domingo, 18 de enero de 2009

Disciplined Minds, a book by Jeff Schmidt.

Lately I don't have much time for writing 'humanist' thoughts. No more alternative but to copy-paste about some issues with small personal comments. Here I attached an excerpt from the book 'Disciplined Minds', from Jeff Schmidt. I personally find his position a little 'poisson from an injured animal', but this shouldn't be the end of the story –is not healthy to judge an idea only by presumptions on the motivations of the author–. The reason I bring about this book is due to my sympathy with many of Schmidt observations and feelings, nevertheless I don't want to stress on my sympathy but on a more impersonal opinion. Excerpts where kindly copied from St. Drogo's Books. The first one shows the general aim of the author:

p. 2 - "I argue that the hidden root of much career dissatisfaction is the professional's lack of control over the 'political' component of his or her creative work. Explaining this component is a major focus of this book. Today's disillusioned professionals entered their fields expecting to do work that would 'make a difference' in the world and add meaning to their lives. In this book I show that, in fact, professional education and employment push people to accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a politically subordinate role. I describe how the intellectual boot camp known as graduate or professional school, with its cold-blooded expulsions and creeping indoctrination, systematically grinds down the student's spirit and ultimately produces obedient thinkers - highly educated employees who do their assigned work without questioning its goals. I call upon students and professionals to engage in such questioning, not only for their own happiness, but for society's sake as well."

I bring the second excerpt because it brings into discussion the extension of Marxist critics into the so called 'Knowledge Based Society':
p. 40 - "To say that professionals are ideological workers is not to say that they formulate the ideology in the first place, for they do not. Professionals have no more control over the ideology they propagate than nonprofessionals have over the design of the products they produce. Professionals merely have an operational grasp of the ideology inherent in their occupation's actual role in society. Employers trust them to use that ideology to extrapolate policy and handle new problems as they arise, and to do so without constant supervision. Professionals are licensed to think on the job, but they are obedient thinkers."

Finally, the third excerpt illustrates precisely what I'd like to question; schmidt's anthropocentrism where the unit of sense is the human-individual:

p. 4 - "A system that turns potentially independent thinkers into politically subordinate clones is as bad for society as it is for the stunted individuals. It bolsters the power of the corporations and other heirarchical organizations, undermining democracy ... it does this by producing people who are useful to hierarchies, and only to hierarchies: uncritical employees ready and able to extend the reach of their employers' will. At the same time, a system in which individuals do not make a significant difference at their point of deepest involvement in society - that is, at work - undermines efforts to build a culture of real democracy. And in a subordinating system, organizations are more likely to shortchange or even abuse clients, because employees who know their place are not effective at challenging their employers policies, even when those policies adversely affect the quality of their own work on behalf of the clients."

I cannot say wether his position is theoretically hopeless or not, but I'd like to locate the validity of his position in a more general debate which is between the developmentalist and non-developmentalists. Yes, again I talk about modern vs. postmodern approaches; actually I'm tired of taking everything to the same arena because it only oversimplifies problems, but is the only way to make a map of this debates for someone who takes no time to go in depth on these issues. Again let me say one more thing about this general debate: At least from the 'scientific' point of view a good path to reveal the relations between ('scientific') developmentalims and its antithesis are: the works of Illia Prigogine, Furusawa and Kaneko (2000) and Adami, Ofria and Collier (2000). In the other side is the work of Carroll SB (2001) which gives one of the must solid scientific hypothesis to counter-argument developmentalism. A brief review of this subject can be found in Wikipedia reference for Complex Adaptive Systems. Let me oversimplify this to those who are not curious enough as to read the cited references. Developmentalists say that society tends to increase in structural complexity, in other words, humans will hopelessly become functional cells of 'higher' organisms; those structurally more complex than the isolated human. Symbiogenetic Evolution (see the work of the biologist Lynn Margulis) is one example of developmental mechanisms of evolution without having to proclaim teleological approaches. Simbio-genesis emerges under natural selection and it complements many other mechanisms associated to darwinian evolution. On the other hand are those who think that there's no global trend. The work of carroll states it in a precise statistical formulation by saying that complexity growing is just an illusion due to a non-uniform sampling of living organisms. The sampling in this case is mistakenly focused on the right hand tail of a time evolving gaussian distribution describing biomass versus structural complexity -see Carroll SB (2001). Going beyond scientific positions, we should know by now that in one corner we find the modernist and on the other the postmodernist. 

Carroll SB (2001). "Chance and necessity: the evolution of morphological complexity and diversity". Nature 409 (6823): 1102–9.

Furusawa C, Kaneko K (2000). "Origin of complexity in multicellular organisms". Phys. Rev. Lett. 84 (26 Pt 1): 6130–3.

Adami C, Ofria C, Collier TC (2000). "Evolution of biological complexity". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (9): 4463–8.
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