Tag Archives: democracy

Planting Landmines

The ever-thoughtful Carl Dyke graciously provided me with this expression as a way to talk about edubloggers might call “lifelong learning.” Part of teaching is about exposing students to some notions which may have radical effects later on in their lives. This is especially true for us in social sciences as some of the things we discuss not only go against the grain of some well-ingrained notions but also connect with very intimate ideas people may hold.

I think the example we were using was the construction of ideas about Nation-States/Countries, Citizenship, and Democracy. Lots of people (and, clearly, most of our students) assume that the ideas we have about States and governance are continuous and even equivalent with those held by any group at any point of history. Simply put, national identity is taken as a “natural” idea. Which makes it hard for some people to discuss such issues in a historical perspective. This is one reason I enjoyed Appiah’s “Golden Nugget” idea so much (not to mention that his talk was quite entertaining). It’s a way to put the very notion of “Civilization” in perspective (without using an evolutionary model). Carl also provided me with references to Eugen Weber and to the Taviani Brothers’ Padre Padrone. We could even use scene 3 of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (video). All of these things are, in my mind, landmines. Actually, “mind landmines” or, erm, “landminds.” (Should I get a trademark?)

Of course, literature on nationalism (Benedict Anderson, Terence Ranger, Eric Hobsbawm, etc.) can also be used. Personally, I tend to like work on similar subjects by ethnographers like Regina Bendix and Kelly Askew.

Those “landminds” are only triggered when people start really looking into issues lying underneath society and politics. But when they explode, these landminds can be quite transformative. As per the deadly effects of the explosives from which they’re inspired, these landminds destroy some apparently strong intellectual models.

So, although I see landmines as a major problem, I do see part of my work as “planting landminds.”

Much less positive than the usual “planting the seeds of knowledge” metaphors, but also much more powerful.


Chilling Effect and Consensus

This write-up may sound a bit strong but the issue should, in fact, be discussed.

Making Light: The Associated Press wants to charge you $12.50 to quote five words from them

There are different ways to look at these, whether or not people are taking sides. My personal perspective is that these rules The AP is trying to set may contribute to a very important chilling effect and that, in the long run, AP publications will suffer. I also think that we should strive to reach some form of agreement as to rules involving copyright. Laws don’t come in a vacuum.


Adulteen Category

[Yet another old draft.]

Seems to me, there’s an age category that we could call “adulteen.” People who are technically both adults and teens. Ages 18 and 19. Not yet 20 but 18 and older. In many contexts (voting rights in most places I know), they are legally “of age” (what, in French, we call «majeurs»). Yet, the mere fact that the numbers “eighteen” and “nineteen” bear the “-teen” suffix, they are teenagers. If I got this right, this is the “barely legal” category some people seem to be talking about, especially in the adult industry.

Sexuality is certainly important in defining this category as sexual relationships with 18 year-olds is usually not considered paedophilia. In the U.S. especially, paedophilia tends to be rather high on the list of taboos. I have no idea what the numbers are but it seems to me that, within the larger category of rape victims, many people are women younger than 20 years of age.

In the U.S., adulteens are not yet allowed to drink alcohol. They can vote, bear arms, drive (since a much earlier age, actually) but they cannot consume alcohol outside of parental supervision. This, they share with 20 year-olds. But “20” seems to be more adult-sounding in many cases.

What’s striking, to me, is that 18 is already a bit old as defining adulthood. Not too long ago, people who had children at age 16 were quite common. Maybe I’m completely off but it seems to me that “it really wasn’t a big deal, back then.” Especially for young girls/women. Those women who had children at such a young age don’t seem particularly scarred from the experience, AFAICT. I don’t even think there were much of a social stigma about being a mother at age 16. And it seems to me that becoming a parent is as adult-like as can be.

Of course, people also entered the workforce at an earlier age, on average. These days, beginning a career at age 18 is somewhat uncommon. Much of this difference has to do with formal education. At least in North America and Europe, compulsory schooling tends to last until age 16 and it’s often very hard to find work leaving school before age 19. In Quebec, for instance, there are ways to do a professional degree at the end of high school but majority of people go to Cegep which brings them to age 19 or so.

At age 34 (and turning 35 in just a few days), I find it funny to think that, technically, I could have been a grand-father at this point in my life. That is, I technically could have had a child at age 16 who could have had her own child at age 16 so that I would have become a grand-father at age 32. I’m not even a father yet. And I’m not that far outside the norm, at least for academics.

Funny thing is, age does tend to matter to me. Not in terms of “feeling old,” really. More in terms of significance, symbolism, social roles.

There’s a whole thing I’ll need to blog about generation gaps. For now, I just want to let this entry stay as it is.


Internet Democracy

There’s been several “If X were a country” analogies, especially with MySpace as a target.

But then:

If the Internet was a country, it would be many times larger than the country of MySpace The Something Awful Forums

And then:

Nicholas Negroponte, the noted futurist and author of ‘Being Digital’, once observed that if the Internet were a country, it would be the nicest place on earth. Security and Vulnerability

Not to mention:

If the internet were a country, you’d know a relative of almost everybody. Scribd

It’d be interesting to use notions we have about actual countries to follow the analogy further. Some might think that the Internet could have a president but most of us seem to agree that the current structure of the Internet, without a specific “head of state,” works fairly well. We’ve known for a while that ordered anarchy can work:

In his classic study of the Nuer of the Southern Sudan Evans-Pritchard presents them as naked cattle-herders, seasonally nomadic, living in grass huts and supplementing their diet of animal products by horticulture. They form a congeries of tribes, sometimes gathering into loose federations but without central administration, rulers or grading of warriors or elders, and the age-sets into which they are divided have no corporate function. Evans-Pritchard speaks of ‘leopard-skin chiefs’ among them, but makes it clear that this position is backed by no coercive force. They show some specialisation but nothing amounting to a profession and cannot be said in any strict sense to have law, for there is no authority with power to adjudicate or enforce a verdict. In sum, ‘their state might be described as an ordered anarchy’. From Village to Empire

Associating the ‘Net with that anarchic model isn’t new. What seems to me a bit newer is to call that system “democratic” (especially in the context of User Generated Content, and other “Web 2.0” phenomena).

Even newer, to me at least, is the idea that the open and flexible nature of the Internet as it was originally designed might not be part of redesigns of the Internet.

Should we apply a more democratic model for the new Internet? How far should the “country” analogy affect the way we remodel the ‘Net?

The literature on nationalism and communities could help.


Literary Studies and Relativism

What’s fun about the Open Source episode on reading Shakespeare for political insight is that it briefly gives attention to the notion that representative democracy may not be an absolute value.

Open Source » Blog Archive » Shakespeare and Power

This is a rare event, on that show.


Let Us All Celebrate Together!

Time to honour rhe majority of the world population. Of course, if things were equitable, there’d be 186 days like March 8. As things stand, it’s the day when machismo disguises itself into respect.

Are there trees left to shake?


Closer to Fair Use Codification?

Digital Fair Use bill introduced to US House (sans teeth)

If passed, the FAIR USE Act will amend the DMCA to codify recent exceptions granted to the anti-circumvention rules by the Register of Copyrights, which include some allowances for obsolete technologies and cell phone unlocking.

Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, especially since the bill specifically does not address some of the most controversial parts of the DMCA. But if codifying fair use is the goal (as fair use is not yet guaranteed, in the United States), maybe this bill can shake things up at least a bit.

It’s quite interesting to see how a large majority of citizens agree that things need to change yet a handful of corporate entities enforce the status quo without much apparent effort.

It’s also quite funny how many bills in the U.S. have acronyms designed to work as expressions. This one is:  Freedom And Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007. Catchy!