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robertogreco : freddiedeboer   20

Admit Everybody | Current Affairs
"There are two conclusions here, one of which I agree with and one of which I find objectionable. The conclusion I agree with is that the SAT may be the “least bad” of three options for competitive admissions, when compared with using grades or Mushy Holistic Factors, and that therefore eliminating the SAT alone won’t in and of itself produce greater equality and could backfire. (I even have a certain soft spot for the SAT because it enabled me, a person who didn’t know any of the weird upper-class “holistic” signals that impress colleges, to go to a good college.) But the conclusion I disagree with is that this somehow makes a “progressive case for the SAT,” or that we should “defend the SAT.” This is the same logic that causes people like Nicholas Kristof to argue that because sweatshops are supposedly better than farm labor, there is a progressive case for sweatshops and we should defend them. This is one of the differences between liberalism and leftism: liberalism argues for the least bad of several bad options, while leftism insists on having a better set of options.

It’s the talk about “powerful ways” to “distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack” that troubles me. My concern is about what happens to the rest of the pack! As my acquaintance Patrick Conner put it, the difference between meritocracy and socialism is “I don’t want everyone to have a fair shot at the 15% of non-shitty lives, I want everyone to have a decent life.” Instead of arguing for the least-unfair version of the brutally competitive war of all-against-all that is the contemporary college admissions system, the progressive case should be that we ought to have an actual fair admissions system.

In other words: just admit everybody. The whole “competitive” nature of undergraduate admissions is absurd to begin with, and the very fact that students are sorted according to “merit” is socially corrosive. Let’s face it: college isn’t like brain surgery or social work. People’s lives aren’t in your hands. Instead of finding the “top ten best people” we should be selecting “anyone who has proved they are capable of doing the expected work.” Competitive admissions are as irrational as grading curves. With a grading curve, only X percent of the class will get As on their papers, even if every single person in the class wrote an excellent paper, which forces you to start making silly and arbitrary distinctions in a contrived effort to pit the students against each other. The better way to grade is by developing a standard independently and giving students a qualification if they meet the standard. Here’s the admissions parallel: everyone who shows themselves capable of doing the work required of a Harvard undergrad is marked “qualified” for Harvard and allowed to apply. There are a limited number of places, of course, but those places will be filled by selecting a random group of students from among all of those marked “qualified.” You might still get a very low percentage of applicants admitted because space is limited, but it won’t be because those applicants have been deemed worthier, it will be because the lottery happened to favor them.

My vision of universities is as a place where anybody can come and learn, so long as they can do the work. Now, you could argue that at elite schools, the work is so hard that only a few people would be qualified to do it. That’s false, though. I have been a TF at Harvard, so I am acquainted with the level of rigor in the undergraduate curriculum, and it’s obvious that vastly more students than the 4.8% they actually admit are capable of passing the courses. In fact, possibly the majority of the applicants could do fine. We know that college admissions are a crapshoot. But let’s just make them an actual crapshoot, so that nobody would be deluded into thinking that merit was involved, beyond the merit of basic literacy and numeracy.

We might have a different system at the graduate level, where higher levels of specialized skill are required. But I think the same principle should be followed: set a clear standard for the minimum a student needs to be able to do. Make that standard public, so that everybody knows that if they can do X they will have the same shot at being admitted to a program as anybody else. Then choose at random from among those who have met the basic standard.

Alright, so you can probably come up with half a dozen criticisms of this system, the way you can criticize the idea of a randomly-selected congress or a jury trial. Colleges will raise the “basic standard” to unrealistic levels and thus recreate a highly-competitive admissions system, and Harvard will start pretending that you need to be able to do calculus in order to muddle your way to a Bachelor of Arts there. (You don’t.) As long as you still have underlying social and economic inequalities, you can’t actually have an equal system, because everything will reflect those inequalities until we get rid of them. Rich parents will always find ways to make sure their children get more than other children. This is part of Freddie’s point, and he is right: instead of fixing the admissions system you have to fix the economic system, because you can’t isolate the one from the other. It’s an important point, but it doesn’t amount to a defense of the “meritocracy” illusion or the concept of “distinguishing from the rest of the pack.” And the left’s education experts should be devising practical alternatives to meritocracy rather than slightly-less-awful versions of it.

We should always be clear on what the goal is: a world in which we don’t all have to fight each other all the time, where we can work together in solidarity rather than having to wage war against our friends for the privilege of having a good job. There is no reason why everyone shouldn’t have equal access to the highest-quality education, and in a properly organized society it would be perfectly simple to provide it. We don’t need “best” and “worst” universities, ranked from top to bottom, we just need “universities,” places where people go to explore human knowledge and acquire the skills that enable them to do things that need doing. Progressive education means an end to the illusion of meritocratic competition, an end to the SAT, and the realization of a vision of equal education for all."
sat  standardizedtesting  testing  nathanrobinson  2018  freddiedeboer  bias  elitism  inequality  meritocracy  liberalism  leftism  progressive  patrickconner  socialism  competition  selectivity  colleges  universities  highered  highereducation  admissions  education  ranking  society  merit  fairness  egalitarianism 
april 2018 by robertogreco
recalibrating your sites – the ANOVA
"Not too long ago, I felt the need to change the stream of personalities and attitudes that were pouring into my head, and it’s been remarkable.

This was really the product of idiosyncratic personal conditions, but it’s ended up being a good intellectual exercise too. I had to rearrange a few things in my digital social life. And concurrently I had realized that my sense of the world was being distorted by the flow of information that was being deposited into my brain via the internet. I hadn’t really lost a sense of what the “other side” thinks politically; I’m still one of those geezers who forces himself to read Reason and the Wall Street Journal op/ed page and, god help me, National Review. But I had definitely lost a sense of the mental lives of people who did not occupy my various weird interests.

What were other people thinking about, at least as far as could be gleaned by what they shared online? What appeared to be a big deal to them and what didn’t? I had lost my sense of social proportion. I couldn’t tell if the things my friends were obsessing about were things that the rest of the world was obsessing about. Talking to IRL friends that don’t post much or at all online helped give me a sense that I was missing something. But I didn’t know what.

No, I had to use the tools available to me to dramatically change the opinions and ideas and attitudes that were coming flowing into my mental life. And it had become clear that, though I have an RSS feed and I peruse certain websites and publications regularly, though I still read lots of books and physical journals and magazines, the opinions I was receiving were coming overwhelmingly through social media. People shared things and commented on what they shared on Facebook and Twitter, they made clear what ideas were permissible and what weren’t on Facebook and Twitter, they defined the shared mental world on Facebook and Twitter. They created a language that, if you weren’t paying attention, looked like the lingua franca. I’m sure there are people out there who can take all of this in with the proper perspective and not allow it to subtly shape your perception of social attitudes writ large. But I can’t.

It’s all particularly disturbing because a lot of what you see and don’t online is the product of algorithms that are blunt instruments at best.

So I set about disconnecting, temporarily, from certain people, groups, publications, and conversations. I found voices that popped up in my feeds a lot and muted them. I unfollowed groups and pages. I looked out for certain markers of status and social belonging and used them as guides for what to avoid. I was less interested in avoiding certain subjects than I was in avoiding certain perspectives, the social frames that we all use to understand the world. The news cycle was what it was; I could not avoid Trump, as wonderful as that sounds. But I could avoid a certain way of looking at Trump, and at the broader world. In particular I wanted to look past what we once called ideology: I wanted to see the ways in which my internet-mediated intellectual life was dominated by assumptions that did not recognize themselves as assumptions, to understand how the perspective that did not understand itself to be a perspective had distorted my vision of the world. I wanted to better see the water in which my school of fish swims.

Now this can be touchy – mutually connecting with people on social media has become a loaded thing in IRL relationships, for better or worse. Luckily both Facebook and Twitter give you ways to not see someone’s posts without them knowing and without severing the connection. Just make a list of people, pages, and publications that you want to take a diet from, and after a month or two of seeing how different things look, go back to following them. (Alternatively: don’t.) Really do it! The tools are there, and you can always revert back. Just keep a record of what you’re doing.

I was prepared for this to result in a markedly different online experience for me, and for it to somewhat change my perception of what “everyone” thinks, of what people are reading, watching, and listening to, etc. But even so, I’ve been floored by how dramatically different the online world looks with a little manipulation of the feeds. A few subjects dropped out entirely; the Twin Peaks reboot went from being everywhere to being nowhere, for example. But what really changed was the affect through which the world was presenting itself to me.

You would not be surprised by what my lenses appear to have been (and still largely to be): very college educated, very left-leaing, very New York, very media-savvy, very middlebrow, and for lack of a better word, very “cool.” That is, the perspective that I had tried to wean myself off of was made up of people whose online self-presentation is ostentatiously ironic, in-joke heavy, filled with cultural references that are designed to hit just the right level of obscurity, and generally oriented towards impressing people through being performatively not impressed by anything. It was made up of people who are passionately invested in not appearing to be passionately invested in anything. It’s a sensibility that you can trace back to Gawker and Spy magazine and much, much further back than that, if you care to.

Perhaps most dramatic was the changes to what – and who – was perceived as a Big Deal. By cutting out a hundred voices or fewer, things and people that everybody talks about became things and people that nobody talks about. The internet is a technology for creating small ponds for us to all be big fish in. But you change your perspective just slightly, move over just an inch, and suddenly you get a sense of just how few people know about you or could possibly care. It’s oddly comforting, to be reminded that even if you enjoy a little internet notoriety, the average person on the street could not care less who you are or what you do. I recommend it.

Of course, there are profound limits to this. My feeds are still dominantly coming from a few overlapping social cultures. Trimming who I’m following hasn’t meant that I’m suddenly connected to more high school dropouts, orthodox Jews, senior citizens, or people who don’t speak English. I would never pretend that this little exercise has given me a truly broad perspective. The point has just been to see how dramatically a few changes to my digital life could alter my perception of “the conversation.” And it’s done that. More than ever, I worry that our sense of shared political assumptions and the perceived immorality of the status quo is the result of systems that exclude a large mass of people, whose opinions will surely matter in the political wars ahead.

I am now adding some of what I cut back in to my digital life. The point was never really to avoid particular publications or people. I like some of what and who I had cut out very much. The point is to remain alive to how arbitrary and idiosyncratic changes in the constant flow of information can alter our perception of the human race. It’s something I intend to do once a year or so, to jolt myself back into understanding how limiting my perspective really is.

Everyone knows, these days, that we’re living in digitally-enabled bubbles. The trouble is that our instincts are naturally to believe that everyone else is in a bubble, or at least that their bubbles are smaller and with thicker walls. But people like me – college educated, living in an urban enclave, at least socially liberal, tuned in to arts and culture news and criticism, possessed of the vocabulary of media and the academy, “savvy” – you face unique temptations in this regard. No, I don’t think that this kind of bubble is the same as someone who only gets their news from InfoWars and Breitbart. But the fact that so many people like me write the professional internet, the fact that the creators of the idioms and attitudes of our newsmedia and cultural industry almost universally come from a very thin slice of the American populace, is genuinely dangerous.

To regain perspective takes effort, and I encourage you all to expend that effort, particularly if you are an academic or journalist. Your world is small, and our world is big."
freddiedeboer  2017  internet  twitter  facebook  filterbubbles  socialmedia  relationships  algorithms  echochambers  academia  journalism  culture  society  diversity  perspective  listening  web  media  feeds 
august 2017 by robertogreco
two sets of universities, two countries, two futures – the ANOVA
"I have no doubt that Yale’s class of 2017 is full of smart, talented, and passionate young people. I wish them the best. I also have no doubt that those among them who may not be talented or hardworking will be wholly inoculated from that condition thanks to the accidents of birth and privilege that helped them reach their rarefied station in the first place. As a socialist, I am not interested in making them more susceptible to material hardship and the vagaries of chance, but rather of giving everyone that same level of protection – and that means raiding the coffers of their school, their parents, and their future employers for the betterment of all. I also don’t doubt that, on balance, graduates of the Connecticut State system will succeed as well. College graduates writ large enjoy a substantial premium in income and unemployment rates over those without degrees, after all. But how hard will they have to struggle, as their instructors are stretched thinner and thinner by these brutal cuts? How many of them will sink deeper into debt as they are forced to take additional semesters of classes to complete their degrees? How many of them will drop out, thanks to these cuts, and suffer under the burden of student loan debt with no degree to help them secure a better life? How many people who could have been saved, as I was saved, now won’t be because of these cuts?

Today’s Yale commencement ceremony, of course, will be stocked with liberals, decent progressive folk who will tell you they believe in equality and social justice. The parents will mostly be liberal Democrats. The student ranks will be filled, no doubt, by genuine radicals, and the faculty with Marxists and socialists. They do good deeds at these places, such as how Yale’s community recently forced the school to change the name of Calhoun College, thanks to John C Calhoun’s history as a slave owner. I celebrate the activist zeal of all involved in such actions. Yet what Yale’s community can’t do – and perhaps wouldn’t, if it could – is to dismantle its place in the engine of American inequality. For all of the decent people involved in that institution, there is no chance that it will ever voluntarily abandon its role as an incubator of the ruling class. To do so would be unthinkable. That’s the reality of higher education: ostensible leftists preside over the ever-accelerating accumulation of power, money, and privilege. A better way is possible, but it cannot be achieved from within campus."
elitisim  ivyleague  inequality  freddiedeboer  2017  highered  highereducation  money  privilege  power  publicgood 
june 2017 by robertogreco
the three hot trends in Silicon Valley horseshit – Freddie deBoer – Medium
"For a long time I told the same basic joke about Silicon Valley, just updating as some new walled garden network replicated long-existing technology in a format better able to attract VC cash and, presumably, get them ad dollars.

2002, Friendster: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2003, Photobucket: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2003, Myspace: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2004, Flickr: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2004, Facebook: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2005, YouTube: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2006, Twitter: At last, a way to post text on the internet!
2010, Instagram: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2013, Vine: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2013, YikYak: At last, a way to post text on the internet!

You get the idea. An industry that never stops lauding itself for its creativity and innovation has built its own success mythology by endlessly repackaging the same banal functions that have existed for about as long as the Web.

It seems, though, that SnapChat will be the last big new player in “social” for awhile, at least until the kids get their dander up for something new. What’s the new hotness in an industry that exemplifies 21st American capitalism, in that it’s a cannibalistic hustle where only the most shameless hucksters survive? As someone who rides the New York subway every day and is forced to look at its ads, let me take you on a journey.

[1] Give Away the Razors, Make Your Money on DRM-Infected Blades

Juicero deserved all of the attention it got and more — it was so pure, so impossibly telling about the pre-apocalyptic American wasteland. It was also just one of a whole constellation of companies that now operate under an ingenious model: take some banal product that has been sold forever at low margins, attach the disposable part to a proprietary system that pretends to improve it but really just locks pepole into a particular vendor, add a touch screen manufactured by Chinese tweens, call it “Smart,” and sell it to schlubby dads too indebted to buy a midlife crisis car and too unattractive to have an affair. As the Juicero saga shows us, you don’t even really have to honor the whole “make the initial purchase cheap” stage. Just ensure that you market your boondoggle to the kind of person who stood in line to buy an $800 “smartwatch” that poorly duplicates a tenth of the functions already present in the phone in their pocket. (You know, those dead inside.) Then get them “locked into your ecosystem,” which means “get their credit card number and automatically charge them every month for your version of a product that can be purchased at the supermarket for a third of the price.” Profit, baby, profit.

Are you the kind of person who is so worn down by the numbing drudgery of late capitalism that you can’t summon the energy to drag a 2 ounce toothbrush across your gums for 90 seconds a day? Well, the electric toothbrush has been a thing for a long time. And that means that it’s not good enough. After years of deadening your limbic system through psychotropic medication, video games, and increasingly-extreme internet pornography, you need something new. Enter Quip, the company disrupting the toothbrush. Quip wants you to know that its product is inexpensive, despite the fact that it will charge you $40/year for for its “refill plan” and I just bought 5 perfectly functional regular toothbrushes for $1 in the most expensive city in the country. Of course, you’re also buying the convenience of automation — who wants to run down stairs to the bodega for a toothbrush when you can hand over your banking info to a toothbrush company? Bonus points to Quip for emphasizing simplicity while hawking a product that employs an engineering team to innovate the concept of a brush.

[2] I’ve got one word for you, Benjamin, just one word: rents.

It’s one thing to take a product that is already cheap and just fine and replace it with a vastly more expensive version that locks people into exploitative proprietary systems for years in exchange for giving them a 15 second hit of dopamine derived from Going Digital. I mean, Quip and Juicero and whatever Silicon Valley dildo company is selling dongs with DRM-equipped replaceable heads are actually fundamentally selling you a product. It’s a horribly, uselessly expensive product that could only be embraced by chumps, but it’s a tangible thing. The real next level is just inserting yourself into someone else’s transaction and collecting a % while offering nothing. (When this is a job, we call it “consulting.”) Why charge a lot for the blades when you can charge a lot for literally nothing?

RentBerry is useful here because the word “rent” is literally in the name. Here’s the value proposition that RentBerry offers. For landlords who are already raking in record profits, RentBerry provides a chance at making even more, as potential tenants must set upon each other in a dystopian nightmare auction system that compels them to ask, how much am I willing to pay to avoid sleeping in the park, really? For tenants, RentBerry offers… well, the opportunity to pay more in a pre-existing housing crisis, the chance to make the process of finding an apartment an even more horrific exercise in stress and disappointment, a reason to hate faceless strangers with even more intensity, and more reason to view city life as a ceaseless Nietzschean struggle from which they will never escape. What RentBerry gets in return is, eventually, a % of your already hideously overpriced rent, for the duration of the lease. I bet you can’t wait to know a portion of your rent check is going not just to the landlord you hate but also to a company that did nothing beyond giving him the ability to take more of your money! Of course, if you live in New York, your “landlord” might very well be a hedge fund that also funded RentBerry! Sweet, right?

RentBerry will tell you that tenants might get a deal thanks to the auction system. Of course, it’s landlords who chose to use RentBerry, not tenants, and if landlords thought they were losing money on the deal they’d never use it, meaning the service’s very reason for being necessarily entails grabbing more and more tenant money. Details!

Why is everything so expensive? Because Silicon Valley and Wall Street are taking huge percentages out of transactions they once didn’t. That’s why. The Juiceros make inexpensive and functional products far more expensive and often less functional; the RentBerrys cut out the middleman by just becoming middlemen. Dare to dream.

[3] We Love Doers So Much We Want to Give Them a Hellish Existence of Endless Precarity

This is the type of company that has become inescapable in NYC subway advertising. Not coincidentally the time I spend contemplating stepping in front of the train to enjoy the sweet oblivion of death is also up dramatically. There’s legit dozens of these companies out there.

The basic idea here is that 40 years of stagnant wages, the decline of unions, the death of middle class blue collar jobs, the demise of pensions, and a general slide of the American working world into a PTSD-inducing horror show of limitless vulnerability has been too easy on workers. I’m sorry, Doers, or whatever the fuck. The true beauty of these ads is that they are all predicated on mythologizing the very workers who their service is intended to immisserate. Sorry about your medical debt; here’s a photo of a model who we paid in “exposure” over ad copy written by an intern who we paid in college credit that cost $3,000 a credit hour. Enjoy.

The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives. These companies are for people who think temp agencies are too coddling and well remunerative. The only service they sell is making it easier to kill minimally stable, well-compensated jobs. That’s it. They have no other function. They valorize Doers while killing workers. They siphon money from the desperate throngs back to the employers who will use them up and throw them aside like a discarded Juicero bag and, of course, to themselves and their shareholders. That’s it. That’s all they are. That’s all they do. They are the final logic of late capitalism, the engine of human creativity applied to the essential work of making life worse for regular people.

Our society is a hellish wasteland and I am dying inside.
freddiedeboer  siliconvalley  business  internet  society  technology  capitalism  middlemen  technosolutionism  precarity  finance  2017  juicero  subscriptions  drm  rent  rentseeking  latecapitalism  inequality  realestate  housing  socialresponsibility  stability  instability  economics 
may 2017 by robertogreco
of course, there’s the backchannel – Freddie deBoer – Medium
"My position was unpopular, but I was right then, and I’m right now. The situation made no sense. And while I appreciated that people were willing to reach out privately, the failure to speak up publicly can have high stakes. Increasingly I am concerned, in various worlds, with the distance between the public and private. Increasingly I wish that people were willing to say publicly what they now reserve only for all the backchannels out there."



"And that all comes down to a broader reality: on campus and off, even many or most of those who are deeply committed to the cause of social justice and its expression in feminism, anti-racism, and the fight for LGBTQ rights recognize that the culture of social justice is deeply unhealthy. You’ve heard all that from me before. I have been attempting to address that simple fact for years: that there is a difference between a commitment to fighting bigotry and accepting uncritically every argument that is made in the name of that fight. Many people join me in feeling that something has gone deeply wrong in how we prosecute the movement for social justice, but precisely because of the unhealthy conditions of that movement, they feel they can’t say so publicly.

*****

This seems like another one of those moments where what I’m saying is completely obvious, and would be barely worth mentioning if people didn’t react so negatively to actually spelling it out. (All it takes to be a media critic is a willingness to state the obvious.) I mean, it’s not exactly breaking news, right: people say different things privately than they are willing to say publicly. But the very nature of the backchannel makes it impossible to draw out these threads. Some will respond to this post by saying I’m making it all up, and they will be right to object to talking about a phenomenon for which I can’t present specific examples and proof. That’s a constraint I operate under because my very position as a locus of the backchannel requires me to honor the commitment to privacy. (And I always will, don’t worry.) But if you’re in my position, how do you help convince a bunch of disparate, disconnected voices to speak out, when the consequences seem so dire?

The fact remains that I am not making this up. And it remains even if you think I am personally an asshole. What good, progressive, feminist, antiracist people need to be willing to do, if they want to grow this movement so that we can stop losing elections and start acquiring the power to actually make tangible change, is to be willing to say when you think that movement has gone wrong. You must be willing to say, publicly, I am with the cause, but I am not with this. You have to be willing to say, yes, the world is full of offensive things, and yes, I stand with you when someone does something offensive, but this particular claim to offense is not credible. You have to be willing to fight for social justice loudly and passionately and then, when someone takes the language of social justice applies it to ridiculous and illegitimate ends, be one of the people willing to say “enough.”"



"I’ve said it for years: there’s a backlash brewing, against these tactics. People are fed up. Those who live and operate in left discursive spaces are numb and exhausted from living in the constant fear of saying the wrong thing and stepping on a landmine. Over-the-top wokeness is now obligatory in media and academia, which means that much of it is performed in bad faith, with the cynical and the opportunistic now adopting that language and those tactics for their own selfish ends. Meanwhile, decent people who are sincerely committed to the actual ideals that underlie that language are forced to self-censor or else to drop out entirely. This is no way to advance the cause."
freddiedeboer  backchannel  socialjustice  left  2017  progressive  progressivism  academia  debate  wokeness 
may 2017 by robertogreco
welcome to the future – Fredrik deBoer
"For several decades, neoliberal politicians worked tirelessly to remove any checks to our systems of financial speculation, causing the inflation of massive bubbles, driven by elite greed. They simultaneously shredded the social safety nets that would allow the lower classes to better endure the consequences of the inevitable collapse of those bubbles. The bubbles did collapse. The lower classes were devastated with unemployment, instability, and economic hopelessness. Those same elites responded by insisting that the only path forward was deeper austerity, even more vicious cuts to our already-tattered redistributive systems. Anger, naturally, grew. Nativist, nationalist demagogues responded by seizing on this anger, telling ignored and marginalized people that their problems were the fault of even-more-marginalized minorities, migrants, and refugees. Their political adversaries, rather than appealing to those angry people by offering them an economic platform that works for them and by arguing that their best interests are also the best interests of those minorities, migrants, and refugees, have doubled down on austerity politics and have dismissed those voters as deluded racists who are not fit to be appealed to. In general, liberals have entrenched deeper and deeper into geographical and social bubbles that permit them to ignore vast swaths of increasingly-embittered voters. They thus ensure that those many among the angry people who are not in fact incorrigible racists but who could be convinced to join forces for a political movement of shared prosperity never do so. The worst people appeal to the desperate, while their political opponents dismiss that desperation, and the outcome is predictable.

This is the future of the West: a contest between elitist greed and populist proto-fascism. On one side, the limitless self-interest of a financial and social elite that has created not only an economic system that siphons more and more money into their own pockets but also a bizarre, jury-rigged ideology of cultural liberalism divorced from any foundations in economic egalitarianism which argues that anyone who opposes the neoliberal order is not worthy even of trying to convince. On the other side, an increasingly-unhinged movement of racist grievance-mongering and fear-stoking populist demagoguery, which utilizes the age-old tactic of pitting different groups of poor people against each other to powerful effect, helped immensely by the corruption and callousness of the pro-austerity class. These sides share nothing except for an absolute commitment to preventing the kind of robustly redistributive platform of economic and social justice that could unite the needs of all suffering people into a formidable political bloc that is devoted to opposing austerity, inequality, racism, sexism, nativism, nationalism, and the rest of humanity’s political ills.

The choice humanity had was between socialism and barbarism. Decades of neoliberalism have ensured that we’ve chosen the latter. The choice ahead is less substantive and more aesthetic: which would you prefer crushing down on your neck, the combat boot of a fascist or the business shoe of a plutocrat?"
freddiedeboer  politics  neoliberalism  history  2016  policy  us  humanity  socialism  barbarism  bubbles  economics  greed  elitism  socialsafetynet  inequality  class  classism  marginalization  austertity  brexit  fascism  corruption  finance  capitalism  self-interest  eglitarianism  socialjustice  racism  sexism  nativism  nationalism  plutocracy  desperation 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Suey Park and the Afterlife of Twitter | Yasmin Nair
"For better or for worse, depending on whom you talk to, Twitter has become an integral part of how social discourse is conducted today. To date, analyses of Twitter have fallen on a familiar axis: It is, for some, fraught with revolutionary potential and allows previously marginalised communities to have a voice. This perception greatly enabled the first part of Park’s career as a spokesperson for Asian American identity. Her initial campaigns were all built on the premise that Twitter would allow Asian Americans, particularly young Asian American feminists, to amplify their voices online in ways that were not possible in real time given the many institutional barriers they face in real life.

For others, Twitter is a toxic wasteland, filled with the jarring cacophony of voices launching screeds and defamatory tweets at each other, becoming incapable of sustaining real-life relationships in the pursuit of internet fame and, possibly, profits. This French video darkly illustrates this perspective.

Both views, broadly described here, sustain a common liberal perception that Twitter inhabits a public sphere that can be made better with a multiplicity of voices debating key issues of the day. We have convinced ourselves that the main issue is whether or not its users deploy Twitter in fit ways. The question is always of modulation and tone: Can we be better, do better in how we express our views?

But Twitter is more complex than simply a medium on which multiple voices express themselves with greater or lesser degrees of toxicity. To take Twitter seriously, we have to see it as as a staging for neoliberalism’s injunction that everyone should now make and remake themselves in order to survive.

Neoliberalism insists that we are all responsible for ourselves, and its prime characteristic is the privatisation of resources — like education, healthcare, and water — once considered essential rights for everyone (for at least a relatively brief period in human history so far). Within this severely privatised realm, choice emerges as a mantra for all individuals: we can all now have infinite choices, whether between brands of orange juice or schools or banks. This reverence for choice extends to how we are continually pushed to think of ourselves as not just rewarded with choices in material goods and services but with choices in how we constitute our individual selves in order to survive. The contemporary emphasis on “monetising” and “branding” oneself emerges from this neoliberal sphere, where people are required to craft themselves into investment commodities. Twitter and other forms of social media play a role in this construction of the self as a money-making enterprise, with millions hoping to become profitable brands.

In all this, neoliberalism engages in a classic bait and switch: the choice is not a choice but a demand. You have no choice but to choose. In education, for instance, neoliberalism first decimates public schools, then installs charter schools as the only alternatives, then convinces parents in those decimated neighbourhoods that choosing charters is a right. You have no choice but to choose, and the choices are always tilted in favour of the entity that most profits from your “choice.”

Arun Gupta’s critique of Park points to one aspect of this commodification of the self:

Suey Park is the Bitcoin of activism. Her hashtag movements are a digital phenomenon. Her value is determined by how much others buy into her. The lack of institutional backing allows her to disrupt the status quo. And just like digital currencies, hashtag activism is vulnerable to shadowy intrigues and corrupting influences.

Gupta’s essay is the fullest account of the #CancelColbert matter, and he spends considerable time tracing these intrigues and influences in terms of Park’s many dubious political alliances, including her most notorious one with Michelle Malkin. Park was so terrified of losing her brand recognition that she teamed up with and implicitly endorsed Malkin’s xenophobic politics, even as she launched a purportedly anti-racist campaign against Colbert. Suey Park’s career and her “monetising” of herself, even at the cost of her own espoused political agenda, marks what philosophers and theorists have called the neoliberal entrepreneurial self.

Following the work of Michel Foucault, Andrew Dilts and Philip Mirowski have theorised the neoliberal entrepreneurial self. As Dilts puts it, this is an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.”

The neoliberal entrepreneurial self operates as if in isolation, but its existence marks the decimation of several collective entities, including neighbourhoods and the economies of entire cities. Consider, for instance, the rise of Airbnb along with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the promises they have offered — and broken — of letting individuals make money at their own pace, unregulated (read: unprotected) by bureaucratic rules (read: unions). The growth of these economies is tied to the growing gentrification of cities. In the case of Airbnb, for instance, concentrated cities like San Francisco are being taken over by apartment complexes solely devoted to a constantly moving clientele with no ties to the city itself. The prospect of earning extra income prompts people to now rent otherwise unaffordable apartments knowing they can Airbnb extra rooms. As Doug Henwood points out, “Such practices take units off the rental market and grease the wheels of gentrification by making rapidly rising rents “affordable.” Twitter — owned by people who have made billions and constituted entirely by milllions (including me) tweeting for free — survives with many of us hoping that this “free” portal will lead to profitable, monetised selves.

A better Twitter theory enables us to understand that it is not simply the expression of multiple unmediated selves seeking and gaining free expression to either a revolutionary or destructive end but part of a literal and virtual landscape on which several identities — including white ones — are in contestation for chunks of the monetisation pie. In that sense, Twitter is not merely a symptom of a public sphere but a platform that is bound up with the primary dictate of neoliberalism: Make yourself or die.

Both Arthur Chu and Suey Park are prime examples of this neoliberal entrepreneurial self. Chu came to his fame as the first Asian American and first person to win over $350,000 on the quiz show Jeopardy. Shortly following his win and his Twitter fame (he and his wife battled many hostile game show fans who criticised his strategies), he openly asked how to best monetise his new-found status. Parts of his reward for becoming internet famous were regular columns on Salon and The Daily Beast. For his first piece in the latter, he wrote a critique of Park, titled, “An Ode to Angry Asians: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Suey Park.” Park furiously tweeted at him, in capital letters, “DO YOU OR ANY OF YOUR ASIAN DUDEBRO SELLOUTS KNOW WHAT THE FUCK #CANCELCOLBERT COST ME?” She also accused him of being a “tool of white supremacy.”

Park’s anger reflected her fury at the possibility of losing cachet on social media, where there are literally fortunes to be made. Ronan Farrow, son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, without any evidence of talent or experience was signed up for a $650,000 a year gig on MSNBC solely on the basis of his one tweet about his parentage: “Listen, we're all *possibly* Frank Sinatra's children.” The tweet was in response to a media furore caused by his mother publicly suggesting that Frank Sinatra, not Allen, was her son’s biological father. Despite his show business lineage on both — or, as we were led to believe, all three sides of his family tree — Farrow proved to be disastrous on television. But his initial financial success keeps hope alive for millions of others.

Park has repeatedly said, even as recently as March 2016, that she lost her income due to Twitter kerfuffles or because of supposedly having to go underground. While the veracity of that claim to loss of income can be disputed — there are many indications that Park is in fact the beneficiary of significant family wealth — the fact is that it is acceptable by now to consider that one has a career constructed entirely out of Tweets. In one of her Instagram photos, Park was challenged by a reader about her inherited wealth, and her response was that she had made every cent. In short, it is entirely possible, if we are to believe Park, to live in a House Made of Tweets.

The point here is is not to be critical of people like Suey Park and Arthur Chu for making money off Twitter but to consider their money-making as part of a neoliberal framework that fetishises their entrepreneurship, and to consider Twitter as part of that neoliberal framework.

Twitter is mistaken as a form of political action, and the fact that tweeting has the appearance of unmediated immediacy gives it the legitimacy of authenticity, a hallmark of the neoliberal entrepreneurial self. In Park’s case, her authenticity hinged on her being not just Asian American but oppressed on multiple counts. She has often spoken of growing up as an Asian American in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Lake Zurich, of being chased by children who would push their eyes upwards, imitating the folds in hers. In her life as Queen of Asian American Twitter, she has frequently evoked and relied upon her identity as an oppressed Asian American who was and is the subject of racism. The point is not that racism could not have or does not exist for her, but that Park appears to consistently use stories of that racism to advance her own career — not necessarily to work towards ending that racism.

The construction of the entrepreneurial self necessarily involves, particularly for … [more]
yasminnair  sueypark  race  internet  twitter  neoliberalism  sujaykumar  arthurchu  arungupta  socialmedia  presentationofself  entrepreneurship  entrepreneurialself  self-branding  hashtivism  activism  attention  media  2016  freddiedeboer 
april 2016 by robertogreco
what Thomas Hardy taught me | Fredrik deBoer
"Never mind that the idea of salvation through technology is the hoariest old cliche in the history of education, stretching back to the fear among the educated classes that the invention of the printing press would render education obsolete. Never mind that the radio was sure to change teaching forever, or that the television was too, or that the VCR was, as was the personal computer. Never mind that I still hear people talking about what the internet will surely do for the schools of the future, despite the fact that we had the internet in our classroom when I was in junior high school 21 years ago, the school of the past. Never mind that one of the most easily predicted outcomes in educational research is that a highly-touted educational technology will result in no meaningful difference in learning gains. Nope: it’s the same old shit. We’re better and smarter than those other guys who told you that they were better and smarter than the guys who came before them. Our jargon is newer and better. Gamify the cloud with synergistic flipped classrooms that take an active learning approach to emergent technologies and the internet of things. Our app has flavor crystals. Rinse and repeat, now and for forever.

A piece like this makes you realize the real tragedy of this (profitable, and thus perpetual) fantasy of remaking education is that its progenitors are guilty of precisely what they accuse others of: a complete failure to think of education outside of a narrow, restrictive framework. Mead refers to the educational vision on offer here as utilitarian, and I suppose it’s that. But I would argue that the current orthodoxy about education — which, make no mistake, all these proud free thinkers clearly share — is fundamentally mechanistic. That is, it presumes that there is a basic correspondence between particular inputs to a student’s learning and straightforward and clearly-defined outputs in a student’s outcomes. So you teach a student division, and they’ve learned division, and nothing more; you teach a kid to code (in a language that will be obsolete by the time they reach even undergraduate education) and they learn to code (a skill that will be largely automated by the time they reach middle age) and that’s why you bother to do it. And you don’t teach them to read poetry or to dance a waltz because you can’t get a job troubleshooting Geico’s android app with those skills. Everything is a simple and uncomplicated matter of what you put in and what you put out, and the value and importance of what you get out depends entirely on what’s taken seriously by the staff at Wired magazine."



"In a very real way that was the moment when I contemplated the world outside of my own subjectivity in a genuine and mature way. And like so many other important ideas, its consequences continue to spool out in my mind for years to come. It multiplied complexity; it introduced patterns of thinking and difficult questions that I had never thought to consider before. It deepened my mind in more ways than I can express. And yet the value of this insight, in any conventional educational assessment you can name — and I say that as an expert — would be nil. This understanding, which has been central to my development as an adult intelligence, would not factor into any assessment of my academic aptitude. We do not have instruments that measure this kind of learning and we never will.

Now: I don’t and can’t represent myself as anyone’s definition of a human success. And I’m not interested in making this about the rigor or quality of my research or my field. But I can say that, by the typical benchmarks of educational success, I have performed well. I graduated from high school, finished a bachelor’s degree, and went on to two graduate degrees. I’ve performed very well on standardized tests, both state-run assessments of educational progress and entrance exams like the SAT and GRE. I’ve been published in major newspapers and magazines. I’ve written a major policy position paper for a respected think tank. I’ve been published in peer reviewed journals. If you want to get neoliberal about it, I’ve gotten jobs and earned something like the median income. Again, this is not about representing myself as some sort of great success story, but rather just to establish that I have had the kind of academic outcomes that policy makers, members of the media, and parents say they want.

Yet on the level of thinking of our Silicon Valley overlords, aspects of my cognitive abilities that are absolutely central to my educational success are taken to have literally no value at all. In educational research, perhaps the greatest danger lies in thinking “that which I cannot measure is not real.” The disruption fetishists have amplified this danger, now evincing the attitude “teaching that cannot be said to lead to the immediate acquisition of rote, mechanical skills has no value.” But absolutely every aspect of my educational journey — as a student, as a teacher, and as a researcher — demonstrates the folly of this approach to learning."



"The point is not that the humanities, or the liberal arts, or the deeper concepts and values of civilization, or whatever only have value because of how they support more narrowly-remunerative skills. The point is that these deeper values and these monetizable skills exist in relationships so deeply intertwined that they are permanently inextricable from one another. And the utter folly of disregarding those traditional aspects of education that can’t be immediately tied to skills you list on your Monster.com profile is one we and our children will pay for, for generations. I have no doubt that we will come in time to learn again the absolute necessity of learning that goes beyond the rote skills we currently perceive to be important, that someday people will learn to again see the utter necessity of humanistic thinking. But such understanding will only come after we have allowed deluded privateers to wring every last dollar out of our educational system as they strip it of all learning that has a function other than training more efficient little capitalists.

Albert Einstein was obsessed with music. Would he have been a better physicist, or a worse one, had he spent the time he devoted to music and the other arts on what we now call “STEM subjects”? It’s an absurd, pointless, unanswerable question. What matters is that Einstein was a full-fledged human being, and enjoyed an education that permitted him to be that, and that took the creation of such full-fledged human beings as its central mission. And if we only have the courage to devote ourselves to that project, too, the rest will sort itself out in time."

[See also: http://blog.mrmeyer.com/2016/silicon-valley-v-the-liberal-arts/ ]
freddiedeboer  humanities  altschool  education  pedagogy  teaching  learning  howwelearn  measurement  2016  automation  complexity  economics  politics  rebeccamead  edtech  howweteach  unschooling  deschooling  labor  capitalism  neoliberalism  whywelearn  thomashardy  alberteinstein  stem  interdisciplinary  silos  rotelearning  rote  disruption 
march 2016 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
The story of college — Medium
[Wayback: https://web.archive.org/web/20150406173924/https://medium.com/@freddiedeboer/the-story-of-college-48d3603e58c6 ]

"We are left with a situation in which institutions that were originally created to perpetuate the reign of an inherited, moneyed elite, and to train that elite to be civic leaders, are now facing the burden of incredible expectations. We expect our colleges, at this point, to essentially create a healthy labor market. With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle, thanks to deliberate policy choices to crush unions and globalize labor markets, colleges are now expected to train an ever-growing population of students adequately to ensure them good jobs. Meanwhile, the madcap race to compete in the Resort-Hotel-Plus-Classes vision of higher education has resulted in an increasing reliance on exploited adjunct labor, the demise of the professoriate, the rise of sky-high tuitions and attendant debt loads, and more and more deserved public scrutiny.

In other words, America’s conservative, corporatist turn has led to declining per-capita state funding for universities thanks to austerity politics, the demise of unions as upwards pressure on wages, a shredded social safety net for those who struggle, and spiraling inequality that sees more and more of the economic pie eaten by a tiny elite. College still makes sense for graduates, as they continue to enjoy significant premiums in wages and unemployment over those without college educations. But the race to credentialize puts enormous pressure on high school students to attend the most selective institutions, erodes the value of the bachelor’s degree itself and compels many to pursue graduate degrees in law or business or medicine, and perhaps even perpetuates inequality rather than reducing it. After all, even with all of the expansion, only about 40% of working Americans has a college degree. It is unclear if the economic advantage they enjoy will survive with further expansion, given that skilled labor is subject to basic forces of supply and demand.

We’re left in a situation where everyone agrees that something has gone badly wrong, but no one is quite sure what alternatives to pursue. Many, such as myself, believe that too many people are being pushed into colleges where they are unlikely to succeed, but there is little in the way of alternative plans for mass prosperity. Arguments to increase the number of students attending trade schools are intuitively satisfying but lack evidentiary support. Arguments for sending more and more students into STEM fields are directly contradicted by available evidence. Arguments for mass online education cannot provide evidence that such systems can actually provide a quality education, particularly for the most at-risk students, and omit the social and networking functions that are an important aspect of college success. Average people can’t afford the rising cost of college thanks to enormous income inequality and stagnant wages, but neither can they afford not to go to school.

Colleges and universities deserve harsh criticism and badly need reform. The rise in administrative and amenity spending is suicidal; the use of exploited labor, unconscionable. Tuition rates must continue to slow, as they recently have. But ultimately, the problem is with our economy writ large. The pressures that colleges are under stem from the demise of broadly-shared prosperity. Without returning a substantial portion of the income growth for the top 10%, 5%, and 1% to the median American, there is likely no alternative to mass debt and economic stagnation. Proposals for free tuition and broad student loan forgiveness are a good start. But ultimately, our problems with higher education can only be solved through redistributive economic reform."
freddiedeboer  highered  highereducation  2015  history  policy  administrativebloat  economics  gender  race  colleges  universities  politics  inequality  labor  costs  education  stagnation  ronaldreagan  anationatrisk  wages  employment  unemployment  tuition  unions  us 
april 2015 by robertogreco
one after another | Fredrik deBoer
"I have two memories tonight, both from Wilbert Snow School, my childhood school, my childhood home.

In the first, it was a typical day on the blacktop, which means it could have been pretty much any grade, K-5. In those days the school was an actual campus; there was a main building with the office, the cafe, the auditorium, and the gym. Then there were a half-dozen or so satellite buildings, called units, which housed one grade apiece, plus an extra subject area room– art, music, so on. We called those specials. It was a campus, an elementary school campus. You had your classroom and across the hall was the other class in your same grade. In winter you’d load up your gear and trudge over to the other building for your special. It was all surrounded by forest, and on one thin side of the woods, the housing project that abutted my childhood house. In the back, there was a stretch of woods that George Washington was known to have once crossed through, and Mr. Shearer, my grumpy old Republican 5th grade teacher who I loved so dearly, walked us through and told us about it. There was a birch tree and you could pull off a switch and suck the end and taste the birch. I loved it, so much. Awhile after I left they tore it all down and built a one-building version. Efficiency. Anyway.

We were on the blacktop and one of the other boys, I’m thinking Kevin Hickman but I don’t really remember, accidentally kicked a playground ball deep into the woods by the blacktop. So he ran in to get it. It seemed like he was in there for ages, and then there was this shout of glee, and he came barreling out pushing a very different ball, a far larger one, a giant earth ball. It was literally taller than he was, but otherwise looked identical to the dull red playground balls we always had, and as he emerged the look of pure joy on his face was impossible, and every other kid let out this absolutely brilliant scream to see a ball that big, and we all ran to touch it. To this day I don’t know how it could have happened that the ball could have been lost in the woods– how could you just forget about a ball that large? — or how long it might have been out there, or how it stayed perfectly inflated for however long it was. But It doesn’t really matter. To this day, the feeling of communal exultation, that pure, unexpected joy, the look on his face as he tore out from the woods, and the fact that I can remember the look on his face but not whose face it was, these things are indelible, things I will remember forever.

And then the para came over and yelled at us and took the ball away.

The second memory is just a feeling. It was the day of my 5th grade graduation, the last day at Snow School. After that I would be sent to the weird, one-grade quasi-middle school in my hometown, Keigwin, and after that, the fresh hell that was Woodrow Wilson Middle School. The memory is just being at school on that day and suddenly realizing, with Snow over, that time was passing. I mean it in just that sense, not as something deeper or more symbolic. It wasn’t that I suddenly contemplated myself aging or growing up or, even worse, my mortality. Nothing so vulgar. I just suddenly realized that time was passing in a way that I never had before, that you left school eventually, and that things would be different instead of the same. It was profound and moving and frightening.

Now it seems as if the situation is quite the opposite; I feel that I can sense myself aging but not moving, that nothing passes but time, that there is nowhere for anything to go but for my life to pass grudgingly from year to year."
memory  time  freddiedeboer  2015  childhood  memories  emotions  feelings  joy  perception  school  play  balls  profundity 
march 2015 by robertogreco
I don’t know what to do, you guys | Fredrik deBoer
[See also the notes in this bookmark, which reference this article at one point: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:13419c858fc0 ]

"So, to state the obvious: Jon Chait is a jerk who somehow manages to be both condescending and wounded in his piece on political correctness. He gets the basic nature of language policing wrong, and his solutions are wrong, and he’s a centrist Democrat scold who is just as eager to shut people out of the debate as the people he criticizes. That’s true.

Here are some things that are also true.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.

By the way: in these incidents, and dozens and dozens of more like it, which I have witnessed as a 30-hour-a-week antiwar activist for three years and as a blogger for the last seven and as a grad student for the past six, the culprits overwhelmingly were not women of color. That’s always how this conversation goes down: if you say, hey, we appear to have a real problem with how we talk to other people, we are losing potential allies left and right, then the response is always “stop lecturing women of color.” But these codes aren’t enforced by women of color, in the overwhelming majority of the time. They’re enforced by the children of privilege. I know. I live here. I am on campus. I have been in the activist meetings and the lefty coffee houses. My perspective goes beyond the same 200 people who write the entire Cool Kid Progressive Media.

Amanda Taub says political correctness “doesn’t exist.” To which I can only ask, how would you know? I don’t understand where she gets that certainty. Is Traub under the impression that the Vox offices represents the breadth of left-wing culture? I read dozens of tweets and hot take after hot take, insisting that there’s no problem here, and it’s coming overwhelmingly from people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Well, listen, you guys: I don’t know what to do. I am out of ideas. I am willing to listen to suggestions. What do I do, when I see so many good, impressionable young people run screaming from left-wing politics because they are excoriated the first second they step mildly out of line? Megan Garber, you have any suggestions for me, when I meet some 20 year old who got caught in a Twitter storm and determined that she never wanted to set foot in that culture again? I’m all ears. If I’m not allowed to ever say, hey, you know, there’s more productive, more inclusive ways to argue here, then I don’t know what the fuck I am supposed to do or say. Hey, Alex Pareene. I get it. You can write this kind of piece in your sleep. You will always find work writing pieces like that. It’s easy and it’s fun and you can tell jokes and those same 200 media jerks will give you a thousand pats on the back for it. Do you have any advice for me, here, on campus? Do you know what I’m supposed to say to some shellshocked 19 year old from Terra Haute who, I’m very sorry to say, hasn’t had a decade to absorb bell hooks? Can you maybe do me a favor, and instead of writing a piece designed to get you yet-more retweets from Weird Twitter, tell me how to reach these potential allies when I know that they’re going to get burned terribly for just being typical clumsy kids? Since you’re telling me that if I say a word against people who go nuclear at the slightest provocation, I’m just one of the Jon Chaits, please inform me how I can act as an educator and an ally and a friend. Because I am out of fucking ideas.

I know, writing these words, exactly how this will go down. I know Weird Twitter will hoot and the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it. I know I’ll get read the intersectionality riot act, even though everyone I’m criticizing here is white, educated, and privileged. I know nobody will bother to say, boy, maybe I don’t actually understand the entire world of left-wing politics because I went to Sarah Lawrence. I know that. But Christ, I wish people would think outside of their social circle for 5 minutes.

Jon Chait is an asshole. He’s wrong. I don’t want these kids to be more like Jon Chait. I sure as hell don’t want them to be less left-wing. I want them to be more left-wing. I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest fucking idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect."

[also posted here: http://qz.com/335941/im-fed-up-with-political-correctness-and-the-idea-that-everyone-should-already-be-perfect/ ]
freddiedeboer  politics  politicalcorrectness  discourse  2015  culture  pc  jonathanchait  liberalism  liberals  amandataub  megangarber  alexpareene  left  patriarchy  marginaalization  weirdtwitter  gender  race  ableism  racism  sexism  homophobia  inclusion  exclusion  intersectionalpolitics  progressivism  debate  discussion  prohibition  allies  kindness  empathy  inlcusivity  inclusivity 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Grand Rounds: The Beast of the Block (H/T to Audrey Watters)
[This URL links to the comment by Audrey Watters:

"I have a bunch of thoughts here:

1) I support people's decision to block, even if it means they're avoiding disagreements. Like I said in my post, social media is intellectual and emotional work, work we do for free. People should not feel compelled to engage with people, whether they agree or disagree. I think it's unfair to demand others pay attention to us by hopping, un-beckoned, into their feeds. I think it's unfair to demand that people respond to us online. I think it's unfair to @-mention people to bring them into an argument or discussion they weren't in. To do this often involves power and privilege in ways that is unexamined. You say you poke. I get it. I poke. But we need to recognize that constantly being poked is exhausting. Emotionally exhausting.

2) I definitely support Diane Ravitch's decision to block you or me or anyone she chooses to. She has over 100K followers on Twitter, on an unverified account. Verified accounts give users tools to handle the incredible amount of messages that one receives when one has a high number of followers. (I have less than a third of the number, and I tell you, it is overwhelming.) If she needs to take measures to make her feed tolerable, so be it. I have also tussled with her online; she hasn't blocked me, but we don't follow each other and I try not to @-mention her. (I subtweet or use her name, not her handle.) It's not that I don't want to engage with her. It's that I don't really see the point of doing so on Twitter.

3) I don't think you're a troll. I've told you that before. But I do think you can be a sea lion. (http://wondermark.com/1k62/ ) "If I see a comment wander by the I disagree with, agree with, wonder about, want to poke at, I'll poke. If someone doesn't want to get poked at for something they said on Twitter, I'm continue to wonder why they said it on Twitter." -- that's pretty classic sea lioning. And I think we all need to be aware of these sorts of interjections and interactions. (You write that you don't know why you were blocked. Maybe it was something other than what you said. Maybe it was how you said it? How often you said it? I don't know, but it seems like it's worth a little introspection.) We presume a lot when we jump into people's mentions unannounced. We can still preach and advocate online without @-mentioning people we disagree when we do so."

[Below are some related tweets that I made prior to seeing Audrey's replies, which are much better than what I said. I had never hear the term ‘sea lion’ before and that's specifically what I was getting at:

“From 2012: “unleashing a temporary tweetmob on people to discourage dissent… gums up the conversational works” http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/why-you-shouldnt-retweet-the-haters/254300/
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/560903816116051969

"That post is about retweets, but I think the same applies for .@ replies.
[image of person with bat in hand, gang of buddies just behind]"
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/560904364651343872

"To be more clear, I’m referring especially to the bit that includes the phrase “reasonable disagreement.” https://pic.twitter.com/xA6j6ZzFRd "
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/560908340247543808

"and especially with RTs + .@ replies that *initiate* an interaction instead of an individual reply in good faith of beginning a conversation"
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/560910624826204160 ]

[Also for comparison (via: https://twitter.com/mpershan/status/560882491205373952 and https://twitter.com/mpershan/status/560882582163050498 ):

“On gentle pushback.”
http://ryanbrazell.net/on-gentle-pushback/

and “I don’t know what to do, you guys” or “I’m fed up with political correctness, and the idea that everyone should already be perfect”
http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/01/29/i-dont-know-what-to-do-you-guys/
http://qz.com/335941/im-fed-up-with-political-correctness-and-the-idea-that-everyone-should-already-be-perfect/ ]

[These two also relate:
“Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls; It Trolls for Thee.” (Lindy West and her troll)
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/545/if-you-dont-have-anything-nice-to-say-say-it-in-all-caps?act=1

“Win of the Day: Woman Defeats Twitter Troll With Words, Kindness on MLK Day”
http://thedailywh.at/2015/01/win-day-woman-defeats-twitter-troll-words-kindness-mlk-day/

“The Newsroom: Santorum on Gay Rights” (Clip from Season 1 Episode 6 via https://twitter.com/jonathanzhou_/status/560844926615703552 )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBnk2aKsIQA ]
audreywatters  comments  twitter  replies  socialmedia  blocking  2015  sealions  interjection  interaction  dianravitch  discussion  argument  dissent  harassment  civility  tone  subtweets  disagreement  privilege  engagement  freddiedeboer  trolls  thenewsroom  lindywest  ijeomaoluo  ryanbrazell 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Kill Your Martyrs – The New Inquiry
"However well intentioned, the urge to treat Matthew Shepard as a blameless angel demonstrates so many of the pathologies in contemporary social liberalism. First is the left’s attraction to heroes and martyrs — a drive to personalize and individualize every issue, in a way that seems to directly cut against the theoretical commitment to identifying structural causes for social problems. After all, it is the right wing that prefers to reduce complex social issues to problems of personal character and claim economic outcomes are entirely the result of individual work ethic and talent. Advancing individuals as the symbols of a political causes invites attempts to discredit the causes by discrediting the inevitably flawed martyrs pressed into service to emblemize them. Yes, the personal is political. But the person is not the politics.

Neither are the activist groups entirely synonymous with their causes. Despite recent declarations of victory thanks to the advance of same-sex marriage, queer people in America continue to suffer from vast and entrenched discrimination in a variety of arenas. The gay rights movement remains essential and in need of protection against reactionary power. But no activist group is the movement. Like all institutions, they inevitably become more devoted to their self-perpetuation and to the needs of those working within them than to the cause with which they are identified. The Matthew Shepard Foundation, started by his parents, is an example. It has repeatedly worked to delegitimize not just Jimenez’s work but the very legitimacy of questioning the facts surrounding Shepard’s death.

But what, exactly, do Jimenez’s critics fear? What if every bad rumor about Matthew Shepard were true? For years, I have argued against the “race realist” arguments about race and IQ, the notion that our broad racial categories are significantly different in intelligence. But I have also argued against the notion that we just shouldn’t investigate the question — that some types of investigation should be taboo. This argument, voiced by writers like John Horgan and others, seems an enormous tactical and rhetorical mistake. What are they scared might be found? Regardless of any studies, I have no fear that we will somehow “discover” the inherent inferiority of any particular racial group. I have no fear that social science will result in our rejecting the equal dignity, value, and rights of people of color.

bloodpsortTNI Vol. 24: Bloodsport is out now. Subscribe for $2 and get it todayIf empirical tests suggest that our social construct of race align with differences in our social construct of intelligence, it invites consideration of how those constructs have been assumed or theorized, how those tests have been designed, and how structural aspects of our economy and our society have created conditions that make such perceived differences possible. No test results could undermine our pre-empirical commitment to the social and political equality of all races. Likewise, no journalistic revelations will change the fact that Matthew Shepard was strapped to a post, has his brain bludgeoned, and was left to die in the snow by killers who worked consciously and with premeditation. The right to live is not deserved. The right to not be killed does not stem from the perceived social legitimacy of one’s sexual or gender identity. McKinney and Henderson took Matthew Shepard out with the intention of killing him, and they did. That fact alone is reason for grief, disgust, and horror.

What, ultimately, is true about what happened in Laramie? I don’t know, and neither does Stephen Jimenez, and neither do his vitriolic critics. But I feel confident in the following: Someone who was innocent of anything immoral, as opposed to illegal, was intentionally and brutally murdered. His murderers were possessed, at the time, of some degree of homophobia, whether those feelings included the self-hatred of McKinney or not. The victim was forced to live in an unrepentantly homophobic country, one which refuses to meaningfully address the physical vulnerability of its unjustly targeted gay population and which was thus tacitly implicated in his murder. He died for no reason, and his killers deserve to spend the rest of their lives in jail. All that is true.

But the notion that this killing was a simple story of strangers meeting a defenseless gay man, being panicked by his homosexuality, and executing him in a fit of hatred, is no longer a responsible or informed position.

If Jimenez’s Matthew Shepard — involved in the drug trade, intimately acquainted with his killers, despairing — is the real Matthew Shepard, we face the same moral questions that we do when we consider Shepard the secular saint. Even if his death was not a black-and-white morality play which spoke perfectly to the assumptions of those who mourn him, and he not a media-ready victim but a complex and flawed human being, would he then lie outside of the boundaries of our compassion and our responsibility? And if he did, where is left for a movement seeking human justice to go?"
politics  personalization  individualization  matthewshepard  freddiedeboer  2014  news  truth  complexity  purity  humans  left  socialliberalism  heroes  martyrs  martyrdom  reification  hagiography  stephenjimenez  rigobertamenchú  simplification  simplicity  messaging  whitewashing  josephbrennan  credulity  bias  jennifertoth  themolepeople  journalism  storytelling  fiction  nonfiction  thebookofmatt  canon  radicalism 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The Charlie Hebdo attacks show that not all blasphemies are equal
"After the murder of Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists, pundits have tried to suss out where blasphemy fits into the social life of the West. Is it a necessary project for shocking Bronze Age fanatics into modernity? Is it a way of defending a free-wheeling liberal culture from the censorship of violent men? Or is it abusively uncivil? When directed at a minority religion, is it racist? Is it an abuse of freedom of speech, the equivalent of a constant harassment that invites a punch in the nose?

We have been told that Charlie Hebdo is an "equal opportunity offender." And in one sense that is obviously true. It drew unflattering pictures of Jesus, of Jews, and of the Prophet Muhammad. The spirit of the magazine was anarchic, atheistic, and left-wing. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry points out, it was a very French thing, anti-clerical and Rabelaisian.

But not all blasphemies are equal, because religions are not analogous. A gesture aimed at one can cause an eruption of outrage, but when offered to another it produces a shrug. The intensity of reaction may be determined by the religion's comfort with modernity, or by the history of its adherents. Western Christians are raised in pluralist, tolerant, and diverse cultures, and in powerful nations. Muslims experience the bad side of discrimination as immigrants, and come from cultures that have been humiliated by colonialism, autocracy, and Western incursion. But that doesn't explain all of it.

Pissing on a Bible is similar to pissing on a Koran only as a chemical reaction of urea and pulp. As gestures of desecration they mean entirely different things. The challah bread eaten in Jewish homes on the Sabbath and the Catholic Eucharist both have a symbolic relation to the manna from heaven in the book of Exodus, but trampling on one is not the same as the other, and would inspire very different reactions. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo's images are offered from an anarchic and particularly French anti-clerical spirit, but they are received entirely differently as blasphemies by Christianity and Islam.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I tried to think of what kind of blasphemy aimed at my own faith would bring out illiberal reactions in me. The infamous Piss Christ of Andres Serrano barely raises my pulse. Although the pictured crucifix reminds me of one I would kiss in worship on Good Friday, I agree with the artist Maureen Mullarkey that it is trivially easy to avoid taking the publicity-and-money-and-status-generating offense it so desperately sought.

But a Black Mass — a satanic parody of the Catholic Mass, in which a consecrated host stolen from a Catholic Church is ritually desecrated — would touch something else in me. I followed the news about proposed Black Masses at Harvard and Oklahoma City intensely in 2014. I monitored the reactions of local bishops. And I thought more highly of Tulsa's Bishop Slattery for his tougher posture. I admired even more the renegade Traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which organized a march and produced a beautiful video explaining the offense of a Black Mass, and why Catholics would seek to make reparation before God for the offense given by others.

Freddie deBoer says that those defending the practice of blasphemy are arguing against a shadow and doing brave poses against a null threat: "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."

Not only does this ignore the chilling effect violence has on free speech, it is also just wrong. In 2006, the British government of Tony Blair asked for a vote on a law "against incitement to religious hatred." It was a law whose political support came overwhelmingly from Muslims.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood argued that one of the virtues of the law was that it would have allowed the government to edit Salman Rushdie's work. Luckily, the House of Lords insisted on a revision that would exempt "discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult, or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents" from the law, rendering it toothless.

But if I thought about it, I understood the MP's reaction. He hoped that a law against incitement could function as a de facto blasphemy law. I hoped last year that laws against the petty theft of "bread" from a Church could be enforced to prevent the Black Masses.

It often seems the debate over the value of blasphemy is determined by what people fear the most. Do they fear the growth of an Islamic sub-culture within the West that threatens the gains of secularism, religious toleration, feminism, and gay rights? Then blast away. Or do they fear that the majority culture, like Western imperialism itself, is driving Muslims into poverty, despair, and a cultural isolation that encourages fundamentalism? Well, then be careful, circumspect, and polite.

Last week, I suggested that Europe's secularism was aimed at Christianity, and that in some respects secularism was a kind of genetic mutation within the body of Christendom. Charlie Hebdo's kind of blasphemy was a Christian kind of blasphemy. Christianity makes icons, and Hebdo draws mustaches and testicles across them. It pokes at the pretension of religious leaders. This is a kind of blasphemy that Matt Taibbi identifies with "our way of life."

But what if drawing a cartoon of Muhammad is not, theologically speaking, like drawing a parody of Jesus? What if it is more like desecrating the Eucharist, something I think Charlie Hebdo's editors would never do?

Obviously there are debates within Islam about what God demands from believers, unbelievers, and earthly authorities. Just as there are debates about what the Eucharist is within Christianity. And, yes, sometimes state pressure can effect a religious revolution. (Look to the Mormon church and the United States). But Western pressure seems to push Muslims away from liberality.

Fazlur Rahman and other Islamic scholars point out that when Islam was an ascendant and powerful world force it often found the intellectual resources to "Islamicize" the philosophies and cultures it encountered outside its Arabian cradle. But once Islam was humiliated and reduced on the geopolitical stage, these more daring and expansive medieval projects were abandoned. Other modernizing and liberal efforts of jurists like Muhammad Abduh have proven unpopular. Instead, the great modernist projects of Wahhabist and Salafist fundamentalism is what colors movements from the Taliban to the Islamic State.

When Westerners read the editorial from radical cleric Anjem Choudary, they are tempted to think he is stupid for asking why "why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims...?"

"That's not how it works here," we want to reply. But Choudary's view that the state authority is responsible for the moral and spiritual condition of the nation is quintessentially Islamic. It is a reflection of the fact that Islam's great debates are centered on jurisprudence, on the right order of the ummah. This is very different from Christianity where the primary debates center around orthodox faith and morals withing the Church. In an odd way, Choudary's complaint against France is a sign of assimilation. He expects France to assimilate to this vision of Islam. He offers France's leaders the same complaint radical Muslim reformers always offer to lax Sultans and Caliphs.

To ask Muslims to respond peacefully to Charlie Hebdo's provocations makes absolute sense to me, because I want to continue to live by the norms set by a detente between secularism and Christian churches. I suspect many (perhaps most) Muslims want the same. But those Muslims who are faithful to a religious tradition concerned primarily with restoring fidelity to sources from the first three centuries of Islam were not a party to the secularist bargain. And we ought to be aware that we are asking them to live as Christians, and to be insulted like them, too."
michaelbrendandougherty  #JeSuisCharlieHebdo  #JeSuisCharlie  charliehebdo  freedom  freespeech  2015  france  religion  freedomofspeech  racism  islamophobia  extremism  journalism  christianity  andresserrano  maureenmullakey  blackmass  freddiedeboer  blasphemy  islam  khalidmahmood  salmanrushdie  via:ayjay  secularism  fundamentalism  fazlurrahman  anjemchoudary  jurisprudence  assimilation  matttaibbi 
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
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
STEM: Still No Shortage
"There’s another side to these STEM shortage arguments, and they are straightforwardly moralizing: the reason for our continued employment crisis is that too many students took “impractical” majors and are suffering as a result. As Virginia Postrel pointed out last year, this narrative simply is not supportable. We don’t, actually, graduate a ton of people in the supposedly impractical arts or humanities. While participation in the humanities is stable, the number of students who pursue humanities majors is low, around 12%-15%. (Incorrect claims that the humanities are in a crisis of plummeting enrollment somehow coexist with arguments that too many students are taking them as majors.) These majors are also disproportionately concentrated in elite colleges, whose graduates enjoy far better economic outcomes than the median graduate, whether through quality of education, selection bias, or some combination of factors. A quick glance at the actual data shows that the notion of an army of deluded dreamers taking supposedly impractical majors is simply not supportable. What sticks out, more than anything, is the relentless rise of the Business major, by far the largest and one which now produces a mind-blowing 350,000 BAs or so a year. (I’d be very interested to see the economic outcomes for graduates of this eminently “practical” major.)"



"The irony of all this is that the typical argument for the superiority of STEM disciplines would probably focus on these as fact-based disciplines, but the notion of a STEM shortage has almost no facts in its support. The notion of a STEM shortage is based on hype, cultural resentment against the arts and humanities, and an unshakeable American faith in technology as the deliverance from all of our problems. I genuinely believe that the biggest part of the belief in a STEM shortage results from our cultural obsession with technology and our perpetual belief that it will cure all of our ills. This discussion echoes another one of my hobby horses, the notion that technology will solve our education woes in K-12. Again and again and again in education research, rigorous independent studies find little or no statistically significant gains from using new technologies in the classroom."



"When I mentioned that point to my friend, he laughed and said, “These companies are all trying to get the same 50 students.” This, more than anything, may be the source of the persistent STEM shortage myth: the inarguable value of being a star in a STEM field. There’s little doubt that people at the top of the food chain in computer science or electrical engineering or biomedical engineering, etc., often enjoy fantastic material and economic gain. But this is a banal point: it’s good to be a star. It’s good to be a star engineer in the same way it’s good to be a star musician or a star psychologist or a star writer. What public policy and politics demand is that we pay attention not to stars but to the median person. And the median American is facing a world of stagnant wages, the arbitrary nature of the employment market, and the constant fear of our financial system’s boom and bust cycle. The problem is that by definition, very few people get to be stars. I don’t doubt that the median Purdue STEM graduate is doing well. But Purdue is a top-flight STEM school, and half of our graduates will be below the median, and many who start those majors fail out of them, and the country is filled with schools who graduate STEM students who can’t get jobs. Basing our perception of the employment market on the outcomes of those 50 star students is pure folly.

None of this is to question the legitimacy or value of the STEM disciplines. Indeed, they are absolutely central to our experience of the good life. But then again, so are the arts, and in neither case does their inherent value say anything about the employment conditions for those fields. The elementary problem here is in part the notion that college exists for the uncomplicated process of training workers in a particular field. Universities are an essential part of our society, but they were never meant to solve all of our macroeconomic problems. Indeed, this whole conversation elides the large majority of Americans without a college degree at all, who suffer far worse outcomes on average than those who have one and who are struggling simply to stay afloat. What’s required is not to blame individual students for the failures on the job market, but to take a long, hard look at the future of employment, our winner-take-all economy, and the basic American social contract."
education  humanities  stem  economics  employment  virginiapostrel  2013  freddiedeboer  rebeccaschuman  vivekwadhwa  labor  policy  us  politics  highereducation  highered  via:ayjay  technosolutionism  technology  shortage 
december 2013 by robertogreco
L'Hôte: authoritarianism from the inside
"The conceit of this piece by Josh Marshall is that there's some great mystery to why some people feel differently than he does about whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. In fact it's brutally simple: Marshall sees nothing to fear from authority and the state, because he is one of the Chosen People of authority and the state. Meanwhile, those who are not among the elect fear and distrust authority, because it daily oppresses them. This fear and distrust is as rational as a thing can be, but Marshall cannot bring himself to believe in it.

Marshall has that in common with Jeffrey Toobin, Richard Cohen, and David Brooks: no reason to fear the police state. Why should they? They are, all of them, American aristocrats: white, male, rich, and properly deferential to anyone with a title or a badge or authority or an office. Of course they don't know why anyone would worry about limitless surveillance. They themselves have nothing to fear because they are the overclass. They can't imagine what it might be like to be Muslim or black or poor or to have any other characteristic that removes them from the ranks of the assumed blameless."

[via http://www.theamericanconservative.com/jacobs/insiders-and-outsiders/ where Alan Jacobs responds with agreement]
2013  alanjacobs  freddiedeboer  left  traditionalists  cslewis  georgeorwell  1984  animalfarm  civilliberties  surveillance  exclusion  power  authority  authoritarianism  davidbrooks  bradleymanning  edwardsnowden  policy  government  society  difference  jeffreytoobin  richardcohen  policestate  culture 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Insiders and Outsiders | The American Conservative
[In reaction to: http://lhote.blogspot.com/2013/06/authoritarianism-from-inside.html ]

"…this is one of the key points where the people of the real Left, like Freddie, and traditionalists, like me, find their interests and viewpoints converging. We suspect the vast and ever-increasing powers of the militaristic surveillance state for very similar reasons: we see its infinite voraciousness, its lust either to consume or erase differences, and its willingness to persecute and prosecute anyone who won’t get on board.

This convergence is not new…

However, the concerns of the two groups are not identical. Traditionalists tend to focus on forming and sustaining their own “little platoons” in freedom from governmental interference; they want to be allowed to stay outside the main stream of American culture, at least to some degree. The genuine left is more focused on how to help those people who are forcibly excluded from that main stream, who, far from worrying about how to stay out, can’t figure out how to get in. But these are general tendencies. Traditionalists can also care about the forcibly excluded, and leftists can promote the flourishing of pockets of difference.

Our ideas about what constitutes a good society may be too different for us to make common cause in the arena of electoral politics, but we should at least listen to one another more often — and explore conversations that could tell us just how far a shared commitment to civil liberties can take us."
2013  alanjacobs  freddiedeboer  left  traditionalists  cslewis  georgeorwell  1984  animalfarm  civilliberties  surveillance  exclusion  power  authority  authoritarianism  davidbrooks  bradleymanning  edwardsnowden  policy  government  society  difference  jeffreytoobin  richardcohen  policestate  culture 
june 2013 by robertogreco

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