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The Next 40 Years

This is the sort of post that generally makes me laugh out loud. No one can predict anything like 40 years out. I myself routinely mock anyone who tries to do such a thing. However... However, it is possible to draw out trend lines, even though we can be certain they will shift. And in these trend lines, like so many fate lines creased within our palms, like so many tea leaves, we can see a vision of a changed future. It is this act of imagination, along certain known trajectories, which can bring insight.

Two Phenomena

Today we can discuss two phenomena, and connect them in a tenuous relationship known as cause-and-effect. But it is not the clear-cut cause-and-effect which we are used to. Rather it is ground of the possibility cause and potentia effect we are dealing with. Two phenomena: - The aging institution and the seemingly contradictory role of education and research - The seemingly contradictory role that asymmetric development has introduced to the old canard of East vs. West

Education vs. Research

Recently Mark Taylor, one of the foremost Moral philosophers of the United States, took on US Higher Education calling graduate programs the "Detroit of higher learning". His incisive diagnosis of the problem was unfortunately not matched by a suggested course of treatment which was yet again a "reorganization" of the faculty. Don Tapscott also noted the demise of the University, for different reasons, pedagogical. Interestingly the very institution which legitimates itself through the unholy science can be easily demolished scientifically by that very science, namely that learning is not taking place and more importantly, need not.

Unaccountability

The fact of the matter is that the faculty themselves, if the meaning of the word can be used in such a distorted and perverse way, do their own "reorganization", which is yet again a gridlocked, politically charged, interminable process where the education mission is largely subverted by the desires for research and the powerless scholarly, non-research mission is sacrificed yet again. This of course is likely the fated outcome in any case, with one of the founding twins murdering the other again and again. Batur Volcano and Lake

Seven Years within the Beast

There once was a professor who learned how to get grants, and to publish papers. And this is what that professor did. Of course it was graduate students, paid at below living wage rates who did the work. But at the end of all those tax dollars, all those papers, all those frequent flyer miles, what was accomplished? A resounding nothing. Certainly some activity was undertaken, calories burned, but approximately 99% of the resources were truly wasted. This professor is celebrated as a success because of the ability to publish papers and to divert public tax dollars into the coffers of the university. This is how the university defines success. Did education take place? Well yes, to some degree which the professors' students learned how to do the same thing, divert public monies and produce nothing.

21st Century Dialectics

As we know from Rüdiger Bittner's critique (much less global warming), the lovely progression of the Hegelian spirit never quite makes it to self-understanding as there is a defect along the pathways of thought. Arguably this is good for the species in terms of survival, and bad for the planet and many other species (not including the ones who have and can adapt to modern human "civilization" such as domesticated animals and cockroaches). With the Aufhebung a quizzical and remote improbability, what we are really faced with is entrenched rebellion or "mere" revolution. Perhaps it is really a triumphant revolution which best sows the seeds of its own dissolution, though of course the time involved would have to be considered inhumane in many cases.

Research, the Enemy Within

In any case, what we can see is that Research has overturned Education and is indeed perceived as the engine (expensive though it may be) for a given segment of economic growth. Impoverished education is trotted out as an important need for funding, while those funds are funneled quickly enough to the research enterprise. Who can argue with these new inventions that crop up every so often? After all, don't the students get an education, get a degree, and then become qualified for work of some sort? Plus, there is the need to keep these people at the annoying ages of 18-22 somewhere, if not the military, is there not? Hatley Castle

Western Education in the East

The East has not missed the point that these trappings of civilization need to be adopted, if only to deprive the predatory West of a cultural rationale for invasion and colonization. As well, the population is led to believe that education as derived in the rarefied walls of such institutions has advantages both moral and economic. Cultural philistines are simply few and far between in a credulous culture which sees imitation as the means for reaching economic parity.

The Point

If this discussion appears a bit abstruse, allow me to slip into uncharacteristic clarity. It is the internal corruption of higher education, of research and its vampiric relationship to the educational enterprise itself, which provides the exact pathways to the overthrow of the West by the East and the return, after a brief (though spectacular) interlude preceded by the same dominance of East over West. The East understands the ceremonial necessities, and higher education is one of them. Let us hope they don't grow to actually believe it, and thereby sow the seeds of their own, future overthrow, sometime in the 22nd century.

2025 and 2050

Five years ago I plotted out the differential growth rates of the US and China and determined that with those rates that the Chinese economy would reach the size of the US economy around 2025. Hans Rosling has done a projection based on convergence of average income and health indicators and sees 2048 as the date at which both India and China will have reached parity and the shift in dominance will then be back with the East over the West in terms of wealth (and therefore power). Hans is unfortunately under the illusion that it is education which is the saving grace of civilization, rather than the slingshot to get us off the ground and begin to learn beyond the confines of the medieval institution which has long become corrupted and is now a leading cause of the downfall of whatever civilization might mean.

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On Reaching Middle Age – วัยกลางคน

I was reading an obituary on on Jim Carroll (Basketball Diaries) and it seemed a lot more personal and less like I was reading history. I think I've reached "middle age" (วัยกลาง). Was compelled to write this in my notebook:

Somehow I've muddled into middle age. Evidence: I read obituaries, become bored with anyone under 30, and after a long struggle nearly have control over my libido.

Enjoying the discoveries of middle age...

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Ozymandias

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

                - Percy Bysshe Shelley

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It's coming to America – poem by Leonard Cohen

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
                              --Leonard Cohen With thanks to Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Blog

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The Six Mistakes of Man – Cicero

  • The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
  • Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. I've been living outside of the United States for eight months now. The first 3.5 months were in Victoria, BC, Canada. The last 4.5 months have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As someone adapting to different cultures on a 24/7/365 basis, the 2nd, 4th, and 6th of Cicero's Mistakes of Man are particularly apt. Some farang who have lived in Thailand for 3 or 5 years still appear to make these mistakes with regard to the local culture. It's comedic. Buddha save me from this fate...
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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 3

Simplicity and Complexity

Habits are simple, nature complex. This formulation is meant to help understand how to talk about and act regarding the future. Change is necessary, and it is even possible. How do we conceive of this possibility? How do we talk about it? The real question regarding talk, is to what degree is talking needed for change, that is action which creates change. Perhaps not at all. In fact, stopping talking can be such a powerful catalyst for change that perhaps the proliferation of social media inhibits needed change in our world. Action is the mediator between language and reality, not language the mediator between action and reality.

Possibility and Predictability

David Ben-Gurion wrote that "all experts are experts on what has happened." As we again try and focus our minds on the future, on possibility, is it possible to be an expert of the future? Again, the question of futurology and futurologists present itself. In a November 4, 2008 article published in the Bangkok Post, Uri Avnery wrote:

In a world in which a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable--and therefore everything is possible.

Here we have an insight that at first appears quite promising in terms of pregnant with possibility. But there is a fundamental error here. Predictability is about knowing. We precisely cannot say that "everything is possible", since we don't know that. All we get from this formulation is that we cannot predict, we cannot say what is possible. We most certainly, therefore, cannot say that everything is possible. Here there is a breakdown in what we can know, not a fundamental freeing of our mind from predictability. The problem is a mistake in thinking that an epistemological failure (inability to predict) has ontological weight (making everything possible). This, then, is the problem of talk of the future freed from predictability. That is futurology loses its status as science, and attempts to don the robes of a prophetic voice, becoming a teller of stories, of possibilities.

The Return to the Present

Meditations on the future are simply not fruitful, unmoored as the futurology has become from its presumed foundations. Instead it is precisely the present which deserves the attention and intentions. The complexity of possibility can be captured in the simplicity of the present moment. It is through the intensity of the present moment which change can take place. It is in the present moment that new habits are formed, and nature changed.

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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 2

Talkin' 'bout the future

Talking about the future has two senses, the first is along the lines of "just talk" as opposed to action. The second sense has talking as a part of bringing the future into being.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. --Peter Drucker

The Monk

There is a story somewhere which talks about a monk who was so devout and discerning that he only spoke the truth. He was never drawn into saying anything that wasn't true. He never speculated, dissembled, or told anything less than what was absolutely correct. Needless to say, he didn't have many opportunities for conversation; people are fond of their illusions. It came to pass that the relation between the speech of the monk and the truth of the world was powerfully entwined. When the monk would talk about the future it would become true.

The Futurologist

The futurologist is something of the opposite of the monk. Most futurologists use what is called scenario planning to try and understand the future. A scenario is a description of a "possible future", in the lexicon of futurology. Good scenarios are vivid and compelling, much like a good story. As the futurologists rely on the notion of possible worlds, it almost statistically impossible for a given scenario to actually come true. The futurologist necessarily lies. Of course the lie is meant to "tell the truth" of the future, much like the famous definition of painting.

The Possible

However, the future doesn't exist in our common sense meaning of the term. The truth that is being told is rather about the possible worlds notion of the future. In possible worlds, the future can be understood as various possibilities, not as an emergent actuality. Possible worlds do not have a clear relationship to an actual, emergent future. Of course there is likely a feedback mechanism between talking about the future (future possibilities) and which possibilities may become more likely through those conversations.

Perception of the Future

Scenario planning in organizations was pioneered in Shell Oil. They credit their planning of scenarios with sensitizing their management to what was happening during the oil embargo in the 1970s. The unrestricted access to oil fields by oil companies was unquestioned at the time. One scenario, though considered unlikely, was that there would be restricted access at less favorable terms by the sovereign nations who controlled the oil fields. Shell was able to adjust their organizatinal strategy (stop building tankers and refineries, switch resources to exploration activities). This approach makes scenario planning and perhaps other methods of futurology as adaptive responses to changing environments. So far so good. This approach understands the future as a changing environment that the organization must adapt to in order to survive and thrive. The world now knows, more clearly than ever before, that the possibilities of the future astound us, even when we know that to be the case. The day before the election, Uri Avnery wrote in the Bangkok Post:

In a world in which a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable--and therefore everything is possible.

Talking helps Thinking

Talking about the future, in semi-structured approaches such as the futurologists scenarios, helps us think and understand future possible environments. These are fictions that train the mind, much like story problems in algebra class. But how do we take the next step from thinking to action? How can we engage with the real, felt future?

The goal is not to understand the world but to change it. --Karl Marx

End of part 2, part 3 to follow...

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Futurology and Development

Any future must and will actually come from places like Manila and Bangkok. At the very least it will find a home there. The present discourse around futurology is predominantly driven and reflected of the developed world. The future is a developed future along the trajectory of current developed nations. And thereby leaves the most dynamic, diverse, and different futures off of the table. A bit of reflection will reveal how much we know this to be a mistake. * The current future was created by developing countries. In other words, developed nations emerged through development. Development, however, is far from a specific trajectory. * The developed world is largely stagnating in terms of population and economic growth. Of the G7, countries are shrinking in population or encouraging massive migration from the developing world. China is entering this situation as well. The future will come from places such as Brazil, Vietnam, India, Thailand, South Africa, and Indonesia * Greater economic connections between countries is seen as the best way to stabilize and manage risks in the global economic environment. * The developing world resembles the developed world only insofar as it wants to, and only insofar as the viewpoint is from the perspective of the developed world. * Most importantly, looking to the future is about trying to understand change, what will be different. And what will be different, even in the most hegemonic approach, is how things will be different in the integration of developing markets and political systems. The developed countries are shrinking in relative population and power. Why would the future belong only to those aging countries or be made in their image?

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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 1

Habit changes nature

Habit and Nature

Some might suggest we are human doing, rather than human being. I believe it was Aristotle who suggested it is what we do that makes us what we are. There is no essential being underneath our actions, per se, but the actions and the beings are concomitant. If so, then what we do right now is of vital importance. Our habit, what we do regularly, is what we are.

Habit and the Future

In some strong sense the future is about change, otherwise it would be as Lao Tze would have it, that if people kept their customs and worshiped the ancestors, he could tell you what life would be like in 10 generations. The point is that people do not keep customs and worship the ancestors as was done in the past. Things change, and even people change. This means that habits can change.

De futuris contingentibus non est determinata veritas. --Aristotle

How Then, Change?

How, then do we change? And is the discourse of change, or of the future, a part of this change? Or can it be a false substitute for taking action? I know I have been as guilty as anyone in terms of talking about the future more than taking the necessary steps to bring it into being.

The Role of the Discourse of Change in Actual Change

Of course it is possible that talking about the future is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for it to come into being. Sort of how we need to talk about change, engender belief in change, before we can have a candidate for change, who then can be elected and actually create change (we hope). End of part 1...