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Archive for the ‘Paul Monk’ Category

I forwarded to Paul Monk a link to this video:

He replied, within minutes:

Truly awesome.

It prompts the thought that the biggest revolutions in worldview have been scientific and have entailed:

1. Moving from the Earth centred (Aristotelian/Biblical) cosmology (which had its counterparts in many tribal myths and the cosmogonies of many other civilizations; though the classical Atomists began to guess at the truth and this was picked up again by Giordano Bruno in the late 16th century, only to get him burned alive in Rome by the Inquisition) to first a heliocentric one, then a Milky Way one, then a Hubble 3D one, as it were, and finally to a multiverse one;

2. Discovering that we are evolved creatures and have a direct biological ancestry going back 3.8 billion years, but on a world that, in much less than that time into the future (regardless of what we do) will become uninhabitable, as the Sun swells to become a red giant and destroys the Goldilocks Zone which makes life on Earth possible;

3. Realizing that we live in and are imbricated in a world of microbes that used to dominate the planet, exist in a highly complex symbiosis with larger life forms, including predation upon them and have played a substantial role in the mass extinctions.

4. Slowly getting to understanding human history from a global and cosmopolitan perspective instead of from narrowly local ones; and

5. Developing the elements of a universal cognitive humanism with the exploration of languages and linguistics, comparative mythology (Levi-Strauss and structuralism) and anthropology (including Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, about a century ago).

My own worldview, if you like, is that all these things transcend (trump) the epistemological claims of the old religions and mythologies, as well as those even of 19th century political ideologies (to say nothing of crude 20th century ones such as Nazism and Marxism-Leninism). BUT the vast majority of human beings on the planet know almost nothing of all this and certainly have not been able to weave it together into a coherent new, shared, universal worldview for the 21st century.

Just a few thoughts on the run, or rather while viewing Andromeda.

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Essay co-authored with Paul Monk.  Cross-posted on the YourView blog

Over half of Australians are dismissive about global warming.  That’s the apparent message from a survey on the ABC website, part of its “I can change your mind about climate” programming airing this evening (Thurs 26th April).

With over 20,000 responses, the survey appears to be unusually large and therefore to provide an excellent view into the Australian mindset.

Some might see these results as confirming that Australians are coming to their senses in rejecting the excesses of the “warmist” school.

Others might see the results as revealing the effects of a sustained campaign of disinformation and manipulation by powerful vested interests and their supporters.

They might also suspect that the poll has simply been gamed by the “denialist” crowd, jumping on and pushing their views in great disproportion to their real numbers.

Gaming the survey would actually have been quite easy.  There seemed to be nothing to stop one person responding numerous times.

But more generally, online polls and surveys are of dubious merit, since their participants are generally self-selected and therefore unrepresentative of the population at large.

That’s why, when The Age runs an online poll, it says “Disclaimer: These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.”

Translation: Results are basically worthless.  For entertainment value only.

The ABC’s survey, for this reason, is seriously deficient as a perspective on what Australians really think about climate change.  Indeed it is disturbing that the ABC doesn’t openly admit these shortcomings on the survey site.

The ABC survey does have one merit: it enables participants find out what category they belong to (Dismissive, Alarmist, etc.).  Much like those “What kind of lover are you?” questionnaires found in popular magazines.

The deeper problem here is that uncovering what Australians genuinely think on matters of public moment is actually quite difficult.  Considered as a large group, “the people” doesn’t have vocal chords and can’t speak its thoughts.

Consequently, specially designed processes are needed to elicit this thinking.

Opinion polls, of course, are one common approach.  When properly conducted, they improve on mere online polls in that they at least canvass opinions from fairly representative samples.

But standard opinion polls have their own drawbacks.  The randomly selected participants are typically relatively ill-informed about the issue and aren’t able, in the polling situation, to give the questions any serious thought. Further, the attitudes of the ill-informed are often easily manipulated by the rhetoric doing the rounds at the time of the poll.

At best, these polls provide a statistical snapshot of “off the top of the head” responses.  They don’t ascertain the considered views individuals would have if they were better informed and able to reflect properly.

Much better are the kind of careful surveys conducted by psychologists, such as the 2010 Griffith Climate Survey by Joseph Reser and colleagues.   These by design elicit more thoughtful responses and provide more nuanced insight into people’s perceptions.

That survey found that “less than six per cent of people surveyed were sceptical about climate change”. The stark difference between this finding and that of the ABC poll should give us pause.

However even the Griffith-type surveys are only aggregating what individuals come up with in the 30-60 minutes they spend answering the questions. They don’t provide the collective view, i.e. the view that we would develop as a group if we had the chance to think together about the issue, pooling our perspectives and debating them thoroughly.

The deliberative democracy movement, led in Australia by pioneers such as Lyn Carson and John Dryzek, has long been urging that in a genuine democracy, governments should be guided and constrained by this kind of considered collective view; and that it is best ascertained through a well-designed process in which representative groups of ordinary citizens – “mini-publics” – convene and engage in extended deliberation.

In recent decades, around the world, many such exercises have been conducted.  They reliably show that the considered collective view differs from the results of ordinary opinion polls. They show that under the right circumstances, many people change their minds in informed ways.

Australian democracy would be much healthier if such exercises happened far more frequently and played a much more central role in serious political life.

However there is a prohibitive practical problem with the standard deliberative democracy approach: its exercises are costly and cumbersome, and so happen too infrequently.

One challenge for twenty-first century democratic politics is to design and implement better processes for identifying what we think, not about personalities or political intrigues but about major public issues.

Like the ABC survey, such processes will need to be easily and inexpensively implemented, which means they must be conducted online.

However, like deliberative democracy, they must also able to provide genuine insight into what Australians really think, i.e. the considered collective view.

Reconciling these two demands is far from easy, but the new era of social media is rapidly throwing open new opportunities.

Taking the broadest historical view, the new communication platforms may enable democracy to return, in some key respects, to its Athenian roots – and, indeed, improve on the Athenian model: something that modern representative democracy has always sought to do, but has managed only very imperfectly.

YourView, of course, is our foray into this space.

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My friend and colleague Paul Monk last night delivered a speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, “Keeping the Insulation from Coming Undone: American Debt, Wall Street and Looming Realities.”

An excerpt:

A United States in sound economic order and sound political order would always have been able to absorb any conceivable blow that al Qaeda could have dealt it. The United States, however, is not in sound economic or political order. It has delivered a series of mighty blows to itself, all on its own, and they are far from having been fully absorbed as we gather here this evening. The image of the World Trade Center  twin towers crumbling as the sun shone over New York was unforgettably dramatic, but the realities of the US economy being shaken to its very foundations by fiscal mismanagement, corporate corruption and the sheer stupidity of Wall Street bond traders over the past decade should actually disturb us a great deal more. The increasingly polarized and demagogical character of politics in the United States; the dominance of bully pulpit propaganda and irresponsible rhetoric over serious and principled debate are profoundly troubling.

 

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My Austhink colleague and long-time friend Paul Monk was featured today in the Melbourne Age’s  journalism innovation The Zone.  The site includes a 15 minute video, some of his poetry, and most importantly, his Credo, a humanist alternative to the Christian Creed.   The portrait is at once very personal and philosophical.

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My colleague Paul Monk has posted Challenges of Our Time, the text of an oration he delivered recently, on the Austhink Consulting website.

It is a profound and sobering reflection on the numerous great problems currently facing “us”, i.e., humanity, and the intellectual challenge of dealing with them.

And, btw, it is a good manifestation of Paul’s extraordinarily broad grasp of world history and current affairs, and his ability to synthesize this knowledge into a form the rest of us can digest.   Especially impressive when you realise that he wrote this in a few days in between many other tasks.

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