Only time will show the valid origin and possibly not even that: there are different sources for the phrase “I don’t trust any statistics that I did not made up myself.” Statistics and presumed scientific analysis show different results. Sometimes there are simple explanations – for instance there is a difference between figures for regions and entire countries and the reference is not clearly stated; also rounding may appear as huge difference in the overall result. As such, scientific results are used as guiding political decisions, often a contest between different individual measures. An interesting framework for analysis of pandemias had been already proposed by Ed Snowden about 10 years ago in a lecture series where he posed 10 questions. It may be worthwhile to reproduce them in full length here (from https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-234/lecture-12):
10 questions on diseases
“I have a sort of suggestion of maybe ten major questions that we ought to be thinking about with regard to diseases.
The first major question, for any of the diseases we’re talking about, was what’s the total mortality and morbidity that’s caused by the epidemic in question? The mortality, the total numbers of deaths. Morbidity, the total number of cases. That’s an important factor that needs to be taken into account in assessing the impact of the epidemic. A second question has to do with a term we introduced long ago, a phrase, which was the case fatality rate. And a related question with that is, is there an effective therapy or means of prevention, or instead does a society experience the disease in feeling itself to be helpless, and physicians feeling the same?
The case fatality rate is — we could call it the kill rate of a disease, the percentage of cases that terminate in death. And we know that, for example, in dealing with plague, one of the features of it — and Asiatic cholera as well — was a very high case fatality rate, of plague, fifty to eighty percent, cholera, something like fifty percent. At the other extreme, when we come to it, we’ll see that influenza has a very high morbidity, but quite a low case fatality rate, and that’s related, I think, to the impact that that disease, influenza, has on society, which isn’t associated with such terror as say plague or cholera. That’s an important variable, the kill rate of the disease.
Another factor, a third question we need to ask, is what’s the nature of the symptoms of the infectious disease in question? Are they particularly painful? Are they degrading, according to the norms of the time? And we’ve seen, for example, in dealing with plague and cholera that a major feature about them was that their symptoms were agonizing and dehumanizing. Clearly, as we turn to syphilis, its symptoms also were extremely important in the way that the disease was experienced. Tuberculosis, on the other hand — and we’ll be looking at that — was seen, at the time, to make its sufferers more intelligent, more romantic, more beautiful in some sense, at least in the first half of the nineteenth century. So, that — what is the nature of the symptoms, is a crucially important question.
Another, fourth question, that I hope you’ll bear in mind throughout the course, and in your review for the exercise this week, is the question, is this disease new, or is it familiar to the population? Familiar diseases tend not to be so terrifying. The population is also likely to have some degree of immunity to the disease, and the disease is likely, or may have, already mutated to become less deadly. Examples are the so-called diseases of childhood, like chickenpox, mumps and measles; normally relatively mild, but in populations to which they’re newly introduced, they can be devastating.
A fifth question has to do with, what’s the profile of the victims of the disease? Is this a disease that’s an affliction of the young and the elderly; that is, experienced as a more normal course of a disease, in accord with society’s expectations and past experience? Or does it instead strike down particularly those who are in the prime of life, thereby no longer seeming natural but as something extraordinary in the experience of the population? And it also means that the disease is likely to maximize its economic and financial impact, to be particularly destabilizing to a community. Cholera, in this regard, for example, was terrifying because of the way in which it seemed to afflict those who were the bulwarks of families and of communities.
A sixth question that’s important: what’s the class profile of the sufferers? What sorts of people in society are stricken with the affliction? Is this a disease of poverty, such as cholera is usually thought of? Or is it an affliction that strikes everyone, without particular reference to class or social and economic status, like influenza or syphilis, indeed?
A seventh important question is what is the mode of transmission of the disease? Is it transmitted person to person? Is it transmitted by contaminated food and water? Are vectors involved? Is it spread through the air by droplets? Is it spread by sexual contact? And clearly, I think we’ll be arguing that the mode of transmission is really crucial, and in sexually transmitted diseases I think that that is fairly self-evident and a very important factor in the social impact of those diseases.
An eighth important question is whether the disease is fulminant in its course, or is it slow acting and a wasting disease? If we look, for example, at cholera, one of the features, and a striking one, is that it was one of the most fulminant of diseases. It would strike down a sufferer, and you could board a train and die before you reached your destination, as the disease ran its course that quickly through the human body. Or, on the other hand, is the disease one that takes years, perhaps even decades, to run its course? And an example of that, of course, would be tuberculosis or HIV-AIDS, in our own time.
A ninth important question we need always to bear in mind is how is the disease understood by the population that it’s infecting? Is it seen as a punishment of God? Is it later on thought to be something that comes from the dangerous classes? Or later on, is it understood to be a microbial infection? And those ways in which the disease is understood have enormous impact on how the population reacts to the disease. A tenth variable is what’s the duration of the epidemic? Influenza, for example, passes through a locality in a matter of weeks, normally. Cholera or plague tend to have epidemics that last for months. And tuberculosis, one might describe as an epidemic in slow motion that afflicts a community for a whole century or more.”
There is another dimension which I want to propose as 11th concern: it is about how people deal with the situation, the “grounding” that serves as foundation for political decions about different measures and approaches to fight the spread of virus. As subheading of this section “Grounding” I propose “What are we really talking about?” And I want to start by telling a little story – one that seems to be completely unconnected to the question of policies against the spreading of the virus. Although not a fairy tale, it begins with once upon a time. So, once upon a time, after the workshop meeting in Brussels, I went with some colleagues to a pub. All of them had been Swedish nationals, two native Swedes, one of them holding Swedish passport but having been raised in Macedonia. We have been talking about some business – the Swedish-Macedonian colleague moving along with the rhythm of the music, played in the background. One of the other colleagues, looking little bit sad, said:
“Look at her – she is relaxed, enjoying herself, expressing frankly her emotions. It’s so different, compared with me: standing still like a rock, wearing a grey suit, a grey shirt and a grey tie and probably all this mirrored in a grey face. I simply cannot jump out of this.”
This story does not end with the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” – although they were very nice people. The different character was showing up in the following months while we worked together. The reason for telling the story is very simple: currently Sweden is often celebrated for a very open and liberal approach when it comes to dealing with the virus. There seems to be no lockout, businesses are continuing works they did earlier, schools and kindergardens remained open … . And still, the spread of the virus, its victims, and the mystic number “R” remained reasonably low. Such policies of containing the spread of the virus is then frequently compared with strict measures of containment: in Ireland people had not been allowed to go further than two km from their home; in Germany the situation had been one of “loose lockdown”, in the Mediterranean countries we find “strict lockdowns” … – relevant are also differences in the speed of reaction: some countries more or less hesitant, waiting some time before they introduced even harsher measures … – now I could tell another story, reflecting on the opening of a telephone call one of the last days, speaking to a Chinese friend who is still working in the UK but quit her job in order to return to China.
“There are many reasons …..”
Taking the many reasons together, thinking also of what I heard from other Chinese friends and colleagues the many reasons may be summarised by saying
“you know, there’s something about home … – there I do not feel lonely, I am well looked after and things are done when they need to be done.”
Sure, much of the following is anecdotal, based on statements of few individuals out of a population of nearly 1,439,324,000 Chinese people (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/) and as such should not be overestimated. Nevertheless, it may well be taken as reflection of the often highlighted “we-society” – some forms of control, but performing two roles at the same time: limitation and protection, the chaxugeju providing a framework and security bed that defines the individual (comparable with the African ubuntu, i.e. the ”I am because we are”), so entirely different if compared with the west where the individual is not defined by relations but a self-contained entity, striving to be different from others, even unique and even independent from others. Still, in using such terms, we should never forget that the meaning may will be different to Western uses of the terms.
Organizational principles are to a society what a grammar is to a language. The principles provide the structural framework for social action; they are intuitive and taken for granted; they are deeply embedded in people’s worldviews, as well as in the society that people re-create every day.“ (Introduction to Fei Xiaotong’s From the Soil-The Foundations by Gary G Hamilton and Wang Zheng; University of California Press, 1992: 19)
So, looking at societies, the relevant economies and legal systems, is always about understanding those parts that are known to everybody, though difficult to be spelled out: the tacit knowledge, usually not appearing in the textbooks (as it seems to be of no relevance) and not talked about amongst those who live their life accordingly (as it is too obvious in its permanent presence).
It is about the Guanxi in China, the Christian bonds in Europe, the family ties in … – but this is exactly the point: while we find families everywhere, their meaning is completely different.
Coming back to politics of controlling the spread of the virus, one of the main issues of the debate is about containment policies. With a very broad brush, being aware of the danger of stereotyping (and re-producing stereotypes), the following can be said:
- celebrating Sweden as example of a liberal handling is questionable as it starts from two premises that are standing against the common understanding of liberal: • it is a country that is highly bureaucratic, the country of men wearing grey suits, grey shirts and grey ties, not allowing themselves to express emotions – self-containment does not need external control; • it is a country that is highly advanced in respect of social provisions, modern working conditions including home-office (although never leaving people go off-ice) and the like – so it is obviously not really a matter to find new regulations for what is given already by existing regulations and tacit rules
- Supposedly Lenin once said that the Germans, storming a railway station during a revolution, would first buy a platform ticket: rule bound and in need of rules, like the Alsation, so often used as service-dog by the German police …. And still, one of the rules, in very general terms, is a welfare system that is still “advanced”: elaborated, bureaucratic but altogether based in the idea of a unified (yes, unified though today’s critiques of strict “loose confinement” do not criticise this “quasi anti-liberal unification”) system, expressed in the fact of having a somewhat all-encompassing, comprehensive “book of social law” (Sozialgesetzbuch) [including unemployment insurance but excluding labour law] – comprehensive does not mean accessible for everybody although accessibility had been one of the reasons for the reform by which the different areas of relevant “social legislation” had been brought together. Today we speak of one book of social law, this consists now of 12 volumes, and a further extension is planed for 2024. Rule-obedience is thus closely linked to an expertocratic system – including non-obedience where expert-reasoning is lacking. – This is surely one of the reasons behind the important role of the Robert-Koch-Institute. A high representative of the organisation that is specialised on virus research frequently said that they cannot decide – instead there are political decisions, whereas the RKI can only provide data on the basis of which political decisions are to be taken. The problem, one can say, is in this country to find a balance between the authoritarian (not least it means submissive) character and the enlightened “liberal” bourgeois. As formulated on an earlier occasion in this series of reflections: the country of poets and thinkers (in German: Dichter und Denker) being at the very same time the country of judges and hangman (in German: Richter und Henker).
Well, there is a sideliner to this, where the two actually meet, creeping into daily life without being noticed: much of the poesy and thinking is a matter of appearance, not of essence – the market, with its essence of making profit, comes along and makes profit even of the emergency and health threat: mouth and nose masks, after they had been sold out, are back, now already as a “new normality”: in fashionable designs they are available – the sellers asking for “the little bit more”, the little bit that individuals can afford for looking good, but society cannot afford to look after those in need: some excluded from suggested beauty by the judgement of the market …
- Non posso crederci – non siamo qui per divertirci, non siamo qui per il momento, per fare un respiro profondo per ammirare le bellezze e le ricchezze dell’antichità…, e noi stessi, la famiglia e bambini? Restrizioni ….. – incredibile – I cannot believe it – aren’t we here to enjoy ourselves, aren’t we here for the moment, taking a deep breath to admire the beauties and wealth of antiquity …, and ourselves, the family and children? Restrictions …. – unbelievable” – A torrent of words like this, and an emotionally based resistance, followed by cocooning, weirdly combined with an expressionist/exhibitionist and collectivist public performance of “street balcony singing”. There is good reason behind extreme familiarism, regionalism, political extremism and short-termism characterising Italian politics – though “electoral rule changes in the early 1990s turned Italy more towards majority governments”
- Prejudice? Maybe, though it may also be a reflection of the history of the United States of Northern America: a people that arrived there as a result of failing to claim their – mainly economic – freedom in their country of origin, welded together by religion, a commonly claimed right to occupy the country and expel the Indians and an extreme form of economic liberalism – the occupation of a vast area, the quasi tabula rasa in economic terms, where everything had to be started from the scratch and a kind of cultural new beginning (there had not been anything they could build upon: in some way the own history had been rejected and the then contemporary new culture of the Indians had been genocided),
established the feeling of superiority, later elevated to a claim of world leadership, i.e. the role of a world gendarme.
What can a virus do to a people like this? How could a god hurt a people that makes even a Muslim president a professing Christian? And yet: the flip side is that everyone must be seen as an enemy of everyone else – the price of freedom, which ruthlessly makes everyone a self-made man. This may explain to some extent the way in which the US faced the virus: ignorance going hand in hand with a combination of fear and self-defence. Concrete: a long time of ignoring the dangers; and a worrying increase in the sale of weapons: “Fear of the consequences of the Corona virus is driving Americans into the arms trade. Hunting rifles are slow sellers, but pistols, sports rifles and semi-automatic assault weapons are in demand. Fear drives Americans into the shops, fear of what the virus will do to a society.” (https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/corona-schusswaffen-usa-101.html; own translation)
Although arguments based on the notion of “national character” have to be treated with care – this being even more true if based on a small sample, without introducing any control variable as class, gender, religion … . Still, even this may make at least thinking – finally the question of prejudice is a tricky one, as there is some judice, i.e. some judication, some preceding judgement – a perpetuation can hardly be avoided as the process of civilisation is one that is concerned with the perpetuation of socialisation emerging from the conditions it creates in the preceding stages of development – the irresolvable problem of the grandfather paradox that makes it so difficult to reach the other side where the grass is always greener, not least as part of this civilising process is about social distancing. The problems of social science consists of the fact of a lack of communication – on a superficial level we find plenty of chitchat, the exchange of data, the bean-counting of everything and the speculative combination of a variety of data. Terms and concepts are taken for granted while any serious debate is postponed – methodology chapters and papers are frequently chapters that deal in actual fact with methods, analysis is too often looking at “facts”, however forgetting that positivism is characterised by a fundamental lack of understanding and law is obsessed with rules forgetting the problematique that a decision may be absolutely lawful, though it is in the light of fundamental, social and human rights awful.
From the Foreword by Albie Sachs
… Equally, the somewhat bolder ones amongst us can declare comfortably that as a general rule universal human rights are also a contested site, in terms of their articulation, interpretation and implementation. Universal human rights are not simply something handed down to us by the gods or nature; they are the creation of human agency, imagination, creativity, humanity and above all struggle. …
Indeed, an International and Social Topic, requiring new approaches. Policy Press offers special discount if ordered via the Policy Press website.
… but that does not mean that tragedies are not recurrent.
On different occasions I raised my scepticism in respect of euro- or corona bonds. To be clear from the outset, I agree with the notion some kind of European finance mechanism has to be put into place as matter of solidarity in tackling the current crisis. However, we know from the not too distant history, namely the way in which Europe and in particular Germany interpreted solidarity in connection with the developments in Greece, that mechanisms can be interpreted in very different ways. Obviously this is what we see already now in connection with European money possibly spent in the spirit of solidarity: The German constitutional court in the ruling of the 5th of May urged the ECB to maintain a specific understanding of proportionality. The highest German Court concluded
“by unconditionally pursuing the PSPP’s monetary policy objective – to achieve inflation rates below, but close to, 2% – while ignoring its economic policy effects, the ECB manifestly disregards the principle of proportionality”
Seen in this light, my scepticism is possibly justified in the same way as it had been in the context of the so-called European anti-poverty programmes that had been performed from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. The European institutions did not have a proper competence in the area of combatting poverty – then European ruling, asked for not least by the German government, resulted in a reinterpretation of combating poverty as a matter of solely employment policy, too often interpreted as workfare – I commented briefly on that in an article in the German Nachrichtendienst des Vereins fuer offentliche und private Fuersorrge under the Title Subsidiaritaet und die falsche Zurueckhaltung
– I am afraid, that cum grano salis, the same may happen today with the financial instruments: what is good in the short run may become the first chapter in the new book of expansionist (German) economic and social policy.
It is worth a side-remark, highlighting the irony of history: it could well be that Christine Lagarde is now victim of exactly those measures that she pursued in the context of the Greek crisis. History does not repeat itself, but that does not mean tragedies of the same kind do not appear again.
 (Subsidiarity and the Wrong Reserve or: The Meaning of European Programmes Combating Poverty (Subsidiariät und die falsche Zurückhaltung oder: Über den Sinn europäischer Armutsprogramme); in: Nachrichtendienst des Deutschen Vereins für öffentliche und private Fürsorge, Frankfurt/M., Issue 2/1995: pp. 79-86a
Così spesso sentiamo lamentarsi delle restrizioni, del fatto di non poter vedere “le vecchie pietre”, i quadri moderni, di poter bere un drink o mangiare con gli amici…, così raro è anche il tentativo di pensare dialetticamente
- Venice, l’acqua in mare vicino, l’aria in Rome, Milano, Berlino, Londra, Pecino … – tutto questo era già da tempo pulito come non lo era più da secoli. Un rallentamento della distruzione
- i diritti degli individui di muoversi liberamente limitati, per qualche tempo anche la libertà di trarre profitto dal capitalismo è stata un po’ limitata (ma qui sembra piuttosto contraddittorio: https://ips-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza-2020/; https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Billionaire-Jeff-Bezos-Makes-US24-More-Billions-Amid-Pandemic–20200415-0026.html?utm_source=planisys&utm_medium=NewsletterIngles&utm_campaign=NewsletterIngles&utm_content=18) – ma così poco si parla del diritto di andare in ospedale – semplicemente perché gli ospedali erano stati chiusi negli anni precedenti – per “austerità”
- il lamentarsi della burocrazia e delle “grandi imprese”, che si tratti di AMAZON, DHL, E-dreams, HP, Zalando – o uno dei tanti altri tra la A e la Z -, farla franca su tutto … – e la disponibilità a non cedere i diritti nel caso specifico di essere vittima diretta dei loro cattivi affari
- la critica delle oligarchie, il mecenatismo politico, il nazionalismo nelle organizzazioni politiche, sociali e professionali, come può andare di pari passo con la mancanza di impegno, il ritiro in famiglia e il “boondoggle” individuale
Vigliaccheria, stupidità, pigrizia, auto-dimenticanza?
Mi viene in mente Hannah Arendt, un passaggio che vale almeno la pena ricordare:
Il nuovo corpo politico è concepito a vantaggio della nascente società borghese del XVII secolo e la descrizione della natura umana contiene in realtà un profilo del tipo di uomo che meglio si addice ad essa. Il «Commonwealth» è basato su una delegazione di potere, non di diritti. Esso acquista il monopolio dell’uccidere e offre in cambio una garanzia condizionata contro l’essere uccisi. La sicurezza è fornita dalla legge, che è una diretta emanazione del monopolio statale del potere (e non è stabilita dall’uomo secondo criteri umani di ragione e torto). E poiché tale legge scaturisce direttamente dal potere assoluto, rappresenta una necessità assoluta agli occhi degli individui che vivono sotto di essa. Quanto alla legge dello stato, cioè il potere collettivo accumulato dalla maggioranza e da essa monopolizzato, non si parla piú di ragione o torto, ma solo di obbedienza assoluta, di cieco conformismo borghese. Spogliato com’è dei diritti politici, l’individuo, a cui la vita pubblica ufficiale si presenta sotto la maschera della necessità, acquista un nuovo accresciuto interesse per la sua vita privata e le sue sorti personali. Escluso dalla partecipazione alla gestione degli affari pubblici che riguarda tutti i cittadini, egli perde il suo legittimo posto nella società e il vincolo naturale coi suoi simili. Ora può giudicare la sua vita privata soltanto confrontandola con quella altrui, e i suoi rapporti con gli altri in seno alla società assumono la forma della competizione. Poiché gli affari pubblici sono regolati dallo stato sotto la parvenza della necessità, la carriera sociale dei competitori è determinata dal caso. In una società di individui, tutti dotati di eguale capacità di potere dalla natura ed egualmente protetti nei confronti l’uno dell’altro dallo stato, soltanto il caso può decidere chi ha successo.
Secondo i criteri borghesi, le persone diseredate dalla fortuna e dal successo sono automaticamente escluse dalla competizione, che è la vita della società. La fortuna è identificata con l’onore, la sfortuna con la vergogna. Attribuendo i suoi diritti politici allo stato, l’individuo gli delega anche le sue responsabilità sociali … (Arendt: Le Origini del totalitarismo)
One of the reasons for delayed reply is actually given by some difficulties to re-register for the health insurance. I am resident in Germany and in China and the German Social Security system requires that people who are residents here, are covered by health insurance. It is a relatively complicated system – on the one hand it is possible not to be insured in Germany – under the condition you have a foreign insurance policy that covers necessary treatment in the country. However, in general it requires that you’re covered by a German health insurance. When I left Germany for China, I cancelled the insurance policy here; when I returned, I wanted for different reasons to re-join. Cutting a long story short, I can only ask you to believe what is unbelievable: getting addresses wrong, not being able to deal with the foreign insurance policy, issuing a temporary insurance confirmation to tell me at some later stage that I have to provide a flight ticket to prove that I returned to Germany … making contradicting statements etc.pp. At some stage suggesting that I never left the German system, at the very same time stating that they cannot formally recognise my insurance status in China which would be necessary to re-join in Germany. – If you do not understand this, don’t worry: nobody to whom I talked from the health insurance itself was able to understand what is going on. What is striking here and why I mention it, is the fact that they work with one central database and nevertheless manage to get different results. Again, why do I mention this here? Obviously, the technological system is used by different units, each of them having a different remit; these different remits are determined by a very narrow goal, defined in administrative terms, by a financial systematique, the logic of legal coherence etc.. In other words these are system-centered instead of focusing on the actual problem of the people involved: the person in need of heath care, the doctors providing this. I see this very much also as one dominant feature of the educational system: we are not dealing with what people really need in order to be able to cope with daily life, we are not looking at their conditions. Instead, at best we are possibly dealing with the integration of people into the system that is alien to them and in the worst case we are dealing with the University system and ways of academic thinking, that are dealing with only one interest: to maintain itself. The most telling example is in my experience the central issue of financing universities – not least gathering finance via fees is one of the main issues. Another experience i made the other day: one of the universities with which I’m affiliated introduced a performance-based payment for teaching-
– Rejecting all this on an individual basis means, of course, that one does not only ruin ones own career, but it is as well endangering the material basis of life: the vicious cycle, a catch 22 situation – a constellation which one cannot and shouldn’t escape from. At the end it means in actual fact that we allow “external”, non-substantial criteria to control our action and the direction into which we lead our students.
Online teaching being future expectation of my work, I looked a little bit around, registered for a “relevant” Open University course dealing with online teaching. Learning outcome: some trivial results (online teaching is asynchronous – actually this is to some extent also the case for traditional in-class-courses), some general issues (speak the language of your students; do not leave them alone), some, as I think, problematic orientations (learning should be “playful” and topics issued in little chunks, enough to fill a spoon) – no mention of learning as work, using knife and fork, instead of waiting to be spoon-fed, no mention of acquiring knowledge for the sake of “being educated” which should mean: being able to be in control, being able to cooperate, being ready to demand.
Taking this as background, stating that we are all learners means as well and not least that we are facing societal changes that have to be taken as focus on in our tea-learn-ching (sorry, language can be a toy):
- Social in-equality – those who are lagging behind in the use of “global tools” are in some respect those who are – paradoxically – most advanced in the overall setting of globalisation: the excluded are excluded as result of the inappropriate international division of weal-abour-th (wealth and labour as entity) – Bill Gates would still sit in a garage without the many who are exploited in their huts;
- Though not to be taken simplistic, much of production in a global-societal setting – production of daily life and the respective development of the productive forces – is a zero-sum game: the fire used in one place to drive the steam-engines of the spinning wheel is missing in another place to produce the energy for the fridge that is needed to keep the groceries fresh – needed due to global warming as consequence of having ignored global warnings, also needed as result of eating habits that are not reflecting the cycle of natural reproduction, needed for harvesting agricultural products of monocultural farming and extraction and not least needed to transport and store pharmaceutical products in(to) regions that are voided from own resources;
- Relating expenses for health care (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.MED.BEDS.ZS) to tax payments of the (American) super-rich (https://ips-dc.org/taxes-paid-by-billionaires-decreased-79-percent-since-1980-as-percentage-of-their-wealth/?emci=6084d132-cb80-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=045dba41-d580-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&ceid=3917100) reveals a striking parallel, also indicating that we are dealing with political choices;
- Robert Cox differentiated between problem-solving and critical theory (Cox, Robert, 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298810100020501) – with this we face in teaching and learning the challenge to work with a dual strategy, reflecting on the one hand the need to secure survival, taking up on the other hand the challenges to find solutions that guarantee the development of own resources.
From my admittedly limited overview of e-learning programs and tools (including LMS), I found an orientation that is one-sided, providing knowledge (or should we even say information of the ”how-to”-kind?) to build up a personal affirmative strategy, aiming on integrating into the given system instead of mobilising all resources of the learner, in order to go beyond the subordination under the rules of global production- and trade-chains. Learning, as it is understood now, is about adapting to new means instead of understanding the challenge to adopting what is learned to new societal conditions. In actual fact, this is a complicated multi-level process, that has to consider political, psychological, social and cultural intervention. Although we face different situations from country to country, from continent to continent, the principle framework within which we have to locate the different fields of action can be made out as presented in the following:
The foundation is concerned with locating the world in which we live, here presented as the globe, in the tensional field between the given nature (ourselves being part of it) and the build-up environment, here presented as the industrial society, however also encompassing human habitats as cities, estates, nature resorts etc..
The globe – in the middle of it – is what we can define as society that is condition and result of our action.
On the second level, we find the processes of creating wealth, here understood as accumulation regime and life regime. We are concerned with the way in which we make money, in which we spend money (as matter of consumption and investment alike) and the class relationships providing the social framework in which these processes are taking place. Seeing this as a definition of accumulation regimes, we can understand the life regime as socio-cultural pattern in which the accumulation regime is located – taken together, we are looking at natural conditions, the geopolitical location, the “national character” of the people and not least the class relationship. And it is in addition important, to recognise this relationship as metabolism in which human beings engage.
While this concerns the general level, we find on top of it the mode of regulation and the mode of living. Here we are concerned with the immediate and concrete ways of regulating those relationships by moral and juridical norms (as matter of the mode of regulation) and the way individuals adopt these frameworks to make a living – here making a living is not understood as matter of simply availing of the resources needed, but also on the way in which resources are in actual fact used. It is about resources obtained in terms of material goods, but it is also about resources as knowledge utilising social relationships, the relating to concrete, also local frameworks and the like – without going into deeper discussion we may refer to Bordieu’s theory of different categories of capital.
Breaking this down, we arrive at a kind of “task list” with for instance the following points:
- Preparing students to deal with major shifts of the productive forces – this, of course, can only be undertaken if the teachers themselves are aware of these changes:
- increasing meaning of non-material goods
- with this the possible move towards a “distributive era” as suggested by Brian Arthur (Arthur, Brian, 2017: Where is technology taking the economy?; in: McKinsey Quarterly, October 2017; https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/where-is-technology-taking-the-economy)
- the emergence of patchwork products, i.e. products that can be increasingly assembled to different end-products and different uses
- the increasing meaning of multiple use products, i.e. the use of certain goods for different purposes
- the ongoing falling apart of processes of production and consumption and at the very same time the emergence of prosuming, ie the consumer acting as producer while s/he is consuming and vice versa
- the factual expropriation of capital at least in the sense of objectively increasing control of products and processes of production by the immediate user (one aspect is the miniaturisation, the office in the hand held device; another aspect is the increasing role of network effects and the meaning of local knowledge – interesting in this context is is the work by Anna Tsing, looking at Supply Chains and the Human Condition (see Tsing, Anna, 2009: Supply Chains and the Human Condition; in: Rethinking Marxism. A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society; Volume 21, 2009 – Issue 2: 148-176; https://doi.org/10.1080/08935690902743088)
- the re-emergence of cooperative forms of organising production (understood as encompassing manufacturing, consuming, distributing, exchanging).
Taking this together, we arrive at points of teaching with the purpose of managing life instead of making money. We can see this by taking the example of the sharing economy – the origin can be seen in a pattern of over production and the pattern of inequality of distribution, and at the very same time the distortion of many goods into “bads”. This goes hand in hand with a misled production of knowledge, by and large perverted into information management and reduced on “skills”. Another factor in this overall context is the fact that traditional forms of government do not work anymore in sufficient ways, while structures of governance and the needed knowledge base of using governance mechanisms in democratic ways are not developed (see e.g. for a presentation and discussion Herrmann, Peter, April 2016: From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How Many Gigabyte has a Horse?; Contribution to the Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en las Relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raul Roas Garcia), Havana; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301815015_From_5_giant_evils_to_5_giant_tensions_-_the_current_crisis_of_capitalism_as_seedbed_for_its_overturn_-_or_How_Many_Gigabyte_has_a_Horse). The discussion of these allows in my understanding a new take on education, also (but not only) when it comes to distance-teaching/learning. The specificity – and progressive element – of the use of e-methods can be seen in the fact of the enforced decentralisation and with this the increased potential of project-oriented teaching/learning and the potential to immediate adaptability. – If we do not take up this challenge it may end as it is the case with the use of computers: in many cases the users still limits the use on that of an intelligent typewriter which includes a kind of easily accessible dictionary, called internet – in consequence it is too often the case that the user is actually used by the machine instead of being in control of what happens.
It may sound a silly conclusion but it will not be completely ridiculous or naïve to suggest that there is little use in teaching a person how to make money when s/he is in the desert, near to dehydration.
Sure, we may ask if we are somewhat near to any state of desert – being in positions where for many (to be sure, not for all!!) any complain is a complain that is arguing from a very privileged perspective.
Still, can’t we say that we face in African countries (or regions of the continent), in PNG (I refer to my experience of having worked in Oz), The Americas, India a kind of desert? The attempts to catch up had been in many cases ruining the countries and/or causing increasing inequalities, right? And my thesis is that the result of not talking about the content of e-teaching (taking the challenge up now), will result in one of the following: They will all have computers etc., but will lag behind, having the “previous generation stuff”. OR they will have the next generation, which will leave the now-advanced regions/countries behind. Empirical evidence can be found for both, bottom line will then always be ongoing and increasing inequality.
Now, what to do with the following two different points, for me exemplified by two different students? The one – I had been teaching economics, his course was “Finances” or “Accounting” – saying one day to me: I do not really like all this – I would prefer to have a pastry shop, selling bread and roles and cakes, making people happy. But my parents …
The other, an extremely bright student, truly a “research nature”, was turning to me one day, saying that she applied for course that she would find rather boring, but she would easily get a job and her parents …
Change: society instead of parents – skills/money orientation, predominating today’s educational system, is a choice. And having read Wells, and remembering the Morlocks, I am afraid that we as teachers have the responsibility to work “against that”. And I think we did not yet arrive at the grand-father paradox.
 E.g. the development of means of mobility (private cars) to a point where they result in immobility and destruction of the environment.
Are the labels on the bio-lemons, organically grown apples etc. made from recyled paper and biologically degrading? Is the glue used to stick them on the fruit edible? If not, what is about the extra water I may need to clean the fruits from this rubbish?
Sure, these are tiny things – but then, seriously, think about the seize of a virus and the harm it can cause