Habermas Just Blowing Hard?

December 28, 2007

Ping: “War Strategies … for Daily Life?” at VibeWise

/*preliminary draft; do no quote, please and thank-you

When I spend more time on this it will be shorter. heh */

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Habermas blows off question about the Internet and the Public Sphere – November 5th, 2007 by Howard Rheingold

“I think it’s important now to build new theories and not simply to rely on Habermas, who is signalling his ignorance of the meaning of the changes in the infosphere that have taken place in recent decades. He did his part in his time, but the ideal public sphere he described — a bourgeois public sphere dominated by broadcast media — should not be taken as the model for the formation of public opinion in 21st century democracies.”

What I’m going to write is that Habermas’ ideals are so far from being reali-ized that that their validlity and his perfunctory defense of them might seem without basis. My point is that even Web4.0 will fall short because real develop must be orthogonal to the “with this hammer I call AJAX I will hammer every nail” attitude that now dominates.

What has oriented me in these matters is having read (or, more precisely, being in the process of re-reading for the umpteenth time) Habermas’ “discourse ethics” in context of the operational considerations comprised by the OpenAccess project as set out by UBC/PKP’s Prof. John Willinksy.

A fancy toy is just a toy, for all its wonder. “And you shall know them by their uses”, we might say.

At the risk of seeming cynical or bitter or both: where (Oh, please! Do tell me where!) is there to be found the authentic discourse that Jurgen Habermas so skilfully depicted? I’m talking about operational criteria, not just aspirational-goodie-goodie bliss-ninnie light-and-love (by the pound, by the gram, whatevuh) … I mean authentic subjective narrative in discourse. (Two ways … sorry kidz, tweeting is almost 1/2 of that recipe.)

Here’s something I’d like to be corrected on: from both my studies of abhidharma and my practice as a Marxist I’ve bought into “activity conditions consciousness”. (Oh-wooops I left out cog-psych … “schema theory”, yes?) Endless hours of 1st person ejaculation (Think “soliloque” here … get your mind out’a gutter; make some room for the rest of us.) … equally endless hours of 1st person shooter … endlessly peregrinating constructs resulting in a tangle of conceptual fictions and fictional identities. (Nooo, not “personas” … I said identities and I meant identities.)

Discourse … not “discussion”, not “debate”, not just “exchange”. (I happen to love Edge. But to the vast majority of the human race it is effectively hermetic. “In effect” is the watchword of Pomo, please.)

It’s great fun to play fast and loose … sophistry (Think about it … “sophist-icated” … what I call the Marie Antoinette syndrome … like marketing: no need to produce and deliver bread if you can produce a clehvur joke about cake, ehh whot?) … to quip the old-school Zen, a painting of bread does not feed. (Ohhh sure sure, “Man does not live by bread alone”. Go without a coupla meals sometime!)

see also: TimBL on “net” and *shudder* “graph”

Earlier this evening (I took a break after writing the large part of the above; I put up a batch of my best bitter last week and tonight I’m enjoying some of it.) I thought back across my history with communications … a time before SBI (“Soviet-bloc illicits”) and ILS (Integrated Logistics Support) and troposcatter (uhhh … 10KW WiFi huh huh) and, and and … I mean my relationship to the phenomenon itself. I remember as a child gazing into the sky, extrapolating the sun’s movement, and wondering at how this time-piece was so similar and different from the one on the wall above the stove in the kitchen.

I believe it was thinking like that whot allowed me to grok LASER theory in grade 3. It was as though the molecules were communicating with one another, as though ducks scrambling to get into a row. So it was natural, only a few years later, to get into ham radio … watching the 20mtr beam swing towards its great-circle bearing to the distant antipodes … VK2RU, IIRC … Australia. And, in the late evening, knowing that the air around me was filled with uncountable conversations.


So it’s with a bit of a startle that I read, “Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Treating my Facebook community as a public” … ehhh? To treat FaceBook or whatevuh as anything other than public? Isn’t that like putting up a sound-proof wall all around your house so neighbours won’t by mis-chance or mis-deed happen to hear a bit of your commonplace and mundane?

Schema … in large part, barriers against what’s previously been tagged #noise, filtering in what’s salient. But those processes result in valence. I take it as confirmed that most kidz today take as “true” what is pleasant and “untrue” or even “wicked” whatever gives rise to dis-comfort in any sense. Valence … why it matters … and that, dear reader, is for me the heart-essence of discourse. Not “data”, and more than “information”.

Eric Fromm wrote about how a parent who, upon hearing a devestating prognosis regarding a child, is ill who responds by asking about probabilities. It’s more than cost/benefit … and so it’s more than signal/noise (“SNR”, in my business).

But it’s late. And my best bitter, if not actually my best, is very very good.

Front of mind? I miss my old springer spaniel … “Duart’s Mr. Chips” … Chippie … won Canadian Kennel Champion in his first show, he did … and trained himself, he did too. Missing him matters to me … it shows me I still care about the beings in my past. And I daren’t lose that.

–bentrem 00:18 29DEC07


I’ll see your conundrum and raise you a paradox

December 16, 2007

Context: I yesterday post a near-rant in my MozDawg blog; “Silo by any other name would be as …

Give 1000 people 100 communications channels and everybody may have a whole lotta fun but, really, you aren’t goint to get anything done. That ain’t rocket science.

Blogspot (multiple blogs), WordPress (multiple blogs), LiveJournal (2 accounts), FaceBook, MySpace (also 2 accounts), LinkedIn, ITtoolbox, and of course Twitter … I’m registered at more but those are the systems I used most often. What I see is a cloud of activity, 95% of which is buzz … fun, perhaps, and entertaining, to some degree, but basically it’s mostly dissipation.

How many blog comments are some variation on “That’s really good?” and nothing more. I’m bothered by this chaos not because it’s meaningless (It’s chaotic, not random, i.e. it truly is “information rich” rather than being just noise.) but precisely because it’s straining to be meaningful. The success of sites like Digg shows how folk really want to contribute something even if it’s only a vote.

A lovely little post by Charles Arthur at The Guardian presents some very interesting data: “What is the 1% rule?” reads in part,

“It’s an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.[In stats from WikiPedia] 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users.

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo [in “Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers”] points out that [in Yahoo Groups] the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively”.

Arthur ends on what I think a key point: Not just “you shouldn’t expect too much online.” but more: “to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.”

Dynamically stable systems go through chaotic phases after having been perturbed beyond their limits. In my own words, when a system loses its ordering principle then it will come apart and the information it contains will become indecipherable.

Hundreds of millions of people active in tens of thousands of forums and mail lists and blogs … millions of hours of creative time … producing blinding clouds of data and information.

How to order all this without driving out the vitality that makes it valuable? *shrug* I talk about discourse. Maybe someone will actually hear.

My bottom line? If you bring a group of people together and sit them down in a clump, likely you’ll need something like a facilitator to get something going. As Robertson puts it:

“Left unmanaged, this will inevitably lead to the proliferation of hundreds or thousands of collaboration spaces each containing a small subset of corporate content. […] This fragmentation makes it hard to find information published by other areas.”

But take that same group and sit them down around a camp-fire and (Caveman TV rulz!) things seem to sort themselves out.

See also Wisdom of Crowds is Cowardice” at CentralDesktop; “Collaboration Tools – Are Information Silos a Problem?” and “Enterprise 2.0 Letting Hypertext out of its Box” at Traction Software; a think piece by Danah Boyd: “Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life“; “Social Media Meets the Corporation” at ConferenzaBlog; “Collaboration tools are anti knowledge sharing?” by James Robertson; “Putting Enterprise 2.0 In Perspective” by Mike Gotta; Ross Mayfield’s blog

An afterthought: perhaps the web’s churn would be more evident except for the fact that so much of the contents is actually in-formed along a single vector: sales and marketing. If you want to see how it’s running on the IT equivalent of flat tires, try to use it for problem solving!

Lemming bait

December 7, 2007

In a longish article on APML, “Attention Profiling”, MasterNewMedia writes:

“We have reached the point of information hyper-saturation. It can become quite a chore to find relevant content online, when there is so much other information competing for your attention. But by implementing attention profiling, it becomes possible to have the services and websites you visit begin to make suggestions for content that you might be interested in.”

I can’t feel comforted by the thought that darkly secret algorithms are going to steer the masses’ information grazing.

Ground Zero

March 29, 2007

*X-posted from “Participatory Deliberation“*

There is no need, indeed it would be inappropriate, for me to present my thinking concerning “participatory deliberation” as though it is innovative or novel. It is neither. Though the pressing need is not often acknowledged and only seldom addressed, it has been addressed sufficiently well. Today in email conversation a friend pointed me to Dr. Patrick W. Hamlett’s “Enhancing Public Participation in Participatory Public Policy Analysis Concerning Technology: A Report of Two Danish-Style Consensus Conferences” and, typical of the small set of fine papers on the topic, this easily discovered document states things very well:

Deliberation and Policy
“Many commentators decry the paucity of public input in the making of public policy decisions in modern America (deLeon, 1997; Fischer, 1993; Gastil, 2000). The political process is marked by powerful interest groups, campaign finance irregularities, public apathy and cynicism, and declining public engagement with public policy making. A number of serious problems beset public policy making about science and technology in the U.S., including exaggerated deference to experts, public ignorance, and apathy. When we consider both the complexities and the importance of policies concerning science and technology, the absence of informed and thoughtful public input into decision making is all the more troublesome. Not only does such absence undermine the actual democratic character of many policy decisions, the numerous after-the-fact popular resistances to those policy choices only contributes to ineffective and inefficient government (Hamlett, 1992; Kraft, 1990; McAvoy, 1999; Morone & Woodhouse, 1989).” [emph added – bdt]

Let me propose as exemplary the book “Humane Governance: Toward a new global politics“. Richard Falk (Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice at Princeton University) acted as rapporteur on this work and his methodology gives the text a robust clarity. This artifact represents to me the clarity of thought that is achieved by means of rigorous practice; never polemical, it rather forthrightly and frankly presents the problematics of matters that affect us all. Its systematic presentation could, and should in my estimation, serve as the framework and under-pinning matrix for a thorough explication of our civics, our politics, and our society’s community dynamics.

That such texts exist I take as good news of the finest sort. That it remains yet another book on yet another shelf in yet another library galls me personally, as an engaged individual, as a citizen. Of what value are truths if they are not impressed onto our situation, when they do not light even slightly the often dark surrounds of our concerns and worries?

Computers exchange data; human beings communicate information. When we become wet-ware spreadsheets the word “humane” will lose the last of its traction. So long as that is not absolutely the case the moment requires of us the self-interest that fires the engine of democracy and the emancipation project itself. Whatever bliss can be derived from complacent ignorace seeds our doom, perhaps even as a species. Since we are more than thralls our society demands more than material sufficiency; because we are people we need more than mere survival. Our many cultures and many wisdom traditions call us to thrive. A computer’s data quite properly sits, static and still. Human knowledge still and static disappears like the imprint of a bird in the sky: we are called up to strive for wisdom because our personal situations require us to engage our surrounds and, as individuals with only slight base for confidence, to act.

Who of us has not experienced having an entirely logical conclusion with a feeling of indignity, as though machine-logic has diminished us? That something is factually so is of import only in that it has consequences; as a society the consequences that matter most are those that people care about. Because people care, it is important; that’s the minimal standard of democracy. Short of abuse by the majority, that most people say “Nae!” or “Aye!” carries the day: we have recourse to no higher power. Would we have it otherwise? Would we will ourselves into heartless servitude? Few would. The point is this: the community that disregards and devalues individuals’ subjectivity is a machine state. Truth matters because it matters. The democratic citizen is not required to justify and explain his or her opinion. We as a collective have chosen to be guided by the sum total of our best guesses, by our personal whims, by our individual preferences and predispositions. Far short of a perfect system, it is the best we have.

What matters matters because it matters. Is this foolish? It can be, but it is not wrong. It is elementally correct, necessarily, and it need not necessarily be foolish: even the humblest can entertain aspirations to freedom, and justice, and harmony. Even the greedy and ambition are not always and inevitably hostile and malevolent. The spirit of wisdom can arise in a moment of fatigue and frustration, or in a moment of heady exhilaration … our best angels work on a schedule of their own.

Say, then, that some individuals take up the challenge and set out to explore others’ feelings with regards to the day’s actualities … taxes, school funding, respect of non-traditional religious practices … would they do so in some science fiction fantasy world or would they engage the plumbing of our societal infrastructure? They might write pamphlets (a timeless technique), they might write a letter to the editor of their local papers (an option not universally available), they might campaign in the streets and coffee shops. Likely some would make use of the World Wibe Web, the most public aspect of the internet complex.

Individuals with a certain confidence and a certain aptitude and certain abilities blog. They might log the artifacts they discover (the historical root is, after all, “web logging”) or they might essay as though in a diary. What percentage of blogs receive comments on anything like a routine basis? 5%? 2%? At best it takes the humble steadiness and conviction that supports self-expression; at worst it’s solipsism and narcissism. But does it engage one’s peers the way expression would in the day where the camp-fire was the source of support and solice and learning? Not even slightly.

Commonly individuals find their way to one of the many online forums. Who, experienced, has come away with an optimistic take on those venues? Flames, arguments, insults, attacks, abuse, noise, clamour, confusion … not always, certainly, but often, if not typically. But let’s pretend the very best, something along the lines of OpenDemocracy.net or SlashDot or Daily Kos. Giving credit where credit is due, what comes of it? A few exchanges, perhaps an encounter with a kindred spirit … the transience of some chance meeting, along with the momentary satisfaction of having had one’s say.

As I have written elsewhere and frequently: hundreds of thousands of people spending millions of well-intentioned hours in tens of thousands of forums producing, usally, more heat than light. And the nuggets? The close arguments and the clear debates? Lost … “siloed” … no more than data in storage. Yes, slightly discoverable through search engines … inchoate and in excess. But static, still, and passive. What is the value of a book unread? What is the effect of a finely met argument stored and silent?

It is within our power to aggregate and integrate the systems that meet individual citizen’s mundane activity in a way that promotes the best and finest. Let the democratic debate establish which are “right”. Since we cannot even agree on material facts it isn’t likely that we will soon or quickly reach concensus on the truths that matter to us as individual persons. But it is the practice of that effort that makes us community, that validates and acknowledges our individual worth, that confirms us as thinking beings. In the fairness of social exchange we ratify our most basic democratic principles; in the valuation of the subjective we confirm our humane dispositions.

What do you think? What has been thought? How has that been expressed? What are the dominant views? How do they fail to accord with common sentiment? What matters?

Information is data that matters. “6” is just a number. “6 feet if water in the stream” is a statement of fact. “There’s 6 feet of water in the stream and it floods at 7” is a statement that cuts into the flesh of human concern.

Our minds are not spreadsheets; we are not computers. We matter because it matters to us. Just why someone persists in his abuse concerns me; just why a person self-destructs with drugs, perpetrating acts of petty theft daily, that also concerns me. Just why some distort the fabric of human society to maximize their power and control also concerns me. If I do not “jaw, jaw, jaw” I will “war, war, war”. And that’s necessarily the case unless I resign into apathy and cynicism.

I could buy my groceries from vending machines. I would rather buy them in a market, from people. It gives me the opportunity to manifest my humanity. And that matters to me. I can’t say with absolute confidence that it’s a good thing, but I think it is. And that matters to me too.

Pablo Neruda
Born to be Born
We believe in peace and will knock at every door to seek the kingdom of peace. We desire peace among men and will wait for it just as pilgrims wait to find water along their route to recover the strength they have lost. As far as I was concerned, whenever a door was opened to me I went in. I wanted to talk with everyone. I was not afraid of contamination by an adversary or an enemy. And I shall keep these dialogues going.They are inexhaustible; in all conflict there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the light of understanding can filter in from both ends.

Extract from a speech delivered on 8 April 1968 at the Municipal Theatre of Santiago on the occasion of the presentation of the FrCdkic Joliot-Curie medal to Pablo Neruda

Jean Baudrillard, dead March 7th.

March 26, 2007

*thanks to Jahsonic for the heads up; it’s news to me. see his site: “Truth“*
Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007 (obituary at Guardian); Remember Baudrillard (profile at InsideHigherEd.com)

“Yes, hyper-scepticism. Intellectuals must stop legitimizing the notion that there is some “ultimate truth” behind appearances. Then, maybe, the masses will turn their backs on the media and public opinion management will collapse.” –Baudrillard

We tell one another false storie, in order to get away with stuff, in order to manipulate others, in order to get something we don’t rightly believe … lots of reasons.

“Truth”, quite aside from what the great powers will tell you, is based on the stories we tell one another. Truth is what we say it is.

Yes of course rocks are hard, not soft … and cielings are up, not down … those are matters of fact. But the truths we care about … those are the product of us as people, living our lives, truth is what we make of our experiences.

There’s lots of falseness around and that will always be, until we cleanse ourselves entirely of pathology, which ain’t likely. But I suspect that what poxes us more gravely is a shortage a mere simple truth. And that’s up to us.

So much heat, so little light!

March 26, 2007

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. Read the rest of this entry »