Saturday, May 19, 2012


Perceptions. People perceive things in very individual ways. Perceptions, how individuals view the world, are as idiosyncratic of each individual's life experience and outlook as could be expected, some are more critical than others, others more or less emotional and rational. It's these idiosyncrasies that make accounts so unreliable between multiple eyewitness accounts of the same event. Sometimes when video of the event is shown to the eyewitness who has an alternate account, they still adamantly maintain their version as the truth claiming the video as doctored in some way. What individuals see and don't see, what counts as important and unimportant, in effect choosing what and how individual people interpret these scenes, form very individual perceptions.

Memories are made from collections of life experiences. Each individual life experience is as different as individual temperament, whether introverted or extroverted, judgement, whether optimistic or pessimistic, mental capacity for detail, whether intricate or trivial, giving us all an individual point of view. I don't think there's much argument or controversy in these statements. It makes perfect sense and most, if not all, people have this first hand experiential knowledge and an awareness of the differences between each of us. This makes each of us who we are and people seem to confidently know that.

People also seem to know about the flight or fight impulse, herd mentality and mob rule characteristics groups of individuals encounter when large portions of individual perception seemingly become, or are made to appear to be, the same. Many people attempt to manipulate these characteristics of humanity and the resulting group loss of control of reflective thinking towards reactive become available to the manipulator's, and provocateur's, own purposes and control. The multitudinous and subtle differences between individuals are downplayed, or ignored, in favour of a few strong similarities which are harnessed, manipulated and alienated from the individual to where this accumulated power can activate its influence through some medium. Power through authority is exerted on the many by a few who are held in esteem, through a cult of personality or some emotional Divine attachment to truth. There are many historical examples of this kind of manipulative authority over the masses, so to speak, socially, politically and economically, not many turning out to the better.

So, if we all know individual perceptions are independent of all other perceptions, then why put much stock in this notion of perception, whether by an individual or group, guiding the way business, corporate or social, should be taken or seen? Perception is a good starting point to a discussion, but is a poor endpoint. A more unreliable source of information can not be imagined and used in making decisions or guiding corporate management than solely one's perception. The idea, let alone action based upon it, of "perception is everything", could be the definition of delusional. It's about idiosyncratic views of reality, in which every human individual has their own. Basing your actions on what someone else perceives seems a bit dicey. Shouldn't actions be based on the best facts possible, ideally from reality? From a data set of perceptions then, and not just one? From a group of people and not a single person in authority?

If a great number of perceptions are evaluated as similar, they should be far more accurate and have more voracity than that of any single individual. Why then do some individuals have more sway than whole groups? It is a curious phenomenon and somewhat frightening. As Tommy Smothers once said, "Truth is whatever you can make someone else believe."

Two kinds of perception: astute and stupid.

Astute perception, usually coupled with intuition, can lead to leaps of logic of the kind Newton and Einstein were able. But this perception has to be verified by others to become more than a theory or more any single person's point of view. It may take decades for this verification to come about and be made into a truth. Even then, another astute perception can move us even further, making the previous 'truth' wholly untrue and setting a completely new path for progress, or further refining what is deemed to be true, thus redefining our beliefs once more. This process requires multiple perceptions, through open and democratic means of communication, struggling to determine an acceptable path, but once determined is durable until the next great 'perception'. The process is time consuming and fraught with seemingly endless debate, but is an evolutionary process of improvement and progress.

Stupid perceptions are those created by persons in positions of authority and are not necessarily held to any kind of deliberate scrutiny by others. This is more a situation and manipulation of power than of rationality, a fad more than truth. These perceptions are usually devoid of any rationalism, come to the public from people who supposedly 'know' better, and people who question this position of authority come under the boot of its power through intimidation, marginalization and ostracism. There is, therefore, no sense of democracy as that would be seen as undermining the leaders vision. Less discerning people, yet eager followers of 'the way', are elevated to higher positions of power and authority, as those who are most discerning fall. The resulting undemocratic regime supported by minimal scrutiny is ultimately regressive in its all consuming effort to become universal through means of the abuse of power to demand conformity.

One of the means of justification used by the 'leaders by perception' to 'prove' their correctness is statistical raw data. If it is in any way measurable, they will measure it, skew it fit their model and make sure doubters are seen as naysayers, ne'er do wells, malcontents, and otherwise misfits to change. Of course, everyone knows statistics can be made to sing any number of songs and those versed well enough in their use can nearly defend anything they demand within the narrow proof of 'data'. Outliers and anything unmeasurable are left off the table as unimportant, hastily downplayed as inconsequential.

Of course, any thinking person would immediately see the contradiction, that what the leader by perception is choosing as verifiable data is in itself a limited perception of what is acceptable as usable statistical data. Some, like Malcolm Gladwell and Bent Flyvbjerg, might even say that it is in fact the outliers and the unmeasurable that have a greater effect than what is measurable on any system. The absurdity of using perception as a means of leadership is abundant for all to see. This notion rarely works for any real length of time, and is divisive, corrosive and ultimately unrealistic as no-one truly believes in it and rather sees it as a very long stretch in overall credibility. People generally are not that stupid for too terribly long and eventually the fear of repercussion wears thin.

Off the Grid?

Off the grid. Is this even possible in this day and age? I seem to remember hippie types in the early 70's living commune style, paying no rent, no utilities and living off the land through their own ingenuity. Seemed pretty cool in those days. I doubt if any of them are still living that way today. To do anything today requires one to be connected into the system. To buy anything requires a sum of money. This money is presumably gainfully acquired through work. To get work one needs an address, phone number and the once secret social insurance number to be shared with the employer. So the connection is made between you, the employer and government. This connection is also made with a bank, as your pay cheque is probably instantly deposited on payday to your account. If you don't have an account, you have to get one, which again requires the name of the employer, your address, phone number, email address and social insurance number. Payroll doesn't like cash, unless you are a casual day labourer, and these days printing cheques to hand to employees seems outdated. Individual identification is through the social insurance number, a government driver's license and a credit card, where all three numbers are in data banks listing everything about you, particularly your credit and criminal history. If one wants to sell their own home grown produce at market, registration and a business license is required and there you are, part of the whole system again. All land has title, even squatters have to deal with that. There appears to be no way around it. So, to buy anything, to get a loan for anything, to get any service from anyone, to do anything, requires that you be plugged in. What can you do off the grid?

If you have no fixed address, no phone number, no credit card, no Facebook or Twitter account, no email address, no drivers license, no bank account and no social insurance number and no health care card from the government you are off the grid. You probably work on a day to day basis for under the table cash only, probably at minimum wage or less and so pay no taxes. Working for more would mean having to pay income tax and be back on the grid with government. Same is true for accommodation. To stay off the grid requires no fixed address that would need to pay for utilities, television or municipal taxes, which means living on the street and in the bushes, in other words, homeless. And how is homelessness viewed?

Homelessness is seen as an illness, you must be mentally ill, unstable or somehow unfit for society and in great need of some form of intervention to overcome it. It's not 'normal' to be homeless, not tied down to place, to be a drifter, a transient of no fixed address. Who are you? What can and do you contribute to society? What kind of a person can you be without these responsibilities? What are you avoiding and what are you afraid of? What is wrong with you if you are not part of the grid? Don't you want the benefits of Big Brother or Big Sister? There are books, TV shows and movies about this, the 1980's television series "Max Headroom" and a character in it named 'Blank Reg' come to mind, as well as Orwell's classic book, "1984".

We can't allow too many people to be off the grid, that would harm the system. More people may opt to be off the grid if it can be shown as a viable alternative way of living. Three hundred years of civilizing and socializing 'primitive' subsistence cultures into the fold of an ever more integrated world would be for nothing, so serious anachronism is not to be tolerated. A few hippies and a small percentage of homeless is okay, they are just sick in the head social deviants, the odd religious group, the Amish and Hutterites for example, are allowed as they do peripherally still operate within the system, but whole functioning societies are to be made into the fold. Indigenous groups the world over are seeing their cultures assimilated, acculturated, homogenised, even extinguished by the steady and heavy pull of modernity over time. A steady drain on already threadbare resources leaves these cultures vulnerable over the long term.

Society, which is government at all levels, law enforcement, business, banks, insurance, education and all other aspects of the modern human community, spends and withholds no small sum of its resources to ensure people be on the grid and stay there. No other viable lifestyles or social systems allowed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

More Social Insurance in Case of Libertarian Racketeering

Here in Canada, our Prime Minister Harper is a dyed in the wool libertarian. His views and policies, past and present, clearly show his leanings. Unfortunately he doesn't understand that he can not be the only one. If he gets to be one, then all citizens can be also, which means all citizens also can choose what they want. And so, if the majority of citizens choose to be collective in some of their desires for Canadian society he must listen and obey. Mister Harper wants equality, yet he wants to be first among equals, and there's the rub of libertarianism.

The unemployed are not a herd of ”paid slaves” for Harper’s government to hand over to his business cronies. Employment insurance, is not welfare, rather it is, as it suggests ”insurance”, paid for by every worker in case they, or someone else, loses their job. No-one chooses to be unemployed. The priority of employment insurance is to the security of workers and their work. Workers in their appropriate line of work, work more and better, thereby making more money for the employer and themselves, spending the money in the economy and paying taxes for the public good. That's a good idea isn't it?

Health insurance is the same thing, insurance, again, paid for by every worker to insure themselves and their families against illness. No-one chooses to be ill. The priority of Universal Health Care Insurance is to the health and welfare of the worker thereby alleviating the worry of sickness and it's negative impacts on the family. Healthy workers make money for their employers and themselves, spend it in the economy, that's good for business, and pay taxes for the public good. That's a good idea, too, isn't it?

Welfare, as well, is a form of insurance against the degenerative societal malaise an overly competitive society may feel towards the poorest of the poor, the least able of the able, and often the unable, to participate in the society. Aside from the idea that social welfare is the right and humane thing to do by putting money in the pockets of the people least able to compete, it assuages intense feelings of inequality and the idea that people at the top don't care about anyone other than themselves. Broad social welfare policies lead to a more stable and equitable society. That's a good idea, too, isn't it?

Harper assumes the working class has lost faith in these social insurance nets when actually we need them now more than ever. His hood-winking of the Canadian public in the name of his libertarian creed of "choice" through deregulation and privatization is an oft repeated disaster just waiting to happen. And this "choice" is hardly any choice at all. By "liberating" the Canadian worker from these mandatory social insurances Harper has left us to choose between not paying into any insurance at all, or becoming trapped by commercial insurance ventures.

The commercial insurance business, about which we see and hear enough particularly with our southern neighbors, is nothing short of a racket to make money rather than to truly insure the customer. The priority is heavily skewed towards profiteering, not looking after the customer when bad times come. If anything, insurance companies do everything in their power to avoid paying their customers when bad times come by employing deliberate loopholes in their contracts, (aka, the fine print) or reneging on payments based on excessive scrutiny of their customers. But, God help you if you don't have insurance. In many cases it is a law that one must have insurance, such as in taking out a mortgage or when driving a car. This has nothing to do with the protection of the individual policy holder, but rather protection against other insurance entities and loan companies for their loss. This is the definition of protection racketeering.

Actually, if employment insurance, health insurance and welfare are targets under the picky libertarian Harper regime, why not auto insurance also? Why must I pay into that? Same for mortgage insurance, I already pay a hefty premium for the mortgage, why should I pay a good chunk more in insurance? Why can't I choose not to? Are mandatory auto and mortgage insurance a good idea? Why? Who is being protected?

For that matter if it is all about choice, why can't I choose to forgo paying taxes, or to choose where my taxes go? If I had a choice, like I do in the stock market for ethical funds, I'd choose that my taxes would go to health care and unemployment rather than to incentives to cartellised business and the military, two old bottomless pits of highly speculative adventure, rarely in the public interest and often fraught with disaster. If Harper wants government out of business, then government should not fund, subsidize or have incentives for it either and should not legislate that I have to participate in it.

And if these once social insurances are now becoming voluntary, why do I pay increased taxes? And where is this money going? Am I now paying for a ridiculous military expenditure for inventory that can't possibly defend our country with such a pitifully small population from a determined enemy? Am I paying taxes so Harper can try to punch above his weight or, at least, throw his weight around in NATO as a street tough and thug for libertarian interests of capitalism and the so called freedom of choice in a global context? Often the choice left after a thug finishes roughing you up while running the protection racket is between the devil and the deep blue sea, that is, no choice at all.

The struggle is a reminder of the debate between Thomas Carlyle's 'great man theory' where a leader seizes opportunity and creates a new society and Herbert Spencer's idea that so called 'great men' are merely products of the social situation at the time. In either case the issue remains that an '├╝bermensch' is on the scene determining for all the present and future, in characteristically undemocratic and through often dark Machiavellian means.

Harper has forgotten that Canadian citizens chose to have employment insurance, chose to have Universal Health Care insurance and chose to give welfare to aid Canadian citizens who struggle in our society. What is detestable about the 'libertarianism' of the Harper regime is that it is hardly libertarian at all, as the fact is he picks and chooses what the public's choices are. Harper, being all knowing, decides what is in the 'public's interest', what we will be paying taxes for. Where have I heard this before? Ah, yes, the 1920's and 30's dictatorial capitalist regimes of Italy and Germany.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A new way, again...

We are seeing a new group of books, movies and television shows attempting to bring humanity to another time in the past, or into the future, where humanity can dramatically change the way we live by either having the freedom from the past to progress in a more utilitarian way, or start over from scratch with the benefit of prior knowledge. Both scenarios are post apocalyptic from either war or global catastrophe. Today, we wonder where will the latest and ongoing global protests and political revolutions lead us? To an apocalypse?

I highly doubt it. Technologically humanity has changed quit a bit in the past 200 years, but in terms of human social evolution, everything old is new again.

Global protests have popped up everywhere against authoritarian governments and the wanton greed and avarice of some individuals with the backdrop of a general lack of ethical and moral standards by all. Religious revivalism and rival-ism, liberal labour protests and reactions against corrupt government is everywhere, as is the gloom and doom of the specter of global warming. The global Occupy movement, the Arab Spring and national protests within the EU are the examples from 2011 alone! Upheavals like this usually are the hallmarks of some kind of societal change.

The anti-establishment movement within the United States of the late 1960's and early 70's, as an example, brought about the end of the Vietnam war, civil rights being extended to African Americans, and the downfall of Nixon. Eventually the reactionary doors were opened to neo-conservative union busting Reaganomics, which led to the fall of Keynesianism and the rise of the ideals of the New American Century of extreme Republicanism after 9/11 and then to market meltdown and deep recession at the end of the first decade of the new millennium. Much of the same neo-conservative agenda was mirrored in the UK via Thatcherism and and the confused poll driven populist policies of Blair in the UK post 9/11, followed, too, by deep economic recession.

After a decade of preemptive strikes, overt wars, morally irresponsible and ethically questionable economic practices and generally poor and worsening prospects for wealth gain, except for an ever decreasing and select few who are seen as the winners of free competition within deregulated capitalism, a confusing sense of where do we go from here can be seen and felt. The general global economy collapsed when national bubble economies burst one after another. Beginning with bellwethers Ireland then Iceland, the implosion of the US economy in 2008 followed by Greece, Italy, Spain and the intense warnings of the IMF, but slow reaction of the powerful EU countries France and Germany, show the deep global economic cracks that threaten to become abysses.

Throwing good 'tax' money after bad in the form of government sponsored bailouts of companies 'too big to fail' has not helped. Instead of giving the lower classes the money to bubble-up as FDR did to fight the Great Depression, modern governments during the Great Recession gave huge packets of trickle-down money to failed big business assuming they could keep the economy from failing further. Instead of a private investment bubble, we now see a public debt balloon. Again we see the little guy, the consumer, the paid worker, is the economy rather than the big businesses and their CEOs as economy after economy has struggled to remain profitable and continue to grow. Still the big players look after themselves with more than handsome renumeration, while once again the workers, with reduced social safety nets they worked all their lives for, and chronically underemployed youth are left to rallying in the streets to fight for the living they were promised.

There is no doubt we live in strange times. Moral and ethical values have changed over the past 30 years, perhaps too much in some ways and for some people. But it certainly seems that a general sour dissatisfaction with the extremes of both the political and economic realms has finally come to most citizens taste buds. The almighty dollar, greed as profit, growth as unlimited and a near psychopathic role played by major corporate executives, and their troops, the MBA's, has brought many regular shift working citizens to much sadness. All of this done, of course, in the name of freedom, democracy and capitalism. These revolutionary terms, in their day, lead many out of poverty, brought about new forms of governance and made choice the order of the day. But like most things, too much of a good thing leads to corruption in one form or another. What was once sweet is now sour as these days the 99% protest against the 1%, the group at the top, the winners of the capitalist competition.

Those that have great drive and ambition to succeed, who win the economic race to fabulous wealth, do so in much the same way as top caliber athletes. No-one remembers silver medallists, nor all the countless preliminary competitors the eventual winner must defeat, and so the drive to be at the top, the winner, leads many to do whatever is necessary. In business this means acquiring more wealth from others, and as monetary wealth itself is finite it must be gained at the expense of others.

A winner must not have pangs of guilt or remorse for making other fellow human beings poorer and lose as the winner becomes wealthier and win. In fact, this anti-social eventuality of unbridled competition must be counter-intuitively made to appear a paragon of virtuous cooperative behavior. It's the wealthy that invest and hire the poor. Without the drive of the winners, society would slow and become static. It becomes the goal of the wealthy to make every one else poorer and be seen as a success for having done so. All of society benefits from the efforts of winners.

However, as competition for wealth becomes more intense, previously highly regarded moral values and ethical rules, useful in fairly getting to the semi-finals, are bent when in tough against other top notch competitors. Advantages are sought, cheating becomes a common practice and as each new form is discovered and made illegal, other forms are invented.

Our society generally accepts this to be a true fact of human nature and explains it still as social Darwinism. Excuses are made by the wealthier winners that if not for them the economy would not function and the poorer would not have work at all. Such a bizarre notion! If not for the poor the winners wouldn't be wealthier is perhaps the other way round to look at this. Be that as it may, the winners must possess some degree of psychopathy in order to keep feelings of sympathy and empathy, if they have them at all, at bay from their goal of winning the economic race. And, besides, who wouldn't want to be a winner?

And there is the rub. It is easy to be a critic. And in todays world it has become easier to be a hypocritical critic. We all slam environmental pollution, yet few of us are prepared to rid ourselves of the car and other fossil fueled machines that make life easier, faster and where we can get more work done per unit of effort. Most are envious of the wealthy, many despise the wealthy, many don't want to work as hard as the wealthy, but few would pass up being wealthy. The scramble for lotto tickets every week gives that away.

Society is a human construction and so follows the rules people have put in place. Most of these rules have not changed since the days of our earliest civilizations. There is no 'nature' other than the human characteristics left to it. The 'nature of society' is a misnomer and misuse, if not abuse, of the word 'nature'. The distinction must be made clear. The characteristics of society and the characteristics of humans in society are far removed from nature. This might explain why things have not changed much in 50 centuries, there are no new ways, no new human characteristics as the struggle between freedom and control and cooperation and individualism sway to and fro through time and we find a new way, again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

ComTech Censorship

Freedom on the Internet and other forms of communication, what a silly idea. Some governments like it if free and enfettered communication take down today's rogue governments (define 'rogue'?), but are uneasy about it and decidedly against it if their own people complain, criticize or try and take them down. Potential subversives and budding 'anarchists' is what the powers that be consider people who use these technologies unless they can be motivated to participate in the democratic political process as demonstrated by Obama. The danger of 'the tail wagging the dog' scenario looms large as this new medium is highly manipulatable and with its bright lights and 'one-arm bandit' style addict-ability, many citizens are unprepared for it.

For the media consolidated corporate world, communication technology (comtech) users are consumer sheep needing to be fleeced at every opportunity, even if they sell nothing but lifestyle and advertising. Image and perception, not reality and truth are the cornerstones of modern politics and have become the mantra of modern corporate competition as well. The idea of an out of their control 'invisible hand' looking after both business and the consumer is terrifying and unacceptable.

The only thing free about comtech is the ability to get plugged in, after that there's nothing free about it at all. Restraints on freedom, seen in multiple forms of security, are everywhere; Terms of Use, privacy policies, regional restrictions, age and subject censorship, and legalities, just to name a few, are everywhere for users to negotiate. These pages are long, tedious and rarely read by the consumer public.

Now Twitter is applying selective censorship capability allowing governments the ability to shut down Internet communications on their service. The Arab Spring of 2011 has shown how powerful communication is among the people. This situation is not unlike the billboards of the 17 and 18th centuries when printing presses were the Twitter, Facebook and Google of that age. If authority wanted to silence protest they simply destroyed the printing presses, but that proved annoyingly ineffective. Presses went underground, defied rules and regulation, continuing the protest for change. Similar situations exist for Internet and cell phone users, but they have found ways around governmental restrictions and the word, so far continues to get out.

But what is meant as 'free'? Free of charge or freedom of speech? In terms of economy the Internet is far from free. Having the technology to access the Internet is costly as are the access points the 'providers' make available. The airwaves of the pre Internet generation may have been free, but the pipelines of digital communication are decidedly not. And there is the rub. A communication service may have owned the station and the transmitter, but they could not own the gap between that and your receiver, whether television or radio. But with the digital age coming first via cable, the 'station' now owned the conduit as well. The communication business then had to protect themselves from 'illegal' capture of what once was free transmission and now that these cables also allowed the user to go 'online' meant that some form of regulation of access via passwords had to occur. In one swoop both the economic freedom of communication and freedom of speech were controlled.

The power of communication among the political and consumer public has always been a threat to large organizations. Governments, both good and bad, don't like it. As demonstrated by flash mob demonstrations, viral videos and information campaigns, all largely uncoordinated and spontaneous, keep any stiffly authoritarian government scrambling to keep up with security to prevent its own crippling or possible demise. Tunisia, Libya and particularly Egypt and their experience last year are fine examples of what can happen when the general population get involved in politics. Iran struggles with this information technology and China's censorship and control of dissent among its own people have so far kept that state from wholesale change. There appears to be a tipping point and that has not been met yet, time will tell.

Wealthy as it is, China's communication network is largely still only in the hands of government services. And that government is decidedly authoritarian and has watched developments in other parts of the world with interest. The bourgeoning wealthy class is chaffing to expand its freedoms, but as yet is still not able to completely break free from surveillance and censorship. When it does, we will see a China Spring.

Interestingly in the western states largely responsible for the Internet, the initial freedoms of access and availability were for those who were at universities that could afford the technology which was usually for either academic or military communications and applications purposes. With the involvement of corporate IT departments the Internet began to expand into the commercial sphere.

Major corporations also don't like free communication for they can be literally attacked with malware or figuratively attacked by concentrated campaigns of criticism of their actions and, as we all know or least are being told, perception is supposedly more important than reality in the business world and so can be easily held hostage to the manipulation of said perception, in as much as they do the same to the public.

The dizzying rise of capital investment in tech stocks was only matched by its meteoric fall. The Internet has become the epitome of Spencer's economic "survival of the fittest." It is still like this today, but the internet is becoming so highly commercialized that access and availability are now tied to economic consumerism and convergence does not just happen to media, acquisition of both companies and their patents is necessary for growth. It is 'dog eat dog' in cyberspace.

Advertisements litter the visual spaces on the screen and electronic letters (e-mail) have been replaced by essentialist, oversimplified and often vague 140 character stutterings. Personal data is splashed all over the Internet shared unapologetically between organizations both corporate and political all in the name of legal freedom, but God help you if the individual tries to do the same. You could refuse the new policies and click "No", but then suffer the 'ex' or 'dis' - communication of exclusion from the services of the electronic community. Why? Because it is not economically nor politically free, never had been, never will be. Those who own the 'service' call the shots, your freedom ends there. As my father says, "Nothing is for free, never has been, never will be. Everything costs."

Moral attitudes are being tested and pressured for continuity in our new global world, as ideas and thoughts, both radical and reactionary, spiritual and rational, are vying for our attention. Our sense of reality has also taken a hit as an ever growing urban metropolis population loses touch with the natural world and are presented with 'reality' television programming that is anything but reality. Some of the public is trying to struggle with the incongruities of modern life.

The unfocused Occupy movement is a prime example of the struggle and pushback from the public against corporate and governmental control. There are so many facets to the issues of modern society that protesting them one at a time has proven too difficult. It is rather the general malaise of society and the erosion of moral and ethical behavior of the elite that are a concern. As history shows a firmly entrenched elite react against mass public demonstrations against them.

So, we have economic censorship of the individual through consumerism, who can afford it and who can't, as well as both corporate and governmental control and censorship via what do they want us to hear from them and what are they prepared to hear from the people and what they want us to think of the competition. Frighteningly, Orwell's 'Big Brother' is looming ever larger, as Kubrick's 'Hal' is gaining ever more control while Max Headroom, Network 23, and life "20 minutes into the future" is here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Education for a new world

The world of education isn't changing to the Harvard business model of corporatism in education management that is apparently now firmly entrenched in many districts in North America. And in these places change is in the wind...

In other parts of the world the narrow emphasis on marks and grades has been and is being moved towards thoughtful experience and learning. Universities are moving away from a grade average as the only measure for entrance. Most research is reflecting this and the models of teaching in the Scandinavian and most continental European countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) reflect this through the elimination of high stakes 'objective' testing, as do systems in Asia and South America. This has deep ramifications for the increasing professionalism and ethics in teaching and learning. Do we hang on to the ever calcifying old ideas of corporatism of end results through management versus labour or reach for the new ideas of a sustainable cooperative world?

Only the US, Alberta and some developing world countries stagger along under the mostly dead and outdated weight of the corporate model. Our lauded and exploited high results of Alberta students in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) exams are not being reflected back in higher standards of post secondary education. There are not more doctors, scientists, architects and engineers, teachers, philosophers or writers being produced than before. We have only successfully produced good high stakes test writers, a 'within the box' skill with cookie- cutter commensurate knowledge and attitudes increasingly unneeded in a new diverse world unfolding before our eyes. Scandinavian countries with no high stakes testing in their educational programs consistently outperform all other countries in all subject areas.

Having the instant gratification of high grades is a self fulfilling prophecy that only justifies it's own process, poorly reflects the real world and has limited effect on the people that really matter, the students in grade school or in post secondary schools and their learning experiences for life long enjoyment of useful engaging informed learning. And this system of instant gratification and emphasis on immediate measures of worth are more a reflection of the failed and hollow consumerist economy than the society that actually exists in the real world. High stakes testing limits 'out of the box' innovation, constrains freedom of thought and learning, negates diversity and leaves students unprepared for a world that is economically and socially changing at an unprecedented rate.

While todays remnants of the Thatcher-Reagan classical liberal view of economy requires immediate and continuous growth through the cult of efficiency and benchmark measures, it is now coming under review after the economic moral and ethical failure and crash of 2008 that: continuous growth is an impossibility; benchmark measures are wholly inadequate in describing a person's knowledge; and efficiency only leads to a dumbing down and flattening of knowledge to essentials and trivializes honest good work and negates ethically honest, innovative and divergent thinking. 

In that light it behooves us as teachers of the next generation, to keep an informed pulse on reality, lead youth to their futures and not stoop to reacting to mere perception and so perpetuate lost hopes through intangible and untrue fears of a long gone past. Perception is largely managed in the mind through interpretation via past memories and experiences. At the moment in educational jurisdictions still under the mesmerizing influence of corporate management, perception is something to be controlled and managed and administered from those above to those below. As shown in law, perception is highly suspect as a measure for truth as every eye witness is internally self motivated to interpret things differently, thus through perception each individual's truth is different and each, by any measure, equal in strength. So, other ideas, such as open discussion among all those involved, are needed to prove a perceived truth than merely relying on the voice of an authority.

Perceptions, whether rationally, logically or emotionally self motivated, are inescapable, and these perceptions need to be shared and openly talked about to keep a check on unreasonable, misdirected or skewed versions of truth commanding more value than another. Turning these subjective issues into rational imperical ones diminishes context and narrows the scope of understanding to mere essentialism, as near an untruth as one can get with out lying. Clever autocrats, both political and corporate, have command and control via their manipulation of perception among the public. There are plenty of historical examples of both negative manipulation, Hitler for one, and positive manipulation, say FDR.

A consensus of perception among all perceptions must be attained as following only one individuals version of perception leads to struggles for power and the slippery slope of increasingly authoritarian measures to maintain control of a single perception against all others, suppression of dissent (which are only other perceptions needing a voice), and psychologically weak people being attracted to such power to embolden their own perceptions, all of which undermines consensus and purpose creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. How the discussion among perceptions is handled, autocratically or democratically, leads the way to how a society operates.

Educators are, well read, caring, community leaders, and are the people parents entrust to show the way to the future for their children. Educators should be helping parents as well as their children to steer away from easily manipulated perception and face the reality of what is and imagine the future of what may be through a dialogue that clears out erroneous or skewed perceptions. The parent is not always right and those that are not must be convinced otherwise for the long term health and promise of their children. In terms of their own children parents have the most skewed perception of all, while being very realistic with other people's children. In the same vein, educators are not always right, nor are administrators in the higher echelons of education. Dialogue must be continuous and equal in respect. We must all be as proactive as possible, rarely reactive and that positive professional atmosphere must be preserved at all costs and at all levels. Top down leadership and blindly following one commanded perception can only end in failure as we have seen over and over.

Like the lifespan of oil, classical liberal methods of measurement and the continuous need for measurable profit and growth is coming to its peak. The 'client' and the 'investor' are not always right. The neo-conservative protected terms and processes of a failed bygone era, competition, individualism, efficiency, accountability and collaboration are waning in importance. And it has been clearly shown that education cannot be rationally and successfully guided by corporate institutional principles and practices. Education remains a highly social institution guided by social principles and practices. New measures are required, such as happiness, fulfillment, hopefulness, helpfulness, innovation and cooperation. They are the new buzz words in global education.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Life Sucks

Life sucks, it's hard, never easy and most everyone is out there to mess with you, both intentionally and unintentionally. That was my track career, my education, my teaching career, my marriage and my efforts at dog breeding and showing and everything else in my life. The stupid part of me is that I am driven, I can't quit, won't quit, especially if challenged or told I'll never make it. I have sacrificed a lot for that and all of it has been painful. The question is has it been mostly painful or has there been some joy in it? That's probably why religion is more worried about the afterlife 'cause this life bites.

And there are four kinds of people in this world relating to all this.

There are the one's who just blindly plod along. Some get tragically squished and we never hear of the poor bastards, others dodge every bullet imaginable and seem to live okay lives.

The second kind of people go out of their way to make this life even more gloomy than it already is and seem to take some pleasure in rubbing other people's noses in it to prove some point that we all already know, life sucks.

The third group wears rose coloured glasses while knowing that the world is black and that most things in their lives are negative. These negatives weigh like anchors that give plenty of reasons to ditch everything and all to simplify one's life, if not oversimplify it. Instead, however, of focusing on the dreadful negativity there is a preference to see the little glimmers of light and weigh them greater than all the darkness that surrounds them and so choose to live positively with the little glimmers of goodness rather than jump off a bridge or go screaming into the long night of madness.

The fourth kind know all this and, some would say psychopathically, coldly and purposefully use the others, the blind, the pessimistic and the optimistic, for their own gain. In doing so they needn't care or feel responsible about anyone or thing, so totally focused on themselves are they that, paradoxically, they don't care nor feel responsible about themselves either.
Has my life been lucky? Yes and no. Have I been able to do many things? Yes and no. Can I do many things? Yes and no. Do I want to do many more things? Yes and no. Has my life been better than yours? Yes and no. Have I had my share of disappointments? Yes and no. Can I understand your life? Yes and no. Most of it no. Can you understand my life? Yes and no, with most if it, too, no.

So, what does all this mean? I don't know. Should I keep trying even though things blow up in my face, deservedly or not, from time to time? And so why is life hard, why does it suck generally?
It's about birth and death. Birth occurs in all manner of circumstances, wealthy or poor, mostly poor, and in good times or bad, mostly bad. While we all start at birth, Death can occur at any moment, even during birth. It is unpredictably here today gone tomorrow. Death can be cheated, but often finds a way to even the score. Life is about living, about surviving each day. Sometimes it's easier than at other times and most often survivability totally depends on where one is born. But the wealthy can die young or be plagued with issues that will make their seeming idyllic lives hasten to an end. The poor for other reasons, such as poor nutrition or lack of medicines may die young or outlast many in spite of these disadvantages. Communities of individuals living cooperatively may appear to have life advantages, yet death stalks them randomly. So, too of communities of individuals living competitively, some winners and losers die young, others live long lives. Honest, healthy living, sin free and fit individuals still mysteriously succumb to death at nearly the same rate as their opposites in life. So, regardless of the manner one lives, and while some lifestyles perhaps prolong life to some degree, death still lurks just nearby.

Genetics does not discriminate race, colour, height, weight, politics or economics, the clock of each individual starts and runs for as long as its capable of. I've heard it said that ultimate lifespans are by relative heartbeat, that a mouse dying of old age at two years has had as many heartbeats as an elephant in seventy years. That may be, but not all mice live to two, nor all elephants to seventy. And there are a lot more organs than a heart with likewise genetic planned obsolescence.
Life comes and goes, its unfulfilled if too short and a struggle with infirmities both mental and/or physical if too long.
Life is unpredictable, both from the standpoint of each individual and the general environment in which one lives. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods and famine can strike at any time and drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gluttony and other sins of human excess all become added to the statistics of death. War and disease likewise take their toll and all of these regardless of medical advancement and standard of living.

It all seems so pointless! No wonder the western and middle eastern monotheistic tradition of offering hope of an afterlife in heaven, better than this life, is so powerful among people. And death still reaps more as the vehement arguments between the followers of religious paths seek righteous dominance through violence and war. Other traditions either have us reincarnated into other forms of life or focus on good living in this life as eternal salvation for there is no other, or that people are not more than other creatures and things and are part of cosmic existence. Birth is all around us. Death is all around us. Heaven and Hell are here, now, all around us. Simple as that.
I am not keen for the perfectness of a heaven, meeting my ancestors (though seeing and cuddling with the dogs I have had would be cool!), or vestal virgins, endless wine, peace and contentment nor to have one on one chats with God, as interesting as that may prove. Of course, people being people, line jumpers all of them, they argue, and have since time began, over who gets to go and when as if heaven were an exotic holiday resort for exclusive clientele with a flashing 'Vacancy' sign overhead. All because this life sucks.

If, however, heaven is for certain, then there is no point in enduring life at all. Interesting then that suicide is such a human taboo. It is a vengeful taboo "If I must live through the ugliness of this life to get to heaven, well, so do you." No shortcuts allowed! Life becomes the guilt "gift" from God. Some "gift"! Only to have to endure this gift of a life to go to someplace better afterwards? Endure a beaten roadside motel in order to someday move into a five star hotel? I don't want to live that way, owing somebody something all the time.
I have to say, however, through it all, the joys have made the pain and injuries of the trials and tribulations of life worthwhile. I wear the scars with honour, for the effort has been largely positive and fruitful. I have learned from the negative aspects of experience that they come with the territory, cannot be avoided and have made me resilient in surviving them and more open to receiving the joys that also do exist. Most things of my life I wouldn't change, and most of them are likely superficial and would not affect outcomes one way or another. To use the tired old cliche, it is what it is. And it is what chance and I make of it. I am comfortable in my own skin and content with my life.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nationalism and Me

Here is another one of those general e-mails making the rounds on the Internet. I suppose it would be similar to those billboards or single page printed sheets posted around Paris on the eave of the revolution in 1789 to inflame and incite harsh views among the people. Means have changed but not methods and goals.

Wilfrid Laurier ideas on Immigrants and being a Canadian in 1907.

'In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes a Canadian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin..
But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet a Canadian, and nothing but a Canadian...
There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn't a Canadian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag...
And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people.'

Wilfrid Laurier 1907

Every Canadian citizen needs to read this!


Wow, isn't this an example of old thinking and how far we have perhaps come since Laurier? But I kind of doubt it. Laurier probably wouldn't have liked me. He was around in 1907 and missed the next hundred years of epic nationalistic slaughter so I won't hold his ideas against him, he was caught up in the moment of his history and I am sure if he had lasted the next century he would recant every last word.

Nothing has killed more people, done more damage to economies and inflicted more harm than nationalism and modern mercantilism. Before nation states wars were small, the common man largely left out of it and rare as wars are expensive and real soldiers few. 

As soon as nations were created (beginning in 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia) and effective taxation of a population counted by a national census, arms buildups, professional armies and conscription became the order of the day (thank you, Napoleon, Pitt, Disraeli and Bismarck). 

Since the 1750's the costs of modern warfare has escalated exponentially due to all the technological advances in large scale killing from one generation to the next. Ever bigger armies equipped with the latest weapons were required to keep up. Nationalistic war had become so expensive that no war since has been paid off. Not one. Income tax was created to pay off WW1, didn't happen. We were told by General Smedley Butler that WW1was nothing more than a money grab led by national governments controlled by big business. 

Nationalism led to the starvation of some 15 million Ukrainians and the execution by labour camp of another five million by Stalin, a bandit named Mussolini in Italy with whom other nations still traded as he raped Ethiopia for national aggrandisement and, of course, nationalism brought us Adolph, his final solution at Auschwitz, Berkenau, Sobibor and a host of other places of sorrow . 

We got WW2 as the answer to national problems of global depression and the nations of Italy, Germany and Japan. And that war has never been intended to be paid off, it simply couldn't be. And the price paid by the victors made then equally as poor as the losers.

The military industrial complex Eisenhower warned us of in his 1961 final address as President of the US, has taken complete control of the US and so the global economy. The Cold War was nothing less than an economic war of modern mercantilist nation states where the US borrowed from everyone in order to fend off the Soviets who could not borrow from anyone. Uncomprehendingly foreign people in far flung lesser developed lands starved, became poorer and died in useless proxy wars pushed by these nation states in their competition for global supremacy. With the West eventually 'winning' the Cold War against the Communist East, we expected the old military funding to evaporate and that money to come back to the people. Never happened.

Nations have gone out of their way to look for new enemies in order to sustain themselves, after all if there are no enemies national borders have no purpose. With the communist 'enemy' gone, ten years of relative international peace of the New World Order, along with an increased value of the supranational United Nations, threatened the existence of nationality as a whole. Conservative extremists, particularly in the US and Britain, saw this new era as a threat to their place in the world where each nation regardless of status and power had an equal vote. China, too, come lately to the modern international stage was not interested in lessing its nationalistic power either.

Largely through lack of fiscal, military and political support, enormous efforts were undertaken to denigrate and vilify the UN as a failure with some even suggesting it should be abandoned altogether. A new path to heightened ultranationalism sprang up and found credence on 9/11 as another enemy was found and the war on 'terror' came at just the right time. Costly wars of invasion of other nations led to another global depression in 2008. The poor of the world, when the planet has never been wealthier, more technically and medicinally advanced, continue to die of starvation, disease and nationalistic wars.

The poor in the US have never gotten their American Dream. At 4.5 billion dollars, one Nimitz class aircraft carrier in the US navy has cost the children of the US, every last one of them, a free education up to and including their first degree at University. The US has ten of these vessels at present. 

In Canada, Prime Minister Harper wants to spend billions on military equipment to take a more active military role in the world and to show nationalistic strength in our north when we have original, real Canadians starving on their reserves, displaced and disgraced by MacDonald and Laurier et al and 'other' Canadian citizens who refuse to live up to the bargains they signed before Confederation. I'd rather be their 'real' kind of Canadian than Laurier's 'our' kind of Canadian.

The world is ethically and morally bankrupt, let alone economically, and nationalism, plus the people who fervently promote it, has much to atone for. The happily and subliminally indoctrinated lower and middle class have paid in dollars and blood for much of the sadness in this world for near three hundred years all in the name of their nation. What a waste and loss humanity has, and still is, suffering.

I have always preferred to be a citizen of the world, all are my brothers and sisters, and my fear is that nationalism will yet bring us to another cataclysmic conflict, if religion doesn't get us there first. I don't like assimilation, indoctrination, marginalisation as they all lead to "us" versus "them". This kind of thinking we learned, hopefully, from Hitler is counter productive, eventually even self destructive. So, no, I don't want to be called a "Canadian" as suggested by Laurier, my loyalty is to all humanity and not to a self serving corner of it.