December 8th, 2010

breaking bad


The world is unfolding in the most astonishing way at present. Why has Assange turned himself in to the British police? I think he is martyring himself, and I don't mean that sarcastically. I have always suspected his character is unusual - I don't mean ill or bad, but a little unusual. I guess he will be killed at some point, and I think he must think so too.

I think he put himself up as the face of Wikileaks a couple years ago for strategic purposes (and vanity), and now he is trading in that notoriety for strategic purposes (and to be fair, vanity). Almost as a decoy. Really he is personally unimportant to the process which is underway, which is probably out of any single person's control. It cannot be decapitated using the methods being employed by the authorities. But the authorities do not understand distributed power systems, because they by definition operate under a completely different model. It reminds me of the way that people used to want to identify the women who 'run' feminism - it doesn't work like that.

What this does bring home to me is the strategic opportunity afforded by a feature of the world which generally frustrates me - that official hierarchies are dominated by dumb venal people using their power to impose poor conceptual models. This makes them vulnerable.

I think it's worth revisiting the Adam Roberts novel New Model Army. I think that novel is spectacularly wrong about many aspects of distributed movements, but it also makes you think about the greater intelligence and effectiveness of a non-hierarchical system. Where I think he was way wrong was to make the network a hostile parasite on the general population. Instead networks like Wikileaks are only effective if they are embedded in a sympathetic population (like the French Resistance, the Viet Cong etc). Then you can't contain, because any individual can move in and out of the movement, which is a shape like a wave, rather than a collection of elements which can be neutralised.
breaking bad

Sauve qui peut

Many people are talking as if excluding clever people from University is a problem for the clever people. And of course in the short term it is. But in the long term it's a problem for the University. And in the longer term it's a problem for the entire bigoted system which produces the University.

The worst of 'em talk as if working class people are actually cognitively impaired. Comment 13 here for example:
There have been a number of studies purporting to show that cognitive ability – measured by IQ – is not evenly distributed between the social classes. Studies I’ve seen suggest something between one and two standard deviations difference between the highest and lowest social upper middle class kid would be anything from 9 to 30 times more likely to have the IQ score needed to get into Oxbridge

The well meaning talk as if the problem is that working class people may have high IQ but are not educated to express their ability. Comment 15 from the same thread:
State schools do not teach good work habits to able students. If you can get As in most subjects simply by turning up, never meet a real challenge, never need to do more than a couple of evenings homework a year, then you never need to learn how to work hard or independently. For equal IQs, I’d choose a middle class student over a working class one for these reasons.

But in fact we know that state school pupils, if admitted to University, out-perform public school pupils (in terms of translating A Levels into degree grades). I also know that the characterisation of state schooling given here is bizarrely incorrect. We also know that our Universities are cluttered with people who lack the ability to make the most of the educational opportunities.

I was talking to someone today who was off to teach a Masters class, and she was saying that she expected the majority would have had problems with reading and writing at the level required by the course. They do however have plenty of money to pay the course fees. Are we to believe that there are no young people available with the aptitude and interest to engage with this course? No - the capable young people are there but they are turned away.

Turning away the clever youngsters and accepting those who are bored by learning, just because the latter are from a 'better' class or have more money will eventually undermine the institution which practices this. And nowadays that is almost every institution in our country. It makes me laugh when I see spokesmen defending their practices - PR will not save you, you must save yourselves. And first you have to realise that you are digging your own graves.