Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Lawbreaker’s Mask

Most people frown upon the antics of lawbreakers. They suspect them of trying to take unfair advantage of others by breaking rules and regulations that are meant to apply to everyone.

Yet curiously, charlatans who seek to break off legal constraints in the name of freedom may not only escape censure, but are often applauded for their daring efforts.

How does that work?

Well, run-of-the-mill thieves and robbers may hide their identity, but the most deceptive lawbreakers hide their agenda. By donning the mask of liberty, they are able to rally support in dismantling laws that get in their way. Publicly, they stir up people’s resentment against collective requirements that diminish our precious freedom. Privately, they plot to do away with any law that holds them back from doing whatever they want, regardless of the dire consequences for the likes of you and me.

When they say the state should leave families alone, they mean there should be no law hindering them from treating their spouses and children in any way they see fit. They trumpet freedom for ‘traditional families’ because the tradition they worship confers upon them unlimited power in misleading, intimidating and even abusing everyone else in ‘their’ family.

When they complain about too many rights are granted to “whining minorities”, or too many responsibilities placed on “wealth-creators”, they mean these statutory impositions should be swept aside so the elite few can become ever more powerful, while those lower down the social hierarchy should vent their frustration at those at the bottom of the heap.

When they say the government is hurting enterprise with too much red tape, they mean their notion of a thriving business has no room for legal barriers to exploitation. If only they had total freedom to browbeat their workers, twist the arm of their suppliers, deceive their shareholders, rip off their customers, and pollute the environment, they would be able to make so much more money – for themselves.

And when they say democracy is jeopardised by transnational political institutions such as the European Union or the United Nations, they mean their efforts in thwarting national governments by developing transnational corporate arrangements can only succeed if governments do not join forces in reining them in with the rule of law.

Their rhetoric screams passion for freedom and democracy for all. But behind their mask, the face is animated by the craving for power over others. Hence the endless variations on the same old theme – cut local authorities; shrink national government; withdraw from the European Union. They know, and steadfastly hope others don’t, that without laws enacted and enforced by democratic governments, the predators would be free to turn everyone else into their prey.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Education, Society & the Cooperative Gestalt

All educators have a shared concern with enabling more people to understand why society and its institutions are the way they are, and what they should do to enhance their common wellbeing.

However, this social purpose of teaching is all too often held back by the uncertainty over what should actually be taught to achieve it.

Those with different religious or secular beliefs hold conflicting views about what is truly good for all. Prevailing traditions and changing customs diverge on what are desirable or unacceptable practices. Political parties are poised to condemn any criticism of their stance or policies as intolerable bias.

Understandably, some come to believe that it would be safer to teach only what no one would object to. For example, describe government and business structures but not criticise them; encourage people to volunteer and to vote but not explain why some groups merit support while others don’t; and present all reports and doctrines as worthy of consideration without pointing to any of their flaws.

But since nothing of substance will be taught if every potentially contestable issue is brushed under the carpet, we need to find another way. And if we look back on history carefully, we can see that the mindset cultivated to cooperate through mutual respect, empirical reasoning, and democratic power distribution, has helped to displace prejudices by shared understanding, maximise the synergy of enquirers, and develop institutions and practices that enable people to achieve far more together than they could otherwise have done in isolation.

The challenge for educators is to capture the key ideas that constitute this cooperative gestalt, explain their cogency, show their applications to contemporary problems, and present them in diverse forms to attract engagement with them. To do this, schools, universities, adult education, and other teaching institutions will need to draw on resources that synthesize what have been set out by different writers, and develop these into accessible materials for teachers to incorporate into their own sessions, or guide their students to utilise them directly.

This is not a simple task, but we can make a start with the help of a series of short guides that may assist the cultivation of a mindset that is more conducive to critical thinking and cooperation:

Why should we learn to cultivate the cooperative gestalt: ‘The Cooperative Gestalt’ (its value to lifelong learning and why some may object to it); ‘Politics & the Cooperative Gestalt’ (its relevance to teaching politics and democratic participation).

How can the concept of ‘synetopia’ help to teach effective cooperation: ‘Synetopia: progress through cooperation’ (an introduction to the notion of synetopia – the cooperative place); ‘Synetopia: why, what & how’ (the use of synetopia-based resources to facilitate discussions of cooperative challenges).

Why dystopian fiction can help to highlight the obstacles to cooperation: ‘Cooperative Gestalt and Dystopian Fiction’ (the links between the development of dystopian fiction and the cooperative gestalt); ‘A Novel Exploration of Inequality’ (an example of a dystopian novel recommended by the Equality Trust for exploring issues of social justice).

How to engender cooperative problem-solving: ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society’ (the key elements distilled by academics and practitioners); ‘Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving’ (a guide to essays, reports, examples on effective practices).

What are the intellectual roots of the communitarian-cooperative ethos: ‘The Radical Communitarian Synthesis’ (an outline of the historical background to its development); ‘Cooperative & Communitarian: a common heritage’ (the Owenite influence on cooperative enterprises and inclusive communities).

As educators redouble their efforts to enrich the competence of learners to live and work as fellow members of society, there will hopefully be further collaboration in the development and use of pedagogic resources in support of the cultivation of the cooperative gestalt.