working together for social inclusion in America

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Making Amends

Sooner or later, Americans will be forced to confront the now unavoidable choice between continuing to tolerate criminality in public affairs, and restoring the rule of law; the corrosive effects of a criminalized society are simply too great to further endure. As a people, we will either reconcile our differences sufficiently to reconstitute our social, political, and economic relationships, or we will cease to exist as a civil society.

In order to repair our ruined republic, restitution will have to be made by those whose rapacity has ravaged it. There is simply no other way; the price is just too high. Those who have stolen the public wealth must return it in order for us to make restitution to ourselves, to those these criminals have robbed at home and abroad, and to those who've suffered from their aggression. They must pay it back, all of it, with interest and penalties and jail time.

If they refuse, they must be removed from positions of power and privilege, by force if necessary. As criminals they no longer have any right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it is time for them to make amends.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mill U.

Having participated as a host and commenter on several informal academic weblogs over the past couple years, I’ve had the good fortune to meet some promising writers as well as some exceptional unmatriculated scholars of humanities. New to this medium of dialogue, I began to observe some unique pedagogical and communicative characteristics. In the observations that follow, I hope to generate discussion with both distance learning researchers as well as with other online popular education instructors.

Initially, after talking with a fellow presenter at an anti-war teach-in at Western Washington University in November 2002, I began looking for focused online discussions. Shortly thereafter, having left major network news to begin blogging, my new friend—a National Press Club award winner for distinguished online journalism—attracted a significant following with which I was able to present some of the ideas I’d recently had published on activism and social change. Making my way around similarly oriented humanist weblogs, I soon attracted my own following, and a year and a half ago started my own blog.

Comprising the more advanced popular scholars, those I conversed with repeatedly, for the most part, had blogs of their own, and used our elevated personal correspondence and open dialogue as material for initiating discussions with their readers. Many used my blog as a curricular resource, and continue to link to reports, essays, and commentary posted there.

Generally speaking, most commenters on even the more advanced weblogs are not seeking to advance their understanding of social conflict, but rather to use these as outlets to express their frustrations, particularly in regard to their sense of political helplessness. The few that are looking for deeper discussions and recommended reading seem to be those who have already recognized the limits of their comprehension, as well as a notion of how misinformed and poorly educated they are. Once they overcome the initial shock, though, they appear to advance rapidly.

Most of my proteges and students hit a plateau in their thinking, and often disappear from public discussions and private correspondence for a couple months or longer, and then check in with new ideas and problems to surmount. Typically, it is on the degree of systemic social corruption that they have the greatest difficulty (somehow wishing it wasn’t so) and usually require a fair amount of repetition, rephrasing, and anecdotal examples to adequately grasp the context of our criminalized society.

Perhaps unavoidably, many succumb to despair or at least depression, and need assistance in coming to accept the state of affairs and obstacles to putting things right; most are willing to do what they can within that context, but find it hard to imagine suitably productive activities given the spectacularly ineffective nature of conventional activism. I suspect, though, that the largest hindrance to social engagement is their isolation; the bulk of those I correspond with are scattered across the country, and almost universally complain of feeling alone in their communities, unable to locate like-minded residents with whom they can meet in person to talk about what they might collaborate on in their corner of the world.

Part of this isolation is due to the institutional resistance to entertaining new ideas or ways of doing things, which leaves many of my readers cynical about the prospects for meaningful social change, as well as without access to established resources. They can write a letter to the editor or speak at a local event and perhaps encounter others who are similarly concerned, but almost without exception find that all local activist organizations are still stuck in models of engagement unsatisfactory to their enlightened minds, and are often both counterproductive and hostile to those who view reform and moral theatrics as a waste of time. At this point, these scholars undergo some soul-searching, and either return to their studies, discussions, and writing, or abandon the whole social enterprise.

With no academic, social, or economic reward for their efforts, it is only the personal satisfaction of learning and the camaraderie of fellow scholars that sustains them in their transition, and the lack of adequate social network infrastructure leaves them largely adrift. Recognition by co-bloggers and occasional gatherings for the few conferences available to this new milieu are not enough; virtual expression through weblog immersion can lead to network development, but it cannot create or replace community.

Blogging is a means, not an end.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Top View

If you propose fundamental change in power distribution by either initiating a collectively beneficial project in your community or by opposing a collectively harmful one, you will undoubtedly meet other people--some you may wish you hadn't. If you're fortunate, you will encounter someone who has an appreciation for what we call the top view, an understanding of the conflict based on investigative research.

The tangible project I'm presently seeking support for is found on our special purpose blog Continuity. In a nutshell, we're trying to establish an opposition research learning center with a distance-learning component that could bring together our protector society recruits for face-to-face conferences as well as online discussions in a structured educational format.

We've been working some of this out through our main weblog Skookum with people whom we've met at conferences or through other weblogs. Some participants in our network have been at this for up to forty years, and have valuable lessons to pass on; creating a digital audio-visual library of discussions and interviews would provide a permanent resource for teaching and mentoring whether or not a brick-and-mortar establishment ever happens.

We've offered hardcover Donor Edition copies of our books online to finance this first step.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Free Advice

I was just reading a casual exchange between some British and Portuguese bloggers, and they mentioned how every town and village in their respective countries has citizen's advice centres, where for free people can get help in dealing with government agencies, utilities providers, landlords, and other aspects of life. All done by volunteers with special expertise, this civil society institution seems to fit well with what I've been yammering about here.

They were surprised that I had to ask them what an advice center was.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Civil or Criminal Society?

The UN Development Programme's Bureau for Resources and Strategic Partnerships was initiated in part to provide support to Third World civil society organizations engaged in human development and defending human rights through democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery. Ironically, the one country where promoting accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness by developing capacities of civil society actors to increase political participation and collective action would yield the greatest returns, happens to be the premier First World troublemaker.

Unfortunately, private funding for civil society watchdogs in the US is almost nonexistent, while philanthropy for criminal society lapdogs is profuse.