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A Call to Educate


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The following will focus on the relationship between planned political education and left activism. If there is a justification for this, it lies in the history of the worker’s movement itself. Almost every significant step toward the self-emancipation of the working class has rested on a deep and thoroughgoing emphasis on the educational development of those indispensably involved.

Careful planning and organisation of political education among activists and workers, within and without their respective organisations, is always centrally important. In an attempt to provoke discussion, some questions are raised about the different strategies for the development of educational forms worthy of the movement the present generation of socialist activists hope to build.

The most influential socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries all realised the necessity of ensuring workers take ownership of, and develop, the knowledge necessary for self-emancipation. Certainly Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, along with many other pioneers of the movement, were never prepared to neglect this necessary work, not under threat of exile, not in the midst of revolutionary upheavals, not during imprisonment, conditions of civil war and/or counter-revolutionary witch-hunts. Realising that action has to be theoretically informed, they never stopped studying, analysing and writing, throughout their lives. They have done much to prepare the ground, providing many useful signposts for subsequent generations, yet the necessity for intensive scholarship and focused dissemination of knowledge has not diminished in the slightest. Socialism is, after all, inherently educational; it is in essence one great international and intergenerational educational movement. The development of every new socialist activist rests on the materials purposely left for them by previous generations. The books and pamphlets left behind are essentially the materials to facilitate distance education; the goal of each contribution being to facilitate the creative power of the proletariat on an individual and collective basis. The task of socialist activists is to facilitate the working-class in its efforts to take its destiny into its own hands. Doing so presupposes a heightened political consciousness, which is perhaps why Rosa Luxemburg insisted ‘we shall hardly make any progress without a clear understanding of the work of proletarian self-education’.

Most present day socialists do recognise that political education is a major part of their role as political activists.  Few really expect to fully develop their theoretical knowledge, their critical skills when applying political ideas to a changing system, through practical activism alone. Yet sometimes little thought is given to the kind of educational philosophy adhered to, or sufficient consideration given to what is most appropriate to the organisations being built. Where little thought is given to this the educational development of activists is dealt with in an ad hoc way; emphasis may be given to ‘learning through struggle’ – a key element of any organised attempt to facilitate the educational development of rank-and-file activists, but still only an element.

Assuming that attempts to remedy the general neglect will intensify in the immediate future, the question remains: what kind of education is appropriate to the self-emancipation of the working-class? The first concern must be, I would argue, to free activists (and all those they hope to influence) from what Latin American educators refer to as the ‘banking’ form. Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire used the concept of banking to characterise educational practices in which intellectual leaders ‘deposit’ knowledge and then ordinary activists assume the passive role of ‘depositories’ of that knowledge. These relations of intellectual domination and subordination are analogous with Freire’s depiction of formal schooling, where oftentimes, instead of communicating, the teacher uses communiqués and makes deposits, which the students patiently receive, memorise and repeat. The scope of action allowed to the participant extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits.

It should be immediately obvious that educational practices that in any way resemble the above are not conducive to the self-education and self-determination of activists, and not particularly helpful to a working class struggling against bourgeois ideological forms. However, such relationships are not at all uncommon among the organisations of the left. Those that fail to prioritise and carefully plan political education inadvertently permit elements of the banking form to hold sway. This would not be so inappropriate if the goal were to help people blend seamlessly into the multiple bureaucracies that comprise contemporary capitalism. But something entirely different is required if the freest and fullest intellectual development is to be attained, if the levels of political consciousness required for self-emancipation are to be realised among any significant number. Conservative educational forms are generally repellent to workers in any case; they usually see enough hierarchy in the workplace, and very often, have had enough of education that rests on authority. An ‘education for liberation’ requires dialogical exchanges rather than communiques, collaborative learning rather than ‘top-down’ hierarchal instruction, and an emphasis on learning how to think rather than what to think.

It is often said that to change the world it is necessary to understand it first. To put it another way, the self-emancipation of the working class can only proceed through the self-education of the working class. But what is the best way to facilitate this? It goes without saying that socialists learn through experience. Of course they do. All human beings learn through experience, whether at the individual or the organisational level. However, an experience (through struggle or otherwise) does not teach anything in particular. The same experience can teach the socialist one thing, the religious fundamentalist another, the bourgeois economist yet another. What is learned largely depends on the vantage point in the structure of social economy, and on the level of political culture. Quite apart from class interests, the same set of experiences can lead socialist activists, within their respective formations, to draw very different conclusions from one another. This is because the significance and meaning of an experience has to be uncovered through its formulation within a particular communicative environment. It is no accident that groups with different theoretical and analytical means of interpreting an experience can draw different lessons from it. In the end it is theory, coupled with the level of political culture previously attained, that determines whether or not lessons appropriate to the goal of self-emancipation will be learned. The political consciousness of activists and workers advances through experience, but the potentiality for that development is something that has to be carefully planned and acted upon in advance.

There are several possible approaches to political education and to facilitating the development of political consciousness. One way is to encourage that key texts be read. Another is to attempt to teach the basic tenets of Marxism via semi-public lectures, debates etc. All are helpful. But the means by which an activist comes into contact with useful information is perhaps less important than how the process of self-education is facilitated. To begin that process the participant has to move beyond reading and listening, and on to the independent application of ideas to the world that needs to be understood / transformed. That presupposes the formation of dialogical and collaborative relationships with co-learners/facilitators, which presupposes a relative independence from bureaucratic control, formal leaderships and approved experts.

Unfortunately, sometimes on the left a teacher/learner dichotomy is allowed to emerge. When this happens a select few become intellectual leaders, and then education becomes rote. This is never appropriate. Where this happens, only the pretence of free discussion can remain. In the absence of progressively planned educational provision, knowledge tends to be treated as a possession to be handed down. In the process, basic egalitarian principles, such as ‘the fullest development of each must be the condition for the fullest development of all’ hardly feature, and much of the alienation that prevails in capitalist society is reproduced among activists. In some cases a rough division of mental and manual labour prevails, coupled with attendant justifications, which approximate the bourgeois myth of meritocracy.

It is difficult to learn to think critically, if pressured to uncritically accept analyses and positions handed down by a select few. Messy as it is, a culture of intellectual mistrust is always essential. It was not for nothing that Marx lived by the motto ‘doubt everything’. There can be no deferral to a leadership when it comes to investigating, questioning and setting knowledge against developments in the real world. It is not enough for a select few to take theoretical work seriously. Theory is what distinguishes Marxist organisations from other organisations, and only to the extent that ordinary members have managed to make the theory their own, developed it within themselves and in the struggles/campaigns they find themselves involved in. It is necessary that the vast majority learn how to apply theory to events, to develop themselves as Marxists. Any organisation committed to the self-emancipation of the working class must proactively facilitate this. The political consciousness of activists cannot be advanced by simply listening to and accepting the various positions developed centrally. To treat people as passive recipients of ‘correct ideas’ is to propagandise. As Freire puts it, it is to ‘domesticate’ rather than ‘educate’. It is to realise acceptance of the organisation’s analysis and various positions, but without adequately facilitating the activist’s own capacity to comprehend and analyse. Conversely, where self-education is facilitated, the activist builds him/herself up, necessarily drawing knowledge indiscriminately from every available source, growing with every position challenged and every contribution made to the memory of the organisation they are building.

Two questions immediately present themselves: (1) given the central importance of education in the worker’s movement, why is political education very often neglected on the far left? (2) given that we know the difference between educational forms that facilitate critical independent thought, and those that serve to stunt it, why do we opt for the latter?

I would suggest that these questions cannot be answered apart from the problem of left sectarianism, which is always and everywhere a major problem. The standard (though inadequate) definition of sectarianism is: putting the narrow interests of one’s own organisation ahead of the interests of the working class. Quite obviously, this is a major obstacle insofar as it prevents the necessary pooling of educational resources across the left and those available to the working class generally. In addition to preventing activists from working together to build the most effective struggle against the common enemy, it creates an inability on the part of activists to accept and/or build upon the ideas of other forces on the left. It severely limits exposure of activists to new ideas and undermines the possibility of constructive dialogue. It helps perpetuate group-think among leaderships, and directs rank-and-file members who are hungry for knowledge into intellectual strait-jackets, ultimately repelling them.

The more sectarian the organisation the more inclined it is to neglect rank-and-file education, or to adopt quite conservative educational practices. Insofar as intellectual leadership is conferred on particular individuals, insofar as a division between intellectual and practical activity is permitted to emerge, the goal of education becomes that of propagating the view among members that their own organisation is the repository of truth, that the perspectives of its leadership represent true socialist principles.

A closely associated problem with the development of activists on the left is a high turnover of members (excepting the few organisations that are comprised of a small number of lifelong members). Where a high turnover is expected any relaxation of the organisational focus on recruitment necessarily leads to decline. As such, many of the forces on the left are forced to enter into a perpetual competition for new ‘customers’. There are many laudable methods for ensuring that potential new members choose one organisation over another, but the easiest method seems to be to fetishize ‘our analysis’ and to paint competing organisations in as bad a light as possible. This is what lies behind a great deal of what passes for criticism. When this method is adopted by competing organisations a vicious circle of mutual suspicion and reaction develops. Thereafter, it becomes difficult to deal with the issue of sectarianism in any serious manner, since it is only ever raised in a sectarian way. The would-be activists among the advanced layers of the working class are understandably repelled by this. They are further repelled by the bureaucratic centralism that they experience when interacting with the left in campaigns. But to the activist fully caught in the logic of sectarianism, most other groups appear to be sectarian (one’s own group appears free of the problem).

Though particular organisations exhibit the effects of sectarianism in a more obvious way than others, it has to be understood as a systemic problem. It finds expression all across the left in so many different ways, with almost every activist, in (or outside of) every formation somehow affected – no matter how hard some struggle to rise above it.

The point is that associated practices are always and everywhere incompatible with the free exchange of ideas and the full exploitation of educational resources and supports otherwise available. The effects do not merely prevent collaboration among the organised left. They can take the form of blanket hostility to independent activists and fellow travellers, for example with respect to the perspectives of academics and independent scholars. As with every other expression of anti-intellectualism, this is something that socialists can have nothing to do. All too often ideas that need to be taken seriously are dismissed as ‘elitist’. Sometimes it is because the ideas run contrary to established positions and views, but occasionally it is simply a matter of ‘I don’t understand this discussion, I feel excluded by it – therefore it is elitist’.

There does not appear to be any clear criteria for blanket dismissal of analysis produced by apparent rivals on the left. Evidence-based criticism tends to be dismissed as quickly as purely sectarian ‘criticism’. When judging the ideas of rival organisation the source often appears more important than the content. In some cases the fact that some of the necessary intellectual work takes place in third-level institutions is enough grounds for dismissal, even if those involved consciously subordinate their own interests, voluntarily spending a great deal of their time producing analyses that they hope will be of use to all forces on the left. No doubt third-level institutions produce esoteric trivia by the bucket-load. However, ideas should never be ignored because they appear impenetrable to most of us, or simply because of where they are produced. Ignoring any scholarly or scientific work, and failing to establish links with those developing it, is always a major mistake. There are after all socialists in third level institutions. Most may not be interested in joining the left as it exists, but many could still play a useful role in helping to build a left movement. On top of this they have considerable influence; quite apart from the public credibility they might command, they represent a bridge to the 150,000 students enrolled at third-level in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) at any given time.

Though the charge of elitism is very often justified, the sad reality is that educational practices in political organisations on the left can be far more elitist than anything existing (or tolerated) in third-level institutions. The exceptions to this tendency demonstrate that this does not have to be the case. Education can either foster an unquestioning adherence to the views advocated by an intellectual leadership, or it can function to facilitate each and every member to develop their theoretical, analytical and argumentative skills to their fullest possible potential. This can only be realised in an environment of dialogue, based on an equality of participation.

Every form of activism is communicative. Every form of activism is educative. People become active in order to change society, and know that this can only be realised by working with others to change people’s minds. When people become activists they are always partly motivated by their own quest for knowledge, for a heightened level of political consciousness, for understanding, meaning, self-determination and capacity to influence others positively. One of the great problems faced under capitalism is that of unrealised human potential; the system increasingly stands in the way of fulfilled lives, of a fully human development. It cannot be assumed that an activist will remain in a group where nothing is offered in response to this condition – in organisations that do not facilitate their development as activists (which has to be seen as a lifelong development), and that do not offer them the opportunity to make the meaningful and worthwhile contributions they are capable of making. Failures in this respect mean that both the activist/s and the organisation/s suffer. There is really no way around it; left parties/organisations have to use whatever resources are available to facilitate the fullest possible educational development of all that need it, which means everyone. An education that is hierarchical, limited according to the opinions of intellectual gatekeepers, or limited to approved lists of key classical readings can in no way suffice.

Insofar as the conditions touched upon here represent obstacles to effective political education across the left, the solution lies with group work, with dialogue, with inclusive and participative educational structures. It has to be acknowledged that members listen more, question more, contribute more and develop more, in small self-directing learning groups. If self-education is the goal then speechifying has to be replaced with spaces that permit, and require, all participants to practice formulating and verbalising thoughts in response to every event/topic/struggle. Education does of course require that the most useful knowledge be made available to participants, that there are educators/facilitators capable of providing initial guidance in this respect. However, participants can quickly learn how to do this by themselves on a collaborative basis. They do not need to know everything, or create the impression that they know everything. Since the goal is to begin, and thereafter foster, the process of self-education among activists, participants have to take responsibility for their own education, for evaluating existing perspectives, for learning to set perspectives against available evidence and developments, in this way building new knowledge, identifying gaps and further complexity, making a worthwhile contribution to individual and collective understanding.

There are, it should be noted, a considerable number of independent activists, a few party activists, and several newly formed forums/groups/initiatives, that recognise the immediate need to resolve the above issues. Even more fortunately, there is a growing appetite among a smaller but expanding group of activists to meet this challenge head on.

via Irish Left Review | A Call to Educate.

via Irish Left Review | A Call to Educate.

Mobile phones cause rise in disruptive behaviour in UK schools!


The days of dscipline in UK classrooms has gone and been replaced by groups of disruptive zombies pressing buttons on mobile phones and other gadgets.

Clickety click can be very disruptive!

Teachers in the UK are complaining about the uprise in such behaviour because they cannot concentrate on pressing their own buttons whilst attempting to give lessons in clicking buttons.

One secondary school headmistress, Penelope-Primrose Hyacinth, told a certain tabloid newspaper that comes up in the morning (if you’re lucky) and sinks very deep in the evening, how it is in modern classrooms these days:

“The silence in only interrupted by the irritating sound of communial clicking including the teachers. The only thing that disturbs the clicking sound is the bell ringing for a break, which everybody strangely hears. Then there is a sudden rush outside for a puff on a fag, joint or swallowing pills, but annoyingly the clicking even continues during such activites.”

“Thank the Lord we have Wikipedia otherwise the little urchins wouldn’t learn a thing!”

Also on the uprise, are parents who are concerned about the disruptive behaviour of their little darlings. Instead of booking themselves in for rehab to kick the habit, they are booking places for their offspring so at least they can spend some quality time together doing something they both enjoy!

More as we click it…

via The Spoof : Mobile phones cause rise in disruptive behaviour in UK schools! funny satire story.

via The Spoof : Mobile phones cause rise in disruptive behaviour in UK schools! funny satire story.

Literary World Stunned By Claims That Thousands Of English Words Have Gone Missing


The world of literature has been stunned by allegations that massive numbers of words have simply gone missing from the English language.

‘In the 1960s we believe there to have been at least one million English words,’ said a spokesman for the Queen’s English Society. ‘Dictionaries that are currently available, however, list just a few hundred. It would appear that words may have been systematically removed, year by year, and copies of earlier dictionaries destroyed.

Governments have reduced the public’s vocabulary to prevent them thinking too hard about controversial political decisions

The UK government has strongly denied that they have been part of any conspiracy. ‘As people get older, their memories are not so reliable,’ said a government spokesman. ‘It is completely ridiculous to suggest that any language could ever have had a million words in it. That would represent more than ten different words for every six hundred men, women and children in this country. Ask any younger person,’ he continued, ‘and he or she will tell you that the same ten words are more than adequate to equip everyone for life, twelve if you count “dunno” and “innit”.’

‘Language is vital for the process of reasoning,’ countered a spokesman for one of the groups campaigning for the alleged word loss to be investigated. ‘We believe that successive governments have been complicit in reducing the vocabulary of the public to prevent them thinking too hard about controversial political decisions.’

Activists allege that the systematic removal of words has been obscured by educational policies that have kept young people unaware of the previous depth and diversity of the English language. They claim that teaching of English in schools has deliberately left those under fifty years of age unable to correctly spell any of the words in their own vocabularies and so has prevented them from noticing when other words have gone missing.

They argue that English educational policy since the 1970s has not been, as previously thought, a product of breathtaking ineptitude and incompetence; instead, that it has been a deliberate and cynical plot to control the minds of the people.

Conspiracy theorists have pointed to unfamiliar words being accidentally used by politicians as evidence that more English words exist than are officially recognised. They conclude that these words must have been drawn from a secret source, not available to the general public.

‘There are no secret sources of words,’ confirmed the Prime Minister to the BBC. ‘After all, there was no literature to speak of before the 1970s. All the fantasy about the existence of earlier writers that the conspiracy theorists talk about, such as this fictitious William Shakespeare, is just a figment of somebody’s imagination that has been blown out of all proportion by repetition on the Internet.’

A difficulty encountered by such complainants, and indeed political activists pursuing any issue, has been in finding adequate language with which to state their cases. ‘For example,’ said the spokesman for the Queen’s English Society, ‘there are no specific English words for things that might be done by the state to help the poor, and there are no grammatical structures to describe “discordantia cum regimen”, as they say in Latin.’

The UK government has continued to try to allay fears about the alleged disposal of words. ‘If anyone should discover an old dictionary,’ concluded the Prime Minister, ‘then biblioclasm can be assured.’

Whilst this, of course, sounds reassuring, no one is quite sure what “biblioclasm” means.

via The Spoof : Literary World Stunned By Claims That Thousands Of English Words Have Gone Missing funny spoof magazine story.

via The Spoof : Literary World Stunned By Claims That Thousands Of English Words Have Gone Missing funny spoof magazine story.

USA to lose licence to use English language


The current 250 year licence granted to the USA to use English as its official language is due to expire at the end of January 2014. The licence was originally granted by King George III and intended as a stop-gap till the colony (as it was then) decided on it’s own language between Arapahoe, French or Spanish.

The new House of Representatives is facing a difficult decision but will probably opt to move to Spanish in the near future. Already 26% of US citizens speak Spanish and California has already experimented with shop assistants pretending not to understand English speaking customers.

The probability is that illegal immigrants from Mexico will now be given teaching jobs to bring the remaining US citizens up to speed.

All official documents such as passports, drivers licenses and Costco membership cards will now need to be translated.

The President has assured the public than the language transition will run smoothly and that Goldman Sachs were organising a team  to insure a smooth passage. GS has advised its clients to buy bonds in outsourced charter schools

via The Spoof : USA to lose licence to use English language funny satire story.

via The Spoof : USA to lose licence to use English language funny satire story.

Teachers’ union votes to reject further talks on Croke Park 2


THE TEACHERS’ UNION OF IRELAND (TUI) has voted in favour of a motion that instructs its executive committee not to re-enter talks on Croke Park 2 with either government or management and to reject any imposition of proposals on its memebers.

The union today held its conference in Galway, voting on several motions in relation to the proposals for the new Croke Park Agreement.

One of the emergency motions voted on today instructs the executive committee to withdraw from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) if attempts are made to impose proposals on members.

In the event that the government or ICTU tries to impose the proposals under the new Croke Park deal on TUI members, the union has voted to ballot for industrial action including strike action.

Over 80 percent of TUI members, made up of post-primary teachers and higher education lecturers, voted to reject the proposals under the new agreement in the union’s first ballot last month.

Today the union proposed that should the government move to impose any change to conditions already rejected by members of TUI in the democratic ballot of members, members will immediately desist from participating in any or all of the following:

Croke Park discussions

Supervision duties

Substitution duties

School development planning

School self evaluation

Half in/Half out meetings

Any or all teacher-based assessments

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this evening Deputy General Secretary of the TUI Annette Dolan said it was now a matter of waiting for the outcome of other ballots to get an overview of members’ opinions.

Earlier today, Education Minister Ruairí Quinn was heckled by teachers waving red cards in the air during his address at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation annual conference in Cork.

Quinn is due to speak at the TUI conference in Galway tomorrow and Dolan said she expects he will be “received courteously” by members. She said the union always “made a point of engaging in a dialogue with the minister”.

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via Teachers’ union votes to reject further talks on Croke Park 2.

via Teachers’ union votes to reject further talks on Croke Park 2.

Interview with Edward Wilson on the Formation of Morals


American sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson is championing a controversial new approach for explaining the origins of virtue and sin. In an interview, the world-famous ant reseacher explains why he believes the inner struggle is the characteristic trait of human nature.

Edward O. Wilson doesn’t come across as the kind of man who’s looking to pick a fight. With his shoulders upright and his head tilting slightly to the side, he shuffles through the halls of Harvard University. His right eye, which has given him trouble since his childhood, is halfway closed. The other is fixed on the ground. As an ant researcher, Wilson has made a career out of things that live on the earth’s surface.

here’s also much more to Wilson. Some consider him to be the world’s most important living biologist, with some placing him on a level with Charles Darwin.

In addition to discovering and describing hundreds of species of ants, Wilson’s book on this incomparably successful group of insects is the only non-fiction biology tome ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. Another achievement was decoding the chemical communication of ants, whose vocabulary is composed of pheromones. His study of the ant colonization of islands helped to establish one of the most fruitful branches of ecology. And when it comes to the battle against the loss of biodiversity, Wilson is one of the movement’s most eloquent voices.

‘Blessed with Brilliant Enemies’

But Wilson’s fame isn’t solely the product of his scientific achievements. His enemies have also helped him to establish a name. “I have been blessed with brilliant enemies,” he says. In fact, the multitude of scholars with whom Wilson has skirmished academically is illustrious. James Watson, one of the discoverers of the double helix in DNA is among them, as is essayist Stephen Jay Gould.

At 83 years of age, Wilson is still at work making a few new enemies. The latest source of uproar is a book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” published last April in the United States and this month in a German-language edition. In the tome, Wilson attempts to describe the triumphal advance of humans in evolutionary terms.

It is not uncommon for Wilson to look to ants for inspiration in his writings — and that proves true here, as well. When, for example, he recalls beholding two 90-million-year-old worker ants that were trapped in a piece of fossil metasequoia amber as being “among the most exciting moments in my life,” a discovery that “ranked in scientific importance with Archaeopteryx, the first fossil intermediary between birds and dinosaurs, and Australopithecus, the first ‘missing link’ discovered between modern humans and the ancestral apes.”

But that’s all just foreplay to the real controversy at the book’s core. Ultimately, Wilson uses ants to explain humans’ social behavior and, by doing so, breaks with current convention. The key question is the level at which Darwinian selection of human characteristics takes place. Did individuals enter into a fight for survival against each other, or did groups battle it out against competing groups?

Prior to this book, Wilson had been an influential champion of the theory of kin selection. He has now rejected his previous teachings, literally demolishing them. “The beautiful theory never worked well anyway, and now it has collapsed,” he writes. Today, he argues that human nature can only be understood if it is perceived as being the product of “group selection” — a view that Wilson’s fellow academics equate with sacrilege. They literally lined up to express their scientific dissent in a joint letter.

Some of the most vociferous criticism has come from Richard Dawkins, whose bestselling 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” first introduced the theory of kin selection to a mass audience. In a withering review of Wilson’s book in Britain’s Prospect magazine, Dawkins accuses a man he describes as his “lifelong hero” of “wanton arrogance” and “perverse misunderstandings”. “To borrow from Dorothy Parker,” he writes, “this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.”

SPIEGEL recently sat down with sociobiologist Wilson to discuss his book and the controversy surrounding it.

SPIEGEL: Professor Wilson, lets assume that 10 million years ago some alien spacecraft had landed on this planet. Which organisms would they find particularly intriguing?

Wilson: Their interest, I believe, would not have been our ancestors. Primarily, they would have focused on ants, bees, wasps, and termites. Their discovery is what the aliens would report back to headquarters.

SPIEGEL: And you think those insects would be more interesting to them than, for example, elephants, flocks of birds or intelligent primates?

Wilson: They would be, because, at that time, ants and termites would be the most abundant creatures on the land and the most highly social creatures with very advanced division of labor and caste. We call them “eusocial,” and this phenomenon seems to be extremely rare.

SPIEGEL: What else might the aliens consider particularly interesting about ants?

Wilson: Ants engage in farming and animal husbandry. For example, some of them cultivate fungi. Others herd aphids and literally milk them by stroking them with their antennae. And the other thing the aliens would find extremely interesting would be the degree to which these insects organize their societies by pheromones, by chemical communication. Ants and termites have taken this form of communication to extremes.

SPIEGEL: So the aliens would cable back home: “We have found ants. They are the most promising candidates for a future evolution towards intelligent beings on earth?”

Wilson: No, they wouldn’t. They would see that these creatures were encased in exoskeletons and therefore had to remain very small. They would conclude that there was little chance for individual ants or termites to develop much reasoning power, nor, as a result, the capacity for culture. But at least on this planet, you have to be big in order to have sufficient cerebral cortex. And you probably have to be bipedal and develop hands with pulpy fingers, because those give you the capacity to start creating objects and to manipulate the environment.

SPIEGEL: Would our ancestors not have caught their eye?

Wilson: Ten million years ago, our ancestors indeed had developed a somewhat larger brain and versatile hands already. But the crucial step had yet to come.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Wilson: Let me go back to the social insects for a moment. Why did social insects start to form colonies? Across hundreds of millions of years, insects had been proliferating as solitary forms. Some of them stayed with their young for a while, guided them and protected them. You find that widespread but far from universal in the animal kingdom. However, out of those species came a much smaller number of species who didn’t just protect their young, but started building nests that they defended …

SPIEGEL: … similar to birds.

Wilson: Yes. And I think that birds are right at the threshold of eusocial behaviour. But looking at the evolution of ants and termites again, there is another crucial step. In an even smaller group, the young don’t only grow up in their nest, but they also stay and care for the next generation. Now you have a group staying together with a division of labor. That is evidently the narrow channel of evolution that you have to pass through in order to become eusocial.

SPIEGEL: And our ancestors followed the same path?

Wilson: Yes. I argue that Homo habilis, the first humans, also went through these stages. In particular, Homo habilis was unique in that they already had shifted to eating meat.

SPIEGEL: What difference would that make?

Wilson: When animals start eating meat, they tend to form packs and to divide labor. We know that the immediate descendants of Homo habilis, Homo erectus, gathered around camp sites and that they actually had begun to use fire. These camp sites are equivalent to nests. That’s where they gathered in a tightly knit group, and then individuals went out searching for food.

SPIEGEL: And this development of groups drives evolution even further?

Wilson: Exactly. And, for example, if it now comes to staking out the hunting grounds, then group stands against group.

SPIEGEL: Meaning that this is the origin of warfare?

Wilson: Yes. But it doesn’t take necessarily the forming of an army or a battalion and meeting on the field and fighting. It was mostly what you call “vengeance raids”. One group attacks another, maybe captures a female or kills one or two males. The other group then counterraids, and this will go back and forth, group against group.

Part 2: ‘Kin Selection Doesn’t Explain Anything’

SPIEGEL: You say that this so called group selection is vital for the evolution of humans. Yet traditionally, scientists explain the emergence of social behavior in humans by kin selection.

Wilson: That, for a number of reasons, isn’t much good as an explanation.

SPIEGEL: But you yourself have long been a proponent of this theory. Why did you change your mind?

Wilson: You are right. During the 1970s, I was one of the main proponents of kin selection theory. And at first the idea sounds very reasonable. So for example, if I favored you because you were my brother and therefore we share one half of our genes, then I could sacrifice a lot for you. I could give up my chance to have children in order to get you through college and have a big family. The problem is: If you think it through, kin selection doesn’t explain anything. Instead, I came to the conclusion that selection operates on multiple levels. On one hand, you have normal Darwinian selection going on all the time, where individuals compete with each other. In addition, however, these individuals now form groups. They are staying together, and consequently it is group versus group.

SPIEGEL: Turning away from kin selection provoked a rather fierce reaction from many of your colleagues.

Wilson: No, it didn’t. The reaction was strong, but it came from a relatively small group of people whose careers are based upon studies of kin selection.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t that too easy? After all, 137 scientists signed a response to your claims. They accuse you of a “misunderstanding of evolutionary theory”.

Wilson: You know, most scientists are tribalists. Their lives are so tied up in certain theories that they can’t let go.

SPIEGEL: Does it even make a substantial difference if humans evolved through kin selection or group selection?

Wilson: Oh, it changes everything. Only the understanding of evolution offers a chance to get a real understanding of the human species. We are determined by the interplay between individual and group selection where individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. We’re all in constant conflict between self-sacrifice for the group on the one hand and egoism and selfishness on the other. I go so far as to say that all the subjects of humanities, from law to the creative arts are based upon this play of individual versus group selection.

SPIEGEL: Is this Janus-faced nature of humans our greatest strength at the end of the day?

Wilson: Exactly. This inner conflict between altruism and selfishness is the human condition. And it is very creative and probably the source of our striving, our inventiveness and imagination. It’s that eternal conflict that makes us unique.

SPIEGEL: So how do we negotiate this conflict?

Wilson: We don’t. We have to live with it.

SPIEGEL: Which element of this human condition is stronger?

Wilson: Let’s put it this way: If we would be mainly influenced by group selection, we would be living in kind of an ant society.

SPIEGEL: … the ultimate form of communism?

Wilson: Yes. Once in a while, humans form societies that emphasize the group, for example societies with Marxist ideology. But the opposite is also true. In other societies the individual is everything. Politically, that would be the Republican far right.

SPIEGEL: What determines which ideology is predominant in a society?

Wilson: If your territory is invaded, then cooperation within the group will be extreme. That’s a human instinct. If you are in a frontier area, however, then we tend to move towards the extreme individual level. That seems to be a good part of the problem still with America. We still think we’re on the frontier, so we constantly try to put forward individual initiative and individual rights and rewards based upon individual achievement.

SPIEGEL: Earlier, you differentiated between the “virtue” of altruism and the “sin” of individualism. In your book you talk about the “poorer and the better angels” of human nature. Is it helpful to use this kind of terminology?

Wilson: I will admit that using the terminology of “virtue” and “sin” is what poets call a “trope”. That is to say, I wanted the idea in crude form to take hold. Still, a lot of what we call “virtue” has to do with propensities to behave well toward others. What we call “sin” are things that people do mainly out of self-interest.

SPIEGEL: However, our virtues towards others go only so far. Outside groups are mainly greeted with hostility.

Wilson: You are right. People have to belong to a group. That’s one of the strongest propensities in the human psyche and you won’t be able to change that. However, I think we are evolving, so as to avoid war — but without giving up the joy of competition between groups. Take soccer …

SPIEGEL: … or American football.

Wilson: Oh, yes, American football, it’s a blood sport. And people live by team sports and national or regional pride connected with team sports. And that’s what we should be aiming for, because, again, that spirit is one of the most creative. It landed us on the moon, and people get so much pleasure from it. I don’t want to see any of that disturbed. That is a part of being human. We need our big games, our team sports, our competition, our Olympics.

SPIEGEL: “Humans,” the saying goes, “have Paleolithic emotions” …

Wilson: … “Medieval institutions and god-like technology”. That’s our situation, yeah. And we really have to handle that.

SPIEGEL: How?

Wilson: So often it happens that we don’t know how, also in situations of public policy and governance, because we don’t have enough understanding of human nature. We simply haven’t looked at human nature in the best way that science might provide. I think what we need is a new Enlightenment. During the 18th century, when the original Enlightenment took place, science wasn’t up to the job. But I think science is now up to the job. We need to be harnessing our scientific knowledge now to get a better, science-based self-understanding.

SPIEGEL: It seems that, in this process, you would like to throw religions overboard altogether?

Wilson: No. That’s a misunderstanding. I don’t want to see the Catholic Church with all of its magnificent art and rituals and music disappear. I just want to have them give up their creation stories, including especially the resurrection of Christ.

SPIEGEL: That might well be a futile endeavour …

Wilson: There was this American physiologist who was asked if Mary’s bodily ascent from Earth to Heaven was possible. He said, “I wasn’t there; therefore, I’m not positive that it happened or didn’t happen; but of one thing I’m certain: She passed out at 10,000 meters.” That’s where science comes in. Seriously, I think we’re better off with no creation stories.

SPIEGEL: With this new Enlightenment, will we reach a higher state of humanity?

Wilson: Do we really want to improve ourselves? Humans are a very young species, in geologic terms, and that’s probably why we’re such a mess. We’re still living with all this aggression and ability to go to war. But do we really want to change ourselves? We’re right on the edge of an era of being able to actually alter the human genome. But do we want that? Do we want to create a race that’s more rational and free of many of these emotions? My response is no, because the only thing that distinguishes us from super-intelligent robots are our imperfect, sloppy, maybe even dangerous emotions. They are what makes us human.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Wilson, we thank you for this conversation.

Interview conducted by Philip Bethge and Johann Grolle

via SPIEGEL Interview with Edward Wilson on the Formation of Morals – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

via SPIEGEL Interview with Edward Wilson on the Formation of Morals – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

TUI rejects Croke Park extension deal


The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to reject the Croke Park II proposals.

It is the first completed ballot on the deal.

The TUI represents just under 15,000 second level teachers and lecturers.

Traditionally, if a majority of ICTU unions accept a deal like Croke Park, those who reject it abide by the majority vote.

However, the TUI executive has decided not to be bound by an overall vote in favour.

TUI President Gerard Craughwell said this could pose a huge problem for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – particularly if other unions opposed to the Croke Park extension plans follow the TUI line and refuse to accept the majority vote.

The proposals in the Croke Park deal are aimed at reducing the public sector pay bill by an additional €1 billion over the next three years.

via TUI rejects Croke Park extension deal – RTÉ News.

via TUI rejects Croke Park extension deal.

Do Gooders and Guilt Tours in Luang Prabang


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Sheila lives in Luang Prabang, Laos. She runs a shop, and has a little dog that is fiercely protective when strangers come around. But the little dog has nothing on Sheila. “Don’t get me started,” Sheila warns. Then she starts.

“The government organizations; the UN organizations; the NGOs — they come to Laos, piss millions of dollars against a wall. They bring their families, they have their four-wheel drive vehicles, and they drive around visiting Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand and have a wonderful time. Then they go home. And they’re useless.

Countries are starting to tell them to stay away. These organizations are now paying countries to let them in so they can do their great work. Now they’re all leaving Laos for Myanmar — that’s their next big project.

“NGOs send kids over here, lots of good intentions, but without any of the skills or talents that might be of some use. My friend Jane calls them ‘blancmanges.’ They’re just bland, ordinary kids with none of the abilities they require to make a difference — especially in a country like this one that has essentially jumped from the 16th century to the 21st. And the kids don’t last — they’re gone in a hurry.”

Sheila is a 50-ish Australian ex-pat who has lived in Luang Prabang for 15 years. Upon learning that she was conversing with a Canadian writer, she asks not to be identified. “I have to live here,” she says. And she has plenty to say about some of her imported neighbours. “All of these businesses started up by ex-pats that promise to ‘give back’ to the community,” she snorts. “Please. Almost nobody gives back. There are perhaps a couple of good organizations here and the rest are lining their pockets. Like those ‘Western guilt‘ tours, where people pay money to come and paint an orphanage. Does the orphanage get the money? No. The tour company pockets the money. And I talk to the orphanage workers — they say, ‘How many new coats of paint do we need?’ They ask for money to feed the kids instead. But no. They get more fresh paint. And the tour company gets paid.”

Penciled in progress

Ryan Young is not quite so dyspeptic. Young manages Joma Bakery Cafe, one of the few Luang Prabang joints that offers travelers a real espresso and an English language newspaper. The cafe, co-owned by former Vancouver residents Michael Harder and Jonathan Blair, is active in supporting a local charity called Pencils of Promise. And he says they do give back. “One per cent of our sales goes to Pencils of Promise and one per cent goes to Hagar International, which helps women escape from sexual slavery. We also hire those women. And we participate in a lot of projects with Pencils of Promise. This week our staff members, who are from the local community, were out helping kids find healthier ways to prepare some favourite local dishes.”

Young, who came to Luang Prabang from Portland, Oregon, about 18 months ago, does not discount Sheila’s points. “If there’s no commitment after the project,” he says, “if it’s just about having a picture of yourself posing with a brown kid to put on the fridge at home, well, that’s always a red flag.”

“When Pencils of Promise goes into a community to build a school we ask for 25 per cent contribution from the community, whether that’s labour or cement or whatever. We make sure the building is one that they want and one that fits into the community, whether it looks good in a photo or not. We make sure there is a teacher in place and ongoing program support, or we don’t do it. Since the ‘Three Cups of Tea’ controversy there’s more awareness and more scrutiny — you need to make sure there’s going to be a school functioning after the builders leave.”

That contrasts with Sheila’s description of one international aid project. “We asked the EU people to come and build a new three-room high school at the orphanage so kids wouldn’t have to leave at age 14 or so. The orphanage people told me, ‘Sheila, come see our new school.’ So I did. I asked, ‘Where’s the furniture? Where’s the electricity? Where are the blackboards?’ Well, the EU people didn’t do that. They get kudos for four walls and a ceiling and that’s the end of it. The orphanage had to raise another $8,000 to get equipment. Same thing when the hospital got built — no equipment. They don’t care. They do their little bit and take off.”

Read closely

Sheila does mention an organization that she believes does good work in Luang Prabang — Lao Kids, a group that raises money for local schools, orphanages, and hospitals, with all members working for free.

Not every local do-gooder group is volunteer run. Big Brother Mouse is a self-described non-profit that publishes children’s books and promotes reading parties at local schools to help Laotian kids develop reading skills. They sell their books directly to the public, and also ask for donations to fund the reading parties at a cost of $300-$400. They’ve received plenty of great publicity. But when hearing about their work it’s easy to miss the fact that they are not a charity.

“To be fair,” Young says, “Big Brother Mouse never claims to be a charity. And really, the responsibility is on the giver. If you’re not just trying to make yourself feel good — if you want your money to be used effectively — it’s up to you to check out the financial statements of an organization.”

Young is also more forgiving of big NGOs in Laos. Groups like Save the Children and World Vision have to deal with the Laotian government. “I’m told there are 16 different government departments and they don’t recognize each other,” Young says. “There are turf wars — they all want to sign off on the project. They send government representatives out to supervise, and they all have to be paid per diems by the NGO. After a school gets built I’m told that sometimes the costs of hosting government officials is greater than the cost of building the school.”

One of Sheila’s stories seems certain to inspire a mix of anger and pride in a Canadian listener. “There was a Canadian government operation back in the early part of this century — maybe 24 or 28 young Canadians came over here. They were going to promote waste reduction and recycling in Laotian schools. The kids spent the first few months learning the language, and then they were sent off to the provinces. It was supposed to be a two-year program. By the end of, I think, a year, there were only three of the Canadians left in Laos. The others had all run home.

“But those three were wonderful. They had each of them figured out that this program was never going to work. So they decided to figure out what they could do to actually help. One guy asked the locals, ‘What do you need?’ And they said, ‘Water supply systems.’ So he put together a program that not only helped the village water supply but eventually had them making money by selling water systems to other villages. It was great. But all the while he was sending these bullshit emails back to the Canadian government people, saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m executing the program, it’s going great.’ And meanwhile he was doing something completely different, but useful.”

Sheila can’t remember the name of the Canadian woman who had been assigned to Luang Prabang. But this young Canadian too figured out that the plan wasn’t working. “She was supposed to be teaching the kids to gather paper waste,” Sheila says. “But then what? There was no place for it. They actually ended up burning the stuff because they didn’t know what else to do.”

‘Can I just vent?’

The Canadian realized that recycling facilities were needed and began lobbying the government. Eventually a plant was built and contracts signed with China and Vietnam, so that today there is some recycling going on, with local women being paid to collect plastic containers.

Little credit for that goes to our government. “At one point they sent over a bunch of consultants to speak to the Laotians,” Sheila recalls. “The Canadian girl told me, ‘Sheila, I have a master’s degree in this stuff. But I couldn’t understand what these people were saying. And they were talking to the Laotians this way — nobody understood a word.’ Then the consultants got back on their plane — probably had a nice vacation as well — and they went home. The Canadian government must have spent a lot of money to send them — more money pissed against a wall. If I was a Canadian taxpayer I’d be pretty angry.

“That young woman used to get so mad at the Canadian government. She would come in here and say, ‘Can I just stand here and vent?’

“That’s the kind of person you need to get something done here,” Sheila says. “Not these wimpy kids they keep sending.”

If the mysterious Canadian ever does return she’ll be pleased about one thing — Joma Cafe has Nanaimo bars.

via The Tyee – Do Gooders and Guilt Tours in Luang Prabang.

via The Tyee – Do Gooders and Guilt Tours in Luang Prabang.

Healy Eames wants games to stop after 2 hours


I believe it is not unreasonable to demand some class of a microchip to be installed that shuts the game down after two hours”

With a hat-tip to BreakingNews.ie we learned today that Galway Senator Freely Memes Senator Fidelma Healy Eames previously pledged to write to the National Consumer Association in 2011 to have chips fitted to gaming consoles so they will shut down after two hours.

Apart from the health point of view, thousands of our children, teens and even young married men are spending endless hours on these machines. Just ask parents how difficult it is.”

Having compared the ill effects of playing video games to those of smoking she pledged to get manufacturers to fit devices which would automatically shut down the consoles and then keep them off for some time. Onwards to the dystopian tomorrow where the non video gaming Irish master race will be free to frape and sext as much as they want.

What a loo-laa. Can you imagine the craic in the National Consumer Association when they got the young intern to ring up Sony and Microsoft and ask them to ‘stick a chip in there that we can get the young fella off the couch’

The Senator, who is going on another ‘fact-finding mission’ to the USA on the tab  of some shadowy American pro-life fundamentalist group despite political contributions to the seanad being capped, has been all over the news since being given a Senate seat. Following three failed general election campaign the Labour Panel consisting of the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations & the Irish Congress of Trade Unions gave her a seat in the Seanad on a salary of €65,621 BEFORE expenses.

Panti Bliss recalls Fidelma’s wonderful contribtuion to the control of social media debate.

via Healy Eames wants games to stop after 2 hours : rabble.

via Healy Eames wants games to stop after 2 hours : rabble.

Harriet Tubman : rabble


Today marks the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s death.

The abolitionist, former slave and her incredible journey from slavery to becoming the first woman to lead a fighting unit in the Union Army during the Civil War is a biography deserving more exposure. She became known as the Black Moses for her work with the Underground Railroad. See this short documentary for more:

via Harriet Tubman : rabble.

via Harriet Tubman : rabble.

Secondary teachers’ union to recommend No vote on pay proposals


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ONE OF THE TWO trade unions representing secondary school teachers is to recommend that its members reject the proposed ‘Croke Park 2′ pay deal.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) will ballot its 17,500 members on the deal in the coming weeks.

The union’s standing committee said the proposals from the Labour Relations Commission would worsen working conditions for teachers while also cutting their pay.

“The proposals come at a time when second-level schools are reeling from the impact of the education cutbacks including significant reductions in staffing and resources,” the union said in a statement this evening.

Senior members said public sector workers had already taken a cumulative pay cut of 14 per cent in recent years, while delivering “substantial” savings under the terms of the original Croke Park Agreement.

“The fairer way for the Government to achieve additional savings is through a more progressive tax system,” it said.

The union added that the supervision and substitution allowance – worth about €1,800 a year, which would be abolished under the proposals – would have “a disproportionate negative impact on low-paid part-time and temporary teachers” who had come rely on that money.

It also claimed that some aspects of the deal had yet to be clarified, and that it could not recommend the deal to its members while some of its impact remained unknown.

The union has become the sixth, of the 15 public service unions, to publicly recommend a No vote.

The INTO, which represents primary teachers, did not issue a recommendation; the other main secondary union, the TUI, and the university lecturers’ union IFUT are both seeking a No vote.

via Secondary teachers’ union to recommend No vote on pay proposals.

via Secondary teachers’ union to recommend No vote on pay proposals.

Teacher who is afraid of children, to sue


CHILDREN are terrifying things, with their snotty little faces, gurgling traps and little accusatory fists. It is little wonder we treat them with such contempt.

One person who is really frightened of children is an ex-teacher who is suing her former school district, saying that was discriminated against for her fear of children. You heard.

Maria Waltherr-Willard had been teaching French and Spanish at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati since 1976. When the 61-year-old was transferred to the district’s middle school a few year ago, the seventh and eighth-graders she was to teach triggered her paedophobia (that’s a phobia of young children, rather than the other similar word). Her blood pressure went through the roof and she needed to retire in 2010.

And now, the lawsuit states that Waltherr-Willard’s paedophobia is covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and that her bosses violated it by transferring her and refusing her a move back to the high school. The high school that presumably didn’t have any children.

*shrug*

School district attorney Gary Winters claimed that Waltherr-Willard simply “wants money,” and added: “Let’s keep in mind that our goal here is to provide the best teachers for students and the best academic experience for students, which certainly wasn’t accomplished by her walking out on them in the middle of the year.”

Waltherr-Willard claims she has lost out on at least $100,000, but the damages are not specified in the suit. The suit that is from a teacher who is scared of children.

Beggar’s belief.

via Teacher who is afraid of children, to sue.

via Teacher who is afraid of children, to sue.

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