Civilizations Series Episode 3: Constitutional Monarchies and England’s Glorious Revolution

Constitutional Monarchies and England’s Glorious Revolution

With David Power. If the quintessential absolute monarchy was Louis XIV, the quintessential constitutional monarchy is England after the Glorious Revolution. We talk about King Charles losing his head and foreshadow (following Gerald Horne) the dire consequences of this for Africa and Africans as it enabled a massive expansion of the slave trade. For our anarchist listeners, we’ve also got Guy Fawkes, the gunpowder treason, the Diggers, and the Levelers. 

Civilizations Series Episode 2: The Absolute Monarchies of Europe

The Absolute Monarchies of Europe

The transition of European kingdoms from feudalism to absolute monarchy, with Russia, Prussia, and of course France under Louis XIV as examples. We open with some discussion of state formation, mentioning Plato’s The Republic, Chanakya’s Arthasastra, and Charles Tilly’s Coercion, Capital and European States.

Introduction to the Civilizations Series

Introduction to the Civilizations Series with Dave Power

Introducing the Civilizations Series. We’re going to go through the canon of a “Modern Western Civilizations” history course, but we’re going to fix it – we’re going to put the people’s, the east, and the global south in and re-center your civilizations history. This first episode is a short introduction to our plan. I’m joined by retired history teacher David Power.

The Anti-Empire Project Episode 39: Might, the novel, by Brian Dominick

Episode 39: Might, the novel, by Brian Dominick

Brian Dominick is the author of Present as Prologue: A GenZero Novella, which describes the first phase of a youth-led, high-tech revolution in America. We talk about youth liberation, education, capitalism, and the liberatory possibilities and limitations of technological change. Interesting discussion about the idea of youth as a class. 

I am not a gadget

Jaron Lanier, author of “You are not a gadget”, is very well-informed about what he is writing about, which is some of the social consequences of the internet, and some of the implicit ideologies that are built into the internet as we are living with it today. Lanier was one of the early minds behind virtual reality and has helped create a lot of the technology that shapes how we live and how we think. In his book, “You are not a gadget” (Knopf NY 2010) he offers some reflections on this technology, recent trends and coming trends, and the relationship of the technology to society.

Continue reading “I am not a gadget”

Thoughts on Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”

After a couple of recommendations from a couple of different directions, I read Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains”. It combines neuroplasticity research (which I read about in Norman Doidge’s “The Brain that Changes Itself”) with ideas about a literary, print-based culture versus an electronic media-based culture. The book was mentioned in Tapscott & Williams’s “Macrowikinomics” and in Chris Hedges’s “Death of the Liberal Class”. Hedges also criticizes electronic media based culture and laments the death of print-based culture in his “Empire of Illusion”.

The basic argument of “The Shallows” is that the web is good for associating bits of information but print was good for deep reading, thinking, and contemplation. My friend Michael Albert focused on the attention span aspect of the argument in a recent blog post on ZNet: that attention spans decrease as online information flow increases.

Here’s a hopeful aspect: neuroplasticity goes both ways. If lots of internet use can reprogram us to lose our attention spans, practice thinking and contemplating can reprogram us to be reflective and thoughtful.

The other point that I’ve been thinking about is where Carr quotes Neil Postman, a very interesting writer on technology and society. On pg.151-2, Carr quotes Postman’s book “Technopoly”, who in turn was describing the key elements of scientific management. The six assumptions of Taylorism, or scientific management, as Postman writes – quoted in Carr:

“that the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that in fact human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.”

Carr uses this quote in a discussion about Google’s philosophy, and corrects the sixth assumption for the case of Google: “Google doesn’t believe that the affairs of citizens are best guided by experts. It believes that those affairs are best guided by software algorithms”.

This does take me back to Douglas Hubbard, who I mentioned in my post about Norberto Bobbio and democracy. Hubbard’s business book “How to Measure Anything”, is, if anything, an argument for good measurement and not bad measurement. His more recent book called “The Failure of Risk Management”, is even more explicitly a plea for using techniques that have some rigor and justification as opposed to subjective illusions of measurement and quantification.

What I wonder about though is, does even good measurement have possibly perverse effects? Does even good measurement crowd out important ways of thinking, like ethical reasoning or historical comparison? I am genuinely not sure about this point. Another question – if it comes to social conflict, can networked thinkers beat deep thinkers, or does it go the other way?