Category: Politics

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Blame it on reading James Scott’s argument for an “anarchist squint” in social sciences on the flight over to Oxford, blame it on an increasingly limited tolerance for the word “neoliberalism,” but a lightbulb of sorts went off during my first day at 2013 UKFIET conference on the Post-2015 development goals. My realization was that, as a field, we seem to only be able to think of power in social world that education is constructed in as (a) being necessarily institutionalised and (b) sitting on a monochromatic spectrum ranging from public to private, from state to business, from black to white. And rather than talk about the state as a “thing,” in a Latourian / Actor-Network Theory sense, we often speak instead with the euphemism of a “public sector” – which is not a “thing.”

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I watched The Island President last night and was surprised to see Mark Lynas play a role in the documentary. To be honest, he wasn’t a fully fleshed person to me before the movie. He was just someone making weak arguments about the value and need for genetically modified food and getting a lot of traction for those arguments because they came after an about-face from an equally weak position. He came across as a far more sympathetic character in the documentary, as someone genuinely concerned about global warming and who understood that how we approach global warming policy is far cry from “adequate.”

The issue, as he said in the documentary, is not just that we need to slow the growth of carbon – we actually need to “put carbon back in” to the Earth somehow to have a much lower carbon dioxide parts per million (ppm) count than we do today. One of the tensest scenes came when President Mohamad Nasheed met with his advisers, of which Lynas had become one, to announce his decision to back down from his 350 ppm demand once he saw the way negotiations in Copenhagen were going. Lynas resisted: 380 ppm was simply insufficient to help the Maldives in any meaningful way. Earlier, he was even seen resisting Nasheed’s interest in switching Maldivian energy production to natural gas – as it would harm his pledge to go carbon neutral.

I am convinced, then, of Lynas’s commitment to this issue. And I also don’t mean to specifically pick on Lynas, but as his reviewer says, he’s “wonderfully cogent” and he does spell out exactly where he stands. He’s intentionally putting himself out there as an intellectual punching bag by making statements like, “global warming is not about overconsumption, morality, ideology or capitalism.” So the problem seems to be his theory of change in so much as we see statements like that being about the future rather than past (i.e., we don’t need to change our capitalist or our consumption). Specifically, his theory of change is that hope for the future lies in modernizing our institutions and practices. In Peter Forbes’s review of The God Species, he says Lynas explains:

 

…why organic farming is not an option globally and why we need genetically engineered crops. The natural limit to food production is set by nitrogen which, in a form usable by plants, is rare in nature. We owe our present 6.9bn population to the 100-year-old Haber-Bosch process of nitrogen fixation to produce fertilisers. Take that away and the current population is already twice the Earth’s carrying capacity. Our best hope for the future is to genetically engineer a nitrogen-fixing plant (the green kind) to replace nitrogen-fixing plant (the heavy industrial kind).

Agriculture Politics Resilience

I wanted to publish some early thoughts on Edward Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong. I’ve broken it down into two questions: was it strange that Snowden came to Hong Kong…

China Politics

I woke up this morning and put my black t-shirt on. Today is June 4th, or 六四/ liusi, as the Chinese call it. I was considering joining in the annual 6/4 candle light vigil…

China Politics

I just finished David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years. It’s the best critique of capitalism I’ve yet read – jabbing at both the left and the right. For the…

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I spent all day Saturday at the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong 2013 Conference at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The theme was “Educational Reform and Social Change: East-West Dialogue.” I had originally planned to present some of my research findings, but changed titles to present instead on “Situation in Resilience in the Context of Educational Reform: Lessons for Planners and Curriculum.”

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of adaptive cycles, and thought I could argue that the the rise and fall Michelle Rhee‘s reforms in the DC school district could be seen in that context. This starts by seeing the conditions of school failure and concurrent entrenchment of old regime actors as being an educational system in “late K” – unable to adapt to increasing demands for higher performance, and the costs of maintaining the system extremely high (externalized to student learning, morale throughout the system, paying for entrenched but ineffective teachers and administrators). This created the conditions for a release stage with the election of a mayor who ran on a platform of comprehensive reforms of the school district.

During a short reorganization phase, old actors were politically marginalized while new school district chancellor Rhee set in motion sweeping, radical reforms. She made it to a growth stage, pushing ever more radical (in comparison to the prior regime) reforms and firing hundreds of teachers.  But popularity for the reforms plummeted and the system went back into a release phase, where the old regime actors took over the system again when the mayor lost re-election. A few years later, we’re either in the conservation or growth stage of a hybrid system with some of Rhee’s reforms still in place.

America Complexity Education Politics Resilience

During my undergraduate studies I met a religious philosophy scholar that I clicked with instantly. We would often chat after class and I remember telling him the history of my own faith: that I was once deeply religious, but it was a conspiratorial and anti-intellectual strain of Christianity, and when I came to disbelieve I went completely in the other direction and became a militant atheist. It took a few years to nuance that path to where I now consider myself almost militantly agnostic – going from absolutely knowing that God did or did not exist to clearer understanding of the limits and abilities of reason and science, which offer no real answers to those questions. He nodded his head and said, “the opposite of shallow is still shallow.” Touché. It wasn’t surprising that a shallow religious faith made way to an equally shallow reactionary atheism. A misguided faith led to misguided critique.

I’m reminded of that truism while listening to Mark Lynas’ new no-holds-barred defense of genetic engineering of food (GMO). He spoke for thirty minutes and I don’t recall hearing a single warning or criticism of anything related to genetically engineering our food supply. Why? Because, he says, “he learned to read science.” And this is what science says. Those who argue against GMO have “views [that] are not supported by science” like he does. Take a moment and think of any social policy issue that involves scientific research where the research comes down completely in favor of one side of an issue – especially an issue so complex as to involve every member of our species, either through producing or consuming.

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