Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Crowd-sourcing philosophy on Facebook

Posted by jembendell on May 24, 2010

The power of crowd-sourcing information and ideas is proven by the power of wikipedia. New innovations in crowd sourcing include crowd funding, for instance for the movie Age of Stupid.

I decided to have a crack at this for something quite abstract, yet very important.

I have increasingly realised how easy it is for people to assume that one “thing” is “good” and become attached to that assumption in ways that lead to bad judgement. It happens a lot in the worlds of organisational and policy development. Examples in my field include cross-sector partnerships being seen as always good, or U process facilitation as always key, or government subsidy or regulation related to climate change as always good. Im a fan of each of these, but I’ve seen how assuming such things to always be good without understand context or intention, is a real problem. I realised this is something related to very deep themes around systems thinking and non-attachment. So, I thought I’d put the question out to my pals on facebook, to see how they could help me clarity these insights, so I could then communicate them more clearly in my advisory and writing.

Here are the preliminary results. If you can, please add in comments on this post, and Ill continue to crowd-source philosophy through wordpress!

The thread:

May 17th Facebook status: Jem is looking 4 egs or quotes 2 illustrate a problem of mistakenly thinking a practice or thing is itself “good”, rather than seeing it as good at a particular time due to its context-dependent effect & people’s intention behind it, so that no “thing” is good, except an intention & an ability to understand effects in cont…ext. The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing. Ideas?

Jerri Husch
read some of the early work in anthropology, ie. Clifford Geertz who talks about meaning creation. Or read some of Peter Berger and Luckmann’s stuff from the ’70’s who talk about action and the “social context of meaning creation”. They were the early ones to talk about how the “norms” of what is “good” and what is “bad” are based on the social context of the actors and objects….. 30+ years later they are still the best—-good luck with the work and would love to see what you come up with.
May 17 at 1:08am ·

Jem Bendell
thx. im not wanting to study it, simply to communicate this principle as simply as possible, and mention any classics e.g. from antiquity, that make the same point. any ideas?
May 17 at 1:24am ·

Jerri Husch
maybe check this out…..a good overview and maybe some quotes?http://books.google.com/books?id=kd3w_tWWeewC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=berger+and+luckmann+objectification&source=bl&ots=tDLpE3YYXZ&sig=SKkqJTkl-h092Mo7Z6UpiHRTLRs&hl=en&ei=IH_wS7DZLsP6lwef9dm1CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CDsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false
May 17 at 1:32am ·

Trineesh Biswas
more neo-classical than classical, but economic governance in the uk and the us for most of the last thirty years has been marked by the notion that privatisation, deregulation, and market forces were always good and efficient, with insufficient case-by-case analysis.
May 17 at 9:45am ·

Linda Popova
A tip from a Classicist, though not necessarily easy to communicate…Read Derrida’s essay “Plato’s Pharmacy”, which, among other things, discusses the “betterness” of the spoken word over the written. It is essentially a discussion of Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus and the relationship between memory and writing. It is centered on the use of the word… See More ‘pharmakon’, which in ancient Greek means both remedy and poison. Socrates’ death by drinking the hemlock is hence said to be ambiguous: is it damnation or salvation? The Phaedrus itself makes use of two further myths – the myth of the cicadas and the myth of Theuth – to illustrate that point…Also of interest, on the ambiguity of mental concepts (metaphors) dependent on context, Lakoff’s and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By is a good primer, with less linguistic jargon than my first recommendation. Good luck. Fascinating subject. Would be curious to see your take on it. Best, L
May 17 at 9:46am ·

Linda Popova
p.s. And then, of course, there’s Kant’s take on the subject and my musings on the Patriot act (with which I am sure you will disagree), but nonetheless, you could use this as an example of divergent vs convergent thinking. Since science should be based on divergent mental models, i.e. competing hypotheses rather than scholarly dogma (convergent politics), I am happy to be in disagreement:-)
http://newrisks.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/late-night-thoughts-on-the-patriot-act/
May 17 at 10:05am ·

Kate Tench
To raise the tone somewhat and spin netgative to positive – “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day” Withnail & I (I believe it was “I”).
May 17 at 11:10am ·

Tiago Pinto-Pereira
“Knowledge is neither good nor bad, but man’s use of
it can be either good or bad.” Paraphrases a sentence i remember in my theory of knowledge course in high school. Not sure of the origin of this epistemological sentence.
May 17 at 1:01pm ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
The problem arises because we keep under the illusion that things are “things” when they are really “processes”. For example rather than saying “I am” we ought be saying “I become.” (try that for size…)
May 17 at 3:33pm ·

Jerri Husch
what a great conversation!! Thanks Jem et. al.!!!
May 17 at 4:24pm ·

John Manoochehri
Those are too complicated as examples.

Start with the original myth: the Midas touch. King Midas wanted gold, because it was his hearts desire, and was granted the wish that all he touched would become gold. He touched a tree and rejoiced at the golden tree. He touched his daughter – and then was distraught at the golden daughter. “The same thing… See More in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

This story has at least two resonances: the problem of proxy-indicators of welfare, and the problem of the changed context.

One reason Midas liked gold, and the reason we like money, and consumer goods, is that they are ‘vehicles’ or welfare, they ‘carry’ welfare, but they are not in fact happiness or value themselves.

What happens all too often is that these vehicles of welfare, in particular when we get used to ‘storing’ them, as a way of holding over welfare into the future for example (e.g. by hoarding gold to buy more things in the future, banking money, etc), become ‘proxies’ of welfare, i.e. we see them as stand-ins for the welfare itself, and thereby, equivalent to the welfare itself, in the mind. The need to translate the proxy into the actual welfare recedes, and we become obsessed with money and object ownership, even while being unhappy!

Thus we are reminded “only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money”. The child that has a hoop and a stick is happy, and the man with a house full of goods is sad, even if the house holds his old hoop and stick. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

The other resonance is problem of changed context, where, not particularly because one’s concept of, or intention for, an object or action has changed (e.g. from an object as a vehicle of welfare, to an object as a proxy of welfare), but because the situation has changed, and thereby the welfare effect of the object or action has changed.

The hopeful boyfriend who brings a beautiful rose to his second date, shining with expectation that the girl will fall for his charms, but forgetting his girlfriend is allergic to roses; the father trembling down the stairs towards a disturbing noise, with a baseball bat clutched for protection, discovering it is just his child watching TV; the mythical king mistakenly turning to gold what he valued more than gold, more than anything – all of these are examples of an initial intended welfare effect of an object or action having quite the opposite effect (rose > love; rose > sickness; baseball bat > protection; baseball bat > threatening act; golden touch > more lovely gold things; golden touch > one less lovely daughter).

Or, as you put it. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”
May 17 at 11:05pm ·

Jem Bendell
im beginning to find a wonderful new use for facebook because of u guys! Hey, its funny how people think that someone having a midas touch is a good thing. Many people speak of a designer or ceo having a midas touch for a brand.. and yet.. the midas touch is a tragic story of greed and ignorance.
May 18 at 12:27am ·

Jem Bendell
ps: this has been such an interesting use of fb ill blog about it, so anyone else wanna chime in this week? all tips welcome.
May 18 at 12:28am ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
go ahead! “I am becoming” game!
May 18 at 12:31am ·

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