From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

More wary prescience from Doomberg, worth sharing here for its plea to raise the level of discourse.

Their succinct article about science and culture and overwrought assurance stirs a discussion echoed more than once on The Rhetorical WHY about perspective and pride and rush to judgment.

But this is no bottle episode, and you’ll need to commit some thorough attention of your own to reading other posts… here and here, say, and here and here, and here, and here – and here – and of course here, and even here. And, for good measure, here, and here and here.

A lot of people seem to value healthy scepticism and critical thinking. Yet if one motive for critical thinking, scepticism, and counterargument is the promise offered by free thinking, rigour, and greater precision, then surely another motive, very different, must speak for itself when a predilection for fear stifles debate. And with the chance to speak long enough, fear can become a way of thinking, and a way of being. This matters because fear is destructive; therefore, this ought to matter to everyone. This is more than just easy-blame cancel culture, with its fear of consequence. This is something more inherent, a clash of traits, or of perspectives.

Meanwhile, enjoying the creature comforts of ideological self-assurance… well, like delusion, hubris has reason like no other. As for do-gooders and creeping incrementalism… where often there’s courage found in selfless advocacy, where is there advocacy found in self-expressive purity? Where choice is irreconcilable, we may one day sigh and be sorry we abandoned what would have made all the difference.

The Force May Be With You

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed a threefold conceptualisation of time:

  • chronos, the ticking clock of linear time
  • kairos, the fleeting moment, a singular point in time
  • aion, boundless or infinite, “the fulfillment of time” (Baumlin, p. 155)
Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay

Baumlin offers an image for aion, the uroboros, which is paradoxical for being finite, the serpent swallowing its tail. In concert, he suggests, these three concepts comprise a “spatial-temporal sequence… from point, to line, to circle” (p. 155) that can seem both time and place, what we might call setting, which is a curious way to consider eternity.

Into this setting we’re born to live and die, and if that seems a bit morbid, then let’s turn to something more uplifting, like Hannah Arendt, who wrote that people “are not born in order to die but in order to begin” (Arendt, p. 246). Death would be the end of us except that each new generation comes along, not only to sustain and maintain but also to begin anew. Birth interrupts death and renews the world.

At birth, Arendt suggests, we arrive into a world already underway, a kairos moment in chronos time. Growing up with parents, surrounded by culture, we come to feel somewhat defined by this world that precedes us, by what has been carried forward from the past. Arendt calls this our belatedness and then, pointing bluntly to education, poses an alternative that she calls our natality. As part of the world underway, our belatedness can be outweighed by the promise of natality, an encouragement to look toward the future at our potential to be something more, something different.

Of course, like any application, details lie in context – time and place, the people involved. What is potential for some is conflict for others, or maybe impossible. Set against belatedness, natality can pose a paradox that leaves us feeling discouraged, even paralysed. The force may be with you, but yeah… hard to know, really. Always in motion is the future.

By the same turn, if we’re not encouraged toward the future but simply expected to carry on what’s been brought forward from the past – stifling our potential, frustrating our promise – we may be again left feeling discouraged, or complacent, or in any event dissatisfied, perhaps without even understanding why. Anyone marginalised by such continuance may simply remain that way. Meanwhile, a continual obligation to steward beginnings can come to feel like weary efforts at futility – again, the paradox of natality.

Stewardship of any new arrival to the known world demands a dose of self-awareness and the restraint of long patience – with thanks to Fitzgerald, the capacity to keep in mind two separate ideas while still being able to function.

So, if “our thinking and behaviour are determined by the systemic structure, independent of our particular place in it” (Sarason, p. 29)… even as that singular perspective matters, we need to see beyond mere individuality. And if we’re all part of something larger, more populous, then our coming to know other people can help us begin to appreciate the motives behind their decisions, or at least help us to realise – if we’re honest – that there’s probably more we don’t yet understand. As this accounts for size or scope – something larger, more populous – so it also accounts for time – past, present, future – which is a curious way to consider character and growth and relationships. Maybe that’s why we decided to call it education.

On Bias: III. Fun with Dialectics

Click here to read On Bias: II. Wrong Bias?

On Bias: III. Fun with Dialectics

Above-below, up-down, in-out… let’s understand these as some basic opposite pairings in English vocabulary.

Some pairings seem as rooted in tradition as opposition – love-hate, war-peace, success-failure – while some pairings automatically imply something else – just as ‘landlord’ pays its dues to ‘tenant’, so ‘parent’ only makes sense alongside ‘child’. Along the same line, as surely as ‘zenith’ is joined to ‘nadir’, something ‘ahead’ is followed by something ‘behind’. Conversely, it goes literally without saying that a ‘turn’ to face Thing 2 is the same pivot away from facing Thing 1. Being a duality, two moves at once, maybe this is why one good turn deserves another – after that, on we go.

Looking up the Odessa Steps… not the Eisenstein montage today
Looking down the Odessa Steps… only the landings are visible

Photo Credits by Oleksandr Malyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

But our vocabulary is not always so obvious or easily taken for granted… something ‘ancient’ by contrast might only suggest something… well, less ancient: ‘modern’, ‘current’, ‘contemporary’, how about ‘fashionable’ – now we’re talking connotation as much as denotation. And with plenty of other word-pairings – ground-air, hard-soft, strong-weak, first-last – if any of these are less automatic than good-evil, to-from, wet-dry… well, they still seem just as opposite. Funny, though, a word like ‘moon’ implies ‘planet’, yet no planet requires a moon.

Actually, this post isn’t some attempt at anything formal although, if you’re up for it, knock yourself out.

Theory-practice, reflection-action, curriculum-pedagogy, classroom-real life, content-skill, teacher-student… education is all about such pairings. For the sake here, let’s consider these as ‘dialectical pairings’, where each concept is not merely reciprocal to the other but inextricably indispensible, such that the two concepts together comprise not a united opposition but a concerted reciprocity. And from the two arises something further, something more.

Matter tells space-and-time to curve; space-and-time tells matter to move: their fearful passage is the two-way traffic of our stage.

Maybe that’s a bit much. Let’s just stick with ‘dialectical pairings’, in a loosely Hegelian way that says, “You complete me.”

Here’s one we all know from education… ‘fairness’ balanced in concert with ‘unfairness’… in accordance to circumstance, fairness being the treatment of people without discrimination, marked by impartially, as conversely distinct from unfairness, discrimination marked by partiality. But without circumstances specified, this distinction remains ambiguous, such that one could argue fairness – treating every person impartially – as being equality, treating everyone the same, rendering unfairness as inequality. More recently, I’ve also noted a distinction between (in)equality and (un)fairness such that the resultant outcome of specific treatment is considered (un)equal while the ongoing act of treating is described as a measure of (in)equity, the specific measure evidently being human rights.

Anyway, let’s consider fairness-unfairness as having arisen from something else we’ll call ‘bias’ although that may actually be more of a Hegelian reversal, if you see what I did there. OK, so we consider this, but on what basis? What I’m suggesting is twofold…(i) bias is an always-thing, and utterly inescapable, and (ii) no matter how exactly we do something, bias instils every decision with unintended consequences where, as a result of everybody’s overlapping biases, that system of forces, made real by everybody’s ongoing decisions, somebody somewhere along the way incurs some cost in payment of an outcome.

Sidebar #1: we’ve been facing a lot of absolutes, thus far… inextricable, indispensible, utterly inescapable – let’s consider these inexorable. As for absolutes, let’s consider them unlimited by anything besides themselves.

Somebody pays a cost… I call it a cost, and depending on the circumstances, maybe we call it fallout, or unintended consequences, or collateral damage. Depending on the circumstances, maybe we call it a trade-off. But what it’s called doesn’t negate the truism that there is a cost to everything, which is sometimes described in education as the hidden curriculum.

Sidebar #2: Ivan Illich is often credited with coining the term, hidden curriculum, and his meaning actually took to far wider critique than just education. Illich argued for the disestablishment of schools, comparable to the separation of church and state, on the basis that our most insidiously aberrant institution is compulsory schooling, which proliferates “the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught” (p. 34). Illich critiqued compulsory schooling’s duplicity, in which learning is ritualised myth-making, “something for which you need a process within which you acquire it” (p. 67), a problem defined by a self-justifyingly selfless solution:

“… other people told me [schooling] was… the most practical arrangement for imparting education, or for creating equality, [yet] I saw that most people were stupefied by this procedure, were actually told that they couldn’t learn on their own and became disabled and crippled… a new kind of self-inflicted injustice… a liturgy [for generating] the belief that this is a social enterprise that has some kind of autonomy from the law.… If the rain dance doesn’t work, you can blame yourself for having danced it wrongly.” (p. 66)

For Illich, words like ‘planning’ and ‘development’, ‘class and ‘equality’, ‘system’ and ‘assessment’, all central to North American schooling, are anathema to knowledge as an intrinsic good and coming to know things as inalienable living – those absolutes again.

And what it’s called doesn’t negate the responsibility to consider more than one perspective, on behalf of others, while weighing or enacting our decisions. If anything, bias demands responsibility unless, of course, your concerns lie elsewhere than somebody somewhere paying some cost. This, if you ask me, definitely falls to a matter of character, as does a sense of whether this post seems to have abandoned the whole ‘dialectical pairing’ thing.

Click here to read On Bias: IV. Right Bias?

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