Western universalism and civilization states

Western values seemed to many people living in Asia or Africa as just one alternative among many; Western values and norms still needed to be interpreted and enforced, and the most powerful nations in the West had always arrogated that task to themselves (…) universal values stood for the negation of the civilization-state and affirmed the freedom to experiment with different ways of life (…) the concept of a universal civilization helps justify Western cultural dominance of other societies and the need for those societies to ape Western practices and institutions (…) Universalism is the ideology of the West for confronting other cultures (…) lately, doubts have been growing about whether it is really necessary to imitate Western nations in order to acquire all the benefits of modern society (…) For a civilization-state, cultural ties are potentially more important than the mere legal status of citizenship (…) the defenders of the civilization-state are saying that the search for universal values is over, that all of us must accept that we speak only for ourselves and our societies (…) but if Western civilization is one of many, what stops the rest from pursuing their visions by engaging the same tools of state or military power? (…) different civilizations are universal in practice if not in aspiration; they may well compete for global power, but they all belong to a common, increasingly integrated political and economic landscape (…) The European Union is in the process of being reconfigured as a civilization-state, a political entity aggregating all those who live by a specific value system and using political tools to protect European civilization from the attacks of its enemies (…) if we have returned to a world of civilization-states, the root cause is the collapse of the concept of a world civilization

Notes from Bruno Macaes: The Attack Of The Civilization-State (June 2020), https://www.noemamag.com/the-attack-of-the-civilization-state/

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Image available here

Just watched 2011 Adam Curtis 3-episode BBC series under this title of a poem by Richard Brautigan. I strongly recommend that you watch this documentary (link available here); Adam Curtis is a master at creating consistent narratives (remember ‘the century of the Self’). In the meantime, here is the poem the series owe its name to, dedicated to all my friends the cyberneticists.

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

‘The privacy paradox’ by D.J. Solove

The ‘paradox’ refers to the cases where people share personal information even when they attest to highly valuing their privacy. This article originally points to a series of studies where individuals chose to disclose personal information in order to gain either a small discount or for no reason at all. The author discusses two arguments: the ‘behavior valuation argument’ [when people’s behavior is used to measure how much people value privacy (revealed preferences) instead of attitudes (stated preferences)] and the exact opposite: the ‘behavior distortion argument’ (when behavior does not reliably reflect people’s preferences) only to deny both. In fact, Solove argues there is no paradox at all. “The privacy paradox,” he says, “emerges from conflated issues, unwarranted generalizations, and leaps in logic.” Full article available here

Digital citizenship, digital rights and digital literacy

Image available here

The ‘digital’ as an influence in each field: “each time the ‘digital’ is used as a modifier or as a
qualifying term in any of the senses suggested above, it exerts a normative effect.” Digital poses as progress, develop, change; it implies the transformation of current practices at a fundamental level, but it also stands for machinist, automated and impersonal.

Digital Citizenship: the right to participate online or how the digital facilitates new forms of participation, “digital acts involve interpreting multiple streams of local and global information, and, in the age of datafication, anticipating unknown consequences.” However, marginalized groups still struggle to be included, digital citizens are less reliant to the nation state for democratic expression, while at the same time, new forms of discipline made possible because of ‘digital’ increase control over citizens. Digital Rights: intended here as protection against ‘standard threats’: there is an inherent tension between free exchange of ideas and protection of abuse or harassment. There is a discrepancy between the universalized human subject and the locally situated one. Digital rights for some actors can be thus overlooked, they have a strong reliance on institutions rather than states, however, they bring context. Digital Literacy: intended as knowledge assembly, however, literacy is ‘an established frame in response to changes in communications that normalizes and explains the relationships between individuals and society.” New strands of literacy have emerged due to datafication like ‘critical data literacy’. These in turn provide a foundation for the both digital citizenship and rights.

So what is their common ground? Promoting agency in the digital context by enhancing the individuals’ power to change the world. However, there are limits to bottom-up collective responses. Future research should test their limits and to also consider how they can resist the pervasive aspects of control.

Reference

Pangrazio, L. & Sefton-Green, J. (2021). Digital Rights, Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy: What’s the Difference?. In Journal of New Approaches in Education Research 10 (1), 15-27. Full paper available here. (First seen in Stephen Downes blog)

Science-Technology-Society (STS) Research

De Haagse magistraat in 1647 by Cornelis Jonsson (Jansz.) van Ceulen/ Image available here

STS addresses the role of deliberative democracy and citizen participation in science and technology management where boundary organisations* can play an important role: traditional forms of deliberation have failed to engage forms of emotive and affective storytelling to make dialogue more inclusive or minority cultures and worldviews/ There are many technologies of deliberation: consensus conferences; citizen juries; participatory budgeting; science shops and deliberative polls/ these are more focused on citizen appraisals than citizen-based initiatives/ focus has turned to the three areas of concern:

01 micropolitics of deliberation: concerned about how issues are framed-design and facilitation of processes-recruitment of participants-management of consensus and about issues of representation and inclusivity/ Deliberation organizers often aim for a demographic, rather than political, sampling of community members/ An inclusive deliberative process accounts for both demographic and social group representation/ inclusive deliberation requires formal opportunities to speak, as well as diverse communication styles that include ‘‘other’’ ways of cultural knowing like music and dance (Young, 2008)

02 macro policy impacts: measuring impacts of deliberation on policy processes/ it is difficult to connect citizen deliberation with meaningful global policy

03 reassessing the role of substantive engagement: citizens engaged as subjects rather than as objects of discourse/ consider the direct short-term policy impacts, but also the personal and social impacts of ‘‘learning, thinking and talking’’ together/ the goal should be ‘‘to make explicit the plurality of reasons, culturally embedded assumptions and socially contingent knowledge ways that can inform collective action’’/ work on reducing the epistemic distance of objects and processes under debate’/ scholars must create tactile spaces where participants can see, taste, touch, smell and hear for themselves the phenomena around which knowledge claims are being made

*boundary organization is a formal body jointly generated by the scientific and political communities to coordinate different purposes and promote consistent boundaries and mutually incomprehensible interactions (…) Guston put forward the idea of boundary organizations to stabilize the boundary between scientists and policymakers (…) Boundary organization serves as a secure space can be established through good relations and procedures for negotiating disputes (wiki)

Reference

Phadke, R., manning C. & Burlager, S. (2015). Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning. In Climate Risk Management 9, 62-76