My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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pre-election cynicism

When i used to bitch and moan in high school or college, my mother would often tell me to shush up and enjoy because “these are the best times of your life.” I used to snort at this comment in the same way that i used to roll my eyes whenever she started anything with “when i was your age…” or when she’d tell me that she understood. Yes, i was that pre-emo child who thought that no one could ever understand.

I imagined the future to be filled with opportunities. I counted the days until my 16th birthday when mobility would finally be mine! I anxiously awaited my 21st birthday so that i could feel legitimate without Photoshop and a printer. And i always thought that 25 was the last hurdle because then i could actually rent a car without paying an extraordinary fee. One of my main goals in growing older was the ability to access the world of scholars, politicians, press, businesspeople… i wanted entrance to the world of intellectuals who held so much power, who seemed so brilliant. All told, i haven’t done too badly. I’ve met so many people who traffic in knowledge, power, and fame. The problem is that they haven’t lived up to my fantasy of what they should be like.

As a girl, i genuinely believed that politicians had to be unbelievably brilliant. I thought that academic life was all about the pursuit of knowledge. I believed that the media was comprised of people who were determined to get truthful information to the masses regardless of whatever barriers. I believed that companies succeeded because they were the best. Although i never believed that people really started out on equal footing (it was clear to me from an early age that my friends of color got shafted and that i had to out boy the boys), i thought that meritocracy actually meant something. I truly underestimated the degree to which greed and self-interest control so much of society. Then again, i could never understand why people committed violent against against others unless they were sick. I failed to realize how unaware people are of their contribution to a broken system.

As my cynicism grows, i think of my grandmother. I used to always giggle about how she would turn off her hearing aid whenever the family started speaking badly against the church or against anything that she believed. My grandmother has an amazing ability to only see the positive side of things. I used to think that this was ridiculously anti-intellectual, but i’m beginning to appreciate her POV; regardless, her positivism has kept her alive for a very long time.

It’s election time in the States. I’ve been adamant that voting matters but i have to admit, i’m having a hard time really believing myself. I was listening to NPR discuss how the 2000 gerrymandering would effect this election and i started to cry. Recently, i met with a national politician whose views closely are aligned with mine. In our conversation, he exposed many of the concessions he has to make, actions he has to take because of how they look to his constituents not because they are best for his constituents. I know painfully well how people mis-interpret every word he says, every expression. He has to get elected based on impressions, not based on what’s really good for America. To say that DC is about political theater is an understatement. ::sigh::

A few weeks ago, i was talking with a media reporter about how she had to propose every story she wants to cover and if it’s not in the paper’s interest, they don’t cover it. She has to conform to her impression of their mandate. And then i opened up the New Yorker to see an ad for Ted Koppel on “The Price of Security” and i thought about how we no longer have the likes of Murrow and Cronkite, Koppel and Brokaw on our daily news. The correspondents are simply faces, not reporters. They must play by the norms of media organization. When i saw the wire report that Stewart/Colbert would not be running, i had to agree with Stewart: “Nothing says ‘I am ashamed of you, my government’ more than ‘Stewart/Colbert for 08’.” How is it that a news comedian is the only major reporter that is challenging the status quo when it comes to media? In many ways, i know the answer… freelance has killed reporting freedom. ::sigh::

At a benefit for Darfur this week, someone asked me if i would like to be introduced to Murdoch. I had actually been watching him and reading his lips for a half hour while trying to find my friend. I politely declined although i stood around while people i know talked to him. What could i say to him? Why did you do this to media? I know the answer… it makes economic sense. I mean, Fox News needed to cover the Foley scandal but it couldn’t do it in a way that would go after the Republicans so why not call Foley a Democrat, right? Then in my stewing, i started wondering why Murdoch was at a Darfur benefit. Did he really care or was it a business proposition? My questioning this made me sad. ::sigh::

In the last month, out of academic duty, i blind reviewed over 20 academic articles for various venues. For the first time in a review cycle, every article i was given was related to something that i was knowledgeable about; i knew all of the citations and in many cases, i had done similar work. I was horrified to find that three of those included danah-isms (weird fucked up/made up turns of phrases) without credit; i was also surprised to see one argument that followed the exact logic of one of my blog posts and another that had arguments that i’ve given during talks (complete with the same citations). I swallowed my pride and reminded myself that the reason that i engage publicly is because i want to get knowledge out there. Without publishing my material, i must not be surprised that others will do so instead and take credit. I couldn’t even bring myself to reference myself in the review because it would be so obviously from me. I tried to tell myself that maybe it was just coincidence. Even when i couldn’t convince myself of that, i tried to think of when a friend’s dad told her that whoever had stolen her car probably needed it more than she did; she could simply get another. And then, to my horror, i came into a situation where, for political purposes, i was not able to give credit in my own publication to someone who deserves credit. I still can’t figure out how to deal with that. But it has all made me realize that the incentives behind publications and the politics behind credit are so messed up that i feel embarrassed to be a part of that system. I know that i build arguments on the shoulders of giants and so much about publishing (academic or not) is about taking credit whenever possible (often to get grants/jobs). But still, it breaks my heart to see academia incentivized by external structures rather than a pursuit of knowledge and the desire to share it. ::sigh::

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a marketing organization spin a story based on problematic data. I should’ve read it like i read every USA Today Poll. But it definitely hit me as i think about the polling that is happening for the election. There’s no transparency in method, no transparency in data, no ability to really get at the flaws. In the last election, people foolishly believed the polls so they didn’t vote because they thought it didn’t matter. This all pissed me off but then i crumpled when i found out why an organization might validate inaccurate data that they know is inaccurate: it makes them look good. ::sigh::

Businesspeople, academics, press, politicians… All have destroyed my utopian fantasy of what intellectual life is supposed to be about. People are driven by money, by fame, by power. Of course, many have good intentions and those beliefs and hopes often work as a check and balance. Unfortunately, the institutions that have taken over have no such moral qualms. Corporations need to make money for their stockholders. All other systems are becoming corporations or corporate-driven. Political structure requires politicians get elected… which requires money… which requires corporations. Academia survives on grant money… which requires government (which requires corporations) or corporations directly. Media, well media has already become a corporation.

Mom was right. Life was far more fun in high school and college before my mythical ideals were shattered. There, i could believe in the moral high ground. I never really believed that man is basically good (hell, i got kicked out of class in 9th grade for arguing against it), but i didn’t really get how crowds of good individuals could really go wrong. I guess i should’ve given how much i’ve argued that Milgram’s experiment is more about everyday life than Nazis. But still, i wanted to believe that something could be done. Back then, i had infinite energy to fight injustice. But honestly, now, i’m exhausted.

How did we get here? How do we turn it around? It’s so much easier to tap into people’s fears, greed, and ignorance than it is to help them do good even when it’s hard. I have to admit that i’m really tired of fighting and anomie is creeping in like a dark cloud. I just want to wake up tomorrow and see the world do good by itself.

Anyhow, i have so many other complex and confusing thoughts going through my head but i’ll spare you. I’ve babbled too long but i wanted to explain my absence and confusion these last couple of weeks. And to ask you to help me regain at least one of my fantastical views of intellectual life: that voting matters. Deadlines to register to vote are appearing in every state soon. Please register. Please vote. And please help me try to believe that collective action can do good in at least one way. I don’t know if it can and i admit that i’m as disillusioned as most folks. But i do want to try. Cuz really, i don’t think that i can stomach another stolen election. And maybe if we can turn this around, we can turn around all of the other aspects of society that are disintegrating before our eyes. We have to have some hope, no?

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27 comments to pre-election cynicism

  • darling… damn this electronic long distance communication ’cause i wish i could just give you a hug. Since I can’t though, i might as well just tell you a story. I’ve never been one much for political activism exactly for the reasons you describe and maybe because i was brought up in a system that was so much worse that i never really had any faith in government or business to begin with. Yet in these elections that are coming up, I have been trying to get all my friends to vote because right now, in PA, this is one of the most important elections in AGES. More important even, I think, than the presidential election of two years ago. This is because I think that the man who is the incubent, should be metaphorically shot on sight for being so purely evil. The democratic candidate is certainly no saint and a part of me totally rebels about voting for him because i don’t know what will happen from putting a pro-life uber-centrist democrat in senate, but nearly ANYONE (even my cat) would be better than the incumbent.

    If this evilness can be thrown out of senate in two weeks, I will celebrate and, I think I might gain a little more faith in the world. It’s not a big thing, but it is important.

  • Rich Kilmer

    If you hold to a truth as right and good, pursue that truth. Don’t do it for the effects it has, because it may not produce those effects and if that is your motivation you will stop acting. People may not respond positively to your actions, but that does not make it less right or good. Don’t be dissuaded by the actions of others but rallied by your own actions as judged by your personal belief in truth. Someday the truths you hold to may be challenged by someone else, an event beyond your control or acquiring new knowledge. Be open to those challenges and reform your thinking. We all err and even the very truths we think unshakable may be wrong. While we hold to them, however, act as if they are absolute. You are a very insightful and honest person and I look forward to your every post.

  • jkd

    “How did we get here? How do we turn it around?”

    We’ve always been here. And we turn it (though I wouldn’t say around – a few degrees is the best we can do) the same way that people have always done it: by just. Frackin’. Doing it.

    We’ve come a long way in the last hundred years, with enormous increases in human rights and dignity for so many. And it was also a terrible century, bloody and unjust for so many.

    It’s been a really, really bad six years. And it’s also been an amazing six years. Six years ago I was still such a n00b that I thought John McCain was a good guy – and thanks to the liberating power of Teh Intarwub (seriously though), I am seriously and permanently disabused of that notion. That’s progress, even if it’s just an N=1 sample.

    After being in New York two weeks ago, I was thinking a lot about my relatives and ancestors from New York. From stories I’ve heard and experiences I had, I know that many of them were wonderful and amazing and intelligent people and some were also at the same time real, er, pieces of work. And as was common among Eastern European Jewish immigrants of the late-19th and early-20th century, many became deeply and fiercely committed to the labor movement and social democratic ideals. It was a long series of awful battles – but battles that the good guys did end up winning, victories which were central to the prosperity of the past two generations. It’s a history that I strongly and proudly associate myself with.

    And now so many of those victories have been reversed, and so many of those victories’ beneficiaries are entirely unaware the battles ever happened, many having been convinced to support the rolling back of their own rights and prosperity.

    So, it sucks. Just as it sucked for our parents’ generation for so many reasons, and their parents’ for so many more.

    Government is, I believe more firmly than ever, the collective expression of a society’s ideals. And right now, those who hold our ideals of equal opportunity, fair play and compassion for one’s fellow-humans have been beaten – rightly and wrongly, justly and unjustly, fairly and unfairly, legally and illegally – by a band of shallow hucksters of a type who have led many a nation (ours included, at many or most times in our history) for many a year in our strange history.

    We do have hope, danah, because we can always make tomorrow better than today; and if we fail – rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, fairly or unfairly, legally or illegally – we can work on making the next day better, too.

  • mrc

    Very powerful. Very true. Thank you for writing this, for sharing yourself and your life and your thoughts. This is the new academy. I see your post here as a publication of great importance, advancing not just our knowledge but our honesty about the world. We don’t need the institutions of academia (corrupt or not) to participate in the pursuit of truth. Thank you for proving that.

  • when i was younger and similarly idealistic, i wanted to be either an academic or a politician. i too thought that both fields held truth as their ultimate value and that our research and political institutions had the Good of the People as their primary concern. since then, i have learned differently, since then i have read the news every day and worked with “experts”, and have come to the pretty much the same conclusions that you have. i now no longer have an interest in becoming either part of the political machine or paying wads of cash to an educational institution just to get a piece of paper to help me get a job working for some org that will disappoint me in the end. my feeling grows stronger every day that grassroots movements and independent, street-wise intellectualism are far more effective in causing change, and no longer expect to go to graduate school.

    there is hope, but unlike some who still believe “change comes from within” in terms of politics, i think it lies more on those who’ve been pushed to the outside. still, i vote, and i encourage everyone to vote, even if it does sometimes seem like a waste of time. i don’t like feeling like a pawn, and voting day always gives me that impression. however, i do believe that if everyone with a voice were counted, it would be a whole different ballgame, so thank you for encouraging people to participate, even if it seems like the game’s been rigged. you never know. there is hope.

  • You said “cynicism” — I started to worry that it was a suicide note, or something from an extreemly depressed person! Irina is right. Start with friends, and get some of your faith back. It is certianly depressing, but we still have the ability to challenge the way things work — and we should. I would never advocate giving up everything for “the cause” (though certian people certianly do, claiming this is the most important thing in the world) — but spending some effort on changing the world is worthwhile and, every now and then, it feels good! The rest of the time make sure you do stuff you like — like your research. And stay sane. 🙂

    I’m also an academic — in physics. There was a recent pre-print submitted that cited a blog posting. So that sort of thing can happen. My suggest is to wait for the paper to be published, and comment, on your blog, that, yes, it is good to see your ideas validated in print. When you give a seminar mention it as well if it is on topic.

    By putting your ideas out in the wild — on your blog — you are doing the right thing. The person who takes your arguments uncited is the one doing the wrong thing.

    So keep it up!

  • Michael Chui

    mrc, I respectfully disagree. Some of the institutions of research, knowledge production, and the pursuit of truth are and remain the hallmarks of universities across the world. I think it is a good thing that more and more people pursue truth, but the traditions of academia are not wrong; do you really think that anywhere is safe and sacred from the political bickering that occurs? Hardly. You see such fights echoing across the blogosphere all the time.

    I speak as an undergraduate senior.

    Tonight, after reading danah’s post, I put on “V for Vendetta” and watched it all the way through (though not entirely attentively). It is the final scene which consistently appeals to me; it has long renewed my faith in humanity and democracy, that people can, will, and should be moved to do great and good things.

    I still have my naive ideals and mythic dreams. I cherish them all the more every time I regain them after a cycle of disillusionment. They provide for me guidance and direction, hope and faith, life and love. Simply because they are out of reach does not mean I or society should not strive towards them.

    My advice, to people in general, is to quote Joseph Campbell. I have decided, ultimately, that my final resting place will be in the realm of education. And for the rest of my life, I will be depending on others to provide the research, funding, support, and clout for me to achieve my ambitions to Change The World (TM). This is my bliss, and I urge others to wade through the mire and morass of human fallibility to disclose the light and brilliance of human capability in their own respective fields and labors.

    My name is Michael Chui, and I approve this message.

  • James

    There is a movement I’ve seen saying that you should not just register to vote, you should register as an independant [1] in order to register your disgust with the “best congress money can buy” state of affairs.

    [1] As an Australian, I don’t understand why you need to state your party affiliation … then again I’m all in favour of compulsory voting as we have here. That combined with an independant (employees are not allowed to be members of any political party), national electoral commision to decide electorate boundaries prevents gerrymandering, targeting of advertising (since all votes matter) and pandering to niche voters with dog whistles.

  • zala

    Most people arent born with a need for truth or a desire to improve their understanding and interaction with the world, so will believe anything that improves their own welfare, as long as it feels good.

    And they will never search for reality.

    (well thats my opinion/asshole anyway)

  • Jeff Larche

    Thank you for so eloquently expressing what I’m feeling as the November elections approach. A book that transformed my understanding of management was Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, describing the ideal “learning organization.” It did a wonderful job of explaining how there are no “bad” organizations, just ones with “learning disabilities.”

    The same goes for governments. And ours right now has so many systems working in conflict with each other that I fear for its ability to adapt and prioritize in the way it serves citizens and behaves as a global participant.

    Thank you for speaking from the heart. I have voted in every election since the Mondale / Ferraro presidential ticket (such idealism! such energy!), and will continue to vote my conscience. But I am also meditating deeply on how else I can make a difference, as this country and the world get worse instead of better in nearly every imaginable way.

    This blog entry has helped me to clarify my feelings and redouble my determination to do something — anything — that can in some way make things better.

  • Jon Moter

    Sorry to hear you’re hurting, my dear.

    I’m sure you’ve heard the quote that a cynic is a disillusioned idealist. You’ve always cared so damn much, and it’s always impacted you so deeply when your values are crossed. It’s a really beautiful thing about you.

    And I’m sorry it causes you such pain.

    ::hug::

  • All I’m gonna say is that I watched your ibiblio lecture at Chapel Hill and you’re a fucking rock star. Don’t start doubting your idealism now, not when Boing Boing readers like me are just getting hip to your thing!

    Your politician friend isn’t driven by money, though he may need it sometimes. You aren’t driven by grant money, though you may need it sometimes. The system may suck, but there are always people who use it only as much as is necessary instead of milking it for every last drop. And those people, like yourself, like those you clearly call friends, are all you need.

    One thing in particular: the person whom you could not credit in your publication though they clearly deserve it. The system of credit is, indeed, a nasty bit of politics. Can you not do a workaround challenge? Can you not… blog it? Don’t think lemons into lemonade, think jujitsu.

  • I was thinking about a comment while reading the post in my reader. Then i’ve seen all the comments already there. So i will make it simple ….. I love the dahna-ism/dahna-point of life.
    😉
    PS: I pay tribute for identity but forgot for attention. But I just fixed it.

  • I’m a new reader, just recently found you and wanted to let you know I added you to my blogroll. Please let me know if you would rather I didn’t. I really enjoy your blog, especially your writings on gender and sexuality.

  • Danah, we hear ya. And while I’m only an observer from Canada we have our own related as well as unique issues, I like to think that we may have a chance to change the world if we can work on methods for collecting and sharing information, and making it easily comprehensible through measurement and visualization. We the people just don’t have the information we need at our fingertips, in any useable way at least. We should be able to build into policies the intrumentation required to determine their effectiveness. The technology is here, we just need the will of the people to ask for transparency and accountability. And while things might need to get worse before that happens, at some point there will be a point at which enough folks are fed up that such revolutions to approaching problems are possible. You’re a key part of this and you help a lot of us believe there is hope to finding new and useful ways of social interaction.

  • I’d like to comment on something that jumped out from the page at me.
    You open with the statement of your mother about “these are the best times of your life.” Later on you come back to it saying that she was right.

    The ‘this is the best time of your life’ statement is often made at unhappy teenagers – and I think it’s a very very dangerous thing to say. Because, thank heavens, for most it is most certainly not. Of course, within a very narrow band of definition, like the idealism you refer to here, it might be.
    But for most teenagers the (high)school years are full of uncertainty, bewilderment, unhappiness. With a body and a brain shaken up by hormonal changes, a social umfeld which is highly darwinistic and demands made by parents, educators, friends and society, many barely manage to hang on. Some do not manage. And while you are feeling all these mixed and often negative emotions, parents/aunts/uncles/teachers tell you ‘hey, this is the best it’s ever going to get’. In other words, it’s only getting worse from here on.
    Alas, that is enough to push some over the edge. No need to detail that one out.
    For many people, luckily, life actually gets a lot better once school is out 🙂

    And the nice thing is, that once you become a bit more experienced and (yes) jaded, you find a lot more ways of reconciling some of your idealism with the realities of the world, and find more balance and personal reward that way.

    There are actually a lot more good people out there then it may seem at first sight – the main problem is that our system is designed such that those with the highest drive for power rise to the top. Often those are the same most susceptible to corruptive influences. This gives a bit of a ‘statistically skewed’ picture. I dont know how to do it better though.

    Thanks for this post, that will get many people to think about things a little more intense.

  • I’m sorry that you’re feeling the cynical tide sweeping over you. I’ve felt it too — and sometimes I wonder if it isn’t all part of the engineering of apathy that helps to reinforce the status quo. But that’s not just cynical, that’s paranoid.

    I’m shocked at your reviewing experiences, though. Just because you haven’t published, doesn’t mean that other people can plagiarize your ideas without credit. It is possible to cite a weblog entry or a speech. I really, really hope that you pull those items out again, and draw your concerns to the attention of the conference organizer or journal editor who requested the reviews. To use someone else’s neologisms, or the entire organization of their argument, is plagiarism, whether intentional or simply sloppiness. It deserves comment, not because you are the offended party, but because citing sources is one of the bedrock principles of academe.

    Really. Pull out those three pieces again and email or call the person who gathered the reviews. They deserve to know, and they’ll be grateful to you for not rolling over and tolerating the sloppiness.

  • Good God Danah – look at all of the supportive comments you have gotten.

    Obviously, your vision is sound and good. You know that and everyone else knows that.

    A true leader is no one other than a person with a strong vision. All a leader has to do is communicate that vision so that people can understand it, and then take action on it.

    From the support you have in the comments above, you already have a community of people who also believe that your vision is good and sound. Many have even embraced your vision as their own.

    Who cares if everything isn’t right today? Who cares if all the problems we face are overwhelming us? Who cares if *everybody* doesn’t understand?

    We don’t care about all of that because we see a path to utopia through you. We know that you have your finger on the pulse of our culture from a perspective of truth.

    So it’s time for you to quit complaining about somebody validating your work by copying it. That person will fade into obscurity long before you are gone. Everybody who matters already knows the source.

    I don’t think that you aren’t already a leader. I saw your UNC speech from a couple of weeks ago. Sister, your pop, your style, your culture, your research, your brain, your words all rock. And you commanded the room.

    You now need to start tying together the community that you have built. You need to identify the talents and then send them out to execute your vision in their own special creative way.

    You are very obviously blessed. You need not waste that. You need to spread it around.

    You need to start *doing* now.

    jim

    ******* To the community *******

    AM I RIGHT ABOUT DANAH????? Is she not a leader?

  • danah — I want to respond specifically to your point about reviewing so many pieces that rip you off without credit. As someone who does a lot of reviewing as well, and who serves on several editorial boards, I think it is your responsibility to tell the editors that this is going on. Include the blog posts they’ve swiped. There is nothing wrong with building on others’ ideas, but there is something wrong about doing it without crediting them. Now there are times when smart people independently reach the same conclusions or follow similar lines of thought, but if you’re certain that your work is being lifted, do something about it. Not to is a cynical collusion with the system you’re critiquing. And there is no shame in telling people to read your work in the reviews, the fact that you were sent those pieces to review means that you are considered an expert in that area, the authors of the pieces should know that too.

  • You should run for something. Fight the good fight. I’ll contribute.

  • blueguillotine

    I would consider yourself extremely privileged that your cynicism was not maxed out by the time you graduated from college.

  • tony

    Time to take a perspective (historical) step back and breathe…

    Yes, things are important and things are very wrong but for most parts of this planet,things are much worse and have been for centuries. That should make us more appreciative of what we have(or can lose), which should really make us more interested in our govt. Yet only 25% of us eligible adults do so.

    You can’t fight the ocean but you can sail your boat in the general direction that pleases you:)

  • The world has its own ideas.

    One may be in legitimate hurry but the police on the corner traffic block note only **one thing**. The infraction.

    Like Schoenberg who started with Beethoven’s last string quartets as a **jump off** point, so to do we begin with the **actual existing** infrastructure(material/social) of the human world. And move **from there**.

    But even “structure” carries some baggage with it – thus we’re perhaps better off with the rhio/moss – like term “sociality”.

    One of the titanic meetings of the 19th Century saw the above composer meeting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the highest point in western literature since Shakespeare, in 1810.

    The composer brusquely passed the Archduke while the latter (obsequiously for some) paid tributes with much **savoir faire**. This has fostered much appropriate debate on human proprieties.

    To be fully human, **not** the elevated god or the biblical fire(“the Next Time”), you must stand and **hold** your ground **in between**.

    You must define the terms.

    The origins and benefits of “cynicism” lie in our genes. It keeps us on the propensity from getting too carried away with what another may be excited(high energy) about.

    As far as “waking up to find society good”: some would consul against this(though its origin is entirely noble) as this could perhaps be emblematic of a cyber-culture enthusiasm/”world-on-a-stringism” that thinks society is **just there**(**point and click**) like a fact of nature, when in fact it must be**produced**.

    And it takes an awful lot of “matza balls” to keep a human alive in the “First World”. Near endless material supplies needed. Even us wired surfers need the context of globalization.

    One would be reproved for saying such a thing to you as you’re **in the industry** already; you hardly need to be reminded of that which you know so well.

    Regarding your feeling of “not having the same energy as in yesteryear” to confront grand problems: Society **wrongly** thinks that your contributions and perspective **now** categorically trump earlier ones; – an “ageist” assumption, though in point of fact your work now **resonates** with the “meat and potatoes” of sociality incomparably **more**. The world wants **your time**and more of it… as the skills are rightly deemed **high**.

    Freedom is unloved by people. This is due to our incomparably strong genetic hardwiring towards **closure**. A perception of “opening old wounds” is the first risk to any who wish to bring **change** – however timely and meaningful it is. The old William F. Buckleys(actually a nice and sensitive guy) of the world would, however circumspectly, charge you with this. People are generally quite happy with their lives. And(this is true) there appears to be a **remarkable** degree of political and economic stability in the U.S.(**storm clouds** lurking here – foundations actually quite shaky). The “hotheaded malcontents” are always around like troublesome family.

    An example: http://articles.news.aol.com/news/_a/at-work-nice-is-on-the-rise/20061016135309990017

    Is compliance becoming addictive? I certainly hope not.

    ** I ** respond:

    Most are caught up in the “survival game”(an **astonishing** fact in the American developed world as of 2006!) – and being able to get their head **above** is a necessary prerequisite for at least the potentiality of having one’s background “all set” to pursue social goals that are **supra – self**.

    It is not **them** that is happy but their indoctrinated **social software** that is kosher with the life experience.

    This is a witness to what Blake termed: “Mind – Forged Manacles”.

    It(Freedom) is always to be resisted – but always triumphant.

    It genuinely seemed as if we here in the “First World”(however wrongly) had passed the point where the best intentioned people were **ground up** by disgusting reactionary forces. The last example of this being the Civil Rights Era, and that incredible and moral moment at Stonewall 1969.

    Now once again, it seems as if the prospect of manifest **redefinition** will face the reigning social order – and with it, the price it will extract.

    Society prefers **consonances** and dislikes **dissonance**.

    Down into the depths again..

    (Though this picture paints a little untruth as “identity” exclusion has always ever been with us.)

    Immigration has lost gas. This bespeaks badly of the American electorate to be sure. Lost to consumerism.

    There were programs for turning out droves(re. the marginalized at issue here) to the voting booths but this seems to have petered out into fantasy land, and not panned out at all.

    People(the “staid/solid citizens”) who have the right to vote simply do not want to deal with this lugnut of a **redefinition** of American identity as they are too absorbed and very **well – trained/indoctrinated** in what the world wants them **to be**.

    And the minute you accept the role you’re done.

    Short of a dragnet, which would surely be very unjust, these millions are a permanent part of the **social fabric**.

    The distance that these postings offer may help **a la torque**.

    And truly, health care is the number 1 problem in the USA.

    The ‘viability of systems’ and their extra – relational **to be** is at issue here.

    And to turn to the top of our politics:

    The current chief Executive sees himself in mythological terms. As a “bolting diety and ‘warfather’ of ‘thunder and lightning'” out to right the wrongs in the world. The thing is the presidency actually **allows** you to construct that very grand and stupendous narrative.

    He likes shaking things up(hence his **love** for unfettered global capitalism) but this tends to draw social ire.

    Indeed, nothing other than **theft** explains his being in office. After all, that’s an act not uncommon to gods.

    Governance is to be reminded that it is not **a parent** but **a referee**. A guardian of rules and fairness but **not** the primary player in life.

    It gets the “last slice” in fact. It can only ever be **precise** if it is to be right.

    And the prospect of “eternal conflict of local interests” is accepted as it is almost inhuman to imagine otherwise.

    Humans can only ever assert themselves as ‘atoms in the cosmos’ do.

    Doug Coupland said it best: “There may not be a place for you in the new world order”.

    (He also has many great comments on human “insect-like” behavior; and seas of “selfish silver heads” at slot machines. etc.).

    You provide a fun, yet substantial, perspective. And of course, mastery in your field, at the forefront. Other factors do intrude.

    As the above composer: Seize history(and the day) “by the Throat” and make it give you what you want!

    But the culprit and quarry here is first and foremost(and perhaps **ultimate**) the “enemy within”.

    That can be done on the fly though.

    And there is perhaps, one suspects, and hopes: a “middle, *third* way”.

    Inertia serves the masses most well – and the future may belong to them.

    The context is theirs..

  • Anon

    I feel your pain. I was a progressive once. These battles are not meant to be fought alone. There’s always reason for hope:

    The Real Rosa Parks
    by Paul Loeb

    We learn much from how we present our heroes. A few years ago, on Martin Luther King. Day, I was interviewed on CNN. So was Rosa Parks, by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re very honored to have her,” said the host. “Rosa Parks was the woman who wouldn’t go to the back of the bus. She wouldn’t get up and give her seat in the white section to a white person. That set in motion the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. It earned Rosa Parks the title of ‘mother of the Civil Rights movement.'”

    I was excited to hear Parks’s voice and to be part of the same show. Then it occurred to me that the host’s description–the story’s standard rendition–stripped the Montgomery boycott of all its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had spent twelve years helping lead the local NAACP chapter, along with union activist E.D. Nixon, from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, teachers from the local Negro college, and a variety of ordinary members of Montgomery’s African American community. The summer before, Parks had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate-but-equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign. In short, Parks didn’t make a spur-of-the-moment decision. Rosa Parks didn’t single-handedly give birth to the civil rights efforts, but she was part of an existing movement for change, at a time when success was far from certain. This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of her refusal to give up her seat. But it does remind us that this tremendously consequential act might never have taken place without all the humble and frustrating work that she and others did earlier on. And that her initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as her choice on the bus that all of us have heard about.

    People like Parks shape our models of social commitment. Yet the conventional retelling of her story creates a standard so impossible to meet, it may actually make it harder for us to get involved. This portrayal suggests that social activists come out of nowhere, to suddenly take dramatic stands. It implies that we act with the greatest impact when we act alone, or at least when we act alone initially. It reinforces a notion that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure–someone with more time, energy, courage, vision, or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess. This belief pervades our society, in part because the media tends not to represent historical change as the work of ordinary human beings, which it almost always is.

    Once we enshrine our heroes on pedestals, it becomes hard for mere mortals to measure up in our eyes. However individuals speak out, we’re tempted to dismiss their motives, knowledge, and tactics as insufficiently grand or heroic. We fault them for not being in command of every fact and figure, or being able to answer every question put to them. We fault ourselves as well, for not knowing every detail, or for harboring uncertainties and doubts. We find it hard to imagine that ordinary human beings with ordinary flaws might make a critical difference in worthy social causes.

    Yet those who act have their own imperfections, and ample reasons to hold back. “I think it does us all a disservice,” says a young African-American activist in Atlanta named Sonya Tinsley, “when people who work for social change are presented as saints–so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light. But I’m much more inspired learning how people succeeded despite their failings and uncertainties. It’s a much less intimidating image. It makes me feel like I have a shot at changing things too.”

    Sonya had recently attended a talk given by one of Martin Luther King’s Morehouse professors, in which he mentioned how much King had struggled when he first came to college, getting only a ‘C’, for example, in his first philosophy course. “I found that very inspiring, when I heard it,” Sonya said, “given all that King achieved. It made me feel that just about anything was possible.”

    Our culture’s misreading of the Rosa Parks story speaks to a more general collective amnesia, where we forget the examples that might most inspire our courage and conscience. Apart from obvious times of military conflict, most of us know next to nothing of the many battles ordinary men and women fought to preserve freedom, expand the sphere of democracy, and create a more just society. Of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we at best recall a few key leaders–and often misread their actual stories. We know even less about the turn-of-the-century populists who challenged entrenched economic interests and fought for a “cooperative commonwealth.” Who these days can describe the union movements that ended 80-hour work weeks at near-starvation wages? Who knows the origin of the social security system? How did the women’s suffrage movement spread to hundreds of communities, and gather enough strength to prevail?

    As memories of these events disappear, we lose the knowledge of mechanisms that grassroots social movements have used successfully in the past to shift public sentiment and challenge entrenched institutional power. Equally lost are the means by which their participants managed to keep on and eventually prevail in circumstances at least as harsh as those we face today. As novelist Milan Kundera writes, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

    Think again about the different ways one can frame Rosa Parks’s historic action. In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She’s a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don’t, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.

    Parks’s real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another. Hesistant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite a profoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply intrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery.

    Parks’s journey suggests that change is the product of deliberate, incremental action, whereby we join together to try to shape a better world. Sometimes our struggles will fail, as did many earlier efforts of Parks, her peers, and her predecessors. Other times they may bear modest fruits. And at times they will trigger a miraculous outpouring of courage and heart–as happened with her arrest and all that followed. For only when we act despite all our uncertainties and doubts do we have the chance to shape history.

    [via http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/content/2000-03/14loeb.htm%5D

  • anon

    I feel your pain. I was a progressive once. These batlles are not meant to be fought in isolation. There is always reason for hope:

    The Real Rosa Parks
    by Paul Loeb

    We learn much from how we present our heroes. A few years ago, on Martin Luther King. Day, I was interviewed on CNN. So was Rosa Parks, by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re very honored to have her,” said the host. “Rosa Parks was the woman who wouldn’t go to the back of the bus. She wouldn’t get up and give her seat in the white section to a white person. That set in motion the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. It earned Rosa Parks the title of ‘mother of the Civil Rights movement.'”

    I was excited to hear Parks’s voice and to be part of the same show. Then it occurred to me that the host’s description–the story’s standard rendition–stripped the Montgomery boycott of all its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had spent twelve years helping lead the local NAACP chapter, along with union activist E.D. Nixon, from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, teachers from the local Negro college, and a variety of ordinary members of Montgomery’s African American community. The summer before, Parks had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate-but-equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign. In short, Parks didn’t make a spur-of-the-moment decision. Rosa Parks didn’t single-handedly give birth to the civil rights efforts, but she was part of an existing movement for change, at a time when success was far from certain. This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of her refusal to give up her seat. But it does remind us that this tremendously consequential act might never have taken place without all the humble and frustrating work that she and others did earlier on. And that her initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as her choice on the bus that all of us have heard about.

    People like Parks shape our models of social commitment. Yet the conventional retelling of her story creates a standard so impossible to meet, it may actually make it harder for us to get involved. This portrayal suggests that social activists come out of nowhere, to suddenly take dramatic stands. It implies that we act with the greatest impact when we act alone, or at least when we act alone initially. It reinforces a notion that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure–someone with more time, energy, courage, vision, or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess. This belief pervades our society, in part because the media tends not to represent historical change as the work of ordinary human beings, which it almost always is.

    Once we enshrine our heroes on pedestals, it becomes hard for mere mortals to measure up in our eyes. However individuals speak out, we’re tempted to dismiss their motives, knowledge, and tactics as insufficiently grand or heroic. We fault them for not being in command of every fact and figure, or being able to answer every question put to them. We fault ourselves as well, for not knowing every detail, or for harboring uncertainties and doubts. We find it hard to imagine that ordinary human beings with ordinary flaws might make a critical difference in worthy social causes.

    Yet those who act have their own imperfections, and ample reasons to hold back. “I think it does us all a disservice,” says a young African-American activist in Atlanta named Sonya Tinsley, “when people who work for social change are presented as saints–so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light. But I’m much more inspired learning how people succeeded despite their failings and uncertainties. It’s a much less intimidating image. It makes me feel like I have a shot at changing things too.”

    Sonya had recently attended a talk given by one of Martin Luther King’s Morehouse professors, in which he mentioned how much King had struggled when he first came to college, getting only a ‘C’, for example, in his first philosophy course. “I found that very inspiring, when I heard it,” Sonya said, “given all that King achieved. It made me feel that just about anything was possible.”

    Our culture’s misreading of the Rosa Parks story speaks to a more general collective amnesia, where we forget the examples that might most inspire our courage and conscience. Apart from obvious times of military conflict, most of us know next to nothing of the many battles ordinary men and women fought to preserve freedom, expand the sphere of democracy, and create a more just society. Of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we at best recall a few key leaders–and often misread their actual stories. We know even less about the turn-of-the-century populists who challenged entrenched economic interests and fought for a “cooperative commonwealth.” Who these days can describe the union movements that ended 80-hour work weeks at near-starvation wages? Who knows the origin of the social security system? How did the women’s suffrage movement spread to hundreds of communities, and gather enough strength to prevail?

    As memories of these events disappear, we lose the knowledge of mechanisms that grassroots social movements have used successfully in the past to shift public sentiment and challenge entrenched institutional power. Equally lost are the means by which their participants managed to keep on and eventually prevail in circumstances at least as harsh as those we face today. As novelist Milan Kundera writes, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

    Think again about the different ways one can frame Rosa Parks’s historic action. In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She’s a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don’t, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.

    Parks’s real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another. Hesistant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite a profoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply intrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery.

    Parks’s journey suggests that change is the product of deliberate, incremental action, whereby we join together to try to shape a better world. Sometimes our struggles will fail, as did many earlier efforts of Parks, her peers, and her predecessors. Other times they may bear modest fruits. And at times they will trigger a miraculous outpouring of courage and heart–as happened with her arrest and all that followed. For only when we act despite all our uncertainties and doubts do we have the chance to shape history.

    [via http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/content/2000-03/14loeb.htm%5D

  • Phewww! Such well thought out and deep writing, by you and all your commenters! A real pleasure and gift!

    Danah, I encourage your steadfast and faithful efforts to hold on to your beliefs in the face of such discouragement as misappropriation of the fruits of your creation. Yechh!

    But I also discern something bigger afoot. Change and Growth often challenge and disturb us, as we feel ourselves being pulled out of our comfort zone into the next phases in life.

    You’ve made an impact as an academic in a new, dynamic field. Why not extend your impact in another field? Think about the possibilities. Your current discomfort may be a voice suggesting change.

    We need passionate, engaged, informed thinkers with natural leadership skills – you, in a word – more than ever. Sitting on the sidelines and commenting and studying, no matter how fulfilling it may be intellectually, is bound to grow frustrating for someone with your youth and energy. What is your current angst telling you to do? I may be completely off target here, so forgive me.

    As for the upcoming election, as a society we face yet one more chance to make our voices heard and take back control of the system we hold dear. We can begin to undo the wrongs set in motion in Florida in 2000 by changing the party in power – let us hope that the People will step up and vote and set our democracy back on track. If not, we will have to regroup for 2008. There is a national referendum every two years, we just have to take advantage of it.

    Democracy is not only a gift, but also a struggle and an ongoing experiment. We have no guarantees that it will continue to work, especially if we don’t each and everyone of us take responsibility for making it work. The repeal of Habeas Corpus is an ominous warning sign and shot across the bow, a signal that there is something terribly wrong in Denmark.

    And Life is a struggle, always has been – we learn that and grow to accept it as we mature. You can call it cynicism, or the loss of idealism – I see it as inevitable as one grows, its more realism and maturation, the gaining of wisdom and perspective.

    In the end, we have what we have, the hand that Fate dealt us, and yet we all have a modicum of control, if only over our own attitudes and what we choose to do. We all should work to make the world a better place, within our little circles of control, as Covey would say. And then there’s my favorite Joseph Campbell Zen-like quote, when I feel down: “As you go through life, a bird will shit on your shoulder. Don’t bother to brush it off.”

  • Rob

    Hi,

    I think that it is pure reason’s role to continually consider and re-evaluate what practical reason has left us.

    I feel that the first would have little purpose if the second did not exist and the second would not exist if the first did not exist.

    thx-