Looking back in order to search for the future

Pausing for a moment is not a bad thing, even if we are forced to. There is a lot of talk about the new normal and indeed, it had been last week that we had been confronted with some news that had been surely worthwhile to think about. It had been world overshoot day, this on a global level. Qatar reached it already on the 11th of February, Indonesia will be the last, reaching it on the 18th of December (https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/country-overshoot-days/)

Of course, there are massive economic problems as consequence of the pandemic. However, a detailed analysis shows that these are problems of production: the commodity system of capitalism requires to keep costs of production low, thus separating production proper and consumption. This appears a to be a problem of distribution and linked injustice. However distribution is not really the problem. The problem is that commodity production in the understanding of capitalist production depends on separating production of use value and production of exchange value. Only refocusing the entire process on use will allow to produce what is needed by human beings instead of investors.

Distance teaching – getting closer to the core

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..

A picture containing grass, globe, chimneys

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”.[1] 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.

Post Scriptum:

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.


[1]           E.g. the development of means of mobility (private cars) to a point where they result in immobility and destruction of the environment.

Too tiny to think about it?

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

Moving On …

2019, now 2020
the year of the pig, now the year of the rat

the time of old years coming to an end and new years taking their commence is often and commonly the time of thinking back … – the year that just come to its end and the early years of our personal lives and the lives of societies, ach and all with thither own dreams of “once upon a time ….” – some of the dreams possibly became true – and probably more that had been disappointed – what else could be the reason behind the new-years-resolutions: he hope for change and at least the little one can do oneself.

*****

Recently a friend (acquaintance, colleague, somebody I occasionally meet and like to meet, just to chat with across so many borders that mark our completely different backgrounds and lives) … , well, already last year she had been a bit in despair “…. I hear a problem.” – “Tell me!” and she did: her mother was going to retire – 55 years old (as it is [going to change now] the retirement age here in China. So young if we are honest and in many cases marking such an obvious break, evidencing that employment is not only some time we spend in some place, doing something defined in a contract and getting remunerated according to the same contract); it is a complex social relationship, also – at least very often – defining our “lives beyond” (this evidencing the simplification that is entailed in the formula of “work-life-balance”). And when it ends … – well, presumably especially daughters taut come up with what she said : “I have a problem”. The parents now expecting … – well, what do they expect? That the children compensate for the social loss: permanent visits, invites “wouldn’t it be nice …”; overacting the grandchildren or even moving into the same house: making their own loss to the loss of the children, in turn loosing their children just in order to get another time lost (mind the subtle though difficult to understand formulation of this formulation of the multiplication of loss). All this actually a consequence of justifying the alienation by auch nonsense of speaking off work-life-balance, affirmation and celebration of that fact that the worker

feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home.
(Marx, Karl, 1844: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844; in: Karl Marx. Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 3: Marx and Engels: 1843-44; London: Lawrence&Wishart, 1975; 229-346: here: 274)

Instead of work-life balance we should investigate more the question of individual and society in the spirit as Norbert quasi-implanted it into my thinking (Norbert had been surely grater influence than Niklas Luhmann although I had been occasionally classified as pupil of the latter, also with some justification).

Recently the said friend came back to this her problem, though she did not draw the link: My mother is getting more and more child-like …

*****

– for some time something popped up again and again seeks for a rest, wants to be resolved in one way or another – small things, and perhaps such blog is a way of resolving one issue, perhaps also by way of leading to a resolution …?

One or the other reader will remember what is still rather common here in Asia – I remember it from my childhood in the West: The Henkelmann, or as we usually said Düppe.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henkelm%C3%A4nner.jpg#/media/Datei:Henkelmänner.jpg 
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Henkelmänner.jpg/901px-Henkelmänner.jpg
Von Claus Ableiter – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5197464

A simple container made from metal. Where I had been grown up it had been used by the workers: meals, having been prepared at home, had been carried to work and often heated up in large water basins – the workers sitting together, munching their individually prepared meal together. Today and here they are still used – but supposedly for carrying food from restaurants home, to be consumed then there. But what seems to be here and there the dominant pattern is different: the container is replaced by plastic bags and paper cups and the consumption …, well it seems to happen – while the various traditions of the family meal, the we-meal, the luncheon and you name it still play an important role, another and perhaps increasing role plays the throw-in-meal on the way: consumed out of throw-away crockery, throwing away the breaks between events and activities by focusing on the title plastic bag that send up in a bin …  seen from today’s perspective the vocation of an archeologist in hundred, two-hundred or five-hundred years time appears to be promising: looking at what is left a long time after there eis not much left of us individually and exploring what we just throw away today, not only materially.

*****

Is it justified to say it is the ability of togetherness that depends on the ability of independence and vice versa? Does this not suggest, that such break as entering retirement-age brings up all disappointments, all the unrealised dreams we have heard at some time and that remained unfulfilled while growing into a society that did not allow us to make them becoming true in mature forms. I do nit remember the exact wording – Pablo Picasso said something like the following:

It to me three years to paint like an artist that is recognised by the academy – but it took me ages tor paint like a child again.

Highly recommended reading on this occasion the work by Norbert Elias, it least that part that is directly addressing the question of individual and society.

never forget: death penalty

The most severe punishment for capital is when the money it represents is used for private consumption.

Even making generous donations is more acceptable as via taxation etc., the money is not declared being private asset. Thus, there is little surprise in the mushrooming of philantrocapitalism as new form of systemic parasite-ism (see e.g. Planck, Kerstin, 2017: Philanthrocapitalism and the Hidden Power of Big U.S. Foundations; in: Momentum Quarterly; Innsbruck )

ALLOW A MAN TO FISH THE WAY HE IS BEST TO DO IT

Of course, talking about Human Rights does not allow making jokes, mocking or any kind of not taking the issue serious. And of course, as with so many things, the first impression is not necessarily the correct one when hearing about a region demanding to be recognised by its central government – and the EU – as the first time- free-zone, overcoming the requirement to apply standard rules of time keeping for instance when it comes to schooling, shop-opening hours and the like. The reason for such a request is simple: a long time during which there is, so to say, only daytime. What had been issued as complex issue, dealing with individual well-being and socio-economic sovereignty apparently had been very much a business-hype, an attempt to attract tourists. Be it as it is, it should not be underestimated that there is a human rights dimension to it, exactly the issue of the right do sovereign decisions concerning the way in which people (in the double sense) are sovereign.Of course, Human Rights are to be understood as universal. Important is also that we are nolens volens talking about international HR – when I had been asked to make this part of my portfolio if accepting the call for a professorship at a law school I had been initially somewhat surprised, perhaps because it seems to be so obvious. However, obvious are in some way the breaches of such international HR-law – although subtle issues arise. A short story may highlight what is at stake – and in which way we are confronted with a contradictory issue, possibly even a minefield.                             

… He told me all about aid negotiations with EU representatives and the conditions that apply to the various schemes, and how the conditions now include human development indicators. If you want to obtain aid you have to improve your indicator. These development indicators – a fine invention – include school attendance rates. So what happens? He told me that children who used to work with their fathers tending livestock, for instance, traditionally – and this is not exploitation, this is traditional work – an activity that was an ideal way to learn about other things as well, the constellations, botany, family history, etc., are told that they have to go to school instead. There is no money, so they build sheds where they put 200 kids with a teacher who can’t cope, and they say they are attending school. The indicator goes up and they get their aid. The children’s level of education collapses because the only thing they learn is that they went to school and are no longer fit to do the work their parents do.

(The Declaration of Philadelphia Today; lecture by Alain Supiot (Institute for The Declaration of Philadelphia Today; lecture by Alain Supiot (Institute for Advanced Studies, Nantes, 24 March 2010; lecture, part of the ILO century project; 

Isn’t the decision on the own way of using time, the right to define time use as matter of appropriateness and im refection of the natural conditions exactly a decision of the same kind: allowing the children to go to school, obtaining advanced education in conflict with decision to obtain the knowledge needed in daily life.

Or using the widely suggested formulation that to

Give a Man a Fish, You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man how TTo Fish, and You Feed Him for a lifetime.

And from here it may be even more important to allow doing it in the way that is appropriate by way of reflecting the given conditions, instead of adapting to the global forces.

It is in some way the right to have rights Arendt puts on the agenda, but now the right of nation states to have rights to remain outside of the global capitalist system – which may still be a better place thanking part of its periphery.

throw-away-paradoxes

Environment, sustainability, protection of resources …, a short contribution may widen the view that is usually taken.

One of the paradoxes of the societies we live in, characterised by the present pope as throw-away-culture, is the waste of those resources that are actually valued and seen in one or the other way as productive, constituting the wealth of the times we live in. We speak, importantly, without doubt, about the environment. We sure should not forget taking other aspects into account under this heading.

The Economist published on the 8th of May an article titled


Riding alone in a car is an increasingly unaffordable luxury.

We read:

The right to use scarce road space is valuable. When it is given away, drivers overuse available roads, and clog them. The waste is colossal. An estimate by INRIX, a consulting firm, suggests that the value of time lost to traffic in 2018 in America alone reached $87bn.

In an article titled

The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies

and published it the Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, Aleecia M. McDonald and Lorrie Faith Cranor inform the reader:

We estimate that if all American Internet users were to annually read the online privacy policies word-for-word each time they visited a new site, the nation would spend about 54 billion hours reading privacy policies.

Sure, one of the challenges our economies face today, is the lack of employment, unemployment being another waste of …, well, actually of lives as those who are unemployed are far from enjoying leisure time as “main occupation” – the main occupation is worrying about how to get bread and butter on the table, maintaining social contacts, and remaining motivated to take up what is “on offer” (often visits to museums are free), but what does not make sense as “stand alone activity” in stand-alone existences …., meaningless as certain jobs of which the only meaning is that they do exist – as Bullshit Jobs, as David Graeber calls them.Indeed, all these examples underlining what I emphasized: “It is the stable”.


shortlisted

what does it actually mean? why is it usually seen as positive if something, somebody is shortlisted?
Originating apparently in business and in particular in HR, it is now a term increasingly used in general to highlight people, books, competitors for the longest word

who is the winner and how are the losers?

whatsoevercomestoyourmindasworthwilebeingawardedwithsomethingtoattributeaspecialmeaningofwhateverkindforwhateverpurposeandaimseemstobenoteworthytobeawardedorbroughttotheattentionofothers

(whatsoever comes to your mind as worthwile being awarded with something to attribute a special meaning of whatever kind for whatever purpose and aim seems to be noteworthy to be awarded or brought to the attention of others)

what does shortlisted actually mean when we look at a list compiled by a disabled person?

  • the list of disabling items and matters is so long that already one page, neatly compiled, is actually really short if related to other things that are listed
  • the issue at stake is so relevant and important (e.g. the non-accessibility of a toilet for wheelchair-users due to a hindering step – yes, using the “duck” in the non-subdivided passenger compartment of the train is not impossible but still not the most fancy thing to do) that other issues are becoming nearly meaningless (the missing shelve that allows a disabled person to put some cosmetics, deodorant, a hairbrush and comb … into an appropriate location, having it handy for his/her beautification – yes, also wheely-users may think about it)
  • is it about the small print? we manage to print so small that nearly nobody can read anything and actually everybody is being disabled
  • is it about security? the observation of security issues (firealarm-procedures causing so much inconvenience that the gained security is paid for by serious disturbances and dangerous activities to be safe
  • or is it the unintrusive friendliness and support of some that allows to feel just .. part of everything as everybody else who is walking on two legs instead of creeping like the Kantian worm through the mud …

Which list will be shortlisted as the longest? which as the shortest?