So much heat, so little light!

Yesterday I read through William Clancy’s “Notes on Epistemology of a Rule-based Expert System”, the sort of thing I was working on in the late 80s. In the section that’s showing he writes, “I knew what all the words meant, but I couldn’t understand why the rule was correct. … More than a decade would pass before I realized that to have a representation in your pocket is not to be intelligent.” You see, I’ve come to an understanding of how that implicates itself into society’s deliberations concerning public policy, of how it ramifies itself down into the lived experience of the citizen.

The fact is what I was talking about in the late 70s really has arisen as “e-democracy”. And the web really has enabled fabulous new ways to communicate, blogs and such. Mailists, and forums … thousands, hundreds of thousands … and hundreds of thousands and millions of people exchanging views using formats that silo their words and thoughts, never to be seen again … all that so often well motivated energy and engagement generates very little more than heat.

My method is informed by dialectics and discourse ethics … not just “information in motion” (which can be nothing but churn) but actually task oriented, which is where the “evidence-based discourse” notion comes from. It’s fine and dandy to talk theory, that can be a big part of planning, but when push comes to shove (Heard that we’d figured out a solution to over-population and global warming recently? Well me neither. And that mess in Iraq shows no signs of straightening out any time soon.) things should get a little more gritty. Should, but most times don’t. And I think that’s just plain wrong.

Now the fact is that I’ve forever been a fan of PIMs and writing tools like outliners (“ThinkingCap” for the C=64 was easily the best I’ve ever found … go figure.) But I think there are bigger fish to fry. Or, to put it another way, we have real alligators to fight as we try to keep the swamp from flooding us out of house and home. Forums are usually places to blow off steam and the smartest software (just google “concept mapping”) tries to address all problems and is an effective solution to none.

What I’m suggesting approaches this from another perspective, informed by the needs of activities such as a) debating (say) public policy on such as sending warm squishy bodies into harm’s way and b) reaching a decision on such as (say) what sort of blade servers to buy.

What I’m thinking of isn’t just a new sort of forum. Imagine a social/interactive way of accessing *say* the NYTimes’ archives, or CIAO net (“Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) is a comprehensive source for theory and research in international affairs.) My reply to Leo was an attempt to set that out:

As I described it today (to a friend who teaches theology but is primarily interested in community building) while doing primitive IT for a resource center, creating presentations having to do with international trade, development, and global poverty, I found that I was communicating a very small set of concepts while using rhetoric (skilful presentation, rather than sophistry) to persuade and convince. In short what I was doing could not be described as education. And, given my motivation (our present form of democracy is the least-bad option) that bothered me.

I’ve been gnawing at this since ’75. As I described it today (to a friend who teaches theology but is primarily interested in community building) while doing primitive IT for a resource center, creating presentations having to do with international trade, development, and global poverty, I found that I was communicating a very small set of concepts while using rhetoric (skilful presentation, rather than sophistry) to persuade and convince. In short what I was doing could not be described as education. And, given my motivation (our present form of democracy is the least-bad option) that bothered me. When I think of the billions of words churning cyber-space … the idea that we don’t have effective participation or discussion bothers me still.

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