Teaching Idea: Notes Toward an Ethics of Inconvenience

Someone is wrong on internet

“Someone” here just may be me, this morning anyway. Via xkdc.

Reading this article in Motherboard this morning led me to write down what you see below. I’ve labeled it “Teaching Ideas” but, as of now, I have no idea just what I mean by that.  If you read all of this (and I hope you will, and I hope you’ll comment as the spirit moves you), just remember that the operative word in the title is “Notes”:

Research showing young people are less sympathetic/empathetic than their cohort of 30 years ago.

The rise of selfie-sticks; the “production of presence”; a technologically-enabled self-indulgence, if not full-blown narcissism.  Turkle’s thesis in Alone Together: The very devices and platforms that allow us to be constantly in contact with/available to others also, paradoxically, keep us from being too inconvenienced by consideration of, let alone the actual emotional needs of, those same others.  We keep others not even at arm’s length anymore, but at machine’s length–which by its very nature does not permit of genuine human contact.  The rise of haptic technologies are a tacit recognition of this: the further enhancing of the illusion of a “realistic” experience when one is immersed in a virtual space.

IT industries’ isolating of their employees as much as possible from daily, mundane interaction with the world (via shuttles, self-contained campuses) even as they argue that the products they create will change that same world.  As in the Motherboard article above, machines now really are building machines; the Invisible Hand of the market becomes ever harder to see.

Efficiences in education/rejections, in various ways, of the traditional educational model.  Re: efficiences: Something that’s existed at least since Dewey, but computers, the growing potential of machines to learn, and Internet technologies create more temptation and/or pressure on schools at every grade level to educate more students more quickly at lower costs–marketed as convenience to students.  Online classes, MOOCs, “robo-graders.” Re: rejections: Seen in the rise of homeschooling in response to rejection/fear of/denigration of public education; the parallel reduction of funding of (if not also, as in Kansas, active political hostility toward) public education and resistance to improving both salaries and preparation of teachers; the rejection of traditional collegiate model in favor of a kind of entrepreneurial, I’ll-learn-what-I-want-to-and-not-what-people-think-I-need-to-know approach to post-secondary education.

Life as a sequence of Experiences that allow us to glide over the surface of things (bucket lists, foodism, eco-tourism, “Columbusing,” etc.) rather than something to be embraced and genuinely lived with wherever we happen to be.

(I wonder if our growing recognition and valuing and embracing of the idea of the emotional lives of animals–and I don’t at all intend to be arguing on behalf of speciesism here–is not also, in some way, a subconscious sublimating of humans’ own emotional lives.)

Disengagement from politics–except in the most unhelpful of ways (epistemic closure; extremism at the opposite ends of the political spectrum; “compromise” as a four-letter word, with governance as the victim of that attitude; etc.)

A loss of a sense of Place for many younger people.

A large majority of Americans at least think of themselves as “spiritual,” but their spirituality is often of the sort that causes them as little inconvenience as possible.  Not referring only to New Age or the picking-and-choosing of what we like from Hinduism or Buddhism or indigenous religions, but to extremely doctrinaire (or, as it happens, anti-doctrinaire) versions of Christianity, or–most egregiously–the appearance of the Prosperity Gospel, the antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount if ever there was such a thing.  We seek a spiritualism that affirms us in our desires (rather than our needs–our daily bread) as we are without also compelling us to be better than we are, or that affirms our self-righteousness, rather than a spiritualism that calls us to do things, to live our lives in service to others and the world, in the original meaning of Jesus’ phrase (Matt. 6:3) that the left hand does not know what the right is doing.

As we make the dailiness of our existence ever more convenient, easier, safer, as we thus become less reliant on other human beings and see, as Turkle puts it in Alone Together, our aliveness as an aesthetic inconvenience to be avoided as often as possible and/or only when we–not others–want or need it, are we thereby becoming less “social” creatures?  Are we becoming more detached from the means of production of not just consumer goods, but even of society, civilization? (Post-Arendt?)

Not an Emersonian moment of self-reliance, except in a bitterly ironic sense.  This is self-reliance that does not require us, sooner or later, to band together with our equally self-reliant fellow human beings but, instead, to live our lives in a growing, ever-more-splendid isolation.

Perhaps we are required to be more ethical as individuals and, thus, as a society, in proportion to our being inconvenienced by the work of living.  Not a zombie-apocalypse kind of inconvenience but, rather, the kind of inconvenience that requires of us some sort of cooperation with/(yes) occasional acquiescence to others and with/to Nature that also allows us autonomy as free agents.

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