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Archive for October, 2010

The Vibrant Hippo

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Fears of America’s inability to “change course” are often cited as common international worries for global power players. China worries that our massive debt will go unpaid. In the Middle East we see the dual sides of doubt: Afghanistan squanders progress in light of fears we’ll leave and Iran stands by to fill the vacuum if we do. Beyond these hot spots there are the silent witnesses who look to America as a tarnished symbol of hope and prosperity. Ultimately the net effect of such doubt is a multitude of considerations. Are these fears off-base? No, I would argue that they are very real and very accurate musings on future American action and inaction. Unfortunately for America there are no hidden dimensions in a society where media establishes a culture of constant awareness there remains little beyond the considerations of the world at large. Our media reveals us and lifting off the sheet we find our society as an over-bearing beast.

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama used the simile of a massive sea vessel to describe society. He linked the ship of state with a titanic like vessel whose alterations of course came with great effort but barely perceptible changes in position. It was the long course that revealed the alterations and only after time progressed do we see the success or failure of social change.

If such a system is the case we face a major challenge in the global economy. America’s inability to react instantly will establish its role in the world as a vibrant hippo whose sole source of power is in mass. Adept and speedy, China will rule the future by adjusting production to meet global needs. Of course China’s industrial focus comes at the cost of disregarding human rights and the values of society- this has been discussed in earlier posts on social good versus social progress. Despite the fact that we are unable to make drastic change, we should not move to imitate China’s focus on production. A better system of adjustment treats our current form as a bonsai tree and carefully snips away items to achieve a system of balance and beauty.

As our vibrant hippo enters into a competition rich savanna we are capable of changing a select cluster of factors. China will be faster and expanding countries of Latin America will constantly establish themselves as a threat. We are in danger and with our current system only capable of utilizing our size to mount defense and scrounge for new resources. Success will come from R&D and seeking out the products and solutions beyond the reach of our competition. Despite our faults we must battle with a passion (contradictory to the common behavior of countries our size). A failure to do so will lead only to disaster, but if quality choices are made the vibrant hippo can maintain its power status and lead the World into a new era of human success.

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Public Good v. Public Status

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Of the various paradigms from which one can consider his or her government, the attitude towards status is one of the more revealing. It is in considering where a government expands its resources that one can develop a perspective on the priorities. For example, a socially liberal paradigm will desire the investment of funds in areas far different from a social Darwinian. Such distinctions are less about political philosophies and more about the deep-seated perspectives that an individual holds about his or her fellow members of society and the government which functions to maintain that society.

What then are we to do when faced with the important priority distinction of public good and public status. Are we better served to use our funds to improve the safety and comfort present within the society, ie move funds internally. Or, are we better served to invest outwards and create a system that the possibility of growth and innovation. Too often the members of a society want both items- the safety cushions of public good combined with aggressive investments and moves into risky areas of potential. This is a dream state and is a dangerous paradigm our politicians bank on to create an idealized characterization of their work.

In order to create an accurate distinction of where we are moving we need to decide where our priorities fall in terms of these two issues. Do we prefer a system of public good or of public status. We cannot have both. We cannot create a system where only partial good or partial status exists. This is an issue of all-in or all-out. By deciding where we stand we can formulate our political philosophies and begin the process of developing policy that works to achieve these goals. A failure to do so only creates false impressions and leads to the tragic treading of water all too common in societies in the moments before they sink into the sea.

The New Warrior

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Who is to know when a bomb explodes inside a shopping mall? Who beyond those unfortunate souls stumbling at the wrong place at the wrong time? Such a moment rich in tragedy is ultimately the memory of a global blend of eyes who through our extensive media network view these experiences from an extensive variety of perspectives. In today’s world the localized tragedy is a moment rich in news potential which, if packaged for consumption, extends beyond the physical locality and blooms into a globally witnessed moment.

Our network of media provides a viewpoint to the world. Through our technological devices we gaze outward to the world and sponge the moments of our world. This is a good thing; of course, but one result is the shared awareness of this networks power which creates a system which celebrates big moments and creates a forum in which the sources of major disasters can have an affect on the hearts and minds of those beyond the physical location of the event. The extensive media network allows those who aim to “make a statement” to transcend the physical realm. Our media is a bittersweet production which has born a revolutionary system of both of awareness and of action.

Of the most valuable tools to a warrior, the media is now positioned as the most important. No longer is a bomb of bullet’s pathway the device of destruction. It is the global media coverage that spawns the reaction that the new warrior needs. Now a bomb blast is followed by a group claiming responsibility- an act of absurd required bragging used to establish the actor’s existence inside the global media. Without our global media network these events remain constrained inside the local realm. It is through our media coverage that these events and actors reach transcension and reach a level of global influence.

Ultimately the new warrior has only minor uses for devices which cause physical damage. These items are the minor means to and end which create the fervor to garner the media’s attention. Though their bombs create pain and suffering, establish a hell-on-earth scenario for the surrounding location of the act, the strongest blast comes only when the cameras roll and reporters spread news of the action far beyond the crater in the pavement.

Such a system provides an easy opportunity to control actors who aim to earn “big influence” through the use of smaller scaled actions. These are not figures using deadly force to kill thousands or eliminate regions; instead, these figures do damage on the local scale. Though both deadly, the “smaller scale” actions are wholly dependent on media coverage to achieve the intended goals of fear and influence.

A resolution to global terror? Perhaps just minor, but one major reduction in clout is to eliminate the media coverage of the actions of terrorists. Extensive coverage only serves to establish awareness and influence. Reports must be created but must we include the names of groups? Do we need to explain the rich history and network from which our band of extremists harkens? Let us change our ways and instead use anonymous reports that use “an extremist from X country” or members of an extremist group,” such systems while vague eliminate the creation of awareness that only serves to establish these groups power. After all, how do we know of Osama bin Laden? Is not our awareness only a recognition of the media coverage he has been given? Instead let’s deny him and figures like him the attention that our media provides. If, as adults who respond to an attention-demanding child, we choose to deny our attention and refuse to fall into the trap laid before us, we teach the lesson of awareness which, though ironic, proves us even more focused.

 

Text Reflection: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

How accurate are perspectives on culture if such ideas stem solely from the items that culture creates? Can we look to what’s popular in a culture as an accurate symbol of the psyche of a culture? In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges suggests that the contents of our popular culture and symbols of the dirth of intellectual existence and ominous suggestions of a looming disaster.

Hedges uses the term “pseudo-events” to refer to the manufactured news items or events that serve to distract the populace from reality. These narratives are distributed by powerful figures to maintain order and wealth. Hedges uses multiple examples to illustrate this point, most effectively through his in-depth exploration of pornography and the network of products and figures which create a global porn culture.

Speaking to this pornography section, I found his suggestion that absolute power is almost always expressed via sexual sadism to be compelling. He cites the Abu Ghraib torture photos as primary evidence. Another comment likens porn to necrophilia and argues that the females featured in the films to be lifeless receptacles of desire and bodily fluids. Perspectives like this make the section on pornography among the best passages in the text.

Hedges uses the section on porn to establish a foundation of evidence to argue that our society is falling apart. He argues that popular culture is revelatory of both the disaster we approach and the indifference with which we greet such changes. He argues that a return to critical literary is the only corrective pathway. He points to our movement away from a production-culture, where thrift and focus were the major paradigms, and movement into a consumer-culture serves only to support and encourage the “pseudo-events” which serve to wash away value in society.

I agree with Hedges perspective, but wonder whether popular culture is a red herring when critiquing culture. Is our media not intended to provide a sense of escapism? Through their use of laugh tracks, we know the producers of sitcoms recognize the foreign worlds in which their characters function. Afterall, why trigger our laughter if the plot was accurate and stemming from our own existence? We need the laugh track to tell us when to laugh- it serves as trigger and reminder that the events are farce and fancy.

The constant development of critical thinking is always a great idea. We will never have enough critical thinking members of society and any writer who argues this and points to our low-brow points in culture will have an easy argument to frame. In Empire of Illusion, Hedges points to these grimy items of culture as signs of our destruction. He looks to Jerry Springer, WWE wrestling and a swath of trash TV as evidence. Though somewhat dated, his point is largely made. Though I argue that his convictions fail to consider the depth and variety of our culture. To simplify, Hedges’ argument is shallow and doesn’t consider the expansive nature of our culture.

One needs to look beyond our cultural creation. There is a depth for exploration and in looking to these zones a far different perspective can be developed. Yes, our society faces significant challenges and the content of popular culture is largely trash. Porn is disgusting, but aren’t all animal instincts and the items that appeal to it just as nasty? The human race is a dirty, nasty force, but in functioning in the world we have a dual existence of pleasure and production. We are not 100% critical thinkers, but I argue that when faced with signs of tyranny and when truly pushed against the wall we will truly feel compelled to act and make corrections.

Pseud0-events are certainly at play in society. We see our politicians crafting conclusions on the basis of popular perspective and not on personal conviction. Our world is lead by populists, figures who function not as clarified establishments but as slippery abstractions that can easily adjust to meet the changing perspectives of society. Such a system poses challenges to those who aim to evaluate a culture on the basis of its creations. One who does aims for specificity but fails to recognize the wishy-washy nature of the culture in which he or she exists.

The Core Problem with Education Reform

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Today President Obama announced an initiative to increase the graduation rate of American community colleges. The move, according to the White House, is to increase the network of education to expand training for American workers. Such a move connects directly with the Administration’s work to spur economic growth and create a system of sustained growth in the future. While I wholeheartedly agree with this move, I offer a caution to leaders to think that the quality of education is measured in quantitative means.

A system that evaluates itself based on output is inherently corrupt. The factory that produces the most widgets is simply active, not productive. We tend to lose sight of the importance of quality when faced with data suggesting high work rates. It is a fault that seems to connect directly with the Protestant Work Ethic and the work of Fredrick Winslow Taylor. Sadly it seems the American psyche still has Mr. Taylor’s clicking stopwatch in our brains.

A better system uses a qualitative method of evaluation. We need to assess the true depth of understanding that our college graduates possess. Even so, our graduates are merely prepared at the time of graduation. As the years progress and the factors of the world change they will find themselves helplessly unprepared if education suddenly ceases. A true evaluation of education assesses students on the basis of qualitative means.

A far more significant danger of increasing the graduation levels is the “watering-down” of the college degree. If everyone can earn a degree it instantly loses its value. We have seen this occur with the High School degree already. As more students are able to earn a college degree, the procedure of standing out or of gaining advanced levels of knowledge will require more time and more money investment in education.

A more realistic perspective is to realize the need for vocational studies. Not everyone needs a college degree and the best function for our government is to recognize a broad diversity within the network of education that provides a variety of skills. We risk eliminating the value of the college degree if we conclude that attaining such a degree is an effective assessment of educational value and personal worth.

The Essential Life of Learning

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Perhaps one Sunday afternoon you’ll find yourself strolling through a bookstore. Outside the air is cold and the rain, which seems determined to drown the entire landscape, will leave you desperately seeking out a distraction to delay the long walk out beyond the bookstore. Its cold out there, just stay inside and hover. And so, your eyeballs roaming out in search of something different, you will feel a growing sense of confidence beyond the typical fiction stacks.

Preserved and warm inside the store you stumble off into the distant shelves and sections. Beyond the gardening texts, the historical rows of commentary and self-perceived expertise you’ll find a section loaded with instruction, history and photography. In such a section one finds the memoir and the tell-all. The “Sports” section reminds us of the physical identify of the human animal and how often we drift into the notion of our own sort of dualism: the mind and body disconnect.

When an athlete decides to retire, he or she enters into a state of physical decay. The athlete does not need the muscular structure required to play professional athletes. Likewise, removed from the intensity of competitive play, the retired athlete’s brain will adjust itself to the new existence and distribute resources to meet these recent adjustments. Such alternations are not tied simply to the athlete or even the physical dimensions of the human being- the human brain exacts the same procedures when life changes and progressively adjusts our biology¬† to meet our current needs and lifestyle.

This process of changing or, perhaps personal evolution, reveal the genius of our biology. Our bodies do not seek to preserve our every skill; instead, the limited resources with which we can utilize are focused on areas based on utilization. This is a focus of efficiency which recognizes the power in focusing in on specifics, on drilling down to the current situation and preparing with specificity as the driving force.

I suggest that we take this similar process of adjustment and redistribution and apply it to our educational system. This is a minor adjustment in philosophy, however, with it comes a major, systemic series of adjustments that would render evening that currently stands as null and void. In such a system the focus can be boiled down to a guiding philosophy: “Because we’re always changing we always need to learn.”

There is no practice makes perfect here. Indeed there is no perfection. Instead we must always be in classes, always learning and developing new skills and ideas. Our lives are too dynamic and intense to use our current system of “loading up” from age 5-20. Such a system is a major gamble and places incredible decisions in the hands of those who have yet to see or experience the incredible variety that life provides. A better system is an on-going system: education must occur throughout one’s life and a society and its government should establish a system that enables such learning.

Society needs to establish a rich level of adult education opportunities. Initially the network that we currently have will function perfectly. We can start by offering incentives in the form of tax deductions or other “external loci” to draw people to these institutions. As usage expands the use of online classes can be developed so that gradually the learning process moves away from centralized locations and exists in a complicated patchworks of formats and locations. The topics must vary but we need to provide our students with three simple skill sets. This trifecta must be developed¬† before twenty and then adjusted as experience and personal development occur.

These three core-items for each individual are:

1. A career

2. A vocation

3. A hobby

These three items allocate individual resources in order to prepare for economic and societal changes that take place. As life continues these three core items must be adjusted and developed. In order to do so we need to recognize the essential life of learning and work to create a network that enables all citizens to grow and nurture skills and interests.

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