Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” —Søren Kierkegaard, via @EskoKilpi
“Although our present crisis is so threatening precisely because it plays out on the physical plane, where our bodies and other creatures live, it is a crisis of knowledge. We lack a crucial mental skill. I contend that our position today regarding the way we make decisions about technologies is similar to the dilemma that pre-Enlightenment scientists faced in the sixteenth century. We simply don’t have a good method for thinking and making decisions about how to apply (and not apply) the powerful tools of rationality, the scientific method, reductionism, the combination of logic and efficiency embodied by technology.”
All the talk about AI these days relates in no way to self refection, to knowing what you need to know, or to anticipating the future. We talk about “AI” but we are not talking about the “I”. We have intelligent entities already. (They are called humans.) When they are confused they ask for explanations. When today’s so-called “AI’s” start doing that, please let me know. In the meantime, it would be nice if there weren’t an article a day in major publications about AI when what they mean is number crunching and pattern matching, not wondering and trying to find out.
Empathy with denialists is not easy, but it is essential. Denialism is not stupidity, or ignorance, or mendacity, or psychological pathology. Nor is it the same as lying. Of course, denialists can be stupid, ignorant liars, but so can any of us. But denialists are people in a desperate predicament.
It is a very modern predicament. Denialism is a post‑enlightenment phenomenon, a reaction to the “inconvenience” of many of the findings of modern scholarship. The discovery of evolution, for example, is inconvenient to those committed to a literalist biblical account of creation. Denialism is also a reaction to the inconvenience of the moral consensus that emerged in the post-enlightenment world. In the ancient world, you could erect a monument proudly proclaiming the genocide you committed to the world. In the modern world, mass killing, mass starvation, mass environmental catastrophe can no longer be publicly legitimated.
When we embrace innovative, hybrid educational models like the one we’re attempting to build at Westminster, we are relinquishing control, allowing students, projects, clients and teamwork dynamics to mold the learning process. We are, essentially, developing the system that Paulo Friere ostensibly had in mind when he argued that students “will not gain … liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it.” We’re essentially liberating students to discover how learning works in a very uncontrolled, unpredictable environment. We’re not “teaching” anymore, at least not in the “banking-model” format where students are receptacles and teachers are simply filling them with knowledge; rather, we’re mentoring. We’re not creating lesson plans and assignment descriptions and we’re not in control of the end result. We’re merely a guide, helping people learn how to learn.
The student results seriously suggest models like these may be better for learning. As faculty members in traditional institutions, though, we have to ask ourselves: Is it worth moving away from the path of least resistance? And, if we don’t adapt, will we be left behind?
The Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate saga is a striking cautionary tale in a number of ways. It shows how easily performative bashing of “the oppressors” or “the privileged” can turn into vicious bullying and harassment toward real people—and how easily a “marginalized” person can be reclassified as a “privileged” acceptable target. It shows what a devastating weapon anti-oppression outrage and social justice rhetoric can be in the hands of a malicious abuser, making it very difficult to curb the abuser’s behavior and making the victims particularly susceptible: witness the mind-boggling fact that an anonymous blogger’s unhinged ranting could make published authors afraid to write. The Mixon report, Romano’s Daily Dot article, and the comments on both pieces offer a rather scary glimpse into a toxic, cult-like “social justice” subculture.