Metaphor Breakdown (#edcmooc)

This is an essay for E-Learning and Digital Cultures (#edcmooc), a mooc offered by coursea.org. It loosely follows an initial essay written by my alter ego. The content seems inappropriate for the photograph blog, so the follow-on is here. The essay bungles together some thoughts evoked by source materials addressing technical determinism and whether digital culture is utopian or dystopian.

In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson dumps Randy Waterhouse, a protocol level Internet technologist, into a cocktail party populated by business professionals and academics. Waterhouse struggles to listen without commenting while non-technical pundits discuss the Information Superhighway. Watching and reading the resources for E-Learning and Digital Cultures felt close to the scene Stephenson created: Intelligent people creating a metaphor representing something outside their knowledge then forming social-economic theories based on the vehicle rather than the tenor.

In fiction and life, metaphor appears to bring the Internet within reach by suggesting boundaries separating the Internet thing from other things. The isolation feels convenient but fails under close examination. By setting imaginary boundaries where none exist, metaphor fails. It becomes useless at best, misguiding at worst. Other popular metaphors for the Internet, like Digital Cultures suffer the same flaw.

The Internet resists the thingness of popular metaphors the way landmass resists the thingness defined by political maps. Maps outline countries with crisp, clear boundaries but the boundaries represent transient, artificial elements not found on the landmass. In a similar way, Internet theories based on metaphors address imagined attributes existing only in metaphor.

Analogies and metaphors used by those who understand to explain to those who do not understand often contribute to understanding. Analogies and metaphors created by those who do not understand because they do not understand often mislead and establish barriers to understanding. Popular metaphors of the Internet, including digtital culture feel like the second case. To provide a snarky analogy, theories addressing the utopian/dystopian paths of digital cultures resemble theories of love-making used by celibate disciples of the notion that sex has no biological or social purpose except breeding. The discussions feel meaningless, slightly entertaining but leading to conclusions unrelated to the topic and forcing people, like Randy Waterhouse, to bite their tongues or face conflicts with the emotionally involved.

Pornography Part 2: Definitions – Survey Says!

Whiteboard diagram chasing the official definition of pornography

This diagram exemplifies why I hated dictionaries in school. Look up one word. Discover two words that feel unclear. Look up the fuzzy words and find definitions with more unclear words. You start to think you don’t know words you thought you knew. Eventually, you end up back at the beginning. Gah! Thirty minutes spent learning nothing except your vocabulary is smaller than you thought.

Essentially, the white board says pornography refers to works with the ambiguous qualities of obscene and no value as art.  As for what is and what is not considered obscene, I refer you to the initial post in this series. A Supreme Court judge fell back on I cannot tell you what it is but I know it when I see it.  This does not give us much to go on. As for artistic merit, no one can suggest what is and what is not art without inspiring heated battles of wit, citation and opinion destined to end in agreeing to not agree.

Dictionaries do not gives us a definition of pornography we can use to explain pornography to someone who has never heard of pornography. If a visitor from outer-space demands “Explain the dividing line between pornography and not-pornography.” we cannot accurately answer. I know it when I see it does not help a Stranger in a Strange Land grok the dysfunctional obsession with nudity and sex we label pornography.

As for artistic merit, what could be more subjective? Why do people consider photographs of women in corsets pornography but label Botticelli’s Birth of Venus art? Do either offend morality? Whose if they do? Are either depraved or indecent? Does a woman in a corset provide more and better masturbation fodder for thirteen year-olds than Venus on the half-shell?

Speaking of thirteen year-olds. Do we consider waking up pornography? If memory serves, it takes little more than waking to excite a thirteen year-old

Dictionaries do not define pornography in a way that allows us to know it when we see it. This leaves me no choice but to define pornography for all of us. I hate it when this happens.

To be continued …. (maybe)

Pornography Part .5: Victorians Invented Pornography

When I wrote, yesterday, that Victorians invented pornography, I wrote a sideways truth.

Art and literature we call pornography today, existed long before Victoria, Albert and the Empire upon which the sun never set. Artistic treatments of explicit acts have been found among ancient cave paintings. Writers wrote erotica on clay tablets before the Egyptians painted hieroglyphics on tombs. Artistic interpretations of the human form and activity antedate Victorians but the Victorians made it dirty. They took a greek literary term meaning writings about harlots to label subject matter they deemed obscene and invented modern pornography.

Prior to condemning erotica, Victorian aristocrats and and nouveau-riche industrialists filled galleries and libraries with the stuff. To protect investments, pornography priced beyond the reach of the man on the street retained its status as art and being art, remained and remains social acceptable.

You can check my facts at Wikipedia tomorrow. Today Wikipedia are blacked out in protest of SOPA and PITA, bills that threaten to bring Victorian censorship to the Internet.

Fast Poem 32: Frustration

Times like this.

A line floats beyond grasp;

at tongue’s tip but too far from lips

or pen to save.

It scurries to shadows,

like diseased vermin;

hides behind inconvenient walls,

close but out of reach,

mewing and chirping;

reminding that no other line,

should another bother to come to mind

today,

tomorrow

or another day

will do so well,

be so good, 

as the one that got away.

Perhaps I should retreat to rhyming poetry,

hide my mediocracy

behind dusty, classic forms.

Heroic couplet?

Dadum dadum dadum dadum da-ay

Tado tado tado tado ta-ay.

Dadoo dadoo dadoo dadoo da-be

Tada tada tada tada ta-be.

Weary sounds.

Worn boots stomping concrete streets;

marching behind Nostalgia’s baton;

parading to remember hell as glorious;

to summon sense of life whetted clear by fear of death;

to recover for a moment black elation faded

by years of day in, day out , banal comforts;

blurred by responsibility mundane as Monday.

No other line that comes to mind today,

tomorrow

or another day

will do so well as the line mewing

and taunting in the shadows,

as the one that got away.

Confusion of a Probably Atheist

An experiment in rambling conversational monologue.


I wrote weak drafts of this post four times in weeks past and again today; a fifth attempt to stay on topic while my pen meanders off target like an over-eager hunting dog chasing stale idea-scent that when written, like dreams chronicled before coffee, bore writer and reader alike.

And here I go again, pen fluttering like milkweed seed wafting in Morning’s siren song breezes. Unless I rein this stream of semi-consciousness in, I shall find myself, tomorrow, scribbling draft number six.


Awhile ago a man approached, introduced himself and within five short minutes of inquiring small talk asked me if I was an atheist. I hesitated for a nano and responded, calmly, “Probably.” As I heard my answer, my jaw dropped. I take pride in knowing myself. I take pride in candid honesty. “Probably?” did not sound like either.

Why I responded “Probably.” put a seed of disconcert in my head.


I like to know why I think and say what I think and say. When I do not, I look in to turn mystery out. I think about what I think to discover why I think what I think and how I came to think what. It’s like getting high. Inhaling iterative introspection safe behind the covered windows in my room; achieving altered consciousness; blocking tire on pavement hissing din of reality; ignoring time and stacking material concerns on a corner shelf to collect dust.

Within me dissolves without me.

Eventually, I grow hungry, re-emerge, grab a snack and review things about me I know after but did not before my trip through pensive shadows.

I employ two vehicles to traverse the Inside: writing and contemplation. or writing and meditation for those of you less Nordic and more Zen. In this case I employed, for the most part, the soothing act of writing with fine-nibbed pen on foolscap. Results below.


I admit I felt unprepared to respond to a request to label myself and enter undesired theological discourse but to ignore the question was not an alternative. Although any answer threatened to open doors I preferred left locked, he did ask and deserved an answer. Conscious Thought, flat-footed and caught in the beam of approaching headlights, froze. Grabbing the controls, Sub-conscious Mind flipped a coin to decide between fight or flight.

Tails.

Flight.

The softish answer to the question “Are you an Atheist?” emerged in less time than it takes to read this. Foregoing delays required to include Conscious Thought, Mind chaired a panel of inner stakeholders to discuss possibilities, omit obviously unimportant elements and shelf minor influences. The executive action took less time than it took for Conscious Thought to register one gold-finch flight from feeder to tree.

Mind and enpaneled experts devised a plan; sought safety in non-committment, prepared an appropriately evasive response and simultaneously suppressed emotion chemically evoked by glandular reaction to an ever-so-slight whiff of resentment that a stranger would be so bold as to request self-labeling of atheist or non-atheist.

During the blink of wordless panic in the real-time world the expert panel and Sub-conscious Mind set aside chocolate eclairs and double-double lattes long enough to decide that anyone who could ask, “Are you an atheist?”, would label me Atheist, but in an act of selfish, cowardly consensus deemed it best not to answer “Yes.” The distinguished panel of experts produced and delivered to Mouth and conscious Mind, in that order, four opinions and a decision to blurt, “Probably.”


I shy from labels as a rule.

People live complex lives. We can know little of people’s Minds and how they work. Labeling someone, or ourselves, we substitute label for unseen complexity. If we mistake the map for the territory, begin substituting labels for reality, we eliminate motivation to explore the character of people. Sociologists say we stereotype. I think we build barriers to knowledge.

Yet, we are people and people label things. Labeling seems as much our nature as hunting seems the nature of felines.

The labels, Atheist and Theist, occupy a sphere of subjectification I do not. Atheist and Theist fail to interest me because, to dredge up a Groucho Marxism, “I never wanted to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

I suspect both labels limit. Atheists limit themselves from the awe, wonder and mystery of God. Theists limit themselves from the awe, wonder and mysteries of Nature and Universe.


Each of us develop unique realities molded from cognitive potential and personal history. We create versions of the universe from intersections of singular sapience and sui generis experience.

In my little world, Gods, Nature, and Universe require direct, personal contact; contact achieved though cautiously fashioned Weltanschuung incongruous with prevailing authorized editions and involving rites and rituals that, unlike mainstream institutions, I keep private.

I assumed, likely my first mistake, that the-man-who-asked would inquire to my choice of sect if I answered, “No.”

I feared he would evangelize, likely my second mistake, if I answered “Yes.”

I also did not want to respond “Yes, I am an atheist.” because it was Thursday and on Thursdays “Yes. I am an Atheist.” tells a lie.

I do not like to lie.

This mess of messiness messing up conscious reason left no option except to answer as directed by Sub-conscious Mind and stakeholders, “Probably.”


There you have it. The babbling innerlogue of a Probably Atheist.

Or not.

1.How to read Poetry – Of Poets We Have Enough

Of Poets we have enough. More to the point, of people who attempt to write poetry, our society overflows. Readers we lack; those who read poetry well appear too seldom in our society.

Against all odds, poetry got cool to do. Current interest in poetry does not attain overwhelming popularity like that generated for national talent shows and reality TV. But it flourishes, if not on Main Street then just off the main drag and around the corner. With the popularity of open-mic and slams, writing and reciting poetry has found a new home in a subculture not far from the suburbs.

That the surge of poets occurred without equal growth in readers should not surprise. Publishers publish books to help naïve writers write poetry. Education presents poetry in a manner that few survive and of the survivors, nearly all survive by writing, not by reading, poetry. Open mike nights and poetry slams encourage poets to read poetry: poetry they’ve written; not the same as learning to read other poet’s poetry. Many poets seem only to read poetry they have written. We might have more active poets than active readers of poetry.

Poets are coming out of the woodwork but readers of poetry are not. Judging from comments readers make, the few who read poetry, read poetry poorly.

Of the little time educators dedicate to poetry, few if any lessons explore interpreting and reading poetry; rarely does a student encounter an appealing relationship between reader and verse. Poets, even dead poets, retain iron-clad control over readers. The partnership between poet and reader remains unexplored. Poetry becomes a puzzle or embarrassing maze readers need to navigate. Educators may disagree with this perception. I doubt students have any doubt that it is true.

The pedagogy of poetry misleads students to the role of reader while discouraging all but the most talented from embracing poetry, ever, under any circumstances. The few, brightest, who manage to salvage love of language from the disaster of poetry classes must learn how to read poetry on their own. Like the victims of abstinence-only sex-education, they must unlearn much before learning little. Unlike the victims of abstinence-only sex-education, poetry readers learn alone; they read without partners; modern media provides no support; society disregards poetry as having no utility, as an aesthetic, as an art of no genuine value. Developing skills in a vacuum, have no doubt, poetry reading is a skill, challenges the best; yet most who find reading poetry essential to quality of life cultivate the art of reading solo, without gurus, road-signs or how-to books.

Reading poetry produces dangerous citizens; seeking and interpreting great poetry expands the mind beyond the restricting implants of those who protect status quo.

Knowing how to read poetry adds considerable value to the reader’s life, especially in our Age of Disinformation. A good reader sifts grain from chaff, recognizes the misleading, finds intent between lines and forms a unique interpretation in contrast to the masses who accept perceptions from self-appointed pundits. Embracing poetry as reader, an individual may escape the bear-traps of propaganda, sensationalism and misguidance of media generated Zeitgeist.

Schools teach students to read as if all words emerge from technical documents. Readers are asked to identify meaning; to second guess the author; to explore the mind of the speaker. In technical reading, this approach works because to succeed, technical writers and their readers require a transfer of idea from the mind of the writer to the mind of the reader; a transfer as complete and unchanged as possible. When a technical writer states “ … the foo is bar …” the verb form to be acts as an ‘=’; the writer informs the reader that foo and bar are interchangeable. The meaning intended by the technical writer is essential to the utility of the document.

Reading poetry is very much like playing the piano and not at all like reading a user guide.

Reading poetry requires a very different approach; interpretation in contrast to understanding the writer’s (or speaker’s) intention or meaning; more akin to appreciating painting, dancing or playing music than to reading a white paper. Piano players interpret music. Some piano players display more skill with the tool than others. Some display more talent for interpretation than others. Some do both. None do so without training and practice.

Reading poetry requires us to interpret the poetry which does not mean we try to discover the meaning. We no more need to grasp the meaning of poetry as we read than we need to discover the meaning of Satin Doll when playing from a fake book.

Until educators teach poetry as an act of interpretation rather than an exercise of understanding; as the creation of two artists: the poet and the reader, our society will lack poetry. It is not enough to have poets without readers any more than it is enough to have composers without musicians.

Note:
At this time, I do not read poetry well. The talent co-exists with great laziness. In the absence of external encouragement, I stopped development at a point just above average. Given the level of the bar, this does not deserve applause. Study of my very visible short-comings, in the context of reading poetry, and desire to improve inspire this personal examination of the reading process and a mode of thought that seems to improve enjoyment of poetry for me. I hope it will do the same for you.

This is only the beginning, I hope it has peaked interest.

© 2009 Chrome Poet

Censorship Promotes Ignorance

Censorship promotes ignorance.

Censorship attempts to discourage or prevent access to media. Media contains information.

Failure to attain information perpetuates ignorance of that information. Preventing access to media prevents access to information. Censorship prevents access to media.

Therefore

Censorship promotes ignorance.

No logical path can circumvent this simple truth. You may argue that most media contains inappropriate, false, irrelevant or irreverent information.

I neither deny nor admit the validity or value of information. I merely state that lack of information through censorship causes ignorance of that information.

You may argue that we are better off without some information.

I doubt the truth of this, but if in truth we are better off without some information, I question who has the wisdom and objectivity required to decide the information we are better off with and the information we are better off without.

Censors must access information to know the inappropriate qualities, false-hoods, irrelevance and irreverence of the information. If censors honestly, from direct contact, label media as inappropriate, false, irrelevant or irreverent, then the censors must have accessed the information. To allow a small group access to all information so they may restrict the amount of information available to the remainder of the population seems incompatible with the idea of a free society.

In a society that allows a minority to determine the level of ignorance to which the majority is subjected, who assigns the elite group? Who determines who sees all that they may keep the remainder in the dark? Who decides what is appropriate, true, relevant or reverent?

What criteria has been developed to determine how ignorant the general public should be?

Who developed the criteria?

You may argue, there is information that must be considered inappropriate for children.

Why?

If a child has the intellect needed to understand concepts and situations, then it must be time to introduce that child to those concepts and situations; to encourage the child to learn the social consequences, individual responsibilities and acceptable responses to those concepts and situations.

Ignorance is neither innocence nor bliss.

Rather than censor books, videos, photographs, movies, plays et al, perhaps we should teach students to interpret media and encourage our children to learn the art of applying discretion and proper response to inappropriate, deceiving, irrelevant and irreverent material. Imagine a culture comprised of people who make informed decisions about content they have directly experienced in contrast to a culture who day-to-day live the dark ignorance of censorship.

(Teaching people discretion where media is concerned would destroy many popular news sources but you have to break a few eggs … )

All censorship including the censorship of political correctness, the censorship of Church, the censorship of State, and especially, the censorship imposed by multinational corporations leads to ignorance of citizens.

We cannot afford more ignorance and should sense developing tragedy when companies we view as champions of quality let us down; when companies we look to for information products cave to invisible censors; censors who ignorantly deem themselves qualified to determine what you and I can read and watch.

Ignorance does not ignite the human spirit.

Long shadows dim our potential as free, creative and productive citizens; shadows cast from iron walls erected by champions of ignorance, champions we did not choose, champions claiming to protect us from ourselves without asking.

Champions who continually and deceptively promote themselves as mainstream.

Sounds like Science Fiction but it is right here, right now.

Censorship leads to ignorance.

Censorship is on the rise.

Ignorance blooms.

© 2008-2012 Chromia Poetics