Archive for the ‘Language’ Category
Posted by Chauncey on January 27, 2011
Posted by Chauncey on November 20, 2010
Edward Tufte is an extraordinary and very rare observer of our world.
I have learned a great deal from him, and recommend that if you are able to visit any of the following, or attend any of his lectures, GO.
Posted by Chauncey on September 3, 2010
Progressivism in its best sense is not a politics of the Left. Or better, not just a politics of the Left. The 20th Century politician who struck the fatal blow to Republican William Howard Taft’s presidency was not a socialist, or a Democrat. It was another Republican: Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette. La Follette was among a band insurgents in the Republican Party of 1910 who believed the party had been taken over by corporate interests. In April, 1911, he launched a challenge to President Taft, pushing five principles of “The National Progressive Republican League.” The League had been founded upon the recognition that “popular government in America has been thwarted … by the special interests.” And all five of the principles responded to this “thwarting” with anti-corruption ideals: Four calling for stronger democratic checks on government. The fifth demanding an anti-corruption law with teeth.
La Follette failed to beat Taft, but his partial success encouraged Teddy Roosevelt to return from the wild and try his own hand at ousting a sitting president. Roosevelt too failed to win the Republican nomination, but he continued his campaign as a third party candidate, leading the “Bull Moose Party.”
How will our current version of this play out today?
Posted by Chauncey on August 5, 2010
I have the highest regard for Joshua Cooper Ramo’s book The Age of the Unthinkable, which Bob Franza introduced to me. For various reasons, I just reviewed the book, and come away from it even more impressed than I was a year ago. Searching for more about what the man is doing now, I came across this conversation that he had with Charlie Rose early last year.
Late, but better late than never.
Watch it, and tell me what you think. Read the book.
Posted by Chauncey on July 8, 2010
George Lakoff does a wonderful job of characterizing what is going on, and I think he is right in his claim that the Republican/Conservative community does a much better job than the Democratic/Liberal/Progressive community. But the question for me is how to escape this box. Nowhere is there an opportunity for thinking here, much less thinking together.
As I think about it, I realize that the central missing ingredient is listening. Not the kind of listening that tape recorders do (recording words and sounds). Not the kind of listening that characterizes arguments (what my wife Shirah calls “reloading”.) Listening as the bio-historical-linguistic phenomenon in which we human beings, aware of our shared concern for building a future in which we take care of the things that matter to us, listen to the concerns and background of the others in our conversations seeking opportunities for creating new bridges to a successful shared future.
What do you think?
Posted by Chauncey on July 6, 2010
OK, I’m going to put my foot in it now.
Ariana’s “solution” of a fact-checking “tool” is wrong, I am sure, because the issue about the distinction between assessments and assertions, and tools will not do an adequate job of dealing with what AH points to here.
But that is an aside. What she does that I like a lot is to put her finger on, and provide a beautiful current example of, the way in which we moderns have come to a pathetic interpretation of language. With this way of being we are murdering our capacity to come together and work on things that matter to us .
via Truth 2.0.
Posted by Chauncey on July 5, 2010
Posted by Chauncey on February 23, 2010
Lakoff begins this short essay with …
“It is time for Democrats to talk about health in those terms, beyond just policy terms like health insurance reform, bending the cost curve, types of exchanges, etc.”
He is right, but I propose that it is not nearly enough for Democrats to do that. The whole country needs to begin to do that.
It is past time for us to begin to recognize that slanderous opinions, spin, slanting our reports and interpretations, and outright lying about fundamental questions in human life harm all of us.
We are well on the way to becoming a nation of lobbyists – a nation of people with no respect for the truth, life, freedom, or … health.
Posted by Chauncey on February 12, 2010
Rabbi David Wolpe and his writing have been important for me in a number of ways. I am a great admirer of this man. I find the following, written in the wake of the disaster in Haiti, wise, and I recommend it to my friends.
Read here: David Wolpe in the Washington Post.
Posted by Chauncey on January 24, 2010
Go back almost a century, to the time when the modern corporation was created, and you’ll find laws that prohibit or limit the use of corporate money in elections. And yet this week, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the limits that Congress passed in 2002 in this tradition in the case Citizens United v. FEC.
Posted by Chauncey on January 9, 2010
Click here to go to a very interesting interview with him. If you haven’t read anything of his, I recommend Motherless Brooklyn.
Here’s a bit from the interview: ‘The secret is that you can’t teach writing. You can only teach editing and listening….’
Posted by Chauncey on January 2, 2010
David Brooks in the NY Times writes about the tenor of public impatience with public institutions. “Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.”
Our modern tendency to understand human beings as analogues of computers, which I have begun to call “compumorphizing, gives this kind of result.
Posted by Chauncey on December 20, 2009
This link has the President speaking historically about a battle with the healthcare industry over a patient’s bill of rights stretching over decades.
I pray that the extension of care to uncovered citizens that he believes will be now provided, and that this fight is now over. For decades the insurance industry (and other parts of the healthcare industry) have spent astonishing amounts of their customers’ money to aim an army of marketers in the guise of lobbyists at the telling of tall tales, lies, and murderous interpretations about that industry’s behavior to those who we elected to govern the nation. About the nature of the army that has been fighting against healthcare for all of our citizens, the President is right, but I think that the fight is by no means over, and that his words will end up more fuel for partisan fires.
The biggest part of the problem lies with us. I guess that holding the healthcare industry accountable, while a paramount issue, is by no means the crux of the issue of our ‘best of times/worst of times’ healthcare system.
The core of the fight, I think, is over what kinds of human beings we think we are, and what we are going to be concerned with, and right now far too many of us are afraid of the wrong things, ambitious for the wrong things, willing to commit ourselves to care for the wrong things.
When our people was a baby, and in the hands of people named Jefferson and Adams, here is what they said about what we were up to:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. ….”
“We are incompetent for communication,” my friend Fernando Flores said in a speech in the early 1980s. The we is you and I, and the citizens of this country, and one of the areas in which we are presently harvesting the benefits of that incompetence is in our healthcare.
Posted by Chauncey on December 20, 2009
I saw that this had happened a short while ago. William Saletan has asked good questions about what happened here.
This inevitability was anticipated by an early joke of the computer era, about the world’s first fully automated flight, in which a the computer-generated recording announced, more or less, “Welcome to the world’s first computer-managed flight. You will enjoy a new world of comfort, conveniences, speed and safety on this flight. … Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong…can go wrong…can go wrong.”
The joke got the danger wrong. The problem is not malfunctioning computers. Nor is the problem malfunctioning people. People “malfunction” as an essential feature of our existential design, and our machines malfunction because we, imperfect and blind to our functioning, are their designers. On the other hand, our “malfunctioning” is the ground in which our freedoms are born, including what we call free will. Without malfunctioning, we have no invention, no new possibilities.
The danger is that the kind of beings we are is being redesigned by the tools and the world we have invented, and we are not observing what is happening.
This is an example of why I spoke so strongly against the metaphoric background that Jill Bolte Taylor spoke from in her poetic and inspiring TED Talk. When we are in the business of inventing what it is to be human and human futures, we should take care about what we are inventing.
Following the line of another joke, we should be careful that we do not end up where we are headed.
Tell me what you think.
Posted by Chauncey on February 18, 2009
From my friend Margaret McIntyre comes this cautionary song:
Letter by Charles Darwin, late in his life, to a friend:
“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure…But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry;…My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts…and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”
Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter & in a Selected Series of his Published Letters, Edited by Francis Darwin. London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd.1892, p. 51.
Posted by Chauncey on January 7, 2009
My friend Fernando Flores (see here, here, and here, and, for readers of Spanish or those who know how to get a web page translated, see here) briefed me last week about his new venture. I asked him to send me something in writing about what he is doing, and I reprint below substantially all of what he sent me. I recommend you read his invitation and consider it carefully.
As we discussed, I am in the process of starting a new enterprise that takes the work that we have done together in the past to the “next frontier” if you will, by putting it in the center of what people need to cope and thrive in the reality of our world today.
Posted by Chauncey on December 29, 2008
My friend Alan Solinger alerted me to this striking story. One of the world’s best violinists, dressed as a street person, played for 45 minutes in a Washington DC Metro station during rush hour. No one recognized him. He collected some tips, and the most interested listener may have been a small child. No one stopped and really listened. Read the whole story. It’s amazing. What conclusions would you draw about the way we listen in our world today?
Posted by Chauncey on June 8, 2008
Continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.
Historic inventions are often built from historic difficulties, and they always involve the invention of new distinctions. We have posted about the “Five Great Wastes” before, here.
Let us give two examples in which critical new distinctions of historic inventions have to do with what people at the time thought of as “wastes.”
Henry Ford, Mass Production, and the Model T
At the turn of the 20th century automobiles were expensive toys available only to the very rich. Henry Ford invented practices that we summarize as “mass production” and the “Model T.” He succeeded thereby in making automobiles less expensive and more accessible to the average American worker. At the same time, he produced a way of doubling the income of American Workers, thereby giving them the income to purchase the Model T. Ford’s new system produced cars quickly and so efficiently that it considerably lowered the cost of assembling the cars. He decided to pass this savings along to his customers, and in 1915 dropped the price of the Model T from $850 to $290. That year, he sold 1 million cars. (Parts of the story from http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/ford.htm.)
Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System
At the end of the Second World War, the people of Japan were in terrible trouble, their morale, productive capacity, and international relations demolished. An engineer named Taiichi Ohno, in the enterprise today known as Toyota, began the task of building a new capacity for Japanese production on top of Henry Ford’s designs, with some important additions. For example, Ford incorporated everything into one plant; Ohno designed for operation in a network. The operational heart of Ford’s designs was the way the engineers designed the coordination of the work on the assembly line (the employees found the repetition boring and only stayed because of what Ford called the ‘wage motive.’) Ohno centered his design in processes that built the capacity of each person on the production floor to take responsibility for the quality and coordination of their work. His invention became the foundation of the quality movement that swept the world starting in the 1970s and 80s.
Posted by Chauncey on April 21, 2008
(We revised and re-posted this on April 21st.)
In response to my posting on Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk, my son Nicolas posted a comment. “Papa,” he said,
“I know that this take on the human being as processor (Pentium 17) really gets your Heideggerian goat. If I recall correctly, this is the approach that has taken over university philosophy departments, leaving guys like Rorty to sneak Nietzsche into literature classes. I wonder if you would say why you so dislike the compumorphizing interpretation? What kinds of problems do you see this interpretation producing in the world?“ (My italics.)
I am going to attempt to answer the biggest questions I think Nicolas is asking.
In my interpretation, he is touching on one of the central questions of the great spiritual and intellectual traditions. His question, ‘What kinds of problems are produced by poor interpretations about what human beings are?’ sits alongside what I consider the most important questions for us as human beings: Who are we? What are we doing here? and How best to use the short time that we have here?
Posted by Chauncey on April 18, 2008
Thanks to the passionate involvement with certain questions and communities of my wife Shirah and my friends Jon and Tova Ramer, I had the opportunity last week to visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu (at the Seeds of Compassion Event, in the company of a lot of other people).
Video feeds of the many parts of this extraordinary event are already available on the Internet. Go here. I particularly recommend the video of the morning of Tuesday April 15th. You have to scroll down in the window entitled, “EVENT GUIDE” to select it.
Francisco Varela, of blessed memory, “sat beside me” while I was there. I kept remembering him. Fernando Flores introduced me to Varela. As a scientific advisor to the Dalai Lama, Varela was instrumental in starting the fruitful exploration being supported by the Mind and Life Institute.
Here is Francisco talking about his life’s work:
“I guess I’ve had only one question all my life. Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn’t cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies. Yet these emergent selves are based on processes so shifty, so ungrounded, that we have an apparent paradox between the solidity of what appears to show up and its groundlessness. That, to me, is a key and eternal question.
“As a consequence, I’m interested in the nervous system, cognitive science, and immunology, because they concern the processes that can answer the question of what biological identity is. How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme.”
And here he is speaking about his dream of a peaceful future of survival and dignity for everyone on the planet:
“If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things.”
Argh, but we miss you, Francisco.
Posted by Chauncey on April 5, 2008
Today I added a link in this blog to Glenn Greenwald’s blog. Over the past months I have been deeply impressed with what he pays attention to, and with the quality of his comments on the situation in the US and the world. Last week I followed carefully his direct criticism of the recent duplicity of the newly appointed Attorney General of the United States, and decided to cite his blog in mine. Today Greenwald has done a scathing characterization of the state of the media in the country, and I want to call attention to it.
This is not a political blog. I am committed not to speak casually about things to which many people that I appreciate and respect are paying serious attention, and I am also committed not to “vote” or pass around opinions in this blog. On the other hand, I consider the construction of the public agenda (which is what I understand politics to be really about) fundamental to the question of “Social, Commercial, and Technological Invention” that is, after all, what I said was the focus of this blog.
Here is how Glenn Greenwald begins his posting on the media today:
In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to “domestic military operations” within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.
Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” – 102
“Mukasey and 9/11″ — 73
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment” — 16
“Obama and bowling” — 1,043
“Obama and Wright” — More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)
“Obama and patriotism” – 1,607
“Clinton and Lewinsky” — 1,079
In a book review (also in today’s Salon) entitled Can Stephen Colbert save America? Louis Bayard quotes Stephen Colbert from his White House Correspondents roast, on the subject of how the media works at the White House:
“Here’s how it works,” Colbert explained. “The president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home … Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know — fiction!”
I pray for the continued health of Mark Twain’s spirit. The rest of the book review is worth reading as well.
To see Greenwald’s whole posting, click on the title “The US Establishment….” To see the book review, click on the title “Can Stephen Colbert ….”
Posted by Chauncey on April 2, 2008
I offer homage to Waylon Jennings, for his song which echoes in my head as I think about what I want to say here, to Joe Alberti, the acting and drama coach whose comment I have been interacting with, and which inspired this posting, to Fernando Flores, teacher and mentor, and to Greg and Margaret and Shirah, faithful partners for reflection.
This posting has a moral: Be bloody careful about the language in which you make important interpretations, or your language will “invent you” as something you may not be happy with. Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons on October 28, 1944, said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (http://drmardy.com tells us that Churchill made the speech during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after it sustained heavy bombing damage during the Battle of Britain.)
We shape our language (our interpretations of the world, and the moods and distinctions in which we listen and speak), and afterwards our language shapes us.
Posted by Chauncey on April 2, 2008
(After listening to reactions from several reviewers I edited this post on Friday April 4th.)
Over the last week several people sent me links to this video. After reviewing and reflecting, I concluded that I wanted to say something about it. Ms. Taylor’s talk is brilliantly done, compelling, and potent. I find it poetically inspiring. At the same time, I want to take advantage of what she did as an opportunity to distinguish something of how we moderns think, (and don’t think) about important things in our lives.
So start by watching the talk by clicking on the link in the first sentence above. It takes about 20 minutes. This narrative is brought to us by a person interpreting and presenting herself as a scientist. Manifestly she is a scientist, but most of what she is doing is not science. In a nutshell, Taylor recounts how she arrived at brain science as a career, how she underwent a massive brain hemorrhage, how she experienced that event, and the conclusions she developed from that experience.
Ms. Taylor has a passionate, poetic sense of life, and she has undergone a unique experience. Her talk gathers awesome force and credence from the combination of her professional credentials, from the way she describes her experience of her own stroke, and from the actual physical presentation of a human brain on the stage. She inspires her listeners, calling on us to pay attention and commit ourselves to important human possibilities and values.
I have struggled to understand what bothers me about the talk. When I first wrote about it, most of my readers interpreted that I was put off by the fact that she “clothes” the talk in the language of science, while at the same time she is doing good poetry. I don’t think that is the source of my interest in the talk. Rather, after several days of reflection and listening to it several times, I think the issue for me is that this can represent a waste of an important educational opportunity. Rather than opening us to an important new direction for thinking about the human experience, I fear that this talk will produce a kind of ecstatic tranquilization. And, because its poetry and showmanship is so good, it may be a strong misdirection.
Posted by Chauncey on March 23, 2008
To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.
We are continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.
Preparing for Ethical Action
The concern for action is central to the question of wisdom, and there is a direct relationship between the exercise of wisdom and ethics. Let’s take these one at a time. Wisdom has more to do with action and less to do with dry abstraction than a casual look at many traditions would have us believe. Even the extraordinarily rigorous contemplative activities frequently found in the practices of some wisdom traditions, when carefully examined, will be found to have to do with getting prepared for taking or being involved in action. We meditate, contemplate, and the like in order to be prepared to take action, or to support others taking action when the moment for action arrives.
Posted by Chauncey on March 23, 2008
Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2c
We have been talking about language-action and the constitution of organizations. To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.
Next we turn to the implications of language-action for the design of systems. In their book Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd outlined a three point theory of management and conversation in their that shows well many of the features of how software designs could embody the insights we are exploring here:
- “Organizations exist as networks of directives and commissives.” Directives include orders, requests, consultations, and offers; commissives include promises, acceptances, and rejections. (These names for performative verbs are from a different taxonomy than I use and present here, but the reader will see the relationships.)
- “Breakdowns will inevitably occur, and the organization needs to be prepared. In coping with breakdowns, further networks of directives and commissives are generated.”
- “People in an organization (including, but not limited to managers) issue utterances, by speaking or writing, to develop the conversations required in the organizational network. They participate in the creation and maintenance of a process of communication. At the core of this process is the performance of linguistic acts that bring forth different kinds of commitments.” (Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. p. 157.)
Flores and Winograd claim (and I am convinced that their claim is a good one) that the classical idea of decision-making is not well supported phenomenologically. (In ordinary language, this fancy expression means “bad theory” or “the evidence doesn’t fit the claims,” or, “that dog won’t hunt.” The problem is that when people are talking about decision making it appears to all concerned that they know what they are talking about, and, in fact, normally they do not.) Flores and Winograd recommended substituting the notion of ‘dealing with irresolution’ and supporting people in coming to resolution. (Ibid, p 144ff.)
Stay tuned. More to come.
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