Tag Archives: Project Cybersyn

Radical information literacy, “domestic “violence and absolute control

Went to something on “radical information literacy.”  The questions are Who knows things,  how to know things/find them out, how to critique sources and figure out when they are being manipulated by friend or foe? Et cetera.   At least it flags up that a simple “information deficit” model is grotesquely inadequate for explaining why we are numb in the face of pile of debris growing skywards in front of us.

Apparently the big thinkers in this are Professor Louise Limberg and Doctor Annemaree Lloyd.  The latter talks about “information landscapes” which may or may not mesh with the Multi-Level Perspectives formulation of landscapes, regimes and niches, I dunno.  Me, I have grown to think in terms of battle-spaces.  And psywar.  And the deliberate creation of ignorance (aka “agnotology”).

Inevitably old Jurgie-babes (Habermas) and  his instrumental/communicative rationality came up.  His “ideal speech communities” didn’t.  When they do I always want to say ‘mate, the bourgeoisie didn’t mean all this guff about human rights; they just needed the poor as shock-troops against the old aristocracies. Deal with it.”

Right, so what has this got to do with “domestic” (1) violence?  Information literacy is about dialogue, the questioning of definitions of reality and (therefore) ultimately, power.

And violence is about power (pace Arendt -(2).  This from a brilliant and horrifying article “Home Truths,” by the journo Jess Hill, about Australia and domestic violence (going up)

We reach for these excuses because the alternative – that hundreds of thousands of Australian men have chosen to inflict diabolical cruelty on their partners – is almost inconceivable. Men’s behaviour change programs don’t treat perpetrators for anger problems, because anger management doesn’t work. The violence isn’t an overreaction, it’s a tool – one of many that abusers can use to exert control over their wives and girlfriends….

“People really struggle to understand that for family violence to be present, there are two key attributes to it. One of them is that one party is in fear of the other. The other is that the abuser uses a planned, systematic approach to remove a person’s confidence, support networks and independence in order to highlight their own power and control within the relationship” [says Annette Gillespie, the head of Victoria’s Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.]

Most people have arguments with the person they love. It’s normal to feel jealous, say things you regret, even scream the house down. It only becomes domestic violence when this is bent towards controlling the other person, in a way that provokes fear.

Power. Silencing. Violence.

proyecto_cybersyn1Perhaps as well as citing the 1970s (3) (Cees Hamelink 1976 “An alternative to news.”) we also need thinking about what happened to earlier efforts at communicative dialogue and power attainment under, ooh, Maggie Thatcher’s favourite Latin American dictator, Augosto Pinochet.  He and his mates crushed the Cybersyn experiment of Stafford Beer et al, which put forward the shocking idea that maybe we didn’t need the rigid hierarchies, and that working class people might be able to self-manage….

Two more quotes and then I am done.

First from William Gibson

..Harwood blinks. ‘It’s what we do now instead of bohemias,” he says.
“Instead of what?”
Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of  industrial civilization in the two previous centuries. They were where  industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconcious R&D, exploring  alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large. And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated. But they became extinct.”
“We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters. They went the way of Geography in general. Autonomous zones do offer a certain insulation from the monoculture, but they seem not to lend themselves to  re-commodification, not in the same way. We don’t know why exactly.”‘
William Gibson, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.

Then from psychologist Carl Rogers, talking to a businessman whose company had set up a ‘flat hierarchy’ factory.

He told me that while the experimental plants continue to do extremely well, and he feels pride in the work he has done with them, he regards his work with the corporation as a failure. The top management, though appreciative of the increased profits and good morale of the experimental plants, has not moved to follow this model in their other plants, even though it appears evident that overall profits would be increased.

“Why not?” I inquired.

His answer was most thought-provoking: “When managers from other plants look closely at what we are doing, they gradually realize how much of their power they would have to give away, to share with their employees. And they are not willing to give up that power.” When I stated that it appeared that power over people was even more important than profits­ which are supposed to be the all-­important goal in industry­ he agreed.

Carl Rogers and H. Jerome Freiberg Freedom to Learn 3rd Edition page 372

Hope (4), eh? Oh well.  And forty plus years later, we are heading for the not-so-great acceleration and the  Panspectron.  Hohum.

I left the thing early, mostly because of the widening gap between theory and practice.  There was a time I used to get angry about that stuff, but now I am either resigned to it or more compassionate (poor poor humans.  Apes with opposable thumbs, gods that shit. Oscillating between the two)


1.  To quote a friend on facebook – “I don’t like the term ‘domestic’ it implies some kind of loophole, a get out clause, it’s a right of property or possession, and therefore it fails to attract the same kind of criminal sanction as assault, GBH or worse. Such conceptual terminology is important as it reflects the seriousness of how societal norms function and how they are perceived. Change the name and its conceptual nature, how society perceives these crimes and the punishment will follow – its a form of judicial performativity, but their needs to be a will to promote the unacceptable nature of failing protection.”

2. For Hannah Arendt, seriously smart thinker of the mid 20th century, physical force/violence was the antithesis of politics, and politics was about discussion, debate, rationality and all that sort of thing.

3. And because you can never have too much Donald Duck – Ariel Dorfman and How to Read Donald Duck

4. ‘A January 1994 conference of Jesuits and lay associates in San Salvador considered both the narrow and the broad aspects of the state terrorist project. Its summary report concludes that “it is important to explore to what degree terror continues to act, cloaked by the mask of common crime. Also to be explored is what weight the culture of terror has had in domesticating the expectations of the majority vis­-a­-vis alternatives different to those of the powerful, in a context in which many of the revolutionaries of yesterday act today with values similar to the long powerful.” The latter issue, the broader one, is of particular significance. The great achievement of the massive terror operations of the past years organized by Washington and its local associates has been to destroy hope. The observation generalizes to much of the Third World and also to the growing masses of superfluous people at home, as the Third World model of sharply two-­tiered societies is increasingly internationalized…’ Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New page 53

“Technology versus the Leviathan”. But does it need a Leviathan? #innovation #democracy

TLDR: It’s a dilemma that has never gotten old. How do you overthrow an ossified system of control without becoming that same thing? “Met the new boss,” and all that. Or, worse and more likely, you run out of steam, lose heart, your best ideas get “borrowed” and prop up the thing you were trying to get rid of. Or – even more sinister – you do have a liberatory technology that “works” – but there are so many other inhibiting factors that you still can’t get out of the ‘ghetto’.

After posting about Shell and their awfully big ship, I have received, from its author, a stonkingly interesting paper about the history of “participatory technology” experiments in England in the 1970s and 80s (from Lucas, to the Greater London Council). It really is very very rich on a variety of topics. It’s called Technology Networks for Socially Useful Production.

Here’s a quote about how difficult it is to get tacit knowledge and skills shared. There are real cultural/class/gender/age barriers. of which we may be only dimly aware (at best).

Workshop practices, attitudes and expectations needed open reflection to overcome unintended exclusions. GLEB appointed Boards overseeing the networks were accused of having “employed high numbers of technically experienced trade-union men whose language, bureaucratic ways of working and emphasis on the product rather then the community process act to exclude even technically qualified women” (Linn 1987 121). The practicalities of bringing diverse communities together with engineers, machinists, and designers proved considerable. As Mary Moore put it, “You will not find this group coming together naturally after a CND [3] demonstration or a football match, for a quick drink or an exchange of ideas” (quoted in (Mackintosh & Wainwright 1987) (214). Democratising decisions involves the negotiation and resolution of conflicts, between different groups of workers, between producers and consumers, between professionalised expertise and grassroots knowledge, and across other divisions including class, gender and race (Blackburn et al. 1982).

I read that with great interest. Partly for its own sake, but also it so resonates with something I read just yesterday about Wikipedia, the online website that we all know, love, and cite when we want to get in trouble with our supervisors. It’s by David Auerbach, and its called “Encylcopedia Frown.”  As with the Smith paper, you should read the lot.

The encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is at risk of becoming, in computer scientist Aaron Halfaker’s words, “the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semiautomated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.” An entrenched, stubborn elite of old-timers, a high bar to entry, and a persistent 90/10 gender gap among editors all point to the possibility that Wikipedia is going adrift. Because Wikipedia is so unprecedented, I cut it a lot of slack, but precisely for that reason, it faces unanticipated dangers and no easy solution.

Auerbach was trying to get a page about him changed, since it claimed he held views which he most definitely did not. The gory details are very gory. Here’s his summation;

I am not exaggerating when I say it is the closest thing to Kafka’s The Trial I have ever witnessed, with editors and administrators giving conflicting and confusing advice, complaints getting “boomeranged” onto complainants who then face disciplinary action for complaining, and very little consistency in the standards applied. In my short time there, I repeatedly observed editors lawyering an issue with acronyms, only to turn around and declare “Ignore all rules!” when faced with the same rules used against them.

And what seems to be needed? For a Leviathan – a “visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants” – to step up  and to do some Leviathaning.

“I tried to correct the misinformation, several recalcitrant editors attacked me until Wales himself stepped in and saner editors prevailed and fixed the error. (To them, I am grateful.)”

And once you’ve invited the Leviathan in, what are the odds he (it’s usually a ‘he’) will become the new boss?

So the take homes are ;

  • you should definitely read the Smith paper
  • social change is bloody difficult. You have to get almost all of your ducks in a row. You need the “technology” duck and the “social movements” duck and the “how to hold good meetings and begin to create good relationships with busy/poor/disillusioned people” duck and a dozen other ducks you barely know the names. All of them quacking from the same hymn-sheet, flying in formation. Meanwhile, you have to dress each of your ducks in Kevlar, because, as happened in an earlier experiment in socio-technical change and cybernetics, the forces of darkness come in blast away at close range with a shotgun.

And what is to be done? I can’t say it better than Smith, so I’ll quote him

“A key lesson from this history is that radical aspirations invested in workshops, such as democratising technology, will need to connect to wider social mobilisations capable of bringing about reinforcing political, economic and institutional change. Otherwise, as … in the case of Technology Networks, diminished versions of these ideas and practices will become captured and co-opted by incumbents….. Grassroots fabrication needs to link to social movement, just as the Lucas shop stewards and Collective Resource Approach attempted when linking to workers movements. And any cultural shift needs to translate into political and economic reinforcement.”

Further Reading

Two of Cory Doctorow’s novels for young adults – Homeland and Little Brother – are both excellent page-turners, while also highly educative about the possibilities of technologies as a way of linking people, sharing knowledge and abilities.

William Golding Lord of the Flies, natch