Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Public money to be spent to support Christian project?

Here’s the story:

Winnipeg youth centre run by evangelical Christians wins federal, city funding - Winnipeg Free Press

What do you figure?

Placebos and Antidepressants


Please understand that I mean no disrespect to anyone for whom psychoactive drugs are a part of their regimen. This article does not deny that these drugs work but I think it is worth a look. There is a related article in reaction to these findings from a doctor so take it as you like…

Why Antidepressants Are No Better Than Placebos -

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dangers of the Luddite Resistance

I share a kindred spirit with the luddite approach to the ever expanding technologies in our society. I resonate strongly with the arguments about how emerging technologies are changing our social world (usually for the worse). There are numerous critiques of the impact that these new media have on our cultural frame. The most compelling of these is the problem of an alienated self in a virtual context producing inauthentic communication between subjects. Of course there are significant questions about how use of technology interferes with safety and health (i.e. radio towers and texting while driving). But these more symptomatic problems only mask the larger questions:

How is morality affected when individuals’ main interaction is in virtual formats? Is there any way to mediate the multiple representations that can potentially emerge in these virtual social frames? What are the consequences for transgressions which occur in this virtual reality?

These questions beg answers because by definition the representation that occurs within these media is seen to be a less complete form of reality than pre-technological interactions. One of the natural impulses that surfaces is the luddite sentiment that suggests that new technologies be abandoned to avoid the encroachment of these technologies on more authentic forms of representation. The argument runs this way: Avoid technologies and return to or maintain your authenticity. This argument assumes that there is, in the least a more true version of yourself (the subject) that is achieved without the use of new media forms. But this premise is only supported rhetorically and not logically. It is clear that falsification of personality is possible in any form of interactive representation.

“But,” the critics say, “what is more real? The person on facebook or the person that I sit down for coffee with at Tim Horton’s?” This seems like a legitimate challenge and suggests that the interaction of individuals within each other’s presence is more real. But the question itself is silly. Reality is the perception of a representation. This makes reality a fiction. Fortunately, it is a fiction that we can rely on with a great deal of confidence most of the time. This is not really a problematic premise until one claims that something is more real than something else. This premise (that reality is a fiction that we can have confidence in) also allows us a helpful way to solve our problem about technology.

Using this idea we can argue that a facebook personality can be just as real or unreal (authenticity) as a personally present interaction. This is true because nothing is anymore real than it is perceived to be. Of course people can misrepresent themselves on Facebook but then they can do that in person as well. The level of authenticity is left up to the person viewing the interaction. Its about our perception. So if Facebook is not any more or less real than ‘face to face’ conversations, we can turn to other ways to evaluate the role of new media in our social frames. But let’s leave that there for now.

One of the things that we can say about reality is that it functions well. That is to say that reality works and is useful. This is what allows us to live out our days in relative bliss. We ‘know’ that whatever happens in the kettle produces perceptible steam and when poured over ground coffee produces a delicious beverage. We call what happens in the kettle – boiling. Boiling is real to us because it works. From this perspective we can say some interesting things about new media. Interaction on Facebook is real because it is used (primarily as a communication tool although Farmville might be a close second) and because it is used it shapes our perception of reality. Facebook then becomes part of the perception of reality and intrinsic to it. Facebook, twitter and the like are ubiquitous in society and so have come to be significant factors relied on as useful in social interaction. To not be using Facebook then means that one is choosing to disengage from a significant tool of perception used in the public social sphere to produce reality. The argument then can be made that this disengagement is in fact an appeal to less reliable construction of reality since it is avoiding a prominent tool used to perceive reality by society.

What we can and should be doing is seeking to understand the ways that these new media inform our perceptions of reality so as to be able to participate more fully in the prevailing discourse that exists in our social frame. This begins with careful critique of the dynamics of morality, disclosure, identity construction, subjectivity, rapidity of information as produced in the systems that these emerge from these media. This could not be more relevant than to those who would seek to influence the rhetoric that runs through our society. Teachers, clergy, politicians and journalists are obligated to be present in these media or risk losing opportunity to contribute to the frames of our culture.

I return to my sentiments at the beginning. I lament the perceived changes produced by these new media forms. But I must acknowledge that these laments are perhaps my sense of loss of the exercise of power that once was available through the older forms of interaction. It is like learning a new language. In the old language there was an ability to persuade but now with new vocabulary and new sentence structure I must learn to make meaning in different ways. I must relinquish my claim on authority (which I must admit I am uncomfortable with –even if it was my own deluded sense of authority). I can choose to keep on speaking my old tongue and I will certainly get by but I will be a reduced person unless I can master the new language to regain my former identity.

I am open to critique since there is a strong underlying sentiment to reinforce my luddite sympathies. There likely is flaw in all this mess so wail away…

Here is an interesting experiment that was conducted along this vein.

Journalists perform Big Brother media experiment | Science & Technology | Deutsche Welle | 01.02.2010

CBC’s Q radio program interviewed Janic Tremblay – it was a provocative interview – i hope they post it soon. I will link to it if I see it come up…

Friday, February 5, 2010

Watching the Super Bowl with Stanley Milgram

As you all cuddle up to your favourite television set, eager to inhale the vacuous advertising goo (‘cause let’s face it we really are not that interested in the actual game being played), perhaps these three short videos will provide a cunning foil to the event’s delicious advertising candy.

Stanley Milgram preformed some experiments back in the early 60’s where he tested participants willingness to obey objectives even at the risk of delivering deadly shocks to other people.

It should not be lost on us that Milgram’s parents were Jewish survivors of the Nazi death camps. While this study has since received substantial criticism for its ethical standards it is nonetheless a phenomenal study of human capacity for obedience.

Given the right set of conditions people, it seems will obey the authorities in their lives. It might be surprising that this is a common feature of human nature. It certainly raises significant issues of about the way we construct morality and how free will functions practically in the realm of everyday functions.

But perhaps the most stunning revelation that this experiment illuminates is the underlying tendency for us to obey. It seems if we can somehow defer responsibility away from ourselves we are can rationalize some pretty horrific actions.

So when those commercial dance and sparkle in front of us – will we allow their authority activate our obedience? Will we defer our responsibility for our participation in the evils of consumerism to some other higher authority or will we take our own finger off the switch that decapitates our world?

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Value of Nothing

Consider this…

Driving to school today I listened to this interview with Raj Patel (scroll down to “The Value of Nothing” section and listen to the whole interview). Listening to this interview made me think about the confession that I made in the previous post.

Patel’s premise is this: we have come to understand the value of something to be equal to the price we pay for it. On the surface this seems like a reasonable premise. We buy two burgers for 4 dollars at A&W and think we are getting great value because these two items are priced so cheaply. But we do not give even a thought about the costs that are hidden in producing those two burgers. The fact for instance that we can have fresh tomatoes on those burgers means that there are people around the world who necessarily work as indentured slaves to pick those tomatoes. The cost of those burgers also does not include the cost that eating those burgers has on our health – and subsequently our health care system and our ‘productivity’ as employees. These costs are born out in ways that we have come to ignore.

Think about this question: Is the work of raising children valuable to society? Few would say no. Yet where in the capitalist system is that work incorporated into the price of what we pay for things? In fact the trend still exists to pay women less for work of equal value and to limit their ability to access the same the type of jobs due largely to the fact that they (women) are mostly asked to be the ones to raise children. Yet we have a climate as Patel suggests where the singular factor that controls our sense of worth is the price (wage) that is achievable by an individual. It is impossible to get away from this notion. The prevailing notion that drives our social system (especially in Western society) is that price = value. What this does is marginalize every other tool that is available to measure worth.

Is the ability to bear children valuable to us? Absolutely! But when was the last time you heard someone talk about the value of a womb or the value of the time required to effectively parent a child.

Perhaps it is time to take a grim look into how we fix value in our world. Maybe its time to revisit the tools Jesus used to measure the value of things and to forsake our pre-occupation with price… 

Raj Patel » Blog Archive » The Value of Nothing

For Facebook readers please visit my blog site using the link at the bottom of this post to view the video included in this post.

In case you were wondering the today the CBC did not run a story on Haiti as its headline news…