Posts Tagged ‘critical’

Raw notes on the subject of Critical Mass

August 19, 2009

I’ve been participating in a couple online debates about Critical Mass. (one and the other)  I’ll do something with these raw notes a little later…

There’s a difference between making your world a better place and making the world a better place. Critical Mass, and really is developing community, connecting with real human riders only a selfish indulgence? Are the car driver stuck in traffic, who get angry, and not all the drivers get angry, happy in the current transportation system? Is it possible that cyclists are scapegoats of drivers and planners trapped in an inefficient, and frustrating system? Road Rage is a cultural phenomenon that has nothing to do with cyclists. Is the desire to shift traffic patterns, and create transportation alternatives selfish?

I read Luke’s post and think Critical Manners is more than somewhat open to interpretation. And fixed thinking, fixed meaning, the lack of open ability to interpret is, and I’m using this word with an understanding of the full possibility that you’ll recoil in smug indifference, fascist. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure freedom of movement is a human right. I’d like to decide for myself, in community (read democratically) what that means, not have it decided for me by a self-legitimating power, or sycophants who ally themselves with that power.

One concern seems to be that this democratic expression (Critical Mass Ride) violates the rights of others. Are “freedom from delay” or “freedom from inconvenience” rights? I think it’s a stretch to call Critical Mass a violation of others’ rights.

Another concern is the flouting of law. Law is an institution of power, which in this case is confronted by a democratic multitude. But even this concern is weak. Critical Mass is a procession, like a parade or a funeral, a celebration of cycling in the city and as such it stays together. I don’t think the maintenance of a procession is too far outside accepted social behaviour.

We’re working with different definitions and not really understand each other.

Darren wrote:
“Just to be clear, you’re saying that if I choose to “ally myself with” a democratically-elected power, I’m a fascist? Does that make every citizen who voted for a government in power a fascist? That’s a peculiar point of view, particularly given the definitions of ‘democracy’ and ‘facism’.”

The definition of democracy on wikipedia includes this: “Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom. These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and have equal access to power.”

By the standards in this definition we do not live in a democracy, and I’ve noticed over the past month that most of the people opposing Critical Mass are arguing under the assumption that we do live in a democracy or under a democratic government, when it would be more referent to our reality to speak of living in an oligarchy or under a pastoral government. I think it’s this confusion of definitions that places Critical Mass outside the notion of democracy in public perception (a confused public that also erroneously perceives itself as democratic.)

I wrote “allying yourself with power against those confronting power is” fascist. I said nothing of a democratically-elected power, because the terms cancel each other out. The creation of a hierarchy is the end result of elections, and hierarchic power structures are not democratic (by definition which requires equality) I’ll try to be more clear this time around because I think these definitions are very important for bridging the gap in perception that has been expressed in this thread.

Because of the difference in power between those who rule and those who are ruled, this can be seen when thousands of people are systematically excluded from the decision making process, (don’t confuse an exclusive decision making process with democracy, it’s an oligarchy, let’s call things by their name) the excluded are confronted with a decision making power, a power that must be contested.

The contestability of freedoms written or desired is the basis of confrontational politics. So you can check any list you want but when a multitude appears on bicycles exercising that freedom you’ve got your reality.

This debate was started by a police warning and monopoly capitalist media sensationalism. How are these institutions of power democratically elected? How then is public perception important to consider if it has been manipulated by these powers? We often see what we know, and we know how power informs us. Why do the people who ride in critical mass have such a different perception of the meaning of the event than those who read the Province or the Sun? (or who side with the police force?) Critical Mass is definitely confronting institutional and capitalist power. Things are not the way they are for no reason. To try to change things is to confront those reasons.

Those reasons concern the systems of money and power; systems which in no way can be referred to as democratic. These systems have criminalized dissent/protest. So yes, Critical Mass operates outside the system, democratically mobilizing in public.

My point of view may be peculiar to liberal capitalists who’ve accepted the misnomer of democracy, but there is a huge body of work called Critical Theory written by Jews who fled from Nazi Germany, this stuff is definitely the point of view of outsiders. And the link I put to the guide to a non-fascist life is definitely worth reading. And then there’s Noam Chomsky, he’s also written extensively on the illusion of democracy. Point is, if we called things what they are and restarted this conversation, which I’ll say it again, was started by the institutional powers of the police and capitalist media, Critical Mass would be the democratic expression, opposed by non-democratic, oligarchical, capitalist, armed power.
Which side are you on?

Do you see that we are at odds in our terms?

There are two clear, reasonably well written posts preceding, but are in no way addressed by your question. I tried to express earlier the communal and democratic appeal of Critical Mass, which you constantly reduce to “personal enjoyment” and then even the term “entitled” is anti-democratic.

You say there are “infinite ways to find personal fulfillment” and you’re totally right on the mark with that. What’s missing are ways to find free communal fulfillment. Critical Mass is a rare free communal event. In a democracy access to power is equal, there is no need to produce a title. Critical Mass is an expression of this social alternative, and in our current totalizing system, an alternative can only be confrontational. I think it’s necessary for democracy to create the ability to say, “We are here.” Critical Mass presents an alternative. And I think the issue you have is with the alternative. There are people in our social body who think differently, and in our representational system, they don’t really exist, but for a few hours once a month, the last Friday of every month to be specific, Downtown, between the hours of 5:30 and 8 or so. Would you like to pretend that difference doesn’t exist? And that the difference will not sometimes express itself in blocked flows?

Critical Mass is about more than traffic, it’s an alternative form of social organizing, free and democratic, which just happens to get in the way of law and order.

I think liberal capitalists need to understand that their order impinges on the enjoyment, more the full development of life of a multitude that desires that full development. This desirous multitude is without access to media of power and money(capital/resources) towards the process of communal and human development, and every once in a while, through different channels, this multitude will make itself known. This is the world we live in for now.

There is a major bias or false foundation in all the arguments against CM here. (except Morten who doesn’t express the bias at all. He clearly sees our reality.)

I’m talking about the uncritical acceptance of a democratic society.

Raul starts with this statement: “One of the most powerful manifestations of a democratic society is the ability of citizens to raise their voices wanting to be heard on policy issues.”

Is this really one of a democratic society’s most powerful manifestations? That’s it? …the ability to raise your voice wanting to be heard? How do you define democracy? How do you define what is not? One problem with empirical research lies in its inability to discover the unrealized possible. I’d contend that democracy is a Utopian notion worth creating, and that the society in which we’ve found ourselves (selves created and socialized, prior to that discovery (I’m just saying..)) is not democratic.

It, that we don’t live democratically, comes through in what Victoria writes: “I’m fully for having mobility options versus vehicle usage, but when mobs like Critical Mass take to the streets it seems that far fewer influential ears are prepared to actually listen to our cry.” We live in a society where a larger number of bodies are classed ‘mobs’ and where a lesser number of bodies are classed ‘influential’. And it is through obedience to this smaller influential class that our cries will be answered. This is not democratic, but pastoral society.

The expression of desire by the multitude in a pastoral society will logically lead to conflict. but Victoria writes: “Critical Mass has no place in civilized, logical protest.” And in a confused society, one that names things what they are not, maybe protest can be civilized, whatever that means to you, but in our world, where civilization is an imposition, sometimes called colonization, and to be civilized is to be obedient, protest can never be that.

The society in which we’ve found ourselves and its institutions are not democratic. (Morten gives a good example to show this. And then he writes: “the utopian and unrealistic notion that the masses are better equipped to do the right thing than people in power. (sometimes called democracy!) It’s a nice thought but fundamentally flawed because most people are not equipped to actually make decisions that are for the betterment of everyone – in the end we are all pretty selfish!” Morten doesn’t believe in the possibility of democracy!!) That we believe society and it’s institutions to be democratic confuses our perception of nascent democratic (self-determining) practices like Critical Mass. Do you know what democracy looks like?

Riding in Critical Mass I feel democratic.

I’d define democracy, like sustainability, not as a concept, but as a practice. I also see the Critical Mass ride as a democratic practice/act. This democratic practice has been called “illegal” and a “criminal act” by the monopoly capitalist media in Vancouver (see this and this ) What researcher of social movements would miss the trend towards the criminalization of dissent? (And in the history of social movements tyranny hasn’t quieted democratic voices. Voices don’t cry out to be heard because some form of government allows it. And if it is grudgingly “allowed” today it is only because we cannot be stopped.)

Are you open to being convinced of your bias, or that we do not live in a democratic society? If you define democracy as rule by anyone or everyone, then the descriptions of our society by Morten and Victoria showing us (the mob) being ruled by the few should be enough to convince you that we are not ruled/governed democratically. What’s interesting is that both Morten and Victoria are opposed to Critical Mass in much the same way, but Morten clearly opposes democracy in favor of a rule by those in power (the entitled few) while Victoria sees the same thing, the same way and understands it as democracy.

I wonder if I could convince you of your bias… I also called it a false foundation. I could also call it a presupposition. If you desired a democratic society, that would be idealistic. Believing that we live in a democracy is false, not idealistic. A false belief, is paradigm shifting, and a bias is clearly expressed in your conclusion: “I asked online – “when is the tipping point? when does disruption become unruly social order?”. I think Critical Mass creators and their proponents should re-think this and their strategies. A democratic society is a collaborative society, not a confrontational one.” Raul, you show a bias toward social order, an order you falsely believe to be a democratic society. Our contemporary social order is heavily mediated by money and power. It is exclusive, unequal, and hierarchical. In our society where the titled expect compliance, the untitled voices/democratic voices can be nothing other than confrontational. If you re-think your foundational paradigm, that a collaborative society is a society of equals is a democratic society, not a confrontational one, you’ll hopefully recognize your error. We are not a society of equals and as such the political order of the day is confrontational. We must assert our voices, against an oligarchical regime of money and power who call us “illegal”. Our voices are untitled and deemed illegitimate. This regime must be confronted until every and any voice is legitimate, until democracy.

critical thinking

August 24, 2008

In his introduction to Chomsky on miseducation, Donaldo Macedo writes, “As our society allows the corporate cultures to reduce the priorities of education to the pragmatic requirements of the market, whereby students are trained to become “compliant workers, spectorial consumers, and passive citizens,” it necessarily has to create educational structures that anesthetize students’ critical abilities, in order to domesticate social order for its self-preservation.” (Chomsky, 2000, p.4)

This is hard stuff for teachers to swallow, but Macedo goes on to say that teachers “are technicians who, by virtue of the domesticating education they receive in an assembly line of ideas and aided by the mystification of this transferred knowledge, seldom reach the critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world.” (p.10) I don’t think teachers can swallow this. They may “know it” in the sense that they know there was once an emperor who pranced about in the finest robes until a child saw that he was naked. We “know” this story, but do we experience it in the world? Can we experience it in the world and continue to function in the world of transferred knowledge, can we continue to consciously live “life within a lie.” (p.6)

This is dangerous business, to allow our critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world. The tradition of Critical Theory is peopled by the unemployed (fired and quit), silent, suicidal, assassinated and insane. It’s easy for Macedo to write that “We must first read the world — the cultural, social, and political practices that constitute it — before we can make sense of the word-level description of reality.” (p.11) When Macedo writes that Chomsky “energetically stresses, teachers need to sever their complicity with a technocratic training that de-intellectualizes them so they “work primarily to reproduce, legitimate and maintain the dominant social order from which they reap benefits.””(p.12) can he not see that this voluntary severing from the dominant social order will also sever them from that benefit?

Who has a coherent comprehension of the world? Even if teachers, or anyone who is part of an established social organization, were to sever themselves from the functioning word-level world, the world-level meaning does not become immediately available. Most thinking people have glimpsed the horror of the world, but few can sustain the necessary study of that horror to communicate any meaning. The task is dangerous, but necessary if we are to meet Feire’s challenge to educators, “to discover what historically is possible in the sense of contributing toward the transformation of the world.” (p.13)


May 18, 2008

Tearing down to build up?

Is it really easier to tear down than build up? Isn’t it possible that the frustration edutech advocates are expressing in this conference is an inability to tear down traditional ideas in education? And if talking about what’s going on in this conference without waving pompoms is looked upon unfavourably, there is an outside, but very relevant, example in the science vs. religion debate. While scientists were busy catching atoms, exploring space and working with stem cells, Christians were busy teaching their children about creation.

I am, and have been, proposing strategies for the advocacy of a research agenda. Why advocate for something that isn’t the best it can be? I wrote in the post above that the research agenda should include the need for a strong scientific, philosophical and historical foundation. I gave Stephen Downes as an example of a researcher with this type of foundation. And when I say education researchers lack discipline, I mean that they use terms without being aware of their meaning. Downes has complained of this lack of discipline as well. I pick up the Canadian Education Associations magazine and am frustrated each and every issue by the sloppy use of terms. Writers who’ve clearly never read a single word of Derrida’s throw around “deconstruction” like it can mean whatever they want it to. Educational research needs more discipline, it needs a stronger scientific, philosophical and historical foundation.

Education research needs to be stronger to stand up to the antipathy in the educating workforce. I am a friend of this agenda, and as any reader of Nietzsche can tell you, a good friend is your worst enemy.

The point I am trying to get across is the lack of discipline in education studies. The field of computer assisted distance learning is over 25 years old, yet the general vibe from the discussions here is that it’s a brand new field. Web 2.0 is an essentially meaningless buzzword dreamed up by a sales team, and it’s thrown around like it has weight. Remember Generation X? The marketers went wild with that one too, and then Y and some even went as far as Z. Cell phones in education? That’s a parody writing itself. Web phone 3.0 isn’t a bad research topic in itself, but without a strong scientific/philosophical/historical foundation it amounts to fanboy drivel or marketing spin. You can point to Stephen Downes and say look, ed tech research is rock solid, but for every Stephen Downes, who’s done and continues to do his homework, there are a large number of “researchers” who need to dig a little deeper. The strongest education research would be connected to or at least aware of the relevant work in other disciplines. Elearning needs at the very least a philosophy.
The separation between creating knowledge and reproducing knowledge is not distinct. I’m definitely simplifying. Knowledge reproduction is not necessarily a bad thing or something educators should feel they must move beyond.

When I say critical I mean to take elearning apart and see what it is. Technology is always designed to be used. Research as well is designed to be used. They are also designed to serve interests. I don’t have an answer here. If I did would type it out. A pan-Canadian elearning research agenda needs to be explicit about who it will serve. Is it possible to do research in general? Is it possible to create an agenda open to a variety of interests?


I read elearning as learning with the prefix “e.” Learning I define as the reproduction of knowledge. Learning in this definition takes place in an educational setting. I don’t deny the human potential to create knowledge, but elearning’s potential resides in its use as an effective means of communication between two bodies.

Every teacher knows that if a student didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it. In an educational setting reproduced knowledge is learned knowledge. Knowledge exists in a body prior to being teachable. When the knowledge comes to exist in a second body it has been reproduced or taught. The example I gave earlier of 8 year-old Canadians who know, at least after school on November 11, that the military secured our rights and freedoms in the wars is reproduced knowledge. It is knowledge communicated from one body to another. These 8 year-olds have this knowledge without any direct experience. This is learned knowledge.

The creation of knowledge is not the same as the reproduction of knowledge. These two meanings in the one term learning will only lead to confusion.

Chapter 5: The Problem of Agency

March 16, 2007

I hadn’t read Chapter 7: Critical Theories of Technology, when Kant was recommended to me. In Chapter 7 Feenberg asks the question: “what can we learn from Marcuse and Habermas assuming that we are neither metaphysicians nor instrumentalists, that we reject both a romantic critique of science and the neutrality of technology?” Of course he goes on to answer that question for us. Now, One Dimensional Man is on my reading list, and I’m thinking about something by Niklas Luhmann, but I’ll have to ask around. What can we learn, and how can we use it to build the grand theory?

I’ve got the feeling that these quotes/ideas are going to be useful:

As in the factory or hospital or school, urban centers, media, even unions are reconstructed around the paradigm of technical administration. Expertise legitimates power in society at large, and “citizenship” consists in the recognition of its claims and conscientious performance in mindless subordinate roles. The public sphere withers; a literal silence is instituted as one-way communication replaces dialogue throughout society. (p.101)

The resulting weakness of democratic intervention into technology is symptomatic. (p.101)

The politics of sexual and racial identity returns agency to the individual but at a level that leaves basic technocratic structures untouched. (p.102)

Despite diminishing educational and cultural inequalities, social evolution continues on an authoritarian track. (p.103)

What we have learned is that even if no totalizing approach makes sense, the tensions in the individual system can be grasped on a local basis from “within,” by individuals immediately engaged in technically mediated activities and able to actualize ambivalent potentialities suppressed by the prevailing technological rationality. (p.105)

Social groups constituted by technology will reflexively turn on it.??????

It is this sort of agency that holds the promise of a democratization of technology. Technical politics foreshadows a world in which technology, as a kind of social “legislation” affecting every aspect of our lives, will emerge from these new types of public consultations. (p.105)

The problem is still the struggle against technocracy and its claim to an exclusive monopoly on rationality. But the solution now is to find radical political resources immanent to technologically advanced societies. (p.108)

Change in the system can destabilize its power structure.

“A thousand ways of playing/outplaying the other’s game, that is to say, the space that others have instituted, characterize the subtle, tenacious, resistant activity of groups which, for lack of a base, must maneuver in a network of established forces and representations.” From de Certeau

What de Certeau calls “exorbitant” practices are the equivalent of dominant language. Everyone must speak it, but marginal practices, like local slang, can give it a special twist. (p.113)

Where excluded members mobilize, political movements of a new type emerge that promise to create a lively technical public sphere.

Formulating local knowledge in a technical language that has legitimacy in the public sphere.