self-knowledge  caring  permanentrecords  permanentrecord  records  justice  socialhustice  hierarchy  patriarchy  siliconvalley  edreform  technosolutionism  politics  policy  control  power  citizenship  civics  legibility  documentation  assessment  accountability  sharingeconomy  jessestommel  innovation  disruption  disruptiveinnovation 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Permanent Recorder – The New Inquiry
"Reducing self-knowledge to matters of data possession and retention like that seems to be the natural bias of a property-oriented society; as consciousness can’t be represented as a substance than someone can have more or less of, therefore it doesn’t count. But self-knowledge may not be a matter of having the most thorough archive of your deeds and the intentions behind them. It is not a quantity of memories, an amount of data. The self is not a terrain to which you are entitled to own the most detailed map. Self-knowledge is not a matter of reading your own permanent record. It is not an edit of our life’s footage."



"But what if we use social media not for self-knowledge but for self-destruction? What if we use social media to complicate the idea that we could ever “know ourselves”? What if we use social media to make ourselves into something unknowable? Maybe we record the footage of our lives to define therein what the essence of our self isn’t. To the degree that identity is a prison, self-knowledge makes the cell’s walls. But self-knowledge could instead be an awareness of how to move beyond those walls.

Not everyone has the opportunity to cast identity aside any more than they have the ability to unilaterally assert self-knowledge as a form of control. We fall into the trap of trying to assert some sort of objectively “better” or more “accurate” identity that reflects our “true self,” which is only so much more data that can be used to control us and remold the identity that is assigned to us socially. The most luxurious and privileged condition may be one in which you get to experience yourself as endlessly surprising — a condition in which you hardly know yourself at all but have complete confidence that others know and respect you as they should."

[Compare to: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:252f6d04a600
also here: http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/112249466248/being-lost-is-being-open ]

[Update: another version of this here:
http://robhorningtni.tumblr.com/post/112618248845/your-permanent-record

and compare to
http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/surveillance-and-care/
(bookmarked: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:0b5b4c7a937f )

connections made via
http://tinyletter.com/audreywatters/letters/hack-education-weekly-newsletter-no-101 ]
robhorning  socialmedia  2015  identity  self-knowledge  control  presentationofself  surveillance  capitalism  realitytv  forgetting  facebook  permanentrecord  permanentrecords  alanjacobs  audreywatters 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Surveillance and Care | Snakes and Ladders
"Another day, another story about the legal trouble you can expect if you’re a free-range parent. This matters, a lot, and what’s at stake needs to be made clear.

1) The parents here are accused by the state of “child neglect,” but what they are doing is the opposite of neglect — it is thoughtful, intentional training of their children for responsible adulthood. They instructed their children with care; the children practiced responsible freedom before being fully entrusted with it. And then the state intervened before the children could discover the satisfaction of exercising their freedom well.

2) What’s happening here is fundamentally simple: the surveillance state enforcing surveillance as the normative form of care. The state cannot teach its citizens, because it has no idea what to teach; it can only place them under observation. Perfect observation — panopticism — then becomes its telos, which is justifies and universalizes by imposing a responsibility to surveil on the very citizens already being surveilled. The state’s commandment to parents: Do as I do.

3) By enforcing surveillance as the normative form of care, the state effectively erases the significance of all other forms of care. Parents might teach their children nothing of value, no moral standards, no self-discipline, no compassion for others — but as long as those children are incessantly observed, then according to the state’s standards the parents of those children are good parents. And they are good because they are training their children to accept a lifetime of passive acceptance of surveillance. The Marxist theorist Louis Althusser used to speak of the ways that culture can be transformed into an “ideological state apparatus” — that’s what our society wants to do to parenthood."
panopticon  surveillance  parenting  freerangeparenting  government  alanjacobs  2015  cps  freedom  control  parenthood  children  ethics  morality  culture  ideology  louisalthusser  observation  care  caring  althusser 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Changes | Snakes and Ladders
"These two environments, Twitter and Tumblr, have something important in common, which they share with most social media sites: they invite you to measure people’s response to you. For many people this probably means nothing, but on me it has always had an effect. Over the years I developed a sense of how many RTs a tweet was likely to earn, how many reblogs or likes a Tumblr post would receive – and I couldn’t help checking to see if my guesses were right. I never really cared anything about numbers of followers, and for a long time I think I covertly prided myself on that; but eventually I came to understand that I wanted my followers, however many there happened to be, to notice what I was saying and to acknowledge my wit or wisdom in the currency of RTs and faves. And over time I believe that desire shaped what I said, what I thought – what I noticed. I think it dulled my brain. I think it distracted me from the pursuit of more difficult, challenging ideas that don’t readily fit into the molds of social media."
2015  writing  howwewite  soicalmedia  metrics  twitter  tumblr  attention  audience  alanjacobs 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Assignment: Commentary and Anthology | Snakes and Ladders
"Just in case anyone is interested, here’s a draft of something I’ll be handing out to my students in a couple of weeks.

In most of your courses in the humanities, you’re asked to write papers — probably thesis papers, in which you make an argument that you support with evidence from the text under consideration and from critical or contextual studies. It’s a reasonable task to ask students to perform; Lord knows I have asked it of enough students in my thirty-plus years of teaching. But it’s not the only appropriate assignment, and it has certain shortcomings.

Chief among those, I think, is its tendency to encourage people to get through the task of reading as quickly as possible in order to get on to the really important job of articulating and defending your own position. But reading is a task that deserves more care — especially when the texts involved are challenging, difficult, and major.

In a brilliant and important book, Religious Reading, Paul Griffiths demonstrates that in most of the great religious traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity — there are genres of reading, that is, kinds of texts in which one records one’s reading. The two major genres, according to Griffiths, are commentary and anthology. To people trained in the habits of mind associated with the thesis paper, these genres seem passive and deferential — especially when applied to non-religious texts. But those genres are not passive at all, and insofar as they are deferential that deference may be quite appropriate. After all, many non-religious texts, especially when they arise in cultures distant from us in time or space or both, pose great difficulties for the reader. Allusions will escape us, social and cultural contexts will be unknown to us, subtleties of argument or exposition or characterization or poetic language will leave us scratching our heads. To seek to identify and then resolve those difficulties — these are highly demanding intellectual tasks, and will not allow passivity, though, as they reveal the complexities that animate really significant works, they may promote deference.

In our class, we will be using a wonderful tool called CommentPress to create an online anthology of writings and to comment on those writings. You will not write papers in this class; instead, you will help to create the anthology, and you will comment on texts you bring to our attention and on the texts others bring. By the end of the term, we will have created a body of annotated readings that, taken as a whole, will significantly illuminate our subject.

So each week, you will do each of the following:

• Post one passage from one of our assigned texts (either copying and pasting from an online public-domain text, or typing in a passage from one of your books);
• Make a comment that offers some helpful contextual information about the passage (something about the text’s author, or the historical moment of its composition, or the culture within which it was produced, or a work that it echoes or responds to), preferably with a link to your source;
• Make a longer comment (perhaps 150-250 words or so) that offers an interpretation of a particular passage in the text, probably drawing on existing scholarly work;
• Respond to someone else’s comment by disagreeing with it, amplifying and extending it, or providing further relevant information.

You should be aware right from the beginning that this assignment will require you to form somewhat different work habits than you are used to. Many of you are habituated to an academic model in which you read regularly but write infrequently, and probably in intense bursts of activity. In this class reading and writing will be more closely joined to one another, and you will write almost as regularly as you read, and in smaller chunks than essay assignments normally require.

You will also need to familiarize yourself with the CommentPress software, including the proper ways to format text and insert links. Don’t worry: I’ll show you in class how it’s done, and will be happy to answer questions later.

So this will be different than you’re used to. But different is good. Or at least, it can be!"

[follow-up: http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/more-about-my-new-writing-assignment/ ]

[and another reference to this post: https://twitter.com/ayjay/status/554465423211499521 ]
reading  teaching  writing  assignments  2014  alanjacobs  reflection  howwewrite  teachingwriting  commentpress  commenting  howweread  annotation 
january 2015 by robertogreco
More About My New Writing Assignment | Snakes and Ladders
"When, a few days ago, I posted the details of my radically subversive new writing assignment [http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/assignment-commentary-and-anthology/ ], I got a number of replies from my friends on Twitter. They fell into three categories:

• This sounds great!
• Um … let me know how it goes.
• I’d feel better about something like this if my students were skilled at writing conventional thesis essays.

Here I want to address that third response.

Some of my students are quite skilled at writing “conventional thesis essays” — the kind that have an introductory paragraph announcing the thesis to be supported, followed by evidence for that thesis taken from the primary source under consideration plus relevant secondary sources, and a conclusion that wraps things up nicely. Some of my students are not so skilled at working in that genre. By eschewing it I am definitely passing up the opportunity to give my students detailed instruction in how to write that kind of text.

Which leads me to a series of questions: How much does that matter? How important is it that my students get better at writing thesis essays? After all, the thesis essay is just one of many genres of writing: how did it become so utterly dominant in the academic study of the humanities? Does it deserve such dominance? Presumably we assign thesis essays not because we think that genre uniquely valuable in itself, but because we think it inculcates certain valuable skills (how to research and sift one’s research, how to defend an arguable position, etc.) — but what if those skills can be taught through assigning different kinds of writing? What if there are other equally valuable skills that can’t readily be taught through the assigning of thesis essays?

Yes, students who are going on to graduate school in the humanities will need to become quite skilled at writing thesis essays — but why should we craft our assignments in order to meet the needs of a small percentage of our students? Moreover, especially if those students get practice writing thesis essays in other classes, why shouldn’t I use my class to teach them some skills and intellectual virtues that could later set them apart from peers?

Questions like those.

One of the primary things I’m hoping to achieve through this assignment is to bring reading and writing into closer and more constructively interanimating relation. In the traditional model, students read and discuss a text and then, at some point later in the term, write about it. Reading is generally done on an almost daily basis, while writing (serious, in-depth writing anyway) is done infrequently and in intense bursts of activity, probably over little more than 48 hours.

I want to see what happens if students have to write, and write seriously, in more-or-less the same rhythm as they read: read a section of a text, write about it, read some more, see what others (scholars and classmates) have said about it, revisit your earlier thoughts to extend or correct them, etc. I feel quite confident that this will make students more incisive and reflective readers; what it will do for their writing skills I am not certain. But it’s worth an experiment.

(P.S. The assignment is neither radical nor subversive, but I thought that might be a cool thing to say.)"
writing  teaching  teachingwriting  2015  alanjacobs  howwewrite  essays  thesisessays  reading  howweread  classideas  humanities  reflection  commentpress 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Random thoughts on Charlie Hebdo | Snakes and Ladders
"1) I don’t think the most important question about what happened is “Do we support Charlie Hebdo?” I think the most important question is, “Do we support, and are we willing to fight for, a society in which people who make things like Charlie Hebdo can work in peace and sleep in their beds each night without fear?”

2) Freddie deBoer wrote,
Peter Beinart and Ross Douthat and Jon Chait and hundreds more will take the time in the week to come to beat their chests and declare themselves firmly committed to brave ideas like “murder is bad” and “free speech is good.” None of them, if pressed, would pretend that we are at risk of abandoning our commitment against murder or in favor of free speech. None of them think that, in response to this attack, we or France or any other industrialized nation is going to pass a bill declaring criticism of Islam illegal.


That last sentence is true enough, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The measure of freedom of speech in a society is not simply a matter of what laws are or are not passed. We must also ask which existing laws are or are not enforced; and what self-censorship people perform out of fear that their societies will not or cannot protect them. Freddie writes as though freedom of speech can be adequately evaluated only by reference to the situation de jure; but there are de facto issues that must also be considered.

3) One of the more interesting comments on this whole affair is that of Giles Fraser:
In one sense an iconoclast is someone who refuses the established view of things, who kicks out against cherished beliefs and institutions. Which sounds pretty much like Charlie Hebdo. But the word iconoclast also describes those religious people who refuse and smash representational images, especially of the divine. The second of the Ten Commandments prohibits graven images – which is why there are no pictures of God in Judaism or Islam. And theologically speaking, the reason they are deeply suspicious of divine representation is because they fear that such representations of God might get confused for the real thing. The danger, they believe, is that we might end up overinvesting in a bad copy, something that looks a lot like what we might think of as god, but which, in reality, is just a human projection. So much better then to smash all representations of the divine.

And yet this, of course, is exactly what Charlie Hebdo was doing. In the bluntest, rudest, most scatological and offensive of terms, Charlie Hebdo has been insisting that the images people worship are just human creations – bad and dangerous human creations. And in taking the piss out of such images, they actually exist in a tradition of religious iconoclasts going back as far as Abraham taking a hammer to his father’s statues. Both are attacks on representations of the divine. Which is why the terrorists, as well as being murderers, are theologically mistaken in thinking Charlie Hebdo is the enemy. For if God is fundamentally unrepresentable, then any representation of God is necessarily less than God and thus deserves to be fully and fearlessly attacked. And what better way of doing this than through satire, like scribbling a little moustache on a grand statue of God.


I would love to agree with this, but can’t quite. All iconoclasm is not alike. Reading Fraser’s essay I found myself remembering Mikhail Bakhtin’s great essay “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” in which he compares ancient and medieval parody with its modern equivalent.
Ancient parody was free of any nihilistic denial. It was not, after all, the heroes who were parodied, nor the Trojan War and its participants; what was parodied was only its epic heroization; not Hercules and his exploits but their tragic heroization. The genre itself, the style, the language are all put in cheerfully irreverent quotation marks, and they are perceived against a backdrop of contradictory reality that cannot be confined within their narrow frames. The direct and serious word was revealed, in all its limitations and insufficiency, only after it had become the laughing image of that word — but it was by no means discredited in the process.


By contrast, “in modem times the functions of parody are narrow and unproductive. Parody has grown sickly, its place in modem literature is insignificant. We live, write and speak today in a world of free and democratized language: the complex and multi-leveled hierarchy of discourses, forms, images, styles that used to permeate the entire system of official language and linguistic consciousness was swept away by the linguistic revolution of the Renaissance.” Parody for us is too often merely iconoclastic, breaking images out of juvenile delight in breaking, not out of commitment to a reality too heteroglot (Bakhtin’s term) to fit within the confines of standardized religious practices. I think Charlie Hebdo is juvenile in this way.

But feel free agree with that judgment or not — it’s not germane. As I said, the truly vital question here is not whether the magazine’s satire is worthwhile. The truly vital question is how badly — if at all — we want to live in a society where people who make such magazines can live without fear of losing their lives."
alanjacobs  charliehebdo  2015  satire  politics  gilesfraser  mikhailbakhtin  heroes  heroization  heteroglots  parody  society  freddiedeboer  freedom  #JeSuisCharlieHebdo  france  freespeech  freedomofspeech  islam  gravenimages  middleages  medieval  renaissance  power  language  linguistics  religion  #JeSuisCharlie 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The Genealogy of "Carol Brown": An Intertextual Reading of Parodic-Travestying Song - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Of the three songs, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” might at first seem to be the least thoroughly captured by the masculinist rhetorical enterprise, since it features a woman listing the names of men: Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, and Lee. But this appearance is misleading: note that no woman actually speaks in the song, but rather is spoken for by the masculine singer — and the emphasis is solely on how she relates to him: “The problem is all in side your head, she said to me.” (This is not a song that would pass any musical version of the Bechdel Test.) If a woman seems to have power in this song, it is power yielded to her by the singer, provisionally and temporarily. He remains the true decision-maker.

“Song for Whoever” is more obviously and flagrantly sexist, with its frank emphasis on using the tears of women for financial and reputational gain: “The Number One I hope to reap / Depends upon the tears you weep, / So cry, lover, cry.” Yet the song ultimately deconstructs itself, reaching its aporia in the namelessness of the singer: it is only the women who receive names, while he remains a cipher. He claims the power of speech and song — like Orpheus — but can only receive it by giving up his name, while the specificities of identity remain with the denigrated women. This reversal of power is indirectly acknowledged at the end of the song, with its narration of female vengeance — meant by the singer to be feared, but understood by the listener as a proper and indeed necessary act of retributive justice.

This “return of the repressed,” as Freud might have called it, finds a completion and intensification in the video of “Carol Brown.” Note here the presence of the woman's name even in the song’s very title — indicative of things to come, as the singer strives unsuccessfully to control the narration of his sexual history. His crucial mistake is the decision to display images of his former lovers, with the obvious purpose of subjecting them to the masculine gaze — but to his surprise and consternation, those images come to life: an ideal instance of the feminine subaltern speaking back to masculinist power.

Who organized all my ex-girlfriends into a choir
And got them to sing?
Ooh ooh ooh, shut up
Shut up girlfriends from the past

But — and this is the key point — they do not shut up. (He later repeats his order — “I thought I told you to shut uh-uh-up” — but they do not obey.) Through utterance they overcome their status as mere images, and take control of the song. As Baudrillard might put it, the simulacrum here becomes the hyperreal — and thereby the undoing of the Don Giovanni figure is complete.

Let me close with one ambiguous, and ambivalent, note. The wild card in “Carol Brown,” the figure that represents and enacts excess of signification, is “Bret” — whose evident chief trait here is silence. Unlike “Jemaine” and unlike the “Choir of Ex-Girlfriends” he does not sing. And yet he acts: and his primary acts involve manipulation of the image of “Jemaine,” including, most notably, shrinking him. Thus through “Bret” we see the reversal of the woman-as-enlarging-mirror trope that Virginia Woolf limned so memorably in A Room of One’s Own.

One might then see Bret as a Trickster figure — see Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World, though one might also describe “Bret” as a “whiteface” version of the “signifying monkey” about which Henry Louis Gates has written so incisively — but a trickster acting in order to help liberate women from imprisonment in the image constructed by the masculine gaze. But does such behavior enact a genuine male feminism? Or does it rather re-inscribe masculinist control in the deceptive guise of the Liberator? These questions will have to be pursued at a later date."
alanjacobs  fligthoftheconchords  paulsimon  thebeautifulsouth  music  meaning  gender  trickster  lewishyde  trickstermakesthisworld  henrylouisgates  feminism  freud 
october 2014 by robertogreco
The Devil’s Bargain — Medium
"The question Graeber wants to put to us is this: To what extent are our imaginations shaped — constrained, limited — by our having had to live with the technological choices made by the military-industrial complex — by industries and universities working in close collaboration with the government, in a spirit of subservience to its needs?

Or, to put it another way: How were we taught not even to dream of flying cars and jetpacks? — or, or for that matter, an end to world hunger, something that C. P. Snow, in his famous lecture on “the two cultures” of the sciences and humanities, saw as clearly within our grasp more than half-a-century ago? To see “sophisticated simulations” of the things we used to hope we’d really achieve as good enough?"



"As I noted earlier, this seems to cover a very different subject than his meditation on flying cars and the absence thereof — but it’s really about the same thing, which is: the impact of economic structures on imagination. For Graeber it could scarcely be accidental that a world devoted to utility-maximizing, acquisitive market-based behavior would create a theory that animals, indeed the very genes of creatures, invariably behave in a utility-miximizing, acquisitive way in the Great Market of Life."



"For those whose ideas have been shaped so thoroughly by the logic of capitalism, people like Prince Kropotkin who see mutual aid as a factor in evolution, or who would go still further and see play as simply intrinsic to being alive — Graeber doesn’t cite J. Huizinga’s Homo Ludens here, but he should — are just nuts. They’re not seeing the world as it obviously really is.

But, Graeber suggests, maybe what’s obvious from within the logic of late capitalism isn’t so obvious from another point of view; and maybe what’s nuts according to the logic of late capitalism is, again from another point of view, not necessarily nuts. Maybe there is more in heaven and earth, Professor Dawkins, than is dreamt of in your evolutionary biology.

In a famous passage from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — the much-anthologized chapter called “Seeing” — Annie Dillard cites the naturalist Stewart Edward White on how to learn to see deer: “As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.” That is, you have to learn to pick out certain now-and-for-you-insignificant elements in your visual field and reassign them to the realm of the significant. And this is true, not just for the visual but also for the mental field. But it is also and equally true that our constructions of the artificial obvious are not invariably reliable: sometimes they are wrong, and if we then forget that they are our constructions, and think of them as the natural obvious, as the way things just are … we’re screwed.

This is Graeber’s point. And you don’t have to agree with him about the playfulness of worms to see its importance. Our social and economic structures prompt us, every day and in a hundred different ways, to see certain elements of our mental field as significant while ever-so-gently discouraging us from noticing others at all. And when it comes to the constructions of our mental worlds, as opposed to our visual fields, we might be missing something more lastingly important than a guy in a gorilla suit.

All of these reflections started with my reading of a 1945 article about the entanglements of the arts with universities, at a time when universities were in danger of becoming what they have since largely become: “social and technical service stations.” Let’s try now to get back to those concerns."



"My point is: I don’t like seeing journalism being drawn so consistently into the same self-justifying, self-celebrating circles that the American university itself was drawn into during and following World War II. As R. P. Blackmur rightly feared, the intimacy between universities and government did not end when the war ended; it only intensified, and the fact that those universities became our chief patrons of the arts, especially literary writing, at the very moment that they crawled permanently into bed with government and industry, cannot be without repercussions for artists.

The best guide to the rise of creative programs in particular is Mark McGurl’s The Program Era, and it’s fascinating how McGurl repeatedly walks right up to the edge of a clearly articulated critique of this system without ever crossing it. In the penultimate sentence of his book he writes, “Is there not more excellent fiction being produced now than anyone has time to read?” Then he starts a new paragraph before giving us the book’s last sentence: “What kind of traitor to the mission of mass higher education would you have to be to think otherwise?” Oh clever man!

Yes, there is a great deal of skillfully written post-World-War-II fiction available to us, indeed more than we could ever read. But how much of it embodies the kind of imaginative otherness that, as David Graeber reminds us, our social/cultural/economic contexts militate against? How much of it, shaped as it is in institutions that owe their continued existence to their affiliation with the military-industrial complex, envisions ways of life radically other than the ones we now experience? How much of it offers more than increasingly sophisticated simulations of worlds we already know, can predict, feel comfortable in? How much, in shirt, is conducive to genuine hope?

I guess what I’m asking for is pretty simple: for writers of all kinds, journalists as well as fiction writers, and artists and academics, to strive to extricate themselves from an “artificial obvious” that has been constructed for us by the dominant institutions of our culture. Simple; also probably impossible. But it’s worth trying. Few things are more worth trying.

And I am also asking universities to realize and to reconsider their implication in those dominant institutions. I don’t demand that schools sever their ties with those institutions, since that would be financially suicidal, and economic times for higher education are hard enough as it is. But there need to be more pockets of resistance: more institutions with self-consciously distinctive missions, and within institutions more departments or even just informal discussion groups who seek to imagine the so-far unimaginable.

Finally, I am asking all this of myself. I’m fifty-five years old. I’ve probably got twenty or so years to think and write at the highest level I’m capable of, and in those years I want to surprise myself. I don’t want merely to recycle and redeploy the ideas I have inherited. I know that this is easier for me, a white American man with a secure job, than it is for many others. But then, that’s all the more reason for me to do it.

Fifty years ago, Jacques Derrida gave a lecture that would become very famous, and created a stir even as he presented it. When the talk ended, the first questioner was Jean Hyppolite, and he asked Derrida what his talk was “tending toward.” Derrida replied, “I was wondering myself if I know where I am going. So I would answer you by saying, first, that I am trying, precisely, to put myself at a point so that I do not know any longer where I am going.”"
2014  alanjacobs  education  culture  highereducation  highered  davidgraeber  whauden  rpblackmur  louisalthusser  adamkirsch  militaryindustrialcomplex  power  funding  academia  creativity  play  economics  imagination  richarddawkins  canon  corporatization  corporatism  mutualaid  peterkropotkin  homoludens  johanhuizinga  seeing  stewartendward  anniedillard  californiasundaymagazine  technology  siliconvalley  capitalism  latecapitalism  journalism  writing  jacquesderrida  jeanhyppolite  markmcgurl  context  resistance  utopia  pocketsofresistance  courage  possibility  transcontextualism  paradigmshifts  althusser  transcontextualization 
october 2014 by robertogreco
think locally, act globally - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"I was drafting this post before Freddie deBoer’s recent post [http://fredrikdeboer.com/2014/09/23/who-and-what-is-the-university-for/ ] on the subject, so this isn’t really a response to Freddie. But what the heck, call it a response to Freddie.

I want to respond by changing the terms of the conversation: Instead of asking “What is the university for?” I’d like for us to ask, “What is this university for?” — “this” university being whatever university I happen to be associated with or to care about.

For instance, I teach in the Honors Program at Baylor University, an intentionally Christian research university — one of the few in the world — that happens to sit in the middle of an exceptionally poor city. So I and my colleagues need to ask:

• What is the role of the Honors Program within the framework of the university as a whole, whose students are not, by and large, as academically accomplished?

• What should Baylor be doing to become, more and more fully and truly, a *Christian* university — to be deeply serious about its faith commitments and its academic ambitions?

• What can Baylor do to be a good institutional citizen within its local community — to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and train the jobless — since, after all, these would seem to be mandatory concerns for Christians of all descriptions?

I really believe that this is how we should be thinking about our universities: not deductively, by reasoning from what “the university” should be to how we might instantiate that ideal locally, but rather inductively: from what this particular institution is called to be, and is capable of being, to larger generalizations. I truly believe that if we could suspend the general conversation about “the university” for a decade, a decade during which every American institution of higher learning focused on understanding and realizing its own particular mission, and then reconvened with one another to compare notes — then we just might get somewhere.

And I further believe that by attending to its own home turf — its own students, its own faculty, its own surrounding community — any given university will be better able to serve the larger world of academia and society. The old slogan “Think globally, act locally” gets it precisely backwards, I believe: it is only by thinking and acting locally that we can make the right kind of difference globally."

[From one of the comments:

"The way we best show our love to the whole world is… to love with a particular passion some little part of it." —William C. Placher ]
alanjacobs  2014  local  purpose  education  highered  highereducation  freddiedeboer  thewhy  why  community  surroundings  servicelearning  baylor  citizenship  glocal  lcproject  openstudioproject  slow  small  hereandnow  comments  wendellberry  williamplacher 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The steel man of #GamerGate — The Message — Medium
"Every so often, the Long Now Foundation here in San Francisco hosts a debate. It might be about nuclear power or synthetic biology or perhaps the very notion of human progress — high-stakes stuff. But the format is nothing like the showdowns on cable news or the debates in election season.

Instead, it goes like this:

There are two debaters, Alice and Bob. Alice takes the podium, makes her argument. Then Bob takes her place, but before he can present his counter-argument, he must summarize Alice’s argument to her satisfaction — a demonstration of respect and good faith. Only when Alice agrees that Bob has got it right is he permitted to proceed with his own argument — and then, when he’s finished, Alice must summarize it to his satisfaction.

The first time I saw one of these debates, it blew my mind.

Our democratic culture has, I believe, basically given up on debate as a tool for changing minds or achieving consensus. Instead, we use it as a stage for performance, for political point-scoring. When we debate — and this is true whether it’s a big televised event or a little online roundtable — we direct our arguments not at our opponents but rather at our allies. We rile the base. We face the choir. We preach!

Apparently, the Long Now Foundation didn’t get the memo, and neither did L. Rhodes. In his piece addressing #GamerGate, he truly speaks to his opponents, and his focus never wavers. There are no winks to his allies and no dog whistles that I can detect. It’s a miracle of tone. There are so many opportunities to be snide, to score a point — just one little point! — and he takes none of them.

Rhodes’s piece reminded me, also, of Alan Jacobs’s reference [http://www.theamericanconservative.com/jacobs/thomas-nagel-is-admirably-fair-minded/ ], years ago, to the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s review of a book by the philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Nagel is a staunch atheist; Plantinga, a devout Christian.

Jacobs wrote:
Having confessed that he “cannot imagine believing what [Plantinga] believes,” Nagel nevertheless must acknowledge that Plantinga is doing excellent philosophical work and that his arguments cannot be easily dismissed. Moreover, Nagel clearly relishes simply being exposed to ways of thinking so alien to his own — he obviously finds it refreshing.

Instead of the straw man argument — that scourge — we have the steel man: “the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented.”

The fact that Nagel takes this approach shouldn’t be surprising; it has long been valued in philosophy and rhetoric, and more recently by the so-called “rationalist” community online. This is laudable — I mean, these people really know how to argue! — but there’s an inertness to the practice in those communities: a sense, too often, of arguments unfolding for their own sake in a hermetically-sealed arena.

So the thing that impresses me about Rhodes’s piece is that it is real: enmeshed in a real conversation and addressed to real opponents, which implies real risk. This isn’t a philosophy symposium; it’s a roiling argument that has spawned mobs of internet harassers.

Did Rhodes’s piece turn #GamerGate around? No.

Did it change a few people’s minds? There is evidence, here on Medium and also on Twitter, that it did. In this culture — on this internet — that’s a small miracle.

There’s a recipe available here, for anyone brave enough to use it: strong arguments presented in good faith not to our allies but to our actual opponents. I use the word “brave” very consciously, because I believe this is just about the most dangerous kind of writing and thinking you can do."



"This kind of writing is dangerous because it goes beyond (mere) argumentation; it becomes immersion, method acting, dual-booting. To make your argument strong, you have to make your opponent’s argument stronger. You need sharp thinking and compelling language, but you also need close attention and deep empathy. I don’t mean to be too woo-woo about it, but truly, you need love. The overall sensibility is closer to caregiving than to punditry."
debate  empathy  ethnography  listening  robinsloan  lrhodes  alanjacobs  thomasnagel  alvinplantinga  goodfaith  strawman  steelman  strawmen  steelmen  philosophy  rhetoric  conversation  goodwill  mindchanging  mindchanges 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The end of Big Twitter - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"This is exactly right. I have found that my greatest frustrations with Twitter come not from people who are being nasty — though there are far too many of them — but from people who just misunderstand. They reply questioningly or challengingly to a tweet without reading any of the preceding or succeeding tweets that would give it context, or without reading the post that it links to. They take jokes seriously — Oh Lord do they take jokes seriously. And far too often they don’t take the time to formulate their responses with care and so write tweets that I can’t make sense of at all. And I don’t want to have to deal with all this. I just want to sit here on the porch and have a nice chat with my friends and neighbors.

But wait. I’m not on the porch anymore. I’m in the middle of Broadway.

So I’m doing what, it seems to me, many people are doing: I’m getting out of the street. I’ll keep my public account for public uses: it’ll be a place where I can link to posts like this one, or announce any event that’s of general interest. But what I’ve come to call Big Twitter is simply not a place for conversation any more.

I don’t like this change. I made friends — real friends — on Twitter when it was a place for conversation. I reconnected with people I had lost touch with. Whole new realms of knowledge were opened to me. I don’t want to foreclose on the possibility of further discovery, but the signal-to-noise ration is so bad now that I don’t think I could pick out the constructive and interesting voices from all the mean-spiritedness and incomprehension; and so few smart people now dare to use Twitter in the old open way.

Big Twitter was great — for a while. But now it’s over, and it’s time to move on. I’m just hoping that some smart people out there are learning from what went wrong and developing social networks that can strengthen the signal and silence the noise."

[More here: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2014/09/more-on-twitter.html

"1) I had forgotten, but this piece by Robinson Meyer and Adrienne LaFrance got at many of the issues I talk about, and did it some months ago.

2) I keep hearing from people that they like Big Twitter just fine. Awesome! Then they should keep using it. (This is a genre of response that has always puzzled me. You see it when people say that they’re having trouble with a piece of software or a web service, and others reply “It’s working great for me!” How is that relevant, exactly? If I tell you I broke my arm are you going to tell me that your arm is just fine?) As I said, I want to spend more time in my living room and less time on the street. If you prefer being in the street, that’s definitely what you should do.

3) Some folks are worried that they won’t know what’s going on in the world — or in some particular corner of it — if they leave Twitter. But consider this: if it’s knowledge you want, then one of the best services Twitter provides to you is linkage: links that take you to places on the open web where ideas are developed at some length. So instead of relying on Twitter to mediate that, why not use an RSS reader and subscribe to a bunch of worthwhile sites? Cut out the middleman, I say. Plus, by using RSS you liberate yourself to some degree from dependence on proprietary services and get back to the open web. As Brent Simmons recently commented,
My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.

The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.


And when I say “use RSS” I mean “use it in its original, open form”: technically speaking, Twitter is little more than proprietary RSS.

4) The past few months have been for me a season of cutting back and cutting down. In addition to my general-if-not-absolute absence from Big Twitter, I stopped reading the New York Times, and have reworked my RSS feeds to feature less news-of-the-moment and more stuff that could have longer-term value. I’ve been reading more books and longer articles. This has all been good.

5) Finally, one interesting (to me) bit of self-reporting: I have missed Big Twitter at certain moments, and most of them have occurred when I’ve thought of something to say that I think is funny. I want to tweet my witticism and then sit back and wait for retweets and faves. That’s pathetic, of course; but good for me to know."]
alanjacobs  twitter  2014  convresation  frankchimero  marcoarment  news  rss  understanding  misunderstanding  bigtwitter  provatetwitter  robinsonmeyer 
september 2014 by robertogreco
FYS 2014 syllabus
"First-Year Seminar: The Two Cultures (FYS 1399-N7)

Alan Jacobs • http://ayjay.org MW 12:30pm-1:45pm, Morrison 205

Goals and Purposes: This is a course with twin purposes. Purpose One is that we explore a topic of serious significance. Purpose Two is that we do this in a way that helps you to acquire, or develop, some of the key skills you will need in order to succeed as a college student, especially in this Baylor context. What this means in practice is that while we will indeed cover the course material or content in a responsible and orderly way, we won't be in a great hurry to do so, and will from time to time pause to think about some of the issues that concern you as new college students.

Our primary topic here is what is often called the "two cultures" debate, named as such after a lecture by the English novelist and scientist C. P. Snow, who argued that the sciences and the humanities had become two mutually unintelligible cultures, and that that separation has seriously negative consequences for our society. We are going to try to figure out what Snow was right about and what he was wrong about; how those two cultures arose; how things have changed in the half-century since Snow delivered his lecture; and how all these matters affect the shape of the university education that you are all just beginning."
alanjacobs  twocultures  syllabus  2014  science  humanities  syllabi 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Fantasy and the Buffered Self - The New Atlantis
"When asked by the editors of the website The Immanent Frame to summarize the key concerns of his vastly ambitious book A Secular Age (2007), Charles Taylor wrote,

Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

As Taylor makes clear, the shift from a porous to a buffered self involves a complex series of exchanges. But to put that shift in simple terms, a person accepts a buffered condition as a means of being protected from the demonic or otherwise ominous forces that in pre-modern times generated a quavering network of terrors. To be a pre-modern person, in Taylor’s account, is to be constantly in danger of being invaded or overcome by demons or fairies or nameless terrors of the dark — of being possessed and transformed, or spirited away and never returned to home and family. Keith Thomas’s magisterial Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) specifies many of these dangers, along with the whole panoply of prayers, rites, amulets, potions, chants, spells, and the like, by which a person might seek protection from the otherwise irresistible. It is easy, then, to imagine why a person — or a whole culture — might, if it could, exchange this model of a self with highly permeable boundaries for one in which the self feels better protected, defended — impermeable, or nearly so.

The problem with this apparently straightforward transaction is that the porous self is open to the divine as well as to the demonic, while the buffered self is closed to both alike. Those who must guard against capture by fairies are necessarily and by the same token receptive to mystical experiences. The “showings” manifested to Julian of Norwich depend upon exceptional sensitivity, which is to say porosity — vulnerability to incursions of the supernatural. The portals of the self cannot be closed on one side only. But the achievement of a safely buffered personhood — closed off from both the divine and the demonic — is soon enough accompanied by a deeply felt change in the very cosmos. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Discarded Image (1964), the medieval person who found himself “looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music” gives way to the modern person who perceives only emptiness and silence. Safety is purchased at the high price of isolation, as we see as early as Pascal, who famously wrote of the night sky, “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”).

In these circumstances, one might expect people to ask whether so difficult and costly an exchange is in fact necessary. Might it not be possible to experience the benefits, while avoiding the costs, of both the porous and the buffered self? I want to argue here that it is precisely this desire that accounts for the rise to cultural prominence, in late modernity, of the artistic genre of fantasy. Fantasy — in books, films, television shows, and indeed in all imaginable media — is an instrument by which the late modern self strives to avail itself of the unpredictable excitements of the porous self while retaining its protective buffers. Fantasy, in most of its recent forms, may best be understood as a technologically enabled, and therefore safe, simulacrum of the pre-modern porous self.

Before pursuing my argument, I must make two clarifications. First, fantasy itself is not a recent development but rather an ancient form (though not under its current name). What we now call “fantasy” is something closer to “realism” in the pagan world, which is populated by many powers capable of acting upon “porous” human selves. In the pagan world, success in life is largely a matter of navigating safely among those powers, which are unpredictable, beyond good and evil, and often indifferent to human needs. (Such indifference means that they can help as well as hurt, but also that their assistance can never be relied upon.) In this environment, fantastic creatures are at the very least personifications or embodiments of powers genuinely believed to exist. The realism is not strict, in that the writers and readers of earlier times did not necessarily believe in the existence of precisely such creatures as were described in their stories — perhaps not Apollo or Artemis any more than Dante’s Geryon or Spenser’s Blatant Beast, though such questions are necessarily and notoriously vexed. But at the very least the pre-modern world is one in which powers like those hold sway and cannot be safely neglected; a world in which what we would call the fantastic is an intrinsic element of the real.

Second, some of the most celebrated practitioners of modern fantasy share with their pre-modern predecessors this belief that the fictional apparatus of fantasy is a relatively close approximation to the way things really are for human beings. J. R. R. Tolkien may not have believed in Sauron, but he surely believed that there are in human history people who sell themselves to the Enemy and find themselves as a result of that decision first empowered and then destroyed. And when, at the beginning of Lewis’s Perelandra (1944), the protagonist Ransom’s progress toward a friend’s house is impeded by invisible forces who fill him with fear, Lewis was describing the work of spirits whom he truly believed to exist, though under a slightly different description, just as he probably believed that some forms of scientistic rationalism are the product of demonic influence. In short, these writers sought to present their readers with an image of an enchanted world, of selves fully porous to supernatural forces. But because they did so in genres (fantasy, science fiction) known for the imaginative portrayal of the wholly nonexistent, readers confident in their buffered condition can be delighted by those stories without ever for a moment considering the possibility that the forces portrayed therein might correspond to something real. Indeed, the delight of the stories for such readers consists primarily in their perceived unreality."



"If the technical boy is wrong, if resistance can happen, we might take comfort from what seems to me the authentic core of the fantastic as a genre, as we see it from the standpoint of late modernity: fantasy may best be taken as an acknowledgment that the great problem of the pagan world — how to navigate as safely as possible through an ever-shifting landscape of independent and unpredictable powers who are indifferent to human needs — is our problem once more. The powers now may have different names than the ones Homer or Ovid knew, but they are powers all the same. American Gods is an especially important text for this moment, because it rightly identifies technologies as gods and simultaneously sides with the older gods as being intrinsically closer to the proper human lifeworld. Imaginatively, if not in substantive belief, we are pagans once more.

What We Don’t See

But a coda is required. All that I have written so far about porous and buffered selves has followed Charles Taylor in bracketing the question of what our actual condition is. We may choose to believe that we can buffer ourselves, protect ourselves against unknown powers. But that’s a kind of wager: if the powers are real, our disbelief won’t deter them. And it may be that certain powers profit from being disregarded or treated as mere fancies. In a sonnet he wrote in the late 1930s, Auden portrayed a world from which magic had passed: “The sudden shadow of a giant’s enormous calf / Would fall no more at dusk across their lawns outside”; the last dragons and kobolds died off. The people “slept in peace.” But:

... The vanquished powers were glad

To be invisible and free: without remorse
Struck down the sons who strayed into their course,
And ravished the daughters, and drove the fathers mad."
2014  alanjacobs  fantasy  history  legibility  invisibility  visibility  belief  modernity  mysticism  magic  identity  self  protection  boundaries  unpredictability  uncertainty  supernatural  spirits  sciencefiction 
july 2014 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses - This Google Doodle of a Brazilian favela was...
"Few things are more tiresome to me than the educated Left’s ceaseless policing of the symbolic/discursive realm (e.g., politically incorrect Google Doodles), in what might charitably be described as the naive belief that consciousness-raising promotes justice, which by now we ought to know it doesn’t. Those of us who have been trained to manipulate symbols and language tend to overrate their importance, but at this point in history there’s no excuse for such overrating.

On a less charitable reading, people like policing symbols and discourses because you can do it from your computer without ever lifting a finger, or paying a cent, to alter the structural injustice that perpetuates the favelas. Signaling your outrage on Twitter does absolutely nothing to help anybody. Getting Google to take down their Doodle is a pathetic parody of a moral victory.

Meanwhile the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer. Families and communities around the world are under assault by malicious forces. The favelas in Brazil receive no relief, and children keep getting shot in Chicago, and Wall Street (i.e., international capitalism) proceeds from strength to strength in sublime indifference to it all. If we’re going to choke on our own outrage, there are plenty of reasons. Google Doodles are not among them."
susbstance  2014  alanjacobs  whatmatters  distraction  whininess  justice  socialjustice  avoidance  heavylifting  outrage  importance  signaling 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Congratulations, class of 2014: You’re totally screwed - Salon.com
"“No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years,” wrote the anthropologist David Graeber in an important 2012 essay about this age of diminishing innovation. “We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies. . . .” I emailed Graeber and asked him to elaborate. Here’s what he said:

“If you look at the lives and personalities of almost any of the Great Thinkers currently lionized in the American academy, certainly anyone like Deleuze, or Foucault, Wittgenstein, Freud, Einstein, or even Max Weber, none of them would have lasted ten minutes in our current system. These were some seriously odd people. They probably would never have finished grad school, and if they somehow did discipline themselves to appear sufficiently “professional,” “collegial,” conformist and compliant to make it through adjunct hell or pre-tenure, it would be at the expense of leaving them incapable of producing any of the works for which they have become famous.”"

[Update: Alan Jacobs expands on that second paragraph: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2014/05/on-academic-helicopters.html ]
economics  highereducation  davidgraeber  adjuncts  2014  highered  thomasfrank  colleges  universities  labor  alanjacobs 
may 2014 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses - Streamlining
"For the last few months I’ve been experimenting with various blog and blog-like options for online writing and linking. None of them are perfect, which I suppose won’t be news to anyone.

For a while I thought I needed to post to my own site, on the “own your turf” principle. So I started transitioning away from this tumblelog and towards that space. But posting to a WordPress site, especially if you’re posting anything other than text, is far clunkier than posting to a tumblelog; and since I am not hosting the site on my own server, I’m still dependent on other people to keep my blog up and my data safe. Also, while I don’t have many readers here at More than 95 Theses, there are people who’ve been following me here for quite some time and have told me that they miss my posts when I go quiet here.

So I’m just going to perform regular downloads of my Tumblr data — using SiteSucker, a fine app — and do my posting here.

As you can see by looking at the sidebar, I have other online projects as well — the Gospel of the Trees site and the Book of Common Prayer tumblelog — and those will remain available, though I don’t expect to add any more to them. That is, I’m going to treat them as substantially complete projects. If I ever happen to update them, I’ll announce new posts on Twitter.

I will continue to post to Text Patterns when I have something substantive to say on the topics that blog considers. Everything else will be posted here."
alanjacobs  tumblr  sitesucker  backup  onlinefootprint  hostyourown  ownyourturf  2014  simplicity  easeofuse  onlinetoolkit  onlinepresence  ownership  blogs  blogging 
april 2014 by robertogreco
We have gone long enough without raising the... - more than 95 theses
"We have gone long enough without raising the question of whether reading makes you a better person. The short answer to that question is No. It doesn’t. And the long answer doesn’t differ too dramatically from the short one….

Responding to the claim that not just reading but “high culture” in general is morally improving, Terry Eagleton points out that, during World War II, “many people were indeed deep in high culture, but … this had not prevented some of them from engaging in such activities as superintending the murder of Jews in central Europe.” If reading really was supposed to “make you a better person,” then “when the Allied troops moved into the concentration camps … to arrest commandants who had whiled away their leisure hours with a volume of Goethe, it appeared that someone had some explaining to do.”

There’s simply nothing about reading, or listening to Mozart sonatas, or viewing paintings by Raphael, that necessarily transforms or even improves someone’s character. As the eighteenth-century scientist G. C. Lichtenberg once wrote, “A book is like a mirror: if an ass looks in, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.” Nevertheless, I am going to argue, from time to time throughout the course of this book, that if you really want to become a better person, there are ways in which reading can help. But the degree to which that happens will depend not just on what you read … but also why and how. So consider yourself either warned or promised, according to your feelings about moralistic exhortation."

[See also: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117191/why-reading-isnt-always-good-you ]
alanjacobs  reading  2014  highculture  highbrow  lowbrow  terryeagleton  gclichtenberg  learning  change 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Blessedly Unnecessary | Books and Culture
"Gregory Blackstock is autistic, and because of his extraordinary gifts he is called a "savant" (a problematic word, I feel). Like many autistic people, Blackstock has a passion for order and precision, which shows up in any number of ways. For instance, the autobiography he hand–wrote for his book, Blackstock's Collections, takes the form of a list—"1. MY DATE OF BIRTH … 2. MY PREVIOUS SCHOOLS OF 1950 TO 1964 … 3. MY USUAL CITY NEWSPAPER ROUTE PERIOD"—and in listing his employment history he notes that he began his job at the Washington Athletic Club on September 9, 1975 and retired on January 12, 2001. Though I said that Blackstock worked there for twenty–five years, he prefers to say that it was twenty–five–and–a–third years.

This precision is central to Blackstock's art as well—though I have no idea whether it affects his accordion playing. The book is called Blackstock's Collections because each drawing is just that, a collection of things belonging to a particular category. I find especially intriguing Blackstock's tendency to give his drawings titles that begin with the definite article: "The Knives", "The Dentist's Tools, "The Memorable Vermont Scenes"—as though he aspires to utter completeness, gathering every member of a given set on a single page."



"Most of the "collections" are perfectly comprehensible, even if we suspect that it's not really possible to get all of "The Knives" on one page (Blackstock manages fifty–one of them, a considerable achievement). But Blackstock's passion for taxonomy gets him into some curious corners. Smack in the middle of "The Bells," among cowbells and bicycle bells and doorbells and the Liberty Bell and the bell of Big Ben, there's a diving bell. Not the same kind of thing, you say? But it's a bell, isn't it? I wonder how Blackstock would respond if someone were to point out to him that in his drawing of "The Drums" he omits the eardrum.

One of the few really heterogeneous collections is "The Noisemakers," a highly colorful and (for Blackstock) rather large drawing, forty–four inches tall, which includes not only whistling skyrockets and M–80 firecrackers and chainsaws, but also "thunder–&–rainstorms" and a scowling face accompanied by a speech balloon containing an unusually symmetrical set of signs indicating unprintable words: "##**@@**##!!!" This noisemaker is labeled as "LOUD FILTHY–MOUTH OFFENDER, THE OVEREMOTIONAL DIRTBAG!""



"As Auden also notes, art has now lost that habit of usefulness and does not seem likely to get it back: when we try to unite the useful and the beautiful, he says, we "fail utterly." Though there are some recent developments in industrial design that give one hope, I think Auden is basically correct. It's difficult to imagine a new Piranesi, or an Audubon for the 21st century. We have turned over the task of documenting the world to the various cameras, and for good reason: they perform the task well. But I hope we may occasionally find more Gregory Blackstocks, artists who—unaware that their labors of documentary love are unnecessary—plunge ahead and do their work, thereby reminding us what it means to look, really to look, at the Creation."

[See also: http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/collections/ ]
gregoryblackstock  alanjacobs  art  whauden  2007  katebingamanburt  cataloging  taxonomy  sorting  classification  drawing  drawings  inventory  inventories 
march 2014 by robertogreco
wait - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"I think there's something to learn from this experience. For one thing, it enables me to see more clearly what we all know already: that when I see a topic being tossed around a lot on blogs and on Twitter, it's easy to be swept along by that tide. I was looking the other day at the mute filters I have set up for my Twitter client, and I couldn't help laughing at how many of them provided a record of those brief enthusiasms that take over Twitter for a day or two or three and then disappear forever. It took me a minute to remember who Todd Akin is. It took me even Longer to figure out why I had added the word "tampon" to my mute list, but I finally remembered that time when Melissa Harris-Perry was wearing tampons earrings and everybody on Twitter had something to say about that. This is why some Twitter clients that have mute filters that can be set for a limited time: I would imagine that three days would almost always be sufficient. Then the tide would have passed, and would be unlikely ever to return.

But I learned something else from this experience also: you can actually use the speed of the Internet to prevent you from wasting your time – or maybe I shouldn't say wasting it, but rather using it in a less-than-ideal fashion. If you just wait 48 or 72 hours, someone you follow on Twitter will almost certainly either write or link to a post which makes the very argument that you would have made if you had been quick off the mark.

For me, these realizations – which might not be new to any of you – are helpful. They remind me to give a topic a chance to cycle through the Internet for a few days, so I can find who has written wisely about it and point others to that person; and, if there are things that haven't been said that need to be said, I can address them from a more informed perspective and with a few days’ reflection under my belt. I can also practice the discipline — or maybe it’s a luxury rather than a discipline — of thinking longer thoughts about more challenging issues than are raised by than Melissa Harris-Perry’s earrings. Or even trigger warnings."
slow  time  waiting  alanjacobs  internet  web  belatedness  2014  speed  thinking 
march 2014 by robertogreco
What Are Students Tweeting About Us? | Inside Higher Ed
"Last week, a colleague of mine on Twitter, Matt Thomas, a PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Iowa completing a dissertation on life hacking, started retweeting tweets from students where they were talking about “my professor.” The results were both hysterical and disturbing. It provided an insight into how students see us (or at least some of us) and how comfortable they are sharing those thoughts. It certainly decreased the productivity of many a professor towards the end of the week as we all started searching and retweeting “my professor” tweets, often inserting out discipline in the search as well.

Bill Wolff has a great rundown of the tweets, including examples, an archive, some visualization, with links to some other projects professors have already done with the search. Alan Jacobs weighs in on the reliability of the tweets, while V.C Pasupathi provides a must-read post in terms of the embodiment of the professor. Mark Sample has a TwitterBot that manipulates the “my professor” tweets. I have some thoughts, but I mostly I was inspired by the simple idea and how it spiraled into something bigger. I wanted to ask Matt some questions, and he graciously answered them and gave permission to include the conversation here on my blog."
highered  highereducation  2013  mattthomas  twitter  education  myprofessor  leeskallerupbessette  vcpasupathi  alanjacobs  billwolff 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Do your students also love to say “reading too much into this”? - more than 95 theses
Do your students also love to say “reading too much into this”? I remember this remark as a buzz-kill that frequently deflated discussions in high school English. Just when we had begun to dig into the precious details of a novel or poem and unearth some larger idea, someone would inevitably scoff, “we’re reading too much into this.” Today, my students, indignant, ask “isn’t that reading too much into it?” about almost every attempt to find meaning in the art, literature, and cultural artifacts of the past.? I cringe every time I hear it. The sentiment strikes me as exquisitely anti-intellectual, creating an image of the useless scholar wasting time on meaningless trivialities, like Socrates measuring how far a flea can jump in Aristophanes’s anti-intellectual comedy, The Clouds. “Reading too much into this” seems equivalent to saying “there’s too much thought going on here,” a complaint that has no place in a history class!
"Reading Too Much Into This" | s-usih.org. [http://s-usih.org/2013/03/reading-too-much-into-this.html ]

"Yes, students do often say this, but there’s a reason for it. They’re failing, from mere lack of experience, to realize the difference in time and intellectual investment between reading a book, or, in the case cited here, reading about someone’s career (which they have just done) and writing a book, or making a career (which they have not done).

I’ve often gotten this from students who are reading Joyce’s Ulysses. I try to remind them that he was an immensely brilliant man who spent seven years writing the book. A great many things might occur to you when you spend seven years working on a book, especially if you’re immensely brilliant. And if that doesn’t convince them I show them the Linati schema."

[Cross-posted here: http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/reading-too-little-into-it/ ]
alanjacobs  reading  ulysses  jamesjoyce  linatischema  literature  art  understanding  sensemaking  culutre  2014  benalpers 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Broken (with tweets) · ayjay · Storify
"I tried to bring together some of the best responses here, but Storify's search is br — um., somewhat inconsistent in its results."

[The tweets that sparked the conversation:]

"The vague use of "broken" is really problematic in an age of planned obsolescence. People used to fix broken things; now they're discarded. So to say "the economy is broken" or "higher ed. is broken" can be a way of evading the responsibility to make something better."



"Neither higher ed. nor the economy are broken. They're more like cars that run pretty well but are headed in the wrong direction. My point is: the language of "brokenness" breeds fatalism. Let's try a different and more precise set of descriptors."



Erin: "I think education could use a serious regression rather than innovation or 'disruption.' Too many promises broken."
alanjacobs  storify  audreywatters  erinkissane  language  words  meaning  corruption  compromise  jenniferhoward  ashergelzer-govatos  jrschmitt  justice  education  highered  highereducation  society  economics  fatalism  progress  obsolescence  change  innovation  disruption 
february 2014 by robertogreco
launch and iterate - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"I enjoyed this brief interview [http://www.full-stop.net/2014/02/04/features/the-editors/tldr-rob-horning/ ] with Rob Horning of The New Inquiry, and was particularly taken with this passage:
What do you think is good about the way we interact with information today? How has your internet consumption changed your brain, and writing, for the better?

I can only speak for myself, but I find that the Internet has made me far more productive than I was before as a reader and a writer. It seems to offer an alternative to academic protocols for making “knowledge.” But I was never very systematic before about my “research” and am even less so now; only now this doesn’t seem like such a draw back. Working in fragments and unfolding ideas over time in fragments seems a more viable way of proceeding. I’ve grown incapable of researching as preparation for some writing project — I post everything, write immediately as a way to digest what I am reading, make spontaneous arguments and connections from what is at hand. Then if I feel encouraged, I go back and try to synthesize some of this material later. That seems a very Internet-inspired approach.

Let me pause to note that I am fundamentally against productivity and then move on to the more important point, which is that online life has changed my ways of working along the lines that Horning describes — and I like it.

There’s a mantra among some software developers, most notably at Google: Launch and iterate. Get your app out there even with bugs, let your customers report and complain about those bugs, apologize profusely, fix, release a new version. Then do it again, and again. (Some developers hate this model, but never mind.) Over the past few years I’ve been doing something like this with my major projects: throw an idea out there in incomplete or even inchoate form and see what responses it gets; learn from your respondents’ skepticism or criticism; follow the links people give you; go back to the idea and, armed with this feedback, make it better.

Of course, writers have always done something like this: for example, going to the local pub and making people listen to you pontificate on some crack-brained intellectual scheme and then tell you that you’re full of it. And I’ve used that method too, which has certain advantages ... but: it’s easy to forget what people say, you have a narrow range of responses, and it can’t happen very often or according to immediate need. The best venue I’ve found to support the launch-and-iterate model of the intellectual life: Twitter."
productivity  research  cv  howwework  criticalmess  criticalmesses  internet  web  online  haphazardness  circling  unfolding  writing  robhorning  2014  via:ablerism  thinking  gtd  iteration  skepticism  criticism  feedback  twitter  process  alanjacobs  howwewrite  messiness 
february 2014 by robertogreco
reading and thinking, one more time - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"The link is simply this: that one of the most reliable ways to sharpen your own thinking is to find out what other smart people have thought and said about the things you’re interested in — that is, to take the time to read. But the content-hungry world of online publishing creates strong disincentives for writers to take that time. Almost every entity that has an online presence wants to publish as frequently as possible — as long as the quality of the writing is adequate. And often “adequacy” is determined by purely stylistic criteria: a basic level of clarity and, when possible, some vividness of style. That the writer may be saying something indistinguishable from what a dozen or a hundred writers have said before is rarely a matter of editorial concern. Get the content out there!

And of course, writers want to be published and be read. If they can’t have their work in print magazines or books, then having it tied to a URL is the next best thing — sometimes even a better thing. The passion for self-expression is incredibly powerful. Consider, for instance, the unvarying lament of literary journals: that they have far more people submitting stories and poems to them than they have readers. (Would-be and actual creative writers rarely read, and often know nothing about, the journals to whom they submit their work and whose approval-via-acceptance they so desperately crave.)

So between the writers who desperate to be published and the editors desperate for “content,” the forces militating against taking time — time to read, time to think — are really powerful. So writers tend to trust the first thoughts that come to them, rarely bothering to find out whether others have already considered their topic and written well about it — and in fact not wanting to know about earlier writing, because that might pre-empt their own writing, their publication — the “content” that editors want and that will keep readers’ Twitter feeds clicking and popping with links. In the current system everyone feels stimulated or productive or both. And hey, it’s only reading and thinking that go by the wayside."

[See also: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2014/01/the-confidence-of-elect.html ]
publishing  alanjacobs  reading  writing  listening  noise  2014  learning  thinking  howtolisten  attention  reputation 
january 2014 by robertogreco
the experiment that wasn't - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"When the story depends on people agreeing in advance to tweet its parts, parts written for them by someone else, and on their being retweeted by the author according to his plan and his schedule, the collaborative "we" element of this is trivial. A number of people in my own feed expressed some disappointment that the "event" wasn't anything like what it had at first appeared to be.

What Cole did may be sort of cool — maybe — but it wasn't a "collective story" and it wasn't what some called it, an "experiment in narration." But if someone actually tried what thousands of us thought Cole was doing...."
alanjacobs  2014  tejucole  storytelling  twitter 
january 2014 by robertogreco
What a dodo might teach us about books / Snarkmarket
"We seem to be living in a perpetual age of the death throes of The Book. 1 There are too many pieces to count that insist that the book is dead or (despite all odds) is thriving, that paper books are different/better/worse than electronic books, that game apps will save books, blah blah blah. We seem to rehash the same surface-level observations over and over again. As my friend Alan Jacobs wondered, “Why do people still write as though they’re the first ones to think about the difference between e-books and codices?” I’ll spare you my thoughts on the subject, since I’ll only gripe about how people misunderstand the complexities of books, whether on a print or a digital platform, and who wants to read more griping?

If you want to think about these questions through experiencing them, let’s look instead at some books that live on the boundary between print and electronic. The obvious starting place is Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse’s Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press, 2012): it exists in a codex form that can be held in your hand but to read it, you’ll need a computer. The pages of the book are black-and-white geometric shapes that are referred to as markers or hieroglyphs or sigils. The shapes aren’t legible as words to the human eye; hold them up to your webcam, however, and the book’s website will show back to you the poem floating above the page."



"There are other books that take the graphic approach to the question of where the boundary is between print and electronic. Silvio Lorusso and Sebastian Schmieg’s 56 Broken Kindle Screens: Photographed E Ink, Collected Online, Printed On Demand (2012) consists of 56 images of broken Kindle screens found on Flickr and then reproduced in a print-on-demand paperback. The images can be gorgeous, and I love both the way it turns broken objects into art and the layers of mediation, moving from e-ink to pixel to paper, that goes into producing it. And my scholar’s heart loves that at the back of the book are credits for each image.



There’s also the more straightforward projects of printing out the web. Rob Matthews, in 2012, printed out 0.01% of Wikipedia as a 5000-page, 1’7” tall book (XKCD, by the way, has worked out how many printers it would take to print out the entire English-language Wikipedia). There’s the ongoing Printing out the Internet (“A crowdsourced project to literally print out the entire internet.”), which doesn’t seem as clever to me as it does to its creators, although it’s apparently somehow intended to memorialize Aaron Swartz. If that’s not enough, the Library of the Printed Web displays the terrifying number of projects devoted to variations of this enterprise. It makes me weary just thinking about it. I do love The Art of Google Books, however, and if its creator, Krissy Wilson, does end up making a book from the Tumblr (as she suggests she’s interested in doing), I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

My favorite book for thinking about technologies and obsolescence is A Dodo at Oxford: The Unreliable Account of a Student and His Pet Dodo (Oxgarth Press, 2010). This book, edited by Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson, purports to be a facsimile edition of a 1695 printed diary of an student at Oxford who owned a dodo. Atkins and Johnson tell the story of finding the book in an Oxfam, searching for more information about it, and finally editing it for us today. The bulk of the volume is their facsimile replication of the diary with their annotations in the margin explaining various historical facts and oddities; there are also a series of appendices explaining early modern printing, including the use of the long-s, ligatures, and signature marks.



Perhaps the main thing to remember as the fruitless debate circles and circles is that any opposition between print and digital is, today, ridiculous. You might think you’re reading a paper book, but it was, I promise you, produced through digital means. The person who wrote it is overwhelmingly likely to have used a computer to do so, it was edited and typeset using software, its distribution is enabled and tracked with databases, and it is reviewed and discussed in both electronic and physical spaces that are enabled by technology. 3

It’s not a black-and-white world out there. Our methods of producing and consuming books will continue to be as multiply shaded as our reactions to them has always been. So here’s to reading instead of fretting!"
snarkmarket  books  ebooks  sarahwerner  howweread  2014  software  digiital  digitaldualism  alanjacobs  print  papernet  reading 
january 2014 by robertogreco
A Radical Defense of Home Economics | The American Conservative
"I think this essay illustrates something I’ve been noticing lately: the points at which concerns of the radical left converge with those of traditionalist conservatism."



"Traditionalists and radicals alike have deep reservations about the bureaucratization, rationalization, and consumerism of American life, and lament the damage such forces are doing to local communities and to families. But while these groups formulate very similar critiques of the current order, they arrive at those critques by very different intellectual paths. I wonder if that will always prevent them from making common cause with one another."

[via: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2012/12/12/you-never-know ]
conservatism  alanjacobs  diy  homeeconomics  2012  convergence  radicalleft  radicalism  local 
january 2014 by robertogreco
think - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"By way of getting to my point, let me encourage you to look again at Johnson’s posts. He tells you how to “keep your hunches alive,” how to use e-book annotations, how to keep researching as you write, and so on. All very good in its way.

But: What if your ideas are crap? What good does it do — for you or the world — if you are clever and efficient in communicating thoughts that are carelessly arrived at, or ill-formed and incompletely worked through, or utterly unimaginative repetitions of what people in your would-be peer group have already said?

Now, perhaps your highest intellectual ambition is to be asked to give a TED talk, in which case all those vices I just listed will be magically transformed into virtues. But if you want to do really good work, intellectually and/or artistically substantive work, then your first question can never be “How do I express my ideas?” but rather “How can I acquire ideas that are worthy of being expressed?”

I don't have an actual answer to that question, but I have some thoughts that I'll get to in another post."
alanjacobs  creativity  ideas  2013 
january 2014 by robertogreco
JSTOR's Hidden Power - Alan Jacobs - The Atlantic
"Most academic journals get started at particular institutions, arising from the interests of a professor or two or three, but, while small numbers of people can edit such journals, the actual publication and distribution of them are more complicated. Eventually some academic presses came to specialize in such work—in America, Oxford University Press and Johns Hopkins University Press are probably the most prominent—and they provide multiple services to journal editors: They not only print and distribute, they also provide a kind of imprimatur, a seal of academic approval from well-regarded presses. To get your journal taken up by Oxford or Johns Hopkins is something of a coup.

It’s easy to see how these powers have been amplified in the digital age—and they’re powers that have had an enormous influence on how academic work gets done, from high-school students to the more elevated reaches of the professoriate. JSTOR (where the Oxford University Press journals, among many others, went) and Project Muse (which was created by Johns Hopkins University Press specifically for its journals) can make a very strong case for the value of their services to everyone in the academic ecosystem.

To the editors of journals, they say: We can get your articles—including long-forgotten ones, decades old—read and used by countless thousands of people who otherwise never would have heard of them.

To libraries, they say: You don't need to devote your staff’s limited time and energy to sifting through thousands of academic journals, trying to figure out which ones to buy access to. Just pay one fee to us—and perhaps to a couple of other equally prestigious services—and we’ll give your community instant access to thousands and thousands of peer-reviewed academic articles the quality of which we solemnly vouch for.

To students, they say: Figuring out what sources to use for your research paper is hard, isn’t it? You never know whether your professor is going to acknowledge a given source as reliable and appropriate, do you? Well, just search our database and use what you find there, and you’ll be good as gold.

And to faculty, they say: Students really have no idea how to evaluate sources, do they? And who has time to teach them? It’s not like you don't have enough to do already. So just point them to us, and they’ll be good as gold—and you’ll have one less thing to think about."
publishing  teaching  archives  digitalrights  copyright  research  openaccess  academia  robinsonmeyer  alanjacobs  2013  power  education  highered  highereducation  via:shannon_mattern 
december 2013 by robertogreco
I don’t even have words to describe how cool... - more than 95 theses
"I don’t even have words to describe how cool grecolaborativo is — the Greco family work/play/endeavor — I don’t know what to call it except awesome. This is a characteristic work: a three-dimensional plush figure based on a child’s drawing. See their fabulous Flickr page here and Roberto’s amazing Pinboard page here. (Robin Sloan has rightly called Roberto an “idea sommelier,” one of the cooler things one can be.) 

N.B. Here’s an update on the Greco family project."
ego  grecolaborativo  alanjacobs  glvo  cv  family  2013 
november 2013 by robertogreco
but then there's <em>reading</em> on an iPad - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"So that's why I don't like writing with my iPad. But reading — that's a different story.

Last night I picked up Robert Bringhurst's classic book on typography, The Elements of Typographic Style, and started reading. Or rather, I tried: after just a couple of minutes I realized I was struggling to see the text clearly. I moved the book a little farther away from my face; I moved it a little closer; I got off the sofa and sat in a chair where the light was better, which helped a bit. I could see the main text with little effort now, but the marginal notes, which are set in smaller type and are also quite interesting and informative (and therefore not the kind of thing I want to ignore), I couldn't read at all. I traded out the glasses I was wearing for a different pair which seem to be a little better for reading, and while that helped, again, a bit, it didn't help enough for me to be able to focus on what I was reading. I took off my glasses — I am very nearsighted — and while that enabled me to see the text perfectly clearly, it also meant that my eyes had to travel so far across the page that they quickly grew tired of the effort.

As dearly as I love the art and craft, the appearance and feel, of the codex, my future as a reader clearly lies with digital forms of text. All I can do is hope that the often painfully-bad typography of digital texts will get better in the future, and that maybe, just maybe, we will see e-ink screens — i.e., non-backlit ones, with less glare and in devices devoted largely if not exclusively to reading — with the sharpness I now enjoy on my iPad's retina display. On my iPad I can read in whatever light I happen to have available, even if that means no light at all, and with whatever glasses I happen to be wearing.

But books that don't exist in digital form — whether, as in the case of Bringhurst’s typographical treatise, for obvious and necessary reasons or just because of the luck of the draw — I guess I just won't be reading. Which makes me sad.

By the way, I wrote this post on my iPad and it was an absolute pain in the ass. So why did I do it? Because it was there."
displays  reading  alanjacobs  2013  ipad  howweread  technology  typography  accessibility  digital  robertbringuhurst 
november 2013 by robertogreco
on reading and flux - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"He then goes on to define high, medium, and low flux, and to describe some situations in which one or the other might be called for.

All this has me thinking about the degree of flux appropriate to different reading experiences. This seems to me highly variable according to genre and purpose. For instance, the New Republic’s iPad app is designed to offer higher flux than other magazine apps I’ve seen, which are minimally interactive: here you have poems that you can use your finger to slide into view, taps that activate deeper levels of content, and so on. Sometimes it’s too much, and at other times it takes too long to figure out how a given story works — they vary more than they ought to — but in general I like it. A good deal of thought has gone into the design, and moe often than not the interactions are appropriate to the particular story and help me to engage more fully with it.

But I would never want to read Anna Karenina this way. The kind of concentration demanded by a long, complex, serious novel cannot bear much, if any, flux. And unnecessary flux can readily be avoided by reading it in a codex — hooray for that! But if people do gradually shift more and more towards reading on some kind of screen or another, and screens become increasingly capable of variable degrees of flux (as e-ink screens currently are not), then we readers will be ever more dependent on designers who possess a deep sensitivity to context and purpose — pixel-based designers who are widely, as a matter of basic professional competence, as flexible and nuanced in their design languages as the best print-based designers are today. Or, at the very least, they’ll need to build in the possibility of opting out of their fluxier interfaces. As someone who’s headed for a more screen-based reading future, I’m a little naevous about all this."
flux  plasticity  alanjacobs  2013  frankchimero  text  reading  howweread  context  purpose 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Louis C.K. Was Almost Right About Smartphones, Loneliness, Sadness, the Meaning of Life, and Everything | The Frailest Thing
"“I think these things are toxic, especially for kids …” That’s Louis C.K. talking about smartphones on Conan O’Brien last week. You’ve probably already seen the clip; it exploded online the next day. In the off-chance that you’ve not seen the clip yet, here it is. It’s just under five minutes, and it’s worth considering.

Let me tell you, briefly, what I appreciated about this bit, and then I’ll offer a modest refinement to Louis C.K.’s perspective.

Here are the two key insights I took away from the exchange. First, the whole thing about empathy. Cyberbullying is a big deal, at least it’s one of the realities of online experience that gets a lot of press. And before cyberbullying was a thing we worried about, we complained about the obnoxious and vile manner in which individuals spoke to one another on blogs and online forums. The anonymity of online discourse took a lot of the blame for all of this. A cryptic username, after all, allowed people to act badly with impunity.

I’m sure anonymity was a factor. That people are more likely too act badly when they can’t be caught is an insight at least as old as Plato’s ring of Gyges illustration. But, insofar as this kind of behavior has survived the personalization of the Internet experience, it would seem that the blame cannot be fixed entirely on anonymity.

This is where Louis C.K. offers us a slightly different, and I think better, angle that fills the picture out a bit. He frames the problem as a matter of embodiment. Obviously, people can be cruel to one another in each other’s presence. It happens all the time. The question is whether or not there is something about online experience that somehow heightens the propensity toward cruelty, meanness, rudeness, etc. Here’s how I would answer that question: It’s not that there is something intrinsic to the online experience that heightens the propensity to be cruel. It’s that the online experience unfolds in the absence of a considerable mitigating condition: embodied presence.

In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, his unnamed protagonist, the whiskey priest, comes to the following realization: “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity … that was a quality God’s image carried with it … when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate.”

This is, I think, what Louis C.K. is getting at. We like to think of ourselves as rational actors who make our way through life by careful reasoning and logic. For better or for worse, this is almost certainly not the case. We constantly rely on all sorts of pre-cognitive or non-conscious or visceral operations. Most of these are grounded in our bodies and their perceptual equipment. When our bodies, and those magical mirror-neurons, are taken out of play, then the perceptual equipment that helps us act with a measure of empathy is also out of the picture, and then, it seems, cruelty proceeds with one less impediment.

The second insight I appreciated centered on the themes of loneliness and sadness. What Louis C.K. seems to be saying, in a way that still manages to be funny enough to bear, is that there’s something unavoidably sad about life and at the core of our being there is a profound emptiness. What’s more, it is when we are alone that we feel this sadness and recognize this emptiness. This is inextricably linked to what we might call the human condition, and the path to any kind of meaningful happiness is through this sadness and the loneliness that brings it on.



But the smartphone is not altogether irrelevant. It is part of a practice that is itself a manifestation of the problem. The problem is not the smartphone, it’s this thing we’re doing with the smartphone, which, in the past, we have also done with countless other things."
louisck  michaelsacasas  via:tealtan  2013  culture  digital  internet  behavior  empathy  commenting  alanjacobs  anonymity  blaisepascal  grahamgreene  cyberbullying  loneliness  sadness  humancondition  humans  human  happiness  web  online  meanness  rudeness  cruelty  smartphones  tolstoy  lmsacasas 
november 2013 by robertogreco
The White Cane as Technology - Sara Hendren - The Atlantic
"A conversation with scholar Georgina Kleege about what her cane tells her, how tech designers should think about visual impairments, and why "bluetooth shoes for the blind" are a terrible idea"

[See also Alan Jacobs in reaction: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2013/11/bluetooth-shoes.html

"And there’s another aspect of this: the white cane is clearly a superior technology here, but connectivity is just what we do now, technologically. Bluetooth is cool in a way that Lucite is not. People want to offer digital solutions to problems — or pseudo-problems — that are not really digital in nature. It’s like rummaging around in your ear with a screwdriver." ]

[See also: http://ablersite.org/2013/11/06/the-white-cane-as-technology/ ]
sarahendren  blind  2013  assistivetechnology  technology  alanjacobs  problemsolving  disability  georginakleege  disabilities 
november 2013 by robertogreco
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