Lebenskünstler

Further exploration of librarianship as social design.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/26/2017

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Democracy, Education, and Community in Vermont: A Barnard Manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/19/2017

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“The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order…The exploiter typically serves an institution or an organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, ‘hard facts’; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.” – Wendell Berry

 

“No substantive sense of civic virtue, no vision of political community that might serve as the groundwork for a life in common, is possible within a political life dominated by a self-interested, predatory, individualism.” – Jean Bethke Elshtain

 

“If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” – Calvin Coolidge

 

Unfortunately, recent debates around education in Vermont have demonstrated that we are losing the battle to preserve the spirit of liberty Coolidge invokes. A pernicious vocabulary is being imported from other parts of the country – performance, value, efficiency, choice, accountability – are among the most common terms. These words have their origin in an equally pernicious worldview that sees economic questions at the center of human society, rather than questions of ethics or democratic governance. The exploiters are slowly displacing the nurturers and civic virtue is being sacrificed for the allure of individual achievement.

State government in Vermont is following a familiar path that seeks to centralize decision making into fewer and fewer hands. Proponents speak of modernizing, of expertise, of metrics, but they fail to acknowledge that a citizenry that can’t be trusted to control its own educational decisions is not comprised of citizens at all. And they fail to acknowledge that an education imposed by bureaucrats is not an education, it is indoctrination. Most importantly, they fail to acknowledge that the idea of education being relegated to administration by experts has failed throughout the country.

The model of education the state is attempting to impose might produce tremendous gains for some, but will relegate many more to the margins. School consolidation driven by a market mentality simply reproduces for students the same inequality that the market produces elsewhere. Equality of access, a liberal dream, is not equality. Thus, although everyone is, in theory, free to compete in the market, that freedom is curtailed by large structural inequalities. And given that school consolidation and increased curricular offerings have been instituted throughout the United States, it should be clear, given that economic inequality has skyrocketed, that any talk of educational equity is just cover for the centralization of power. Educational administration serves primarily to preserve the institution, the organization rather than the community and the will of its people. It serves itself, not the spirit of liberty.

Of course, education entails much more than schooling. As Vermonter John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Thus, the resistance in Vermont to Act 46 is educational. Communities standing up for their right of self-governance is educational. Townspeople fighting to change the law, rather than simply caving into it, is educational too.

These are not mere philosophical disagreements, they are fundamental philosophical disagreements. It is an argument about whether education is a vehicle for individual accomplishment, or a community resource. It is an argument about whether education is meant to train future participants in the global economy or to nurture civic life. Of course it can be all those things, but the worldview of economic rationality so permeates the discussion, that one is considered a fool to argue against such hallowed concepts as “increased choice,” “flexibility,” or “economies of scale.”

Sadly, many of our democratic institutions have been eroded by a consumerist mentality that privileges convenience, standardization and cost efficiency over complexity, diversity and intrinsic value. Democracy, is inherently connected to education, and education to community, and all of them to scale. Democracy, education, and community are more than mere institutions, they are ways of living.

Thus, human life and human values must always be at the center of the discussion, rather than the operational needs of administrators. “Get big, or get out,” was a famous admonishment to farmers from the Nixon administration. That policy served agribusiness and government agencies quite well, but has been a disaster for our food system and environment. Vermont has been a leading voice for the value of human scale farming. It should do the same for education.

Vermont thrives, not despite its small size, but because of it. If it is to continue to thrive, rather than merely survive, we need to protect what makes Vermont different from other places, not eliminate those differences.

The ascent of the disabling ecosystem of liberalism

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/21/2016

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Thee square ov capture for design as enlivenment.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/02/2016

designelivenment

Collaborative matrix for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/21/2016

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fill in the blanks and move things around (part II) – a wildly partial map of social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/03/2016

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under the Bodhi Tree of social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/01/2016

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if, and it is a BIG if, I said I was doing social practice (art), it would be up in here somewhere

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

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a wholly incomplete fishbone through which art must pass on its way to becoming social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

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somewhat conventional understanding of social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

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“it is totally white and gold” – Memes, attention policing and play

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/27/2015

#TheDress and the Rise of Attention-Policing

This is a line of logic that will be familiar from most any Meme Event—the logic that says, basically, “don’t look at that; that is unimportant.” It’s attention-policing, and it’s reminiscent of so many other strains of rhetorical legislation that play out in online conversations: You can’t say that. You can’t talk about that. GUYS, the attention-policer usually begins. How can you be talking about a dress/a leg/a pair of llamas/a dancing neoprene shark when climate change/net neutrality/marriage equality/ISIS/China/North Korea is going on?

The world, to be sure, is a complicated and often tragic and often deeply unfair place. It contains famines and genocides and war, births and deaths, Katy Perry and Björk, Big Macs and kale and Bloomin’ Onions, privilege and the lack of it, llamas that are caged and llamas that are free. And we humans—animals who are striving to be so much more—have a big say in the balance between the good and the bad. We should not be glib about any of that. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that, if you find yourself with the ability to use the most transformational communications platform the world has ever known to engage in debates about the color of a dress being sold on Amazon dot com, you are, fundamentally, extremely privileged. And thus in a better position than most to make the world better. Attention is a valuable thing; we have an obligation be selective about where we direct it.

And yet. The problem with attention-policing—besides the fact that it tends to be accompanied by humorlessness and marmery, and besides the other fact that it serves mostly to amplify the ego of the person doing the policing—is that it undermines the value of Internet memes themselves. Those memes, whether they involve #thedress or #llamadrama or #leftshark or #whathaveyou, are culturally lubricating. They create, and reinforce, the imagined community. Last night, we needed each other—not just to share and joke and laugh, but also to prove to ourselves that we weren’t going completely crazy. “TELL ME WHAT COLOR THIS DRESS IS,” I texted a friend. “OKAY, PHEW,” I texted again, when he saw it as white-and-gold. I also, on the other hand, mock-disowned a significant percentage of the people I love in a haze of #whiteandgold partisanship—but even that kind of faux-fighting has its value. Theorists of play, from Huizinga to Piaget, have pointed out how powerful the infrastructures of games can be. They allow us to explore ideas and bond in a mutually-agreed-upon environment. Jane McGonigal, the game designer and theorist, suggests that the alternate universes provided by video games allow us to think in terms of collaboration and problem-solving. Games’ constraints, she argues, are actually empowering.

And what are memes if not games? They are small; they are low-stakes; they are often silly. (Sorry, #llamadrama.) But they are also communal. They invite us to participate, to adapt, to joke, to create something together, under the auspices of the same basic rules. That is not a small thing. That is, in fact, a huge thing—particularly when it comes to the very concerns the attention police like to remind us of. If we have any hope of solving the world’s most systemic and sweeping problems, we will have to come together. Inequality, climate change, injustices both enormous and less so … these will require cooperative action. They will require us to collaborate and compromise and value diversity. The dress makes a pretty good metaphor for all that. Also, it is totally white and gold.

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Another Social Practice Project That Isn’t One – Art, Life, and Community in VT (Part II)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/26/2015

Bethel’s Free University Re-Imagines Education, Unites Community

[Bethel is the town immediately north of mine. Its population is approx. 2000]

The town of Bethel is about to start its second year of Bethel University, a pop-up community school that offers a wide variety of free classes open to anyone, Bethel resident or beyond.

Stone says the creation of Bethel University was “a long and winding path,” but that after Tropical Storm Irene, the community wanted to live in a different kind of place, one where neighbors were familiar and supportive.

Stone’s involvement in Bethel University stems from Tropical Storm Irene as well. “When Irene hit, it took us several days to realize how bad the damage was in town. And that was a real wake-up call for me, to say, I really [should] know that someone’s house was swept down river a half mile from my house. So I had a really strong personal motivation to start getting to know my neighbors,” says Stone.

In its second year, Stone says Bethel University is already making the community stronger. “It’s not something that can be changed in a year, or by one event, but there have been so many small little projects, so many instances of collaboration, trust and community-building popping up that [Bethel is] really an exciting place to be right now.”

“fantasy football meets Dungeons and Dragons” – Professional wrestling, education, community

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/17/2013

The fanatical fantasies of pro wrestling fans – Lissa Soep interviewing Crystle Martin

    You acknowledge that professional wrestling is often seen as anti-intellectual. Why do you say to that?

Pro wrestling at its heart, it’s like Greek melodrama. It has a very rich culture. I mean some form of professional wrestling has existed since late 1800s. It’s existed in its current scripted state since the 1930s. So it’s got a really long cultural heritage.

Because people engage in it in a very theater-like manner, it actually requires understanding the genre. So there’s a lot of discourse-specific language that goes with it. So one of my participants had to explain to me, Oh a “face” is a good guy, from the term baby-face. And a “heel” is a bad guy. And then there’s a tweener–in gaming terms, we call it a “chaotic neutral”–which means you don’t know whether they’re good or bad, and what they do in certain situations is relatively unpredictable. Watching people work through argumentation about different points and share resources and information shows me that this is a very intellectually active community.

    If we’re talking about pro wrestling fandom as a learning community, who are the teachers? Are there ways to “graduate” to higher levels?

The teachers—it’s totally peer-to-peer. So everybody’s putting in their expertise where they have it. People who don’t happen to be as experienced in wrestling but are better at giving grammatical or genre-based writing critique get to put expertise there. Others put expertise when it comes to how wrestling storylines are developed, what elements go into that.

That’s another thing about wrestling–a lot of people think it’s very American-centric. It’s very international. My fans were from the Philippines, India, all across Europe, South America, the US. It’s a really wide fan base. So a lot of people who participate on these boards are English-as-a-second-language speakers. And so they get feedback on improving their written English. My participant from South America said he was able to not only get a community around his interest in wrestling, but they helped him to improve his English skills, which he took back and used in school. So the teaching kind of goes in multiple directions. Everybody’s a teacher and learner, as the situation comes up.

One of my participants, she’s 17 years old. She’s in the Philippines. And she came to the community because when she told her local friends she was interested in wrestling, it was very socially stigmatizing for her. They started making fun of her for being a tomboy. So instead of giving up wrestling, she just stopped talking to them about it, and she found this community online. The fantasy wrestling federation part of the community really drew her in, and she got hooked. And then she started writing for the school newspaper as well. That led to a medical career, where she’s gonna do a lot of technical writing. So her wrestling interest was an introduction to writing in a way that she found really engaging.

    What’s different about learning inside the pro wrestling online fan community versus, say, learning inside school?

Like most interest-driven communities, it’s a much more low-stakes environment, so people are willing to try things that might not pan out. In a high-stakes learning environment, a lot of times what happens is, people feel so much pressure, they don’t want to try things that they’re not sure will work out exactly right, because they don’t want to suffer consequences of that. So this allows people to role-play different kinds of characters, and a lot are experimenting with making videos about being in character as a wrestler, or best-of videos. They put them online and get feedback on how their video editing’s going, so if it completely fails, they’re like, “Well I tried this, it didn’t work,” and people give them suggestions on how to fix the problem. So they’re willing to experiment in areas they might not be willing to try otherwise.

“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2013

Beauty will Save the World – Jeffrey Bilbro

I want to reflect today on the title chosen for this gathering, “Beauty will Save the World.” That’s quite the assertion, and I don’t know if I can convincingly support it, but I’ll give it a shot. My tentative thesis today is that the best way to cultivate healthy local cultures is to celebrate their beauty. It’s not to pass laws, it’s not to develop rational or economic arguments for their benefits, it’s not to start some new program. All these might be needed subsequently, but if we don’t first bear witness to the beauty of a healthy culture, then other approaches are doomed. It’s in this way, by enabling us to see the truth and goodness of healthy way of life, that beauty will save the world. So I want to think with you about the beauty of local culture, why that beauty is important, and how to cultivate it. I’ll begin by describing a beautiful, and I think saving, activity that I’ve had the privilege of participating in this past year.

Rather, our hope is that the students and staff and faculty who participate will see and experience how beautiful it can be to grow and eat our own food. This rich, practical connection with our food is what Wendell Berry calls the pleasures of eating. These pleasures are complex, and they are nearly impossible to quantify, but if you’ve ever eaten a sandwich with tomato slices still warm from your garden, you know something of these pleasures. When you plant a seed, water it, weed around the delicate seedling, try to protect it from deer and bugs, watch it blossom and set fruit, and wait for that fruit to ripen, the act of eating the fruit is not merely an input of calories and nutrients. Rather, eating is just one part, perhaps the climax, in a whole narrative that we’ve embodied and lived out, a narrative that connects us to our fellow gardeners and to the place in which we live.

To call something beautiful in this sense is to speak about its material shape or form, and also about the meaning or splendor that emerges from the form and makes it desirable. And as von Balthasar goes on to argue, when we see a vision of the beautiful, when we see the contours of its form, we are enraptured by its splendor, caught up in a desire to participate in the radiance that beauty grants us to see as love-worthy. So to call this narrative of our community garden beautiful means that the whole way of living that the garden enables us to glimpse, in which we work together and share the fruits of this work, is desirable and love-worthy.

And yet oversimplification leading to disease marks nearly every aspect of our fragmented, modern lives. Our corporate medical system does not aim for health, but rather isolates various parts of the body and treats particular abnormalities. Hence our medical establishment has been particularly unhelpful at offering preventive care and treating complex problems such as obesity. Our monoculture agriculture is merely another instance of our propensity to isolate and specialize, and I’m not sure that our biculture of corn and soybeans here in Michigan is much of an improvement. We still don’t have complex polycultures that include animals and a true variety of plants. Such simplification works itself all the way down to our lawns, which we spray with toxic chemicals just to have “beautiful” grass.

In their false simplification, such specialized visions and the ways of life toward which they lead inevitably contribute to disease. These narrowly-focused ways of life become insipid, losing the splendor of beauty, and yet they define much of our lives as we search for quick and easy solutions. Wendell Berry notes the irony in our culture’s stereotypical view of country life as “simple,” noting that in actuality, it is urban, specialized living that is simple:

When I am called, as to my astonishment I sometimes am, a devotee of “simplicity” (since I live supposedly as a “simple farmer”), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here. In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place. (The Way of Ignorance, “Imagination in Place” 47-48).

My point, then, is that our culture’s tendency toward reductive specialization is intrinsically un-beautiful, that beauty arises only from complex, harmonious forms, that health is beautiful. Currently, our cultural aesthetic is, in Solzhenitsyn’s terms, sickly and pale: we too often confuse the pretty, the mere appearance, for true beauty, hence our acceptance of lush green lawns that cause water pollution. But perhaps beauty can save, or at least salve, our world by giving us a richer imagination of health and thus causing us to desire ways of life that, as von Balthasar might say, carry the splendor of truth and goodness.

How do we actually see such forms whose beauty might inspire us to find more healthy ways of living? I think there are at least two conditions for perceiving such visions of beauty. The first is that we see beauty on a local scale.

We have to be able to see the whole to perceive beauty (again, note the connection between beauty and health). Analysis of the beautiful, if it does not begin with a vision of the whole and keep this vision constantly in mind, quickly devolves into an abstract rummaging through dead parts. It becomes what von Balthasar calls “anatomy,” which “can be practiced only on a dead body, since it is opposed to the movement of life and seeks to pass from the whole to its parts and elements” (Seeing the Form 31). This is the way the “industrial mind,” a term that Berry derives from the Southern Agrarians, sees the world. Such a vision, precisely because it is too narrow and specialized, inevitably leads to disease and deformation. In his essay “Solving for Pattern,” Berry argues that solutions based on this sort of specialized vision always worsen the problem—he gives the example of addressing soil compaction by using bigger tractors, which only compact the soil further, leading to the need for even larger tractors (The Gift of Good Land 136). So while a bad solution “acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained,” “a good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns” (137). In order to see the beauty of these larger patterns, and thus perceive what modes of life would harmonize with these patterns, we need to be able to see the whole form. When we try to imagine a beautiful whole on a global or even national scale, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of this task makes the temptation to perform a quantitative analysis of isolated parts almost irresistible. And yet such a fragmented gaze can’t see the living, beautiful whole, which is precisely the form that can give us the vision of health and beauty our imagination needs.

The second condition for perceiving this vision of healing beauty is a personal experience or encounter. We don’t see the whole form of beauty when someone describes it abstractly.
I can tell you about the Sistine Chapel and describe its scheme and what the various parts depict, but you won’t really see its beauty unless you stand in it yourself. The same holds true for a Bach fugue. This is so because of the complexity and richness of beauty; there is a qualitative difference between an experience of the beautiful and an abstract description of that experience.

…Every morning the local bakery draws a group of men who drink coffee, eat pastries, and talk about the work that awaits them in the day ahead. Their conversation is punctuated by oblique references to stories they all know and by the habitual phrases of friends absent or dead. The community’s memory lives in such conversation. But it’s hard to quantify and analyze what makes this community a healthy one; merely listing its attributes does not convey the beauty of its form. We perceive its beauty as a whole, when we experience life in such a community.

…So we all need to practice creating beauty. It’s remarkable how counter-cultural this participation might be, since we now live in a society that thinks “beauty” is meant to be produced by professionals from big cities and consumed by the rest of us.

We may not all be gifted artists like Kathleen, but we can still all be involved in creating beauty. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his “Letter to Artists,” “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to participate in this task of culture, and our “sub-creation,” as Tolkien calls it, should be guided by the contours of the beauty we’ve perceived.

I am afraid that what often keeps us from embracing the quotidian work of sustaining the “little platoons” of which we are a part is the sense that this local work can’t affect the national and international problems over which the news media continually obsesses. But while such local work may seem futile in our current political and economic environment, it may actually be the most consistent and effective way to cultivate health, given the farce that national politics has become. This is why Berry believes that our “Our environmental problems [as well as our other diseases that afflict our society] are not, at root, political; they are cultural” (What Are People For, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey” 37). Dreher echoes this sentiment in an essay on Wendell Berry in which he considers him to be “a latter-day Saint Benedict”: “I am convinced that conservatives have placed far too much stock in political action and far too little in the work of culture” (The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry 281). Dreher hopes that Berry has begun a sort of monastic cultural movement, where instead of pouring their energy into national politics or the culture wars, individuals work to form healthy, beautiful communities in their homes. These communities might then preserve and sustain culture, providing beacons of hope that stand in stark contrast to sick society around them.

I do want to qualify this politics/culture distinction. Politics is indeed part of culture and a shaper of culture, but my point is that it shouldn’t be the primary arena in which we try to affect cultural change. Rather, fostering healthy and beautiful cultures will inspire others to participate and cultivate the communities of which they are a part. Representative democracy too often relies on the slim majority forcing everyone else to do the majority’s will, whereas culture relies on beauty to foster a robust conversation about the common good, and then to persuade others that this common good, that health, is desirable.

This distinction provides, perhaps, the clearest insight into the unique power of beauty: whereas political power ultimately relies on force, beauty simply invites others to perceive the splendor within its form. Beauty is an invitation, a gift, and thus it is always vulnerable to rejection. This is its weakness, and this is why beauty is often overlooked as a salve for our contemporary problems. But its weakness is also its strength. In our cynical world, where people are jaded by political posturing over truth and strident demands that some particular way is the only right way to live, beauty simply puts itself on offer. And if its form reveals truth and goodness, then those who behold beauty may find it love-worthy. Once our affections are moved, right action and truthful speech will follow.

Slow Democracy – The Scale of Time and the Scale of Size

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/09/2012

Slow Democracy – Susan Clark and Woden Teachout

Slow food celebrates diversity and local traditions: briny seafood from Maine, wild rice from the shores of Lake Superior, artichokes from the dry, hot hills of California. Similarly, slow democracy applauds the range of regional democratic practices. New England town meetings don’t need to be spread like frosting across American townscapes. Other, very different examples of slow democracy have taken root from Oregon to Georgia, and from downtown Chicago to coastal New Hampshire—each with its own regional flavor. Slow democracy celebrates the terroir of community process.

Slow food has shown that in the interest of efficiency and cheap food, policies often are skewed toward corporate agriculture and consolidation, resulting in food and food systems that are unnatural and unhealthy. Similarly, slow democracy observes that we have moved increasingly toward centralization and privatization of public resources and decision making. In the name of efficiency, we often give only lip service to citizens’ wisdom, and as a result, we wind up with unrepresentative, unsustainable decisions and a discouraged, democratically anemic citizenry.

Finding a place in the life of the already overburdened and underprivileged—such as single working parents, or low-wage workers who string together two or three jobs—is one of the greatest challenges of slow democracy. But these are the populations most often shut out of the democratic process, and most in need of what it has to offer. Slow democracy incorporates people from all walks of life and the full range of the human condition: from talkers to doers, from those who value charts and graphs to those who love chatting over coffee. It makes room for those who like to talk at microphones but also celebrates the vast majority of us who would, frankly, rather die than make a speech. It builds on the already-existing web of relationships that form a community, recognizing that some of our best ideas come while taking a walk with a neighbor. And it forges new relationships, introducing us to people we might have avoided but come to appreciate.

Human Nature, Education, Ecology – Dewey, Darwin, Midgley, Kropotkin [Part II]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/26/2012

At Home in the World: Human Nature, Ecological Thought, and Education after Darwin – Eilon Schwartz

Midgley’s philosophy sees human emotions and not reason as defining the human essence…For Midgley, there is no contemplation without the emotions which shape and direct our reasoning. Those emotions, many of which are found in other social species, are central goods for humans, regardless of whether they are unique. It is an argument which we have seen by Darwin, relying on Hume, and continuing through Kropotkin and Dewey.

Emotions are what give direction to human actions. Without them, human life loses it motivation and its compass. Whereas the rationalist model sees the direction of human life through an emotion-less or emotion-served reason, Midgley contends that our emotions give structure and meaning to our actions. A life without emotions is one that lacks a meaningful structure from which to apply reason. In such a situation reason becomes lost at best, and dangerous at worst. Midgley’s definition of wickedness, and Darwin’s and Dewey’s too, is based on the absence of emotions, not their presence.

…Our emotions, therefore, are central to the educational process of clarifying and pursuing the ends of human life.

The moral life is the life that is lived in pursuit of the good life, that is, the life that a human being is meant to live. Education is about helping the individual identify the good and moral life, and offering tools to pursue it. The good life is not discovered outside of the emotional life, as the rationalist model would suggest, but rather through its cultivation. Emotions therefore, are both ends and means.

…The fact that emotional education is so consciously absent from school curriculums, for example, particularly as one advances in age, is a dangerous mistake of schooling, when looking at education through Darwin’s eyes.

Emotional education, therefore, should not be seen as being opposed to rational education, but rather as an integrated view of reason made up of emotions, and emotions shaped through reason.

The Darwinian perspective sits at the crossroads between the essentialist and constructivst position. Accepting human beings as social beings, it recognizes that meaning is mediated and emerges from the social world. However, claiming that there is a strong human nature, inherited at birth, it maintains that socialization takes place in interaction with an innate nature which is always present and active.

Kropotkin, Dewey, and Midgley all contend that our innate human natures offer a moral instinct which allows us to resist culture when it moves to forms that are dehumanizing, that is, against our nature. Strongest in our childhood, before socialization has overwhelmed it, ideally it is fostered and developed by culture but also remains as a wellspring from which to oppose culture, if necessary.

Darwin’s worldview, of course, was not an objective fact of the world, but rather an organizing metaphor, capable of changing when challenged with discrepancy from the empirical information which justifies it. Being well read, attending to the larger picture, and examining competing versions of the larger picture were all necessary steps to Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to Midgley. Science exists within a culture, not separate from it. Studying the worldview, therefore, and building one’s own, is central to being able to navigate the path to a truly human life, is the goal of education. One cannot do without a worldview; it is only a question of whether one critically attends to it or not. The humanities are central to this purpose.

Midgley is very clear about the usefulness of uselessness in the curriculum…Midgley’s curriculum, therefore, puts a tremendous emphasis on exactly those subjects that in an instrumentally driven curriculum would have little place. It is exactly because they are useless – that is, an ends and not a means – that they are most valuable. As she attacks the instrumental “use” of education, she argues that when education focuses solely on training for employment, without tending to human life and its manifold needs as ends, one will find despair, alienation, depression, and with their concomitant failure in the workplace. An ends-driven “useless” education might also be the most useful of educations, nurturing meaning and motivation.

[quoting Roland Martin] One finds repeated demands for proficiency in the three Rs, for clear, logical thinking, and for higher standards of achievement in science, mathematics, history, literature, and the like. one searches in vain for discussions of love or calls for mastery of the three Cs of care, concern, and connection.

Beck and Kosnick structure the emotionally rich class and school community into three clusters that need to be nurtured: a community of rich conversation; a community of celebration, joy and openness; and a community of tenderness, security, friendship and mutuality. Furthermore they argue that “emotional education” should not be defined as a separate subject, but rather should be woven into the very heart of a school’s culture.

…it is not the subject matter on its own which brings the message, but rather a particular attitude to life which must pervade the teaching. It is not only what we teach, but how we teach. Without love, for example, science is curiosity without values; with it, science becomes a “reverent understanding of the universe.”

Darwinism has been perceived as an anti-religious worldview. But if we define religiosity as understanding that we are part of a larger whole which gives us meaning, and the experience of transcendence in our lives, then Darwinism surely advocates a religious worldview. Science does not stand in opposition to religion, nor independent of it, but as a central tool in teaching wonder, awe, and reverence, and approaching the world with wonder is a necessary ingredient in true scientific pursuit.

Another Social Practice Project That Isn’t One – Art, Life, and Community in VT

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/10/2012

Art, community and agriculture are one at Fable Farm – Sally Pollak [A snapshot of the holistic approach to art, life, and community, here in Vermont]

Every philosophy graduate student should be required to weed.

“I noticed that people would come from their days jobs, whatever they did to make money,” White said. “And they entered the theater and shook that off and proceeded to the collaborative arts. … I was going back to a farm, to a beautiful landscape, to cooking with a fire, and all the rest.”

The separation, the boundaries, troubled him. This began conversations with the Pianas about a different kind of approach, and what kind of projects might unfold on the farm that would represent a kind of whole.

“We go to the grocery store to get food,” White said. “We go to the psychologist to get our head straight. We go to the gym to work out, and you pay for it every step of the way — in more ways than one. As opposed to right here: I’m getting the food I need. I’m with my friends. I’m working my body and doing yoga in the field. There’s no separation between sustenance and health and happiness.”

“If you want to align yourself with what you think the world ought to be, there are no jobs — yet,” McHugh said. “So you have to make your own jobs and wait for the world to catch up. These guys feel it. They see it. They want to be part of it. …“We’re here to celebrate the fact that these guys are creating the center of the community. The town needs a heart. The town needs a place where people can feel connected. You couldn’t have orchestrated a better gang to do this. You could’ve gone to Hollywood and said: ‘Central casting, I want some heartful, soulful, intentional people.’ If you got this group, it would’ve been a home run.”

Putting the social back in socialism – Erik Olin Wright – Why a truly “social” practice needn’t be anything other

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/23/2012

Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously – Erik Olin Wright

Lots to extrapolate here in terms of seeking justice and equality not necessarily through (explicit) political activism, but through strengthening civil institutions/society or being a good neighbor (Neighborhood Power! as Karl Hess would say). Long, somewhat pedantic, but worth a slog:

Civil Society is the sphere of social interaction in which people voluntarily form associations of different sorts for various purposes. Some of these associations have the character of formal organizations with well-defined membership and objectives. Clubs, political parties, labor unions, churches, and neighborhood associations would be examples. Others are looser associations, in the limiting case more like social networks than bounded organizations. The idea of a “community”, when it means something more than simply the aggregation of individuals living in a place, can also be viewed as a kind informal association within civil society. Power in civil society depends on capacities for collective action through such voluntary association, and can accordingly be referred to as “associational power” or “social power.”

The idea of “democracy”, in these terms, can be thought of as a specific way of linking social power and state power: in the ideal of democracy, state power is fully subordinated to and accountable to social power. The expression “rule by the people” does not really mean, “rule by the atomized aggregation of the separate individuals of the society taken as isolated persons,” but rather, rule by the people collectively organized into associations in various ways: parties, communities, unions, etc. Democracy is thus, inherently, a deeply socialist principle. If “Democracy” is the label for the subordination of state power to social power, “socialism” is the term for the subordination of economic power to social power.

The potential scope for the social economy could be enhanced if the state, through its capacity to tax, provided funding for a wide range of socially-organized non-market production. One way of doing this is through the institution of an unconditional basic income. By partially delinking income from employment earnings, if an unconditional basic income existed voluntary associations of all sorts would be able to create new forms of meaningful and productive work in the social economy…

…the idea of extensive and robust economic democracy through creating conditions in which social power, organized through the active participation and empowerment of ordinary people in civil society, exerts direct and indirect democratic control over the economy. Taken individually, movement along one or another of these pathways might not pose much of a challenge to capitalism, but substantial movement along all of them taken together would constitute a fundamental transformation of capitalism’s class relations and the structures of power and privilege rooted in them. Capitalism might still remain a component in the hybrid configuration of power relations governing economic activity, but it would be a subordinated capitalism heavily constrained within limits set by the deepened democratization of both state and economy. This would not automatically insure that the radical democratic egalitarian ideals of social and political justice would be accomplished, but if we were somehow to successfully move along these pathways to such a hybrid form of social organization, we would be in a much better position to struggle for a radical democratic egalitarian vision of social and political justice.

Robert Skidelsky – The Good Life – Wealth

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/23/2009

“In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that in 100 years – that is, by 2030 – growth in the developed world would, in effect, have stopped, because people would “have enough” to lead the “good life.” Instead, the accumulation of wealth, which should be a means to the “good life,” has become an end in itself because it destroys many of the things that make life worth living.” – Robert Skidelsky in an article here. I would offer a minor corrective to Skidelsky and qualify his use of wealth as material/monetary wealth which tends to destroy other forms of wealth the *other* things that make life worth living (via Jerome Segal) – transcendent meaning, aesthetic experience, social/loving relationships/neighborliness, intellectual growth…

Sunday Soup Houston – InCUBATE – SKYDIVE – Saturday Free School for the Arts

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/28/2009

Saturday, April 4th 2009

I’m doing a talk with InCUBATE at the Saturday Free School for the Arts in Houston, TX.

Saturday Free School for the Arts will offer a range of skill shares, lectures, and workshops. It is a fluid structure where teachers become students and pupils can become teachers. Members of the community will be invited to teach and may also propose seminars. In the tradition of free schools, the Saturday Free School is an ever shifting and open collective of artists and participants, who gather together at the Skydive, a contemporary arts space in Houston. Saturday Free School for the Arts remains responsive to the interests of its participants.  Through a community of artists Saturday Free School offers freedom from expensive and immutable educational institutions. Saturday Free School for the Arts provides workshops, classes and skill-shares at no cost to it’s participants.”

Sunday, April 5th 2009

Sunday Soup at SKYDIVE. Nancy Zastudil and I are bringing InCUBATE to Houston for Sunday Soup Texas style.

“SKYDIVE utilizes an open and collaborative model for producing its programming. A group of artists, curators, and other professionals function as Advisors to help create shows, invite artists, and collaborate in the mission and programming of the space. Participants in SKYDIVE will be invited to Houston for a sustained number of days, previous to the exhibition to make their work, interact with the Houston community and see the sites in Houston and surrounding areas.”

Slacker – Leisure – n.e.w.s – Stephen Wright

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2008

FYI:

An online slacker summit will take place from 1/2-1/6 at n.e.w.s.

Cutting Slack

By both slacking off from the imperative to work and, symmetrically, deliberately abstaining from leisure, slackers embody a fascinating – and for the productivist majority, infuriating – performative paradox. Slackers don’t “just” slack off; they go at it full-tilt. Performing laziness – that is, the studied and ostentatious practice of doing not much – is all-consuming. But is it subversive? Does it have seditious potential within a regime of productivism? Can it be decreative, obstructing the reifying thrust of the “creative” industry and class with their “artistic research projects”? To answer these questions in the affirmative is to imagine that slackers might come to constitute something of a political community, however slack. But, as Randall Szott has asked, are communities formed by slack not also bound by slack, that is, to entropic collapse without even really working at it? Or can they, martial arts-style, lackadasically harness the surplus force of the productivist adversary? Over the course of this weekend forum, we will ride the slack tide to consider these questions. In suitably slack fashion.

The moderator will be Stephen Wright.

I’ll be the “special guest.”

Confirmed participants include:

Brian Holmes – Continental Drift

Chris Carlsson – Nowtopia and Processed World

Andy Abbott – Festival of Pastimes and http://www.andyabbott.co.uk/

Katherine Carl – NAO

Sal Randolph – http://salrandolph.com/

Hideous Beast – http://www.hideousbeast.com/

Many more T.B.A

Please contact me if you’d like more info on how to join the conversation!

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