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Dear Habermas

Current Issue:
Volume 19, No. 12, Week of April 11, 2004

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors,
April 2004.
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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 9, 2004
Latest Update: April 15, 2004

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

. . .

jeanne goes to school sixty years ago
The Fear and Pain of Exclusion
While We Learn the Skills of Answerability

Answerability; Not Despair

I started this week from one of my own experiences from sixty years ago. As I played with that old hurt, turned it into a painting, I began to see how much that was like so much of our experiences with learning answerability today. So I took a giant intellectual leap from childhood memories to some of the most urgent issues on our sociolgical scene today. First I turned to the Wal-Mart vote and then to the statistics trying to sell us on what we think we want.

As commodification of voting becomes a seeming reality, we see more of the poring of millions of dollars into the marketing behavior typical of commodification. Like the magic formula for turning dross into gold, those who benefit from the production of commodities seek the magic formula for selling whatever. This time Wal-Mart tried to sell it's version of the good it does by producing cheap goods at exploitative wages by sinking more than a million dollars into selling that idea to the 113,000 voters of a local southern california town.

Some of this is bureaucratic efficiency. By doing things on a large scale, we make the individual cost of items less, and can save money. For those of us who don't have a lot of money, that's a good thing. But bureaucracy does not regulate any limits on profit. Nor does bureaucracy say how much of the cost saving should go to the worker and how much to the owner who is profiting by the worker's effort.

The two reference articles below show that commodity advertising has moved into all areas of our lives. If the advertiser knows what our aspirations, values, and desires are, then the advertiser can tailor his/her approach to each group of potential voters, buyers, students, etc. That can result in manipulation. Suggesting to us wants we had never conceived of; offering us credit to satisfy our present wants with less regard to future needs and wants; de-emphasis of the built-in obsolescence (computers are a great example here - how useful is a ten-year-old computer?); de-emphasis on the continually rising cost of what was once advertised as free (Internet hookups, cable, direct TV), etc.

So do we make a law banning advertising as manipulative, dishonest, and harmful? No. No more than we make a law banning gambling, which, of course, is now also heavily advertised. Besides, advertising is a legitimate component of distribution. How will we know which products exist and where to locate them, if advertising were not permitted? How would new products become known?

The democratic answer is that more speech is better than prohibiting speech. But we must then educate our consumers to understand advertising, and perhaps, impose some truth in advertising. There's not much of that. And that's not the fault of people not wanting it. It's the fault of a legal system not set up for such issues. Look at the prosecution of the TYCO leaders, who drained their company of money. Much ugliness grew out of the issue of "intent." Did they mean to do wrong? Whether they meant to or not they did a great deal of harm to many, many workers. Did Martha Stewart mean to "do wrong?" What's the difference between Martha Stewart's intent and the intent of the TYCO executives?

Answerability means learning to ask these questions. First, to ask them of ourselves. Next, to ask them of our laws and our lawmakers. I'm not sure that sending these people to prison would do the harmed workers any good. But talking openly about the harm, how it's done, and how that harm can be made right for the community to which it was done (Restorative Justice is the technical name for this, kids.) could make a major difference. Instead of putting such people in jail, who do not represent potential violence to the community, why couldn't we forbid them to gain any money from investment or use of their skills for X amount of time, while they must put those skills to work for the harmed community?

Answerability here means that we must learn to assess the situation from new perspectives, and that we must focus on "harm done," and on ways to "repair the harm." Nevermind retribution. But we, those who have been harmed, have a responsibility to learn enough, to become aware enough, and to care enough about the harm done to all of us, to be able to come up with solutions that may "undo the harm." We must also learn that accepting the harm makes us complicit in the harm. Answerability does not mean that we have to "do something," "produce some result." We are as confused and challenged by the misdeeds of corporate America as they are. But we must not ignore or deny the existence of harm to humans in the corporate process. If we deny the problems, we are complicit; though much less so than those who actually engage in wrongful acts.

Remember that answerability is not an epiphany. There is no moment in which we suddenly realize that we can answer; and when we suddenly see the whole situation for what it is, and can answer for it better than Condoleeza Rice. If she can't make the wrongdoing go away, think of the relative inability of our skills to solve the problem. It's OK to not know what the answers are. It's not OK, at least not completely OK in a democratic world, to conclude that because you don't know the answers in all their complexity that it's OK to ignore the whole scene. You deny, you are a part of the problem. A part of the problem with Condoleeza Rice's testimony was her refusal to admit that anyone in the Bush administration could have been wrong. There's your clue for what not to trust. And saying "we were right," absolutely, means that you are not open to good faith entertainment of other perspectives.

And this is where education plays such an important role. If you don't get it, then you do have a responsibility, to at least make some effort to get it. Turn to someone who seems to share your values, your minister, your boss, your parents, your children, your teacher; talk to them. They don't have the "right answers" either. But talking about is one way to lead us into governance discourse in which we seek "better answers" and "more sophisticated questions."

Read the newspapers. Listen to news and policy analysis programs. Ask questions. Don't assume that anyone "knows the right answer." These are complex times. There are no right answers. Be suspicious of anyone who claims to know "the truth." That means at least listen in good faith when someone else comes to a different conclusion.

How is this kind of answerability different from accountability? Answerability means simply having a response, a feeling, a sense of how you feel about an issue, based on what you know, a willingness to seek and understand all perspectives. Some such feelings you will express, but today's world has too many major issues for you to keep up even with personal feelings with all of them. Accountability means having a responsibility to answer. If you are an owner responsible for the workers in your company, you are accountable for the way you oversee the distribution of profits. If you are a worker, you are accountable not for changing that distribution of profits, over which you have no control, but for not denying the conflicts that occur over that distribution. If you don't have an opinion, and aren't sure how the conflicts should be worked out, that's OK. You don't need to know the answers. Just remember that you do have a voice, and that in order not to be complicit with any wrongdoing in that distribution, you need to recognize, at the very least, to yourself, that there are different perspectives and complex issues involved. If your salary depends on the distribution, then I would suggest that you try to learn more. But sometimes, personal crises take precedence, and that's part of life, too. We need interpassivity at times.

If and when you do know enough about the issue to take a position, and to argue for a given solution for the conflict, just remember that you need to stay open to other perspectives. Yes, there will be "bad guys" and "good guys." There always are in life. But most of the world is somewhere in between. Just because there is a "bad guy" on the other side of the conflict, doesn't mean that everyone who supports the other side in some measure is a "bad guy." Punishment and retribution don't usually produce good social outcomes. Try to remain open to restorative perspectives that might produce creative solutions to undo the harm done during the process of conflict.

I've been focusing on the grocery chain strike, Wal-Mart as related to that, and the investigative committee on the War with Iraq. I wish I had a "HOW TO Manual" on how to solve all of them. I don't. The HOW TO's above are about how to not fall into a feeling of hopelessness by recalling that as a human you have the gift of answerability. You will sometimes find the skills to use it. You will sometimes merely recognize the issues, "but also serve" by good faith openness to perspectives and to complexity. Answerability, our human ability to assess, analyze, and support one another in voicing our refusal to be complicit, is a strong weapon against greed and injustice. Answerability is the tool that makes accountability happen.

References:

Two articles in the New York Times on April 7, 2004:

One visual piece on what being exluded without the skills of answerability felt like sixty years ago.

Naked Space Exhibit Work

  • Added Saturday, April 10, 2004: Left and right perspectives on the job market.

    Wal-Mart and the Job Market
    Jobs, Living Wages, OutSourcing - OY!!!!!

    A conservative, right-oriented approach to the Wal-Mart Issue: Voting 'No' on Low Prices and Good Jobs "Inglewood would have benefited from Wal-Mart." Backup. Essay and analysis at Jobs as Counted Commodities Lecture, resources, and discussion questions included. Good guide for authenticating learning for grading.

  • Added Friday, April 9, 2004: In the painting for this week's issue, I tried to use a drawing, painting, color, line, feelings I had learned from other painters, like Hopper and his poignant loneliness, to visualize the feelings I had at exclusion sixty years ago in the fourth grade. I don't know if it conveys to you the loneliness and hopelessness of having answers I wanted to fling at the Gorgon, but not knowing the skills to fling them with effect. But it does convey that to me. That means that I will keep this painting somewhere where I can see it from time to time, and where it will remind me that I am no longer that hopeless child, angry and impotent, chafing at injustice.

    This is the kind of thing I am encouraging you to do with your projects. Use photos, videos, drawings, paintings, magazine pictures, objects that have meaning for you. Help yourself and others to express the feelings, explore the history, the politics, the social reality of what is happening or has happened, and then share those things in the exhibit, that others may see the issues from our many perspectives.

    Independent Study Students: Naked Space Exhibit, Spring 2004

    • The Exhibit will take place on Wednesday, May 12, and Thursday May 13, from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the western-most sector of the Grand Hall. You are welcome to come and go as fits your schedule. Please invite your family, children, friends, neighbors, etc. to share in our gallery display and discussions. We'll need help setting our displays up in the morning and taking them down in the evening. Thank you for volunteering. jeanne

      On Thursday, Pat and I went out to Micahel's Art and Craft Store in Burbank, and bought some materials for making the Tribute Goblet of Answerability/Illocutionary Discourse. We followed the pattern of my early painting for a student's poem on Tribute, and my later painting which is on the start of the Naked Space Exhibit Brochure. Tomorrow I'll upload the poem and all the bits of instruction on how we'll use the Goblet as an activity for our friends, family, and children on May 12 and May 13. jeanne

      Suggestions and Instructions for Projects for the Naked Space Exhibit complete with illustrations and examples.

    • Syllabus for Naked Space, Spring 2004 Exhibit

    Comprehensive Exams Study Group

    Meeting Times and Assignments: Wednesday, April 14, 2004
    Class Reading Assignments updated Sunday, April 11, 2004.
    Discussion in either jeanne's office or SBS E205 from 1 to 5 on Wednesday, unless someone gives me another time.

    Notes for Fall 2004 Classes

    A Range of Sources on Global Events

    Left/Right Perspectives - Cursor - New York Times
    Arts and Letters Daily - The Economist - The Guardian
    Wall Street Journal -The Weekly Standard - The Nation
    Los Angeles Times - Chicago Tribune - The Washington Post
    Cursor's Al Jazeera Archive - Ha'aretz - Palestine Monitor

    Indymedia - Mother Jones - BBC News - New Profile
    Progressive Sociologists Network

    Evaluating Internet Resources

    Evaluating Hoax Email with samples, including an old one about charging for email that's going around again. Link updated March 29, 2004.

    Evaluating Internet Resources Library Site at University of North Carolina. Don't forget to question. This is a good detailed source. Link checked March 29, 2004.

    Using Academic Language Effectively:

    Merriam-Webster Dictionary Search:

    Dictionary of Critical Sociology
    Maintained by Robert E. Mazur, Associate Professor, Iowa State University, Sociology.

    Words of Art: Front Page
    Wonderful Fine Arts dictionary at Okanagan University College in Canada.
    Will cover many of the terms social theory shares with literary theory.

    APA Style Good reference for proper rules of citation.

    Today's Word: From the Word.A.Day Site

    Careers and Jobs:

    Increasingly, I have shifted the focus of my teaching to visual socioloy. I could have done without having to learn a whole new area, especially at my age. But jobs of the future are different from jobs of the past. Outsourcing means that anything that can be conveniently managed by compuiter or telephone, or manufacturing, for that matter, will be shipped elsewhere. We can protest. We have. But there is profit in it, and we live in world of corporate greed.

    So, if you can't go to India or China to work, you're going to have to learn to use different skills that can't be so easily outsourced. College education has been outsourced, so if you're thinking of a Ph.D., time to rethink that position. Lectures can be canned on video, and tests cna be delivered and scored automatically. Robots can be trained. But robots cannot govern. Robots cannot make life into the joy of living many of us have come to appreciate and want to preserve.

    Now, you know I don't have the answers. No one, not even the Bush administration and Condoleeza Rice, have answers. But education is one of the paths to those answers. Not the education you're getting now, which Freire would call banking education, or cramming in lots of information you can spit back to prove you know it. Education in the sense of critical thinking, critical analysis, learning to respect the Other, learning to look at problems with multiple perspectives to find creative solutions. Because I believe that every human should be included in the governance of humans, I believe that every human should be educated.

    All humans have been educated, for centuries now. Not educated as the academy would have it, but educated in the wisdom of living. Sometimes the social group adopts dysfunctional practice. Sometimes those practices, like stoning women, crucifying men, having wars are hard to eradicate. But each group does socialize its young in its own beliefs and comes to an equilibrium in which it can survive with relative joy in living and interdependently with its ecological and social environment.

    Like Freire, I believe that every human should participate in some way, or at least have the opportunity to do so. That means that every human needs education as I defined it above. The coming of television produced a wholly non-traditional student body without our being prepared for or recognizing it. That is being managed now in American Studies, Visual Studies, Visual Sociology, Visual Anthropology, Communication and Media Studies. Following the American curriculum non-plan, these have prolifereated as departments. But they are not really separate disciplines. They are disciplines held falsely apart from one another.

    The future is going to depend on imaging, on music, on video, on film, as means of entertainment and learning. So its hard to prepare you for a job that is just a-borning. By developing a sensitivity to visual and aural communication and media, you are preparing yourself for the kind of work that will come in the future. How soon? Well, that depends on how well and how fast you and your school mates learn. Will there be a sociology then? Yes, of course. The social issues that concern us are not going to disappear. But we are going to approach them differently, with more openness, with more understanding of what we do not and cannot know.

    What will sociologists do? Well, what are the things you really want to do? Help people adapt to rapidly changing market conditions and job requirements. Where will that happen? Government? Corporations? Institutions like schools? My bet is that in the near future it will be corporations. Institutions are failing to a large extent, and they are old bureaucracies that have become increasingly expensive. How could you prepare for a job in this area? View your learning from the perspective of doing what you really want to do. Work hard at learning, in this case, learning theory (how do people learn new skills most effectively), management theory (how do you get people to learn skills past their sense of hopelessness, and how do you catch it before hopelessness?), corporate theory (how do you show a corporation that damaging workers and the community is ultimately to its own disadvantage), ethics (how do you effectively argue for justice?), and law (how do you effectively force justice upon those who would be unjust to gain their own advantage). If I were a visual sociologist, I would go out into the community armed with media that would illustrate approaches that are working. I would use scrapbooks and community meetings and corporate workshops and schools and playgrounds and assisted living homes, and I would share new skills that people might add to their repertoire. I might add governance skills, and get all these groups to talking about whether low prices make up for inadequate wages.

    That's not a set of courses, and that's not a job you can locate on Monster Jobs. You'll have to wake up and pay attention, and hunt for the people who can help you learn these skills. Then you'll have to go out somewhere in the real world we live in and practice them, always remembering that new perspectives will always change the playing field. That's what Giddens describes as sociology. Teaching people how the system works so they can function better within it. Having learned, they will interactively and interdependently alter the system to their own advantage and the system will continue to change. Those who are interpassive will be harmed by the newness of a system they no longer understand, and so the sociologist must again teach how the system works so that all can function better in it. And having learned, the people will . . . and so on, and on, and on. What a neat job to be a sociologist. It never ends. But it isn't easy. There's always something new to learn. Right now, that's visual sociology.

    I like visual sociology best of the new trends because if we must teach everyone, which we must, we can do so much more easily through the effective, creative, and exciting use of media than through poorly written textbooks. And because visual sociology is focusing on enabling the Other to present his/her own voice. Not on making a good film about the Other from my own perspective. I think that's promising theory. Besides, I like the Other. I like getting to know her. jeanne

    College Journal Resume Suggestions . . . Backup

    Play:

    jeanne goes to school sixty years ago
    Learning Answerability

    This is a little different from play as we usually describe it. But yesterday when I spoke with Yesica about her interest in immigration and how she might do a visual piece for the exhibit, I recalled a scene from sixty years ago, when I was a little girl in a place I didn't fit. I had been sent to school, from a dingy single room apartment. For reasons I don't recall, I was late. I have never forgotten hiding behind a tree in the park and staring with terror at that great school where there was a terrifying and mean Principal who would point out to the whole world that I was late. That's me in the picture, sixty years ago. The things I know I tried to paint here were a Hopper-like loneliness and thingness to the building. It was huge and impersonal, as was that awful Gorgon Principal, who disliked me because I didn't fit. I spoke the wrong language, looked funny, "chicken legs" with glasses, and was frightened. The neighborhood was changing over to "ghetto," and I came with the change. Years before it had been the "garden district" and as fashionable as the Adams Blvd. homes near USC. Now they were all broken into teeny apartments for lower income housing.

    Trying to put those feelings down in something that could express fear visually made me go back to a painful time in my life. But it also gave me a sense of how many skills I had gained that I could use to cope with the fear that I would be excluded. I was, excluded, that is. I was punished for being late that day, and called out before the whole student body. And that Prinicpal did hate me. When we graduated from the eighth grade, four years later, I had the highest grades, so she decided that there would be no valedictorian that year, and instead invited the sister of the girl who had the next highest grades to talk about her experience in college. The sister had been valedictorian eight years earlier, and went to Newcomb College, where she was then a senior, on an honor scholarship. Four years later I went to Newcomb College on an honor scholarship. But I never got to make the valedictorian speech. That's OK. I designed and made my own dress and went on to make several other teachers like the Principal miserable before I got to Newcomb. Knowing me, I probably made a few people miserable at Newcomb.

    Going back to old memories, playing with them, thinking about them, gives us a chance to see how we've grown. And hopefully, that will give us a chance to see also how to help others grow and to help us all heal from the harms of the past.

    Who To Take:

    OK, guys, you're falling down on the job. I went to see how you were doing on Who To Take, and not one of you has put up a single comment. Now I grant you that I want comments on good teaching. On something that a teacher did that helped you, that you'd like others to do, too. If you don't answer us when we try to hear your voices you are complicit in our failing to teach you. Interpassivity is OK, but not if you want a grade! Grrr!!! Find something you like about somebody at Dominguez Hills and put it up!!!! jeanne

    I would consider this pretty solid project material, if someone wanted to do an analysis of the site as a mean of enhancing answerability. jeanne



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