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.