Personal Choice and Moderation

In response to a comment left by @tornhalves on my Hybrid Pedagogy article (the comment is in italics at the front):

For those of us interested in Luddism this is a thought-provoking piece.

A quick suggestion: Perhaps you need to put these two fragments side by side: 1) “…gives humans more choice and autonomy over how we interact and what we interact about”, and 2) “The environment in which we live is much more structured for the well-being of technology.” Perhaps what drives the current system is a strange symbiosis between the insistence on a certain kind personal freedom and the taste for the technical. (See also Georg Simmel’s nice description of how the extremes of personalisation and impersonalisation develop in parallel in “The Philosophy of Money”.) If there is this symbiosis, it is not enough to point out the predominance of mechanisation, but also to critique the shallow understanding of personal freedom that keeps the whole mechanising-personalising show on the road.

You are absolutely right about the terrible predominance of the how over the what in current talk about education. But what is the what? You suggest it boils down to a choice between humanity and technology. But what if the issue is actually competing notions of freedom (personal vs something uber-personal)? And if that is the case, your last paragraph amounts to a bit of a shot in the foot – stressing the importance of personal choice and moderation in all things (a sort of stoic capitulation to fate). The most important education is not learning how to exercise our freedom with moderation, but reflecting on the untruth of the prevailing ideas about personal freedom – the very ideas that sustain what is experienced as an inhuman world.

Thanks for the suggestion of Simmel’s work, I’m intrigued and will check that out. Your point about personal freedom (shallowness of it, etc) is worthwhile. For one, I think there is a limit to length and to how much I can cover in an article like this. Also, I do think that the predominance of mechanism and the shallow understanding of freedom are separate points to consider (albeit related). One is a matter of presence, the other is a matter of degree.

I wonder to what degree is the current system a relationship of ‘symbiosis’ and to what degree is it ‘one embedded in another’. Both in the ideal and in practice. Am I right in thinking that any symbiosis can be thrown off balance when one side becomes too dominant? Perhaps this reflects one of the ideas of my essay – I hope so, at least.

I’m trying to work through your second paragraph, as I feel there’s a lot of good stuff there. I’d say that the ‘what’ currently seems to have boiled down to a choice between technology and everything else (including technology). And in this sense, maybe it’s like a personal/uber-personal split…which is a nice way to put it, and opens up a different perspective for me. I’m not sure I fully comprehend your last line, as I see the two ideas as very similar: When we don’t reflect on the untruth of prevailing ideas (when we’re bound by a set of ideas, culture, and in this case, a backdrop of asynchronous technology) then it’s very difficult to recognise and thus exercise a freedom. Even if that freedom includes delegation to fate or circumstance. It’s the idea of ‘infatuation’ here that blocks any ability to explore/exercise competing notions of freedom.

I think there is something to the idea of ‘fate’, which was included in an original draft of my paper – however, I couldn’t quite develop the idea. I would never use the line “in all things” concerned with fate/chance, especially when choice about what to give up to fate precedes it. It is something necessary, otherwise we’re striving towards a purely prescriptive world. Key to my value placed on fate/chance is delegation.

Please follow up and/or expand when you can, as you’ve given me a lot to think about. I don’t feel I’ve fully developed my thoughts in response to your comments, nor fully grasped the depth of what you’re trying to say. Digital Counter Revolution is a fantastic blog and has influenced me in the short time I’ve been following it.

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