Maybe it was always there and I didn’t see it, or didn’t care. Or maybe it is a more recent phenomenon. Perhaps a bit of both: it might have been that I didn’t care for the isolated instances of bad or missing judgement, but now that they are popular, populist, and even ‘trendy’, I find myself galled almost daily by their intrusive ever-presence.
Online discussion is today what the original neckbeards made it centuries ago. If neckbeard can be accepted as a derisory term for a youngish man who is socially awkward, physically unappealing-to-repulsive (because of hygiene habits more than physique), and personally obsessed with nerdery emanating from computing and escapist cultural fads, then the progenitor of that species must surely be a monk of the Dark Ages. Obsessed with scholastic but pointless logical debates about smartarse new ways to win the argument that god exists, must exist, and is better than your own shitty conception of a deity. A scholasticism that encapsulates almost all online arguments, because these are overwhelmingly not about discovering something new, rather than establishing the ‘correctness’ of each neckbeard participant.
That thought, coming at the end of a train of thought described below, offers me a deliciously funny imagined visualisation of half-pissed, fat, unwashed, and unruly monks burbling bullshit over rough wooden refectory tables laden with more wine than food. Something from a Monty Python sketch.
Critical thinking and analysis
Looking for evidence of metathinking about critical thinking and analysis (CTA) is heartbreaking. Once you move out of a stream of bureaucratic fetish literature obsessed with definitions and re-definitions that have failed to advance the cause of CTA in schools and universities, there’s a real dearth of serious consideration of how it works, whether it works at all, and whether it can be taught or assessed.
That search is integral to a longer narrative essay I’m working on to look at the failure of CTA in the academy and in the public sphere. So coming across material that seemed to be a sidetrack, but turned out to be the mainline, was a real eye-opener.
There’s a paper on ‘Epistemic Vigilance’ by an improbably diverse range of scholars affiliated with the Central European University, examining the ‘suite of cognitive mechanisms’ involved in exercising vigilance about the veracity of information we receive. This begins with an evaluation of whether the effort of seeking validation of some piece of information is worth the expected value to the subject.
Of particular significance to the topics of teaching and assessing CTA, and its social practice more widely, is a small departure in the paper into the purely philosophical consideration of epistemology, and specifically the consideration whether ‘testimony’ can be accepted as ‘knowledge’ in itself, or whether it requires independent validation by other sources. In this regard we can probably get away with thinking of testimony to include a range of verbal and non-verbal communication, like news reports, articles, and, especially, online discourses.
If my recent experiences with curriculum in an IT master’s programme are generalisable across all Australian universities, they have abandoned education in favour of an ideologically-laden, glorified vocational indoctrination. The metaphorical equivalent to book burning.
That indoctrination appears to be heavily based on American plutocratic assumptions about extractive exploitation and the dehumanization of people as objects or resources in a neo-Taylorist approach to maximizing the extraction of surplus value and excluding all other factors, like ethics, social contract, notions of duty to the polity, and even the sustainability of the extractive, exploitive model itself.
That Drucker’s book is rooted in an optimistic American political economy of the 1950s becomes apparent almost immediately by the absence of any butchery of the language via politically correct interdictions, but also by way of the crass sexism of mentioning sending secretaries to fetch morning coffee.
What is not so apparent is just how remarkably prescient Drucker was decades before the realities of corporate America, and then the world, began to match his predictions, but also to dramatically diverge from them.
I wouldn’t bother mounting any argument against Drucker’s prescriptions about the functions of modern managers, just against the cult of systematization he started in Part V of the book, entitled ‘What it means to be a manager’.