All Sizzle

For years I’ve used the expression, “all sizzle and no steak,” to describe a variety of situations. When my university decided to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new logo rather than develop new programs that could attract more and better students was one instance emphasizing the superficial rather than developing something with some depth and substance. Most advertising, most politicians, most television and radio programming, most news coverage in a variety of media, and most corporate educational efforts (standards, texts, curricular products, etc.) can be characterized as superficial with little or so real substance.

The combined effects of such superficiality from so many different contexts are frightening. Students show up for classes and expect to get “A’s” without doing anything substantial. And, they certainly don’t expect to have to think very deeply. Politicians can speak nonsense and voters will be enthralled with how smart and decisive they are. Disregarding the increases in fake news, the mainstream media “stars” dance around, crack jokes, and smile while “reporting” on awful events. And, they just don’t seem to be able to ask a good question, think in-depth about anything, or discriminate between junk and substance. They think neutrality and balance is good, which only leads to confusion and nonsensical reporting. They are caricatures of themselves. And, the people who listen or watch the news become increasingly incapable of thinking deeply about the events and people who affect their lives. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. Everyone, except of the few who resist are becoming zombies — incapable of thinking deeply or clearly, incapable of making informed decisions, controlled by the wealthy elite (who are just zombies with money and power who “eat” the brains of the populace with virtual mouths of the media, advertising, and so forth).

But, we can get our brains back.
We can take our lives back.
We must do it,
Before it’s too late.
The time bombs are ticking.
We must wake up from
Our zombie stupor
And change the world.

The Dissolution of the Institution of Education

I’ve been a critic of the institution of education in the U.S. for quite some time. Little did I know that in my lifetime I would see this institution be threatened with elimination. At this moment, I’m trying to contend with this radical change in status. Yes, we’ve had many problems, many of which were rooted in the politics of education. National standards and high stakes testing have been problematic. The ways in which teachers are treated, including low salaries, their systematic deprofessionalization, and their portrayal in the media and by politicians. But, now that we are faced with the destruction of the U.S. Department of Education and the massive defunding of public education, I wouldn’t mind going back to the way things were. An institution with all of its problems is better than no institution at all.

Without an institution of education, without a federal department of education, our children face a grim future. Those who will suffer the most are the poor and middle class. The wealthy can send their children to private schools. The rest of us, even with vouchers or other support, will not be able to access these schools. Just like public charter schools and public magnet schools, the vast majority of which cater to the wealthier families by making the process for applying and being accepted difficult and time-consuming to navigate. The parents in poor families spend their time trying to make enough money to survive and have little time for anything else.

Even going to private schools can be problematic. Many teachers have no academic preparation for teaching. Some private schools barely manage to act like baby-sitters. And, those private schools with some sort of brainwashing agenda can fail to provide the kind of education that is necessary for survival, let alone for thriving, in a world that is changing in ways that cannot be anticipated.

Children will be deprived of a basic education. For many children, schools provide them with the only healthful food they eat in a day. For many, school provides a rare safe zone, where they don’t have to worry about physical or psychological violence. And, as problematic as our education system has been, it did provide for these basic needs.

If some sort of free school arises from the ashes, they will be corporate run. The publishers and testing companies may step in to fill the gap. Then, they can control the very system that can rake in billions of dollars in profits. And, at the same time, these corporate entities can control what children learn, how they learn it, and what values children develop. As corporatized as we may have thought schools were, this will pale in comparison to the corporate schools that may arise. It will be brainwashing at its best. And, teachers will be forced into submission to the teacher-proofed corporate curriculum. Education for democracy will not even be a thought. Child-centered education may become a catchy phrase, but will have lost its essential meaning. Children will not be anywhere near to “center” of focus. They will be pawns to be manipulated for profit and for control.

Losing Our Nation

I’m sad. Actually, I’m incredibly sad. I’m sitting here having realized that my country in gone. Poof! Just like that… gone. If you haven’t realized this, you have probably felt an uneasy sense that something-is-missing. This experience must be like dying in your sleep…. You lie down in a world of solid objects and all of your feelings and thoughts, then all of a sudden there’s no solid, physical world. Everything is kind of fuzzy and slippery. We can’t quite grasp anything. Even our thoughts seem fuzzy and slippery. We feel like we just cannot get a handle on what is real and what isn’t. And I think, as a society, we’ve been asleep for quite some time. And, now many of us have awakened into some sort of limbo state or purgatory as the Catholics say.

The coup has taken place, and yet people, especially our legislators, seem to think that everything might be a bit bizarre, but it is still business as usual. In reality, it is a whole new situation. It is kind of like a baseball team taking the 7th inning break, but when they come back out of the dugout it’s cricket and not baseball. We are no longer living in a democracy where the rules of the game have been followed for the past 240 years. The rules have just changed, but not everyone knows it yet. They keep thinking that this executive order, this nomination, and this action are the issues, but they are just the window dressings – the distractions for a much bigger plan that is going to change everything.

The way we’ve done business up to this point will no longer be effective. In fact, such ways will be counterproductive and feed into the take-over of the U.S. And, it’s not just the U.S. where the action is happening. The same transformation is happening in countries around the world. But, in this big shift, the U.S. will no longer be the leader of the “free” world. The free world is disappearing.

This movement of the “far-right” is not only occurring across national contexts, but also is occurring in multiple contexts, such as the media and communication contexts, the deep state (all of the government agencies and structures) contexts, the global economic contexts, the national economic contexts, the education context, religious contexts, cultural contexts, et al. (some of these are discussed in Jordan Greenhall’s article, “Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition,” https://medium.com/deep-code/situational-assessment-2017-trump-edition-d189d24fc046#.gqr4pj8my

I don’t care for the word, “far-right,” to describe what is happening. Maybe it’s the rise of bigotry in a culture of fear and loathing. A rise in corporatism, as the central authoritarian god, not unlike many science fiction films: Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Brave New World, and Total Recall, among many others. Whatever you’d like to call it, the coup is happening right now. And, this coup is not just the president, it involves all of his advisors, and the entire Repugnant Party (aka, Republican Party). It also involves Democratic congress people who seem to think it is just business as usual. In addition, all of us are responsible for not voting, for being conned, and/or for thinking that everything will work out. It is also Putin and Russian, most Europe, South American, Africa, and throughout the Middle East and Asia. It’s in the technology, the media, the economy and big corporations. It’s in law enforcement and any number of government agencies. It’s also in the education system and in religions that confuse money and power with being a religious leader.

It is all overwhelming, but also workable. At least, I hope it is workable. Everyone of us has to keep pressure on our Congress people. We need to resist and stop making our current governments seem legitimate. We need to take immediate actions, as well as long-term actions, like educating ourselves and our children. Schools have failed and are in part responsible for our current situation. But, it isn’t the fault of teachers, but rather is the fault of the politicians and corporations that have systematically created policies and curriculum that dumb down our children, through fragmented and irrelevant curriculum and high stakes tests that show nothing of any depth about children’s learning and thinking.

There are no easy answers or solutions to this situation. But, if we want to find ways of working with this situation, we must examine multiple contexts and find ways in working with these contexts, which include, but certainly not limited to:

• political contexts
• all aspects of the economic contexts
• all educational contexts
• religious contexts
• socio-cultural contexts

These and other contexts all intertwine.

From within these intertwining contexts and the systems within these contexts, pathologies have arisen that have led to our current situation. To address these pathologies we must work transcontextually and avoid looking for linear causes.

Mullings on the Pathological

The notion of “pathology” has been arising frequently in my conversations and correspondences. In fact, this past year has been an extraordinary opportunity to confront such a notion. We should start with what I mean by pathology or pathological? The dictionary definitions are rather narrow and shallow in terms of meaningfulness. However, when I discuss “pathology” or “pathological,” I am referring to a particular type of learning that has gone askew to the point of harming oneself, harming others, or harming the contexts in which one lives. Pathology can extend across scales from the minute to the global. A virus or bacteria may or may not be pathological in relationship to its context. There is one virus, Herpesvirus saimiri, that lives in a particular species of monkey. Unless something unusual occurs, the host monkeys suffer no ill effects. But, if another species of monkey tries to take over their territory, the H. saimiri virus infects and kills the invading monkeys (Buhner, 2014, see p. 108). Pathology seems to lie in the relationships and context. In such cases, the individual entity — the virus in this case — isn’t pathological, but when the context and relationships change, the pathology occurs within this dynamic. Another example is the Escherichia coli or E.coli bacteria. E. coli lives and thrives in our intestinal tract. In this particular location or context, this bacteria is helpful to our health and well-being. However, if this bacteria is ingested and ends up in our stomach, we get sick. When the contexts and relationships change, some complex sets processes are thrown off track and both the bacteria and the host can suffer a loss of life. So, for me, pathology and pathological refer to some situation (relationship, contexts, and processes) that cause harm or are destructive to an individual, a relationship, or any context that is typically autopoietic (i.e., self-sustaining, self-maintaining, self-repairing, self-transcending, and so forth), which is any living thing or any social or biological system.

And, to clarify the use of “pathology,” we all have our own pathologies. There may only be a few exceptional individuals who don’t have any pathologies. But, on the other hand, not all pathologies are equal. Some are more harmful than others. There are continuums (or “continua,” if you like) of fuzzily bounded pathologies within individuals and larger systems. But, many of these pathologies may only interfere with our lives occasionally or only at more subtle levels. Someone may have a chronic condition, such as a chronic viral infection, that may interfere with one’s activities and functioning one week, but then during another week, that person may function fairly normally. Or, one’s particular habitual patterns of obsessing about one’s weight or appearance or how they interact, may be problematic from time to time, but, in general, may not interfere with one’s functioning at work in at home. But, let’s take “anger” as a pathology. Getting angry occasionally may hurt someone else and one’s self at that moment. But, the anger may fade quickly and one’s relationships can be repaired. However, if that anger begins to dominate one’s relationship to the world, that anger festers and grow. It insidiously starts to infiltrate all aspects of life and can affect one’s health and all of one’s relationships. Such anger can act like a poison to everything it encounters, including one’s own psychological—physical health and well-being. Such poisonous emotions can affect social systems of various scales. As contexts contexts encounter one another, the “learning” of anger can spread.

There are people of note over the past year and right now who are propagating hate, fear, and anger. Such propagation of negative emotions is a pathological process of learning. It can spread from one individual to another and one context to another. And, such pathologies are dysfunctions in the relationships and contexts, and are ultimately destructive to those contexts and to other contexts that may serve as targets for hatred and as sources of fear.

But, suggesting that such situations are “just” sicknesses as a way of excusing the condition is not at all the issue here in this discussion of pathology. But, people do think or say, “oh, it was the way I was raised” or “ that just who I am.” Such statements are cop-outs. We do have opportunities to take control of our own lives and the way we relate to others. To blame others or to fall into familiar patterns of fear and hatred, is just like an addiction to alcohol or some other substance. We can break these feedback loops that perpetuate harmful or pathological ways of functioning and relating. We can stop destroying our environments and our social contexts.

—-
References

Buhner, S. H. (2014). Plant intelligence and the imaginal realm: Into the dreaming of Earth. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.

SEE also: Nora Bateson’s (2015) “Symmathesy – A Word in Progress: Proposing a New Word that Refers to Living Systems” (http://internationalbatesoninstitute.wikidot.com/pub:nbateson-symmathesy2015) — Provides a new and important perspective on learning.

Communication & Information – Norbert Wiener’s Paradox

“…We cannot afford to ignore Norbert Wiener’s observation of a paradox that results from our increasing technological capability in electronic communication: as the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.”

FROM: Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner. (1969). Teaching As a Subversive Activity. — page 8

————

This quote was from 1969, and was citing Norbert Wiener, who died in 1964, but I suspect he was discussing this paradox in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I wonder what Wiener would think about our current state of affairs? He’d have to talk about miscommunication, false information, and so much more as part of the communication circuits, as well.

The implications of the increase in the amount of information (both factual and not), the increase of triviality and nonsense within that information, and the increase in propaganda along with the ease with which communication can now occur are frightening. Yes, it is nice to have easy access to information, but it requires ways of sorting out the trash from the significant. How do we know what is really trash, what is really significant? How much do we have to dig through before we get to the significant? How much time will we have to spend getting to worthy information? On another line of questions, some people may find messages of hate and distrust valuable. So, what are the implications for divisiveness among people from local communities to the global population? How can we work towards bringing people together, promoting understanding and appreciation of difference, and so forth?

There are so many issues and questions that cross all aspects of living … and ultimately our survival as a species. Wiener’s paradox and all of the questions it brings up affects everything from our personal psychological wellness to global politics, from our effect on ecosystems to our effect on societies. It affects education, spirituality, economics, politics, and global affairs. It is a monster like nothing that has ever been experienced.

What do Schools Teach Children?

Paul Birtwell posted a graphic that listed the following criteria of schooling:
What does school really teach children?

  1. Truth comes from authority.
  2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat.
  3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded.
  4. Non-compliance is punished.
  5. Conform intellectually and socially.

Yep… and it’s been this way for a long, long time.

There are a few exceptions, including schools influenced by John Dewey’s ideas, Reggio Emilia schools and those influenced by these schools, and a spattering of others. But, for the most part, public, charter, and private schools in the U.S. and most other countries, these 5 points are the overarching framework.

In a democracy:

  1. Authority should be questioned. Truth is something children should be seeking through their play, exploration, inquiries, and talk.
  2. Intelligence is not what can be regurgitated, but involves the abilities to question, think, analyze, imagine, create, and so forth.
  3. The abilities to construct good arguments, to create novel works in the arts (dramatic, musical, visual, etc.), to analyze, to question, etc. should be valued (I don’t want to say “rewarded” since it wreaks of behaviorism and our tendency to treat children like they are rats).
  4. Non-compliance should be an indication of issues with the nature of the classroom community and should lead to re-evaluating the way the community is maintained. Non-compliance also is an indication of a disconnect between the child and the adults and/or community, which the intelligent child intelligence is seeing. We should value non-compliance as an expression of intelligence and courage.
  5. Conformity should be suspect. The individuality of each child should be valued and celebrated. Diversity and variation are what keeps all types of systems viable and healthy, and are what provides for growth, development, and change.

When Things Go South — Schismogenesis

Have you ever noticed what happens when our life situations go south or when big global situations turn bad? It seems that much more often than not, we react with aggression, which can range from pushing someone away to outright physical aggression and violence. At least in contemporary Western societies, the only other ways of reacting to bad situations include (a) withdrawing or taking submissive position or (b) trying to seduce the other entity into some sort of relationship.

Buddhists call these reactions the three poisonous emotions or kleshas. The first is aggression, which can range from pushing something away to attacking it. The second is ignorance or avoidance, where one might withdraw or take a submissive position in order to avoid conflict. The third is passion, where one tries to seduce the other and take ownership. None of these emotional reactions or strategies is particularly helpful. They all result in further conflicts and confusion.

From the perspective of Gregory Bateson, there also are three basic strategies or types of relationships. These types of relationships don’t align with the Buddhist 3 poisons, but one can see how the three poisons come into play within these relationships. Gregory called the first of these types of relationship “symmetrical.” Such symmetrical relationships are characterized by the parties being at odds with one another. Such a relationship can manifest as two people or two groups vying for control. Both individuals or groups are similar in nature. The second type of relationship he called “complementary.” In these relationships, the individuals or entities take on the characteristics of opposites. In some cases these relationships consist of a dominant individual and a submissive individual. Both of these types of relationships tend to degenerate into schismogenesis or the pulling apart and disintegration of the relationships. The warfare of the symmetrical and the resentment of the complementary do not help bring relationships together. The only type of relationship that holds the potential to not lead into schismogenesis is reciprocal or a relationship based on negotiation and some sense of mutuality. However, most relationships, whether at the scale of two individuals or even one individual contending with some other thing (e.g., an alcoholic and alcohol) or at the scale of nations, relationships move from symmetrical to complementary to reciprocal. But, the ones that tend to default at reciprocal are those that hold the most potential for survival.

But, let’s go back to how our default patterns of reaction, especially in Western societies, seem to be those that are aggressive or retaliatory. Someone calls us a name and we are ready to punch them. Someone drives to slowly and we start cursing at them. We think some problem is the fault of a particular group (illegal immigrants, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, the LGBTQ community, African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, or whomever). We react with aggression. At the very least, we may spread the anger or hatred and poison those around us. The reaction to 9/11 was aggression. The reaction to anything we don’t like is one of aggression. Abortion doctors are killed. A murderer is executed. A person who looks different from us is pushed away, attacked, or killed. We do this every single day. The police do it. Everyday citizens do it. Corporations do it.

And, as our world begins to collapse under the weight of a burgeoning population, rising sea levels, scarcity of water, scarcity of food, and scarcity of almost all resources, people will act out through aggression. But, aggression is exactly what is NOT needed. We don’t need to disintegrate into the visions extreme schismogenesis as in Mad Max, Blade Runner, or Total Recall. What we need to do more than anything is to come together. And, the only way to do that is with reciprocity along with heavy doses of empathy, compassion, and a willingness to understand others. Of course, we also need to change our ways of thinking so that we can in fact move toward solutions to a global meltdown, which isn’t a problem of any one nation or group of people, but is a problem for all of humanity.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’ll end with an excerpt from a poem (“It’s a Mistake to Think You’re Special”) by John Giorno (from Subduing Demons in America, 2008, Berkeley, CA: SoftSkull Press, pp. 341—342) – read this with rhythm and a lot of energy:

Butterflies
sucking
on the carcass
of a dead bird,
and your body
is being pulled down
backwards
into the world
below,
as a king.

I feel most
at home
among the defiled
I feel most at
home among
the defiled
I feel most at home among
the defiled,
in the center
of a flower
under a deep
blue
sky.

It’s a mistake
to think
you’re special.

(1984)

Habits of Mind

We have these habits of mind in the West where we think along lines that are linear… simple cause and effect. But, the world (outside of simple physical, nonliving events) does not work that way. We must think about the complexity of multiple systems interacting and where the “blame” is in the relationships, which is not with individuals, with groups, or with other entities.

The same holds true for all levels of relationship. From those with our lovers and families to those among nations. It’s all about the relationships and intricate interconnections within and among different systems (we can think of each individual as a system, in addition to larger systems with fuzzy boundaries, such as nations, social groups, ecosystems, economies, religions, etc.).‬‬

As individuals, we are the result of our relationships. These relationship range from the molecular (e.g., DNA is all about the relationships between the base pairs) to those with family, friends, teachers, and others and to those with our environments. The relationships within the contexts in which we have lived contribute to a great extent who we are and how we manifest. That’s part of our humanity. We are social beings, who learn socially. And, this learning is mostly not the learning we do in schools. We are learning systems… and the systems in which we live are learning systems. According to Nora Bateson (2015), this kind of learning is called “symmathesy” or mutual learning in contexts. Murderers and criminals of all kinds are the product of symmathesy as are the highly regarded political leaders, spiritual leaders, and all the rest of us, including bacteria, protists, plants, fish, birds, and so on. All living systems, social systems, and ecological systems, are examples of symmathesy. This learning is “in” and “about” relationship. But, this learning is not value laden, it is just the way living systems learn. So, the learning can be pathological in relation to social norms. Or, the learning can be grounded and sane within the social contexts.

We can fall into a trap in just thinking that “I am the way I am because of my relationships and the contexts within which I was raised. And, that is just the way it is. So, tough.” But, this is a cop-out. We have the ability as complex systems to transcend our typical ways of thinking and behaving. In fact, that self-transcendent ability is one of the characteristics of autopoietic systems (Capra, 1982). Autopoietic systems are also known as complex systems or systems that are self-generating, self-maintaining, self-regulating, self-transcendent, and so forth (“auto” = self & “poiesis” = to make OR “autopoiesis” = self-making). And, all living systems are autopoietic. So, the “mutual learning in contexts” of such self-maintaining systems is known by the word created by Nora Bateson, “symmathesy” (“sym” = together; “mathesi” = to learn or “symmathesy” = learning together, mutual learning; which also is the basis of the notion of co-evolution).

In fact, our only hope lies in this potential for self-transcendence. We all have to work at not thinking in simple cause and effect ways. We desperately need to begin thinking in ways that see how multiple systems are interacting and how these system are learning together, for better or for worse. So, while the U.S. may start manipulating some political entity somewhere else in the world, that “U.S. system” is learning about and reinforcing the notion of manipulation, at the same time, the entity being manipulated is learning about how to be manipulated and how to resist being manipulated, etc. The alternative to such negative or pathological learning is to begin to transcend this level of functioning. How can we relate in ways that are more direct, more reciprocal, and mutually beneficial? This example is at the scale of nations, but the same holds true for all of our personal relationships. We can understand others as bundles of relationships, but instead of relating in ways that are based on our old assumptions (whatever they may be), we can take a fresh look, with great empathy and mutual understanding of our shared humanity, and proceed to relate in ways that transcend our old habits of mind. In attempting to think in this way, we can transcend our own habitual patterns and ways of thinking and relating. We make the jump and begin to influence others. The more us who can begin trying to do this, the greater the chances of making a big difference.

——————

Bateson, N. (2015). Symmathesy — A word in progress: Proposing a new word that refers to living systems. A manuscript in review for publication.

Capra, F. (1982). The turning point: Science, society, and the rising culture. New York: Bantam.

Corporatization of Colleges and Universities

“Corporatization of Higher Education” from Salon.com

The above linked article from last October is a good short piece on a few of the problems involved in the corporatization of universities.

This change in how universities are run is a huge problem. University decision-making used to be based primarily upon “learning,” which included bringing in high level tenure-track/tenured faculty (who shared in the governance of the university); materials, equipment, and teaching facilities; libraries; student academic support; and research. But, now almost all universities make decisions based on money, with learning way down the line of priorities. Advertising, distance learning (which is an abomination and a learning scam), sports and recreational (country club-like) facilities, student (resort-style) housing (where they live in fancier housing than many faculty and staff), and high administrator salaries (and too many administrators… way more than are necessary) have taken over the budget sheets. Faculty members tend to be the “enemy” as seen by administrators. Administrators create a culture of fear and use whatever tactics they can to try to intimidate and control faculty. Gone are the days of faculty governance, faculty autonomy, and academic freedom. Faculty members inflate grades to keep students happy, so that they can get high end-of-semester evaluations. These student evaluations of faculty hold way too much weight in decisions about retention, promotion, and salary increases. And, students suffer the consequences. Their learning has been trivialized and is shallow at best. And, faculty suffer, as well. They are no longer supported in issues with teaching. When students complain about language, ideas discussed, teaching style, grades, etc., administrators tend to support the students views and not the actions of the instructor or professor. Many faculty suffer from stress related health issues. And, this stress is way beyond that of doing the work (teaching, research, and service to the university community) required of the profession. The additional stress from negative treatment, fear, lack of voice, and a loss of one’s academic freedom and ability to make appropriate decisions about course content, teaching, etc. is enough to create havoc with people’s health.

“Knowledge and Thought Have Parted Company”

“If it should turn out to be true that knowledge… and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is.”

— Hannah Arendt (1958). The Human Condition (p. 3)

Knowledge and thought are parting company due to the politics that has perverted our educational system under the guise of “raising standards” and “teacher accountability.”