requiem for certainty

Archive for November 2010

Our New Age of Information Transparency: The WikiLeaks Cables

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So here we are: CableGate, WikiLeaks, etc., and whatever else it will come to be called.  I propose that we hyperbolically refer to all this as the First Major Event in the New Epoch of Information Transparency.  The story over at the Times offers pretty good reporting (says this amateur reader): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/29cables.html?hp.

But there are (at least) two stories here.  There is the ‘regular’ story about diplomacy, espionage, and political intrigue.  Exciting!  But there is another story, one composed of more humble and quotidian details, which is much harder to tell, but which in this instance is painfully bright for all to see.  This is a story about information transparency, and how the internet is, once again, changing everything.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 29, 2010 at 4:39 am

Participation and Collaboration

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I recently attended a talk at UO by Gardner Campbell, who works on New Media, Lit, & Pedagogy (and more) at Baylor U..  The focus of the talk was why we as educators should take new media, digital technologies, and networking quite seriously.  I am sold, but of course I already bought in some time ago (to the extent that I, then a mere post-doc, and now a mere newly-minted t-t asst. has any purchasing power).

I also applaud Campbell for the way he brings new media tools and projects into his classes.  We are at the stage of initial inquiry with all this stuff.  This means that nobody knows and that it is time for experimentation.  So that’s great.  We need to learn from each other and, as Campbell points out, from our students, too.

Campbell really emphasized the ‘publish it to the web’ approach for harnessing the internet in his classes.  Students, I guess, publish their work to the web, even if just on a blog, etc..  This seems to me useful, but just the beginning.  The talk got me to thinking about what the specific diacritic of emerging internet technopractices might be.  Of course, that’s something I (like to) think about anyway.

But here is one thought.

The internet facilitates new forms of social interaction whereby political, educational, and otherwise social processes work well.  The forms that tend to work well in internetworking are not well-facilitated by traditional models of publication (the coffeehouse, newspaper, and broadcast models).

There is a broader context here in political theory.  At its best, a focus on publicness in terms of ‘publication’ (rather than ‘internetworking’) has historically tended to assume two valences in political theory.  One of those is participation (the ideal dream of democratic theory across the twentieth-century — be it deliberative participation or some other form), and the other is representation (which is a second-best when participation is not possible, or not desired).

My view (for today at least) is that democracy (et. al.) is now best facilitated not by forms of publication, but rather by way of forms of collaboration.  This is not a critique of participation or representation (and it need not be), but rather a claim on behalf of collaboration.

Collaboration may sound strange as a new procedural ideal for, say, democracy, but I believe we are in a position now to see its increasing importance.  Here is my (experimental) claim for today: Collaboration may lead us from the participatory-representative model to an innovative-connective model of politics, society, culture, &c..

Participation is the model of the citizen joining in the efforts of the public sphere.  But there is no public sphere, indeed no public, in internetworked contexts.  The public is no longer given.  Not in advance.  There is, rather, a plurality of publics.  Publics are made.  How to engage?  Not by ‘participating’ in something that is already there.  But rather by ‘innovation‘, which in a collaborative model sometimes (indeed often) means forming new publics.

Representation is what happens when interests need to be made public, yet there is no will (or practical means) to do so via participation.  So then our interests are represented, e.g. by our representatives.  This has long been a subject of severe critique in political theory.  I will not rehearse those critiques here (but nor do I presume them).  What’s new in the internetworked context?  Representation is more difficult than ever, and perhaps more useless.  Here again collaboration supplies a better conceptual model than publication, because the latter presumes a public up-and-running into which one’s interests are translated by a representative medium.  What form does collaboration take instead?  It takes the form of connection.  Interests are connected, not represented.  Mine and yours, and those as yet undreamt of, are woven together not only by us (which involves collaboration), but also by the technology itself and the entire knowledge ecology it sustains (which helps us in those instances where we have no will or means to collaborate).

So. To summarize….

From publication to collaboration.

From participation to innovation.

From representation to connection.

Therein you have a tidy little manifesto of sorts.  I undoubtedly will abandon the manifesto before you have read this.  I am just experimenting.  And where is the harm in that?  If you disagree, please do disagree out loud.  That is just what this medium is good for: collaborative disagreements in virtue of which we connect and may even together innovate.

Written by Colin Koopman

November 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Williams on Internal and External Reasons

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I’m not sure I entirely understand Bernard Williams’s views on internal and external reasons.  Fortunately, I’m not sure that most people who read his work (even publish on it) understand those views either.  (Maybe that’s just further blindness on my part but I think his work is rather more complex than is usually admitted.)  I do think that what I understand of his account usefully connects to some of his thoughts about history and how we can best make sense of ourselves and others.  (I proceed with the caveat that what follows is just notes and ramblings and may well be misguided [but I am committed to using this blog to just experiment more rather than to ‘be right’ or ‘show off’].)

Williams’s views are about reasons for actions and when we take reasons for actions to be explanatory of actions.  Here is a key claim in his 1979 piece on the matter: “nothing can explain an agent’s (intentional) actions except something that motivates him to act” (107).  This is reasons internalism, the idea that reasons for actions are internally related to being motivated to act.  The contrast view is reasons externalism, which suggests that sometimes there are reasons for actions which are normatively binding but which have no internal relations to agents’ motivations.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

Pluralism via Williams

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The first few draft paragraphs of a piece on Bernard Williams I am working on are below.  Also (just to self-advertise) my piece “Bernard Williams on Philosophy’s Need for History” just came out in the last issue of Review of Metaphysics (v64n1, Sept. 2010).

On pluralism and liberalism.  One of the most important, and indeed also most interesting, features of twentieth-century philosophical thinking about politics and morals concerns the increasing centrality of value pluralism for political philosophers working across a range of traditions: analytical, phenomenological, pragmatist, genealogical.  It is not entirely clear why value pluralism should have emerged as a topic of such concern at this time.  Of course, concern over pluralism had always been a feature of modern political philosophy.  But whereas canonical political philosophy in past centuries tends to sublimate pluralism in favor of a given philosophical conception of order or justice, the problem of pluralism itself became canonical over the course of the twentieth century, such that no serious political philosopher can today afford to ignore the problem, brush it aside, or dismiss it as either trivial or easily addressed as a purely practical matter.  But pluralism itself, deep conflict over values or ideals or interests as characteristic of both intercultural political life and intrapersonal moral life, has always been a feature of modern moral life.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 7, 2010 at 4:00 am