Blog Post 2 – Ethics

The Office of Research Integrity’s beginnings occurred in the 80s when Al Gore first raised the issue of falsification of data with several major institutes. The institute centralized the responsibility for reviewing suspected false public health research. It is interesting to note when one checks the credentials of the directors of this program, the integrity of this institution’s administration seems to be intact. As we have seen in many other government institutional appointments under our current administration, the appointee lacks any competence in his or her post. This of course will only occur as long as this particular institution does not threaten the administration’s efforts in an overt way.

At any rate the consequence for ethics and morality under such an administration is that the effectiveness of an institution such as ORI dwindles. Perhaps they still maintain some power over the aim of research, i.e. one can not falsify effective research. For an institution such as the EPA, its luck is not so great. Its purpose has been hijacked in the service of business. But it is these institutions that provide the very basis of our moral and ethical principles, so it is not just the undermining of morality, but of the very coordinates that provide for its emergence in the first place.

Terror and Buffoonery

The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue facing I-65 just outside of Nashville Tennessee crystallizes in its idolatry the ideology of white supremacy. The sculpture depicts a horse-mounted confederate general rearing his horse, wielding a pistol and a sword, typical of many confederate statues, but in an incredibly cartoonish style. Most confederate statues emerged from the neo-classical style, imitating ancient Greek statues in style and proportion (Washington Post), and most emerged during the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights movement (John Oliver). Before the statues embodied a false sense of patriotism that emerged from the change in meaning of the image of confederate leaders, i.e. from the embodiment of traitors to the embodiment of containers of American tradition, it was the hood that carried meaning for white nationalists.

I would like to suggest that the movement from hood to statue to the current backlash over their removal map onto three corresponding versions of disavowal introduced by Slavoj Zizek in his essay “The Totalitarian Invitation to Enjoyment.” Normal, manipulative, and fetishistic form his triad of disavowals. Normal disavowal regards the hood. It corresponds to the effectiveness of the mask (or in our case a hood) over the bearer in traditional idolatry. For example, a child may one day be disappointed to find out his father has been posing as Santa all along, but then he may have greater enjoyment adopting a position of faith or commitment to the ritual for his niece. The lesson of this tale, is that the symbol, the mask of Santa is of greater importance than the bearer. The hood gave white nationalists special powers.

The next form of disavowal is manipulative and it corresponds to the “elite” who supposedly “pull the strings” of the greater social population. This is where the erection of cynical statues enters the stage, for it is becoming common knowledge that they emerged not during the civil war as the defense of tradition argument would imply, but during periods of time when the social hegemony was in jeopardy. That is to say, the erectors of the statues clearly did not believe in the traditional ethos with which they associated their sculptures; they knew the effect was a rewriting of tradition to obscure the suppression of history. However, as we have seen, the second the statues come into question, southern elites and conservatives rush to defend the false tradition; they believe more than those they fool, their “base.”

The third form of disavowal corresponds to the direct embodiment of the object through the subject, which means that the subject is the direct embodiment of “the party,” according to Zizek. In our case it is white supremecy. This means that a white supremacist knows he is just a person like any other, but nonetheless considers himself to be made of something special. It makes sense in the age of hyper-individualism and far right explosions in popularity. Is not this the basic call to action nowadays? Do we not think of ourselves as just people, atomized individuals, while simultaneously the center of our own universe (social media)? And is this not the Nathan Bedford Forrest sculpture’s ethos—a multimedia ultra conservative memorial depicting a buffoonish clown, a terrorist-father, a source of authority and rebellion?

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/25/is-this-the-weirdest-confederate-statue-in-dixie/?utm_term=.8a29ea4884f0

Slavoj Zizek. The Totalitarian Invitation to Enjoyment. Qui Parle. Vol. 5, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1991), pp. 73-100

Nationalism, the future-past, and the new: two mission statements from my previous institutions

For my selection I chose the previous graduate school I attended for my MFA, University of Florida, and my undergraduate institution, Western Kentucky University. The first thing that stood out to me in comparing the two was the notion of nationalism. University of Florida’s mission statement has a nationalistic tone, hence “The Gator Nation,” and “shaping a better future for Florida, the nation and the world.” Western Kentucky University’s mission statement, however, does not, and is in my mind superior in breadth and content. Western Kentucky University prepares “citizen-leaders of a global society.” The difference in meaning and use of words between the two missions is striking, I believe, and marks an important subject up for debate right now: the efficacy of the state.

Secondly, I took notice to the relation time has to each statement. Florida’s ethical substance is the next generation. It is future-oriented. Western Kentucky’s is present in time. True, the university provides “lifelong” support to its faculty and students, but the subject is its current students and faculty, which of course can change. My undergrad “enriches” lives of those “within its reach,” again language suggesting spacial presentism. I guess I find this important, because the future-oriented mission could open the space for a morality of the future-past sort: “all this will have been worth it when things are better.”

One last thought: why do we need to lead and influence the next generation? Isn’t this a more complicated subject than the paternal implication above? Isn’t the new made apparent when the old mold doesn’t fit the new body?

Mission statement 1:

The University of Florida is a comprehensive learning institution built on a land-grant foundation. We are The Gator Nation, a diverse community dedicated to excellence in education and research and shaping a better future for Florida, the nation and the world.

Our mission is to enable our students to lead and influence the next generation and beyond for economic, cultural and societal benefit.

The university welcomes the full exploration of its intellectual boundaries and supports its faculty and students in the creation of new knowledge and the pursuit of new ideas.

  • Teaching is a fundamental purpose of this university at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Research and scholarship are integral to the educational process and to the expansion of our understanding of the natural world, the intellect and the senses.
  • Service reflects the university’s obligation to share the benefits of its research and knowledge for the public good. The university serves the nation’s and the state’s critical needs by contributing to a well-qualified and broadly diverse citizenry, leadership and workforce.

The University of Florida must create the broadly diverse environment necessary to foster multi-cultural skills and perspectives in its teaching and research for its students to contribute and succeed in the world of the 21st century.

These three interlocking elements — teaching, research and scholarship, and service — span all the university’s academic disciplines and represent the university’s commitment to lead and serve the state of Florida, the nation and the world by pursuing and disseminating new knowledge while building upon the experiences of the past. The university aspires to advance by strengthening the human condition and improving the quality of life.

Mission Statement 2:

Western Kentucky University (WKU) prepares students of all backgrounds to be productive, engaged, and socially responsible citizen-leaders of a global society. The University provides research, service and lifelong learning opportunities for its students, faculty, and other constituents. WKU enriches the quality of life for those within its reach.

Being a grad student made it necessary for me to skim-read

Carr’s assertions of the production of stupidity on the internet are grounded in a similar argument made by Marshal McLuhan, whose famous aphorism, “The Medium is the Message,” is now more or less ubiquitous. It refers to a very similar phenomenon described by Carr in his examples of the clock and the telegraph, as well as Nietzsche’s use of a typewriter. McLuhan’s aphorism asserts that any message in a new medium is necessarily co-determined by previous technologies. Walter Benjamin writes of just this sort of effect of the relation between photography and commercial society: the photograph’s reproducibility exploded on the commodity scene as a revolutionary force.  Carr is outlining the passage from the enlightenment to now in a historiography of technology–somewhat arbitrary and incomplete. Was it not the enlightenment that first conceived of the rationalization of civil society, and the movement from mythological knowledge into scientific?

At any rate, I started skim-reading when I entered grad school in which I am assigned far too much reading than can be realistically done in the chunks of time given. Who can read 400 pages of dense theory a week for one class? And yet the pages are assigned, nonetheless. Some of the more honest professors will of course tell me that I shouldn’t even try to finish all of it. I can also say that I MUCH prefer reading deeply, and if anything is hindering me from that, it’s the bulk of readings I must charge through every week. That’s not to say that education done in this way isn’t useful, but it is to point out that my relation to the internet does not lessen my interest in deep reading.

On Pedagogy of the Oppressed

There were many things I enjoyed about Paulo Freiere’s teaching philosophy. I too despise what he terms banking-education, however, in a review of what Freiere offers as an alternative, I find myself asking a number of questions about what seem to me to be some gross assumptions. For this blog I have responded to some quotations from his writing:

“Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.”

Absolutely. Education has, perhaps, always been about indoctrinating subjects with only the option to adapt and assimilate into a “world of oppression.” Virginia Woolf lays this out in A Room of One’s Own. Peiere doesn’t mention capitalism, but why not replace the term “world of oppression” with it? This brings the institution into the manifold of oppression. ALL major universities in the US harbor enormous hedge funds. The word university never appears in this sample of writing.

“Because banking education begins with a false understanding of men and women as objects, it cannot promote the development of what Fromm calls “biophily,” but instead produces its opposite: “necrophily.”

While life is characterized by growth in a structured functional manner, the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things. . . Memory, rather than experience; having, rather than being, is what counts’ The necrophilous person can relate to an object — a flower or a person — only if he possesses it; hence a threat to his possession is a threat to himself, if he loses possession he loses contact with the world. . . . He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life. (Fromm)

What Fromm is doing here is reducing a thing to its effects, to the ways in which a thing externalizes itself. As Graham Harmon puts it in Immaterialism, Fromm, “rather than treating objects as superficial compared with their ultimate tiniest pieces, one treats them as needlessly deep or spooky hypotheses by comparison with their tangible properties or effects.” For Harmon, not thinking in objects runs the risk of either reducing a thing to its internal relations or parts (my DNA, cells, bacteria, what material tissues of which I am made) or to its effects, its externalizations, how I act on the world.

“The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own.”

Jacques Ranciere’s theory on universal education is a bit more radical. He tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, who was confronted with the dilemma of teaching students a language foreign to them without having a common language between himself and his students with which to begin. He spoke French, and they spoke Flemish. Jacotot gave his Flemish students a book in French, and with no explication they began to learn to write in French. Over time the sentences got better with no superfluous guidance from the professor! Ranciere’s theory replaces teacher with father, and communication with mother tongue. He refers to the way babies learn mother tongues with absolutely no explanation. Friere’s theory leaves intact the institutional position of the teacher, the explicator.

Diversity and stuff

I recently read an essay by Anna Agathangelou, M. Daniel Bassichis, and Tamara Spira called, “Intimate Investments: Homonormativity, Global Lockdown, and the Seductions of Empire.” Their basic thesis is that as new groups, such as the LGBTQ community, gain territory in their fights for rights, we should not be so gleeful in their victories without a much deeper criticality. The valence of power within these configurations of new rights and privileges, according to the authors, obscures the reproduction of capitalist values and neoliberal practices.

Notions of privatization, for instance, were at the core argument “dubbed the Pricacy Project,” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in their campaign to relinquish anti sodomy laws in Texas. They also analyze a 2003 advertisement featuring Keith Bradkowski, who testified before the U.S. senate using the argument that the terrorists of the 9/11 attack who killed his partner targeted him as an American, not a gay man. True, but the authors point out the Heteronormative logic behind Homonormalization (removal of sodomy laws, legalization of gay marriage). The ad features a white man, who pays his taxes, thus engendering him as an ideal citizen protected under the law through private property and private rights. According to the authors: “Through the stress on monogamy, devotion, and a relationship constrained within the bonds of privacy and propriety, the ad participates in demonization of all other forms of sexual expression, practices, and relationships … heteronormative logics are refueled in the production of the good gay subject” (Agathangelou 126).

All this refers to subject formation. The authors are concerned with how capitalist and neoliberal forces squeeze subjects into consent, demobilization, and rationally segmented demographics. The logics at work grant privilege to some (white) members of the gay community, while by default excluding bodies of color. This demobilizes gay communities and puts them at odds with each other by making complicit a fraction of the community at the cost of the rest of it. So diversity is great, but we must always be weary of shiny new rights at the cost of newly re-marginalized groups created out of the very winning over of said rights.

Four things discussion is good for

Modelling thought processes: I think discussion, rather than lecturing is the best way to understand what gives a person his or her opinions. I don’t believe in experts. I think this kind of reciprocal interaction is also good for differentiating someone’s character, his or her specific way of responding to stimuli, and neurosis, people’s tendency to position themselves as an aberration to social norms, rules of conduct, etc. Neurosis gives us a way to combat “expertise-ism.” Humor is a good example of the power of neurosis; as Kirsten Hyldgaard says in her Lacan.com essay on neurosis and perversion: “Humour and joking are, on the other hand, the neurotic’s breathing hole and playground in the social. Here he can let loose all that the good society would rather was left unsaid and unheard. Laughter and humour is a pleasure or enjoyment that is never innocent” … “A joke has to have a latent “tendency” consisting of hatred, obscenity, and cynicism in order to create the enjoyment of a roaring laugh.” The point is that we’re all neurotic.

Sharing cognitive structures: discussion is again a much better way to do this. Discussion is discursive, can move directions and respond to inputs in a much more flexible way than lecturing. It gives all parties a chance to share cognitive structures. There is nothing in the concept of lecturing that offers a superior mode of reciprocation.

Giving context: discussion creates a much more complex context in which to situate one’s self than lecturing.

Telling Stories: There is also nothing specific to lecturing that provides a better platform than discussion for the telling of stories. Discussion simply allows for more thorough cross germination of ideas and stories. I have found that in my teaching I often end up giving short lectures and telling stories of an analogous form to what we are discussing, ad hoc, on a variety of topics that come up in the discussion that they have little knowledge of, and when I don’t know it, we look it up on the spot. I use networked classroom strategies too sometimes.

A Response to Alfie Kohn

I read this article once before in my former graduate school experience for a similar class with a similar structure. It is most certainly part of the philosophy with which I handle student assessment. I like Kohn’s assessment for 3 reasons: 1) He presents a clear case against a flawed institution that is severely out of date and inadequate, and has always been inadequate, for assessing performance. 2) He presents this case through a logical reversal of the incentives supposedly produced through grades. By his logic, if a student defines her success through the grading apparatus, her focus will be on the grading apparatus, on how well she’s doing, instead of what she’s doing. 3) He makes a clear distinction between assessing a student’s progress and measuring a student’s progress. The latter is clearly, although he makes no reference back to the enlightenment, a product of the rationalization of civilization. The problem is that rational systems can easily produce irrational effects.

For my class, I have them grade themselves. They can even produce they’re own metrics of how they might go about self-evaluating. Perhaps the nature of my course allows me to more easily generate an environment for this, but I do not think so. The course is called “The Creative Process,” and it is quite an open field as far as course design is concerned. We read a book and have daily discussions produced through a series of questions students must ask in response to the weekly reading; there are documentaries; there’s a group midterm project; and they present they’re individual creative projects to the class for the final. I provide feedback as best I can, but there is no real measurement I provide of the student’s success. I must admit, as I progress into my second semester teaching this course, there seems to be a lot weariness on the part of students when they encounter my attitude towards grades. Some have accused me of laziness (it is less work when I don’t grade them, and all the better for both parties). My response to that is I put more time in the feedback, a device with much more potential use than a grade, or a grade with feedback. But the students also seem equally anxious about being given almost complete free reign over what they will produce for my class. I guess my passing questions here are how do I motivate students who have never done they’re own research, who don’t know what they’re interested in, who are perplexed at the idea of generating a thing of their own, and who are so locked into the administrative side (asking question like: “what do I need to do to do well in this class?”) of education that it almost seems to destabilize their identities (as students) when I say I’m not going to grade you and you have to come up with your own research project?

A Critical Response to Langer, :D

Langer lists as properties of “sideways learning” “1) openness to novelty; 2) alertness to distinction; 3) sensitivity to different contexts; 4) implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and 5) orientation in the present.” I would like to suggest that this is how babies learn, and in doing so, center Langer’s argument on a kind of learning that is nothing new. Infancy, in all the stages of a person’s life, is when one is most open to novelty. Everything is new and unique. A baby absolutely must be alert to distinction. This is a matter of survival. A baby must most certainly have sensitivity to different contexts. This is how distinctions are made. 3 and 4 I think might be the same thing. Finally, a baby has no real relationship with history or the past, no? Where else must their orientation be, if not in the present?

Since this is a blog post, and so not governed by typical rules of organization and subject matter, I’m also going to harp on her use of Little Red Riding Hood as an example of someone not being mindful. In point of fact, Little Red Riding Hood was in its oral form a story quite the opposite of the version Langer uses, composed first by the Grimm Brothers in written form. The history of fairy tales is one of perversion. In its oral form, passed down through generations of peasantry, LRRH was a story of a girl who escapes the wolf through her wit, and comes of age. She goes out on her own, escapes from the clutches of a wolf by her own wit, and replaces the older generation, the grandma. The version Langer uses can be demonstrated to have its roots in male sexual fantasies. LRRH was turned into a story of rape, one that boxes women into an impossible situation where they must not be careless with strange males (wolf), but can also only be saved by a strong one (the hunter). Perhaps if Langer were thinking more mindfully, she could have used LRRH as the opposite example. LOL? My source here is Jack Zipes’ book, Don’t Bet on the Prince.

A Critical Response to Michael Wesch

Although I find much of what Wesch describes touching and inspiring, I am also struck by the seemingly blind faith and optimism he has in regards to technology and the future in general. I think it is important to keep in mind the notion of ideology when it comes to people who put a lump in our collective throat when they speak. By ideology I intend to make reference to a person’s beliefs, their opinions, and what those beliefs obscure from a person’s perception. I would not argue that what Wesch describes in his examples of networked projects is worthless or out of touch, but I do intend to point out some things I think Wesch takes for granted and images he uses that are not accurate representations of reality.

The first image Wesch presents us is one of a crowded, stadium-seated classroom—drab and claustrophobic. This is a powerful image, and one that immediately naturalizes itself as an object of generic quality, which gives it at least a universal flavor I find suspect. I immediately find my imagination wandering into my past art school experience, for one example, or to my current graduate school experience for another, to find alternative and positive images of classroom atmospheres with old fashioned books, free speech, and creative work. To be fair, I do not think Wesch would say my examples are fringe or inconsequential, but my point is that his particular image under the auspices of his position on stage as a voice of some expertise in the subject matter he’s presenting is misleading. As is his juxtaposition of the former image with one at American Idol auditions for the same reason. As is his statistical experiment where students hold up signs presenting facts produced by a particular method in a specific classroom setting that has vast differences from my alternatives mentioned above.

Following an image of a cityscape of corporate social media emblems, we are then led into a concatenation of characteristics, according to Wesch, that describe the future of our “new media” landscape in the present. In passing, I will note that every single “new media” corporate sign he uses in his transition-image was about five years old at the time of publication (some more, Google was founded in 1998). The next image is this time sourced from his list instead of a visual aid, and presents viewers with a very positive outlook on the future, and I would like to briefly problematize it.

What does he mean by ubiquitous computing? We practically have that now. I know people in India who make less than a dollar a day who have access to every slice of tech he mentions (OK he doesn’t explicitly mention a lot of tech, but it is implied). Ubiquitous computing is not the harbinger of equality, a notion implied by the term itself, and it might even fan inequality’s flames. SBS Dateline did a report on the electronic waste pile-up in 2011 in Ghana that is having serious ramifications. Keep in mind that’s SIX years ago, and one of many similar examples in Asia and Africa. I am reminded here of what Georges Bataille wrote in The Notion Of Expenditure: “Cults require a bloody wasting of men and animals in sacrifice. In the etymological sense of the word, sacrifice is nothing other than the production of sacred things.” Perhaps I stretch, but are not Ghana and places like it the sacrifices we make for the cult of universal technological optimism? I don’t know how to care about them, all I want is the new complugator from Apple. I’m serious, I’m not exactly joking.

The rest of the list completes his image for the future in a similarly narrow vision. Ubiquitous communication? Like where we’ll all be able to finally understand each other? Perhaps he just means the potential for anyone to talk to anyone is becoming easier at a fast pace. Like telephones? My second favorite item following computing is ubiquitous information. Even if we exclude the vast proliferation of classified knowledge, the reality of copyright law is more rooted in access than it is in intellectual theft. Hulu used to be free, YouTubeRed could replace YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, J-Store, linda.com, and the list goes on of rental agencies guarding the keys to knowledge access, and this is not to mention patents on DNA or the rental agencies holding those keys of access. The rest is pure propaganda universals: unlimited speed, everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices.

Wesch says that “knowledge ability changes over time based on the communication environment they’re [the students] in … media shape what can be said, who can say it, who can hear it, how it can be said, and in that way [media] also in a sense mediate relationships.” I have to say that I have only some vague idea of what he means by “knowledge ability,” (intelligence?) but Jaques Ranciere might have an answer for Wesch’s techno-savvy plea. Ranciere’s theory on education in The Ignorant School Master is a beautiful image of a father giving a son a book, and telling his son to memorize the book, inside and out, as a model for universal equal education. It hinges on the “knowledge ability” of children to learn how to talk, and extends this logic to everyone, anytime, everywhere. Much more sustainable an operation than learning through technology, and equipping classrooms with devices that become outdated faster and faster.

My final diatribe is against his examples of social media and networking being used to solve problems. I hold no debate with him that his examples are positive, and have had some material effects. But the problem with say, Twitter for example, is that the scale of influence is a two-way street. This is partially how Trump stole the election, through the very same operations, at least in terms of viral scale, as Wesch’s positive examples. His 200-student survey seems severely flawed, and I base this in part on my own experience of graduating from an undergrad program and, hopefully, from two graduate programs. It does not accurately reflect the real problems of higher education, such as the simultaneous proliferation of adjunct positions and administrative positions. It seems as though he is confusing the symptoms of a larger problem with signs that traditional education is out-dated. I simply cannot buy his general program, although I do find his examples of positive social media collaboration hopeful.