The Humility of Learning

Someone told me recently that education is a quintessentially humbling experience.

If you are truly learning, then by definition you are pushing the limits of what you know. The further you advance in this process, the closer you come to pushing the limits of what anyone knows.

You may even eventually have the capacity to generate new knowledge, but there’s a whole lot of not knowing that comes first. Well, really, there’s a whole lot of not knowing the whole time.

I find that image of education resonate, but also kind of odd – why should a lack of knowledge be shaming in the first place?

To be fair, there are many different ways to not have knowledge.

For example, I have very little patience for those who are willfully ignorant. If you think you know everything, but don’t actually know anything – that’s a problem. If you aren’t interested in exploring other data, viewpoints, or opinions – that’s a problem. If you simply refuse to learn about a topic which is entirely relevant to you – that’s kind of a problem.

But if you simply don’t know something –

Well, that should be forgivable.

Expected, even.

And yet our social norms seem to prohibit admitting such weakness.

I mean, I can’t be the only person whose been known to use the phrase, “yeah, that sounds familiar…” as code for, “I have no earthly idea what you’re talking about.”

It’s like the law of always saying yes in improv – when someone asks if you are familiar with something, it just feels right to claim you are.

The only problem with that, of course, is that you never learn anything if you don’t ask.

The Internet has changed that a bit, I suppose, as I have been known to make a mental list of things to Google later.

But generally speaking, if you don’t ask – if you don’t admit a lack of knowledge – you will never learn.

And that is humbling.

But it shouldn’t be shaming.

We all have a lot to learn. We all have so much to learn.

And none of us will ever know everything.

So I like to sign off sometimes – particularly after a long rant full of my own views, opinions, and biases; after pontificating about anything I claim to know – I like to sign off with the one thing I do know:

I know nothing.

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on giving content to Fox News

The Fox News website has published four op-eds of mine over the years (“Federal citizenship test: What should a good citizen really know about America?“; “ObamaCare and Millennials: Why lessons of 2014 will last a lifetime“; “What bipartisan budget agreement suggests for future of American democracy“; and “GOP’s future could depend on Romney and your kids“). I believe I also appeared on the Fox TV network once in 2012. When people see these stories on my Facebook page or posted on other people’s pages, the venue–Fox News–draws the most attention. Some assume that the author is a right-winger and attack my position without reading it. Some are perplexed–or pleased–that Fox would run these stories.

I’ve had entirely positive feelings about appearing on Fox. (I also go on conservative talk radio for similar reasons.) But this isn’t a simple matter, and I understand where the critical reactions are coming from.

I would be the first to decry the impact of Fox on our national political culture and on public opinion about specific topics (such as climate change). Some critics may overestimate the political impact of the network; to a significant extent, a media business is a manifestation, not a cause, of public opinion. It mostly serves a market; it doesn’t create one. DellaVigna and Kaplan find that the rise of Fox News affected political outcomes, but not by much: the GOP gained up to 0.7 percent of the vote as a result of its growth.

But a case can be made that Fox has expanded the market for what my colleagues Sarah Sobieraj and Jeff Berry call “outrage,” which, in turn, has debased our political culture and made it harder for us to govern ourselves as a republic. Sobieraj and Berry define outrage as “efforts to provoke emotional responses (e.g., anger, fear moral indignation) from the audience through the use of overgeneralization, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks, and belittling ridicule of opponents.” Outrage as a genre also has other notable characteristics: a celebrity voice, a purely editorial stance (no original reporting), ideological narrowness, skill at engaging viewers, and lots of mutual references among like-minded commentators. (See Jeffrey M. Berry  and Sarah Sobieraj, The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility.) Outrage sells, and Fox News has pioneered and expanded that market.

Fox does not pay its editorialists or guests who appear on the air. Thus I am not guilty of taking money from the network. On the other hand, I am giving them free content. If they are a malevolent force, one could ask whether that is the right thing to do.

I believe the answer is yes, for these reasons:

  1. It’s not a one-way relationship, with me giving them content. They are giving me and my organization a platform. It is an especially valuable platform for engaging people I might not otherwise reach.
  2. One of our problems as a nation is “outrage,” which is practiced on both the right and the left. Another national problem is the kind of right-wing politics exemplified by at least some of Fox’s hosts. But a third problem is polarization. If we stop trying to reach across the partisan divide, we are giving up on that third problem, which I am not willing to do.
  3. I endorse Archon Fung’s argument in “Deliberation Before the Revolution: Toward an Ethics of Deliberative Democracy in an Unjust World?” (Political Theory, Vol. 33, No. 3, Spring 2005). I’ve written at greater length about this piece before, but the basic idea is that you should presume that a powerful entity will deliberate with you until it specifically demonstrates that it won’t, at which point you are free to be strictly adversarial. You shouldn’t write them off because of their overall record or structure, but try to engage them until they fail to reciprocate. In game-theory terms, this is not a losing strategy, because you are free to disengage. It is rather a strategy for spreading deliberative norms as far as they will go.

The post on giving content to Fox News appeared first on Peter Levine.

Strategic Peacebuilding (USIP Instructor-Led Online Course)

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Strategic Peacebuilding is an instructor-led online course which seeks to equip learners with the ability to build and utilize a more comprehensive and strategic approach to constructing a just peace.

From USIP

USIP_Strategic peacebuildingStrategic Peacebuilding originates in the assumption that the successful building of a viable and just peace, as well as the creation and operation of programs that sustain it, is a complex process that requires significant expertise. If, as the American saying goes, ‘war is too important to be left to generals’, than most certainly peace is too important to be left only to those with good intentions or a passion for principled action, however virtuous these characteristics may be.

The course teaches that to end situations of large-scale violence, hatred or injustice; professional peacebuilders must combine their knowledge of the central concepts, theories and findings of modern peace research, with what we know of the best practices of experts engaged in peacebuilding and related problems, with careful, in-depth, reflection on how insiders and outsiders to a violent conflict can build stable peace in their particular situation at hand.

It has been designed to provide a cross-disciplinary examination of violence and peace issues so that learners will have a firm grounding in the central concepts, methods, frameworks and findings which peace research scholars, policy makers, and professional peacebuilders employ in dealing with war and violence. This course underscores the shared interest and circumstances across various fields that participate in and contribute to peacebuilding – sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, international relations, economics, and religion. Our approach in the course is that a more holistic approach to peacebuilding enhances its efficacy and sustainability. We believe that peacebuilding must build and maintain top-down and bottom-up connections between people and groups at all levels.

Agenda:
Week 1: An Introduction to Strategic Peacebuilding
This session provides an overview of the seven components of strategic peacebuilding: (1) recognizing the burden of long-term violence, (2) eliciting plans from locale for how to get to long term peace, (3) beginning processes of moving from conflict resolution to conflict transformation, (4) identifying the needs for insider-outsider links and helping to build them, (5) identifying and attempting to deal with spoilers, (6) identifying the issues that will pose significant challenges to the success of strategic peacebuilding, and (7) “evaluating, eliciting, evaluating, eliciting…” During this session you will be immersed in a scenario that exposes you to the myriad issues, problems, and dilemmas that can emerge “the day after the violence ends.” Through this scenario you will come to understand what is meant by “strategic peacebuilding”, how and why the concept has evolved and why it’s important.

Week 2: Long-Term Violence and Conflict Transformation
This session takes a closer look at the ways in which experiencing long-term violence impacts various elements of social, political, and economic structures of a conflict-affected community. It also takes a closer look at the academic and practical shift in the field from engaging in conflict “resolution” work to conflict “transformation” work. In order to explore these components you will be immersed in a scenario that touches on issues related to both “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration” (DDR) and gender dynamics of peacebuilding.

Week 3: Insider-Outsider Links and Spoilers
This session investigates how strategic peacebuilders should (or should not) work with and connect individuals, organizations and institutions from inside the zone of conflict with those who are intervening or providing support from the outside. In addition, this session deals with the problem of spoilers who seek to disrupt the peace process, be it intentionally or unintentionally. To explore these topics, you will be immersed in a scenario that touches on the issue of balancing the sometimes competing concerns of human rights and justice with conflict resolution and ending violence.

Week 4: Strategic Peacebuilding Challenges and Monitoring & Evaluation
The final week of the course looks at what challenges peacebuilders face when trying to apply and practice the above mentioned components into their work. It also looks at the role of monitoring and evaluating what we do as strategic peacebuilders throughout the course of our work. In order to explore these topics, you will be immersed in a scenario that touches on crime and corruption as the new enemies of peace. This session will also provide a bridge into the second-half of the course that guides you through a series of self-paced learning experiences.

About the United States Institute of PeaceUSIP
The United States Institute of Peace works to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict around the world. USIP does this by engaging directly in conflict zones and by providing analysis, education, and resources to those working for peace. Created by Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan, federally funded organization, USIP’s more than 300 staff work at the Institute’s D.C. headquarters, and on the ground in the world’s most dangerous regions.

Follow on Twitter: @USIP.

Resource Link: www.usip.org/online-courses/strategic-peacebuilding

This resource was submitted by Leah Cullins, the Program Coordinator at the United States Institute of Peace, via the Add-a-Resource form.

David Mathews’ Message to the NCDD Community

At the 2014 NCDD conference last fall, we were honored to have David Mathews speak during the opening session. For those who don’t know, David is president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation.

DMandMarla-borderFor his talk, we asked David to orient attendees to the past and present landscape in Washington for dialogue and deliberation.  We wanted him to look back to his days in the Ford administration, and reflect on what he and Kettering have learned over the years about how citizen deliberation can influence Washington politics and policymakers.

He took the task very seriously, delivering a thoughtful, engaging speech which received a standing ovation from attendees! After the conference, David took the time to expand on his remarks in a must-read 12-page document he prepared for us, titled “A Historic Opportunity to Add the Public Voice that’s Missing.”

David often talks about how the organizations in our coalition have the unique ability to create the conditions that are needed for a real “public voice” to develop, and could bring this voice to Washington with the right approach. In a letter to me about his expanded remarks, David wrote:

Never in our history have we had so many organizations that are dedicated to letting citizens decide for themselves rather than insisting people support a predetermined position. I believe that NCDD can play a key role in seizing this rare opportunity.

Wow! Please take the time to read and reflect on this important document. Next week, we’ll discuss David’s message to our community on the NCDD Discussion list. You’re welcome to add your comments here to this blog post as well.

David’s speech from the conference…

I also want to share some additional text David wrote in his letter to me about his expanded remarks:

The point I am trying to make now is that there are things about the public that are difficult for Washington to get a handle on, even with all the town meetings, polling data, and focus group findings. These are useful, yet not sufficient to understand how citizens go about making decisions about policy issues.  In what I’ve written, I’ve gone into more detail about what policymakers need to know–most of all, what people will do if they face up to the difficult trade-offs that have to be made in deciding on policies.  There will always be costs and less desirable consequences to consider.

Officeholders know a great deal about what people would like and what special interests want. And they understand what they have to do to retain the support of the base that elects them. But officials have more difficulty finding out what is behind people’s opinions and interests, which is what is deeply valuable to them–what they want to protect above all else.

Officeholders don’t necessarily know what citizens are willing to live with when the things that are dear to them are in conflict, as they often are. (The conflict between freedom and security is a good example.) Even people themselves don’t know what they are willing to live with until they have been in serious deliberations with one another. Deliberation is just a term for the exercise of the human capacity for judgment, and public judgment is indispensable in a democracy where citizens have to make tough choices. Deliberation creates what I am calling a genuine public voice.

As you know, I think the organizations in your coalition, the “talking tribes,” can create the conditions that are needed for this public voice to develop. And, given the dissatisfaction with politics as usual, they have an opportunity to bring this voice to Washington. To be heard, however, the talking tribes, whatever methodology they use, will have provided what Washington is missing.

Never in our history have we had so many organizations that are dedicated to letting citizens decide for themselves rather than insisting people support a predetermined position. I believe that NCDD can play a key role in seizing this rare opportunity.

Please take the time to print out and digest David’s message to the NCDD community, which can be downloaded here. Let’s take the weekend to think about the “historic opportunity” David is describing, and think about how our community might step into this role. I hope we can dive into a thoughtful discussion about this next week!

National Communication Assoc. Forms New D&D Section

We want to share an invitation from NCDD supporting member Dr. Rebecca Townsend of the National Communication Association (NCA) for NCDD members to join NCA’s recently formed Public Dialogue and Deliberation section. This new NCA section will be a great way for D&D practitioners and scholars to connect and share their work, so we encourage you to read NCA’s announcement below and consider joining!


Good news! NCA’s Legislative Assembly approved the creation of a new division, the Public Dialogue and Deliberation (PDD) division, which allows us to share our scholarly work, practitioner experience, and teaching pedagogy more fruitfully within NCA.

In order to have a vibrant presence, we need to have members sign up soon. If you are a member of NCA (or would like to join), simply contact NCA Membership Manager Justin Danowski at jdanowski[at]natcom[dot]org and let him know you’d like to join the PDD division.

Your formal membership in the division is vital to its success. The size of a division is directly proportional to the amount of activity it can schedule in the NCA conference agenda, so please sign up today!

The details:

  • If you’ve already got a full plate of division memberships, your options are 1) to switch an existing one out to join PDD or 2) to add an extra $5 to your annual membership fees to also belong to PDD. Those funds go into NCA and the divisions to cover miscellaneous expenses.
  • People who are joining NCA for the first time (or renewing an expired membership) can add the PDD division when they join or renew online at www.natcom.org/join.

PDD Division Description 

This division brings together scholars and practitioners who focus on public dialogue and deliberation, the forces that constrain or enable such talk, and the consequences of their presence (or absence) in democratic society. The study of these subjects dates back to ancient Greek theories of rhetoric, which gave us forms of speech that endure to the present day, such as Socratic dialogue and deliberative assemblies.

Current conceptions of these terms stress their potential to ameliorate social problems. Public dialogue may help address alienation and transform divisive conflicts by fostering genuine connection and intersubjective understanding, particularly across lines of difference. Democratic deliberation fuses respectful discourse and rigorous analysis to render well-reasoned collective judgments. 

This division of NCA aims to advance the theory and practice of dialogue and deliberation by encouraging critical and collaborative exchanges among those who have new ideas, experiences, and research findings on these subjects.

Thanks for your consideration,

Rebecca Townsend, on behalf of John Gastil and Bill Keith

Northeastern

I’m spending most of my day on the campus of Northeastern – where I will begin a Ph.D. program this fall – so it seems only appropriate that I share a bit about Northeastern’s history today.

While the name “Northeastern University” dates to 1922, the school marks its founding as 1898. It was that year when, under auspices of the Boston YMCA, “the Evening Law Institute” was established.

According the Northeastern University School of Law, the program – the first evening law program in Boston – was groundbreaking. “The school was founded on the notion that a law school could and should respond to the needs of local community — a maverick educational idea at the time.”

The law program was soon followed by an Automobile School – the first automobile engineering school in the country – an Evening Polytechnic School, a School of Commerce and Finance, and a Cooperative Engineering School – all by 1910.

In 1926, Northeastern established the “Husky” as its mascot – an effort it apparently took quite seriously as it “inaugurated” a real-life husky, King Husky I, for that role. Northeastern went through several such live mascots before eventually deciding it was a bad idea.

While King Husky I apparently had a peaceful reign before dying of natural causes, the same could not be said for those who followed in the role.

King Husky III was put to sleep over 1955 summer vacation. When appalled students learned of this in the fall, they penned a scathing editorial for the student paper. When administrators stepped in to keep the piece from running, four editors resigned in protest.

Queen Husky II abdicated due to stage fright and was replaced by her son, King Husky VI, who was named in 1972. When this poor husky escaped his kennel and was struck by a car less than two months after taking his post, Northeastern apparently decided put the days of dog monarchy on pause.

In 1959, during an earlier break in the university’s live-mascot history, Northeastern began electing a “Mr. Husky” from the male student body. Despite adding a “Ms. Husky” in later years, this apparently began to be understood as a bad idea.

It seems that these elections may still happen, but the official school mascot, “Paws” was introduced in 2003 to, in the diplomatic language of Wikipedia, “replace the student-elected Mr. and Mrs. Husky with a more athletic and charismatic mascot.”

And if you are wondering, Northeastern is apparently back to having a live Mascot, King Husky VIII, who was named in 2005.

And why all the focus on huskies? The mascot was selected by a Northeastern committee, and the the first Husky to fill the role was trained in Poland Springs, Maine by Leonhard Seppala.

According to Northeastern:

When Vice President Carl Ell sought out Seppala in 1927, he did so not only because Northeastern needed a mascot but because Seppala had already inspired one great tradition: the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  In 1925, Nome, Alaska experienced an infamous diphtheria epidemic in which teams of sled dogs played an important role in bringing diphtheria serum through extremely harsh conditions.  Leonhard Seppala and his team of Siberian huskies carried the serum over 91 miles of the treacherous relay.

So there you have it. Another mystery solved. I guess.

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talk at the Vermont League of Women Voters

Last Friday, I gave a talk on We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For at a Vermont League of Women Voters meeting. The talk itself was the latest iteration of my effort to summarize my book. The conversation that followed was rich and interesting, thanks entirely to the League members and others who had turned out. The whole event was covered on local public-access TV, and the video is below.

The post talk at the Vermont League of Women Voters appeared first on Peter Levine.

Host a Text, Talk, Act Mental Health Conversation this April 14th & May 7th!

In case you missed our previous post, we want to remind you again that Text, Talk, Act  is back! This April and May, thousands of people, especially young people, will have a nationwide conversation on mental health and how to help a friend in need, and you should join!

Here’s how it works: Through text messaging, small groups will receive discussion questions to lead them through a conversation about mental health – how to take care of their own and how to help a friend in need. The conversation will last for about 45 minutes and all that’s needed is a smart phone and few people to participate.

The next two conversations for Text, Talk, Act will take place on Tuesday, April 14th (in collaboration with Active Minds’ Stress Less Week) and on Thursday, May 7th (in partnership with SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day). We strongly encourage our NCDD members to consider signing up to organize a Text, Talk, Act event in your communities. We know these events are helping make a difference in the lives of young people across the country, and we want to support this innovative way to engage young people in dialogue!

Also don’t forget about the great contest where TTA participants can win $1,000 for their schools or organizations!

If you want to participate but can’t make either date, you can still take part anytime between now and the end of May by following the same instructions. We encourage you to learn more about Text, Talk, Act by visiting www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org/texttalkact.

Looking for more opportunities to dialogue about mental health in you community? Everyday Democracy, one of our key NCDD organizational members, has a number of resources that can help you organize a community conversation around mental health as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health. If you are interested, please visit www.everyday-democracy.org/national-dialogue-mental-health.

You can also learn more about the process for organizing a mental health community conversation, as well as access some free resources, here: www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org/resources.

The Terminator and Free Will

The Terminator franchise does some really interesting things with time.

Seriously.

Every storyline centers around time travel. Around events being changed, or perhaps not changed, as a result of time travel.

(The fourth movie is an exception to this, but I think we can all agree that movie was just terrible.)

I’m particularly intrigued by the Terminator movies as an argument for – or perhaps against – predestination.

At its heart, the struggle against the robot uprising and ensuing apocalypse is really an exploration of the questions can the future be changed? Is our fate already written?

On it’s face, the Terminator seems to argue against predestination.

In the eponymous 1984 movie Kyle Reese famously – yeah, that’s what I’m going with here – argues, “the future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

That phrase is repeated in various incarnations by human heroes throughout the franchise. It gives them the strength and determination to keep fighting.

There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

But while our characters want to believe in their free will, while they need to believe in their ability to effect change, the actual events of the story don’t necessarily support that view.

The very words that Kyle says were told to him by John Connor – the man who sent Kyle back in time. The man who only exists because Kyle fathered him in the past.

Kyle Reese, who so strongly believes there is no fate, was apparently fated to travel back in time to father the son who would later send him back in time.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is every indication that Skynet, our nefarious robot consciousness, can also trace it’s origins to 1984.

Terminator 2 argues that Skynet exists in the future only because the technology was reverse-engineered from the robot which it sent to the past.

Skynet is its own grandpa.

If the Terminator hadn’t gone back in time, if Kyle Reese hadn’t gone back in time, neither Skynet nor John Connor would ever exist.

Yet our characters cling to the notion that there is no fate.

Of course, this sort of temporal paradox isn’t enough to resign ourselves to predestination. A paradox is a paradox…it doesn’t mean that everything is meant to be.

And yet, the most important point in human history seems to be fixed.

Judgement Day, as it’s called. When the machines rise up against man and the world as we know it is destroyed.

There is no fate but what we make for ourselves, the humans say.

Judgment Day is inevitable, reply the machines.

The date may change. The details may change. But the end always comes. Fight against it as they will, it certainly seems our heroes are helpless. It certainly seems as though, indeed, Judgement Day is inevitable.

And if that fate is sealed, the details hardly matter. Perhaps we have a sort of nominal free-will; perhaps we can make a choice, but not over anything that matters.

And yet, despite this seemingly inevitable impending doom, despite the fact that evidence seems to point to significant events being preordained, the humans keep soldiering on. Keep fighting the good fight, desperate to change the outcome and convinced that there is no fate.

And perhaps there is cause for this hope. After all, while humanity fights to alter the timeline, Skynet is altering the timeline as well. Judgement Day may not be inevitable, but rather just the most probable outcome in this temporal tug-of-war. Perhaps the future can be whatever humanity can make of it.

Or, perhaps, it is fate. Perhaps whatever we do – Judgement Day is inevitable.

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