Saturday, 25 February 2017

Travel Notes: Road Trip Aqaba to Jerash, 18th to 20th November 2009

Desert Mosque, King's Highway, Jordan
Overnight at the Olive Grove

We left Aqaba on Wednesday afternoon, heading to a friend's parents' farm house near Jerash, an ancient city which was once part of the Roman Decapolis. Look in my older posts to see some photos of the ruins there [I have added one of the older photos at the end of this post]

Leaving Aqaba, heading north
We drove from Aqaba to Amman and the sky was amazing. We took the King's Highway through the desert. We organised a room at a friend's hotel, the Dove Hotel in Amman. It was a quaint old place with lots of character, and an Irish Pub which had a great feel to it. It is only a two-star hotel, but the bed was comfortable and we were looked after very well. I had a meeting at Princess Sumaya University for Technology, and then we recommenced the road trip. 

The King's Highway, Jordan
I took some photos on the way to Jerash, and we went through an old Palestinian refugee camp which has now become a town. Not far from the old camp, we arrived at the farm house with a view stretching to the distant horizon. Our friend's parents looked after us so well! We had an Arabic barbecue on the balcony overlooking the magnificent view. Within yelling distance was a Mosque, the olive grove (with fig trees), and a gum tree. Apparently these things are native here and it is not the first I have seen. Australia doesn't own the monopoly in them after all! 
Mosque near the Olive Grove
On the trip back we went via the Dead Sea (Jordan Valley Highway). This was so much quicker as the roadwork on the King's Highway is slowing down the traffic. The desert scene on this route was magnificent, as was the Dead Sea, as always. This was my first time in the area south of the Dead Sea, and the sandstone hills and mountains are amazing. We got back late afternoon on Friday and that was it. But certainly a road trip to remember. To top it off, our friend's mum gave us some green olives and some olive oil (among other things). The olives are slightly 'green' (ie not quite ripe) - and believe me there is no other way to eat them!

Temple of Artemis, Jerash, Jordan

Travel Notes: PADI Open Water Diver Course, Aqaba Adventure Divers, Jordan, November 2009

Camping on the roof of Aqaba Adventure Divers, 27th November 2009
The notes below were written during my sabbatical in 2009. I was working with a professor at the Princess Sumaya University for Technology but there was some free time over the Eid break. While in Aqaba, I interviewed some of the local bureaucrats about telecommunications and economic policy. As luck would have it, because it was Eid, Aqaba was completely booked out. Thankfully, Talal at Aqaba Adventure Divers let us camp on the roof. It was cold and wet. 

Hanging out with the dive crew, Red Sea in the background

27th November 2009

We left the apartment the day before Eid started - a hard time to find somewhere to stay! When we asked about accommodation at Aqaba Adventure Divers, everything was fully booked. I asked about camping (many people were camping on the beach nearby) and we were welcome to stay on the rooftop or pitch a tent on the sandy volleyball court out the back of the centre. 

We opted for the rooftop and went to Safeway in Aqaba to purchase a few things such as sleeping bags, tent, camping mattresses, camelbaks etc before moving to the dive centre. That first evening, we started on the course manuals and the video for the open water course. We went hard core on the academic stuff, getting through 3/5 of the material that first day. 
Not-so-good photos under the Red Sea

28th November 2009

The next day we finished off the classroom work and the video. All in all, this took us about 6 hours on the first day and 4 hours on the second. We passed all our tests and headed for the water. 

Typically, the confined water dives are performed in a pool. But at this time of year, the pool was about 10 degrees colder than the Red Sea, so all our diver training was performed just off the beach. The funny thing about diver training at the beach in Aqaba is that, during Eid, the beach is absolutely packed! We were going through our practical tests with kids jumping in on top of us, swimming around in snorkeling gear and doing nothing but staring at us, and generally stinking up the whole experience. 

Gorgone 1 - Aqaba Adventure Divers

After the diving, we were starving. We had tried the poolside cafe food and it was cheap and reasonable, but we felt like something more substantial after diving. We tried the dive centre's restaurant. I had chicken shishkebab and Heba had a whole fish. For a total price of JOD 12, it was pretty good! That night we decided to pitch our 2 person tent on the roof, as the night before was freezing because of the gusty winds. The tent certainly fixed the temperature problem, but the noise of the tent in the wind was enough to drive anyone crazy. Hopefully the wind will die down soon but it doesn't look promising. 

29th November 2009 
First Bay South Reef - Aqaba Adventure DIvers

Our confined water dives were all exercises. In the afternoon, we went on our first open water dive. The detail is in the picture showing the map of Gorgone 1. 

30th November 2009

We have three open water dives left to finish the course, so we opted to do two open water dives today and finish our exercises and tests so tomorrow we can have a 'fun' dive. Our dives were at First Bay South. 

1st December 2009

Black Rock dive, swim test 18 laps of the freezing pool in a wet suit with 2kg attached... and final 50 question multiple choice test. Thrown into pool, Heba fought them off! Getting our log books tomorrow, and tonight we are staying in one of the rooms. There is nobody here now, everyone left yesterday once Eid was over.
Aqaba, Jordan. Where the desert meets the sea.

Travel Notes: My First Travel Blog, 8th November 2009

My Travel Map from travelblog.org as it was the last time I updated the blog
On 8th November 2009, I set up a travel blog using www.travelblog.org. Blogging was still rather new then. Here I will replicate my travel blog entries word for word. This is a much younger version of myself, but it it (was) me, so here it is as it was written on my travel blog.


Michael de Percy in 2009
8th November 2009

My Travel Map does not include Bahrain (it doesn't get a mention in the program) and my visit to China was really only Hong Kong. My visits to US were actually only Hawaii as lay-overs in airports, so these don't really count either! 

The date of this entry is the day before I first travelled overseas at the tender age of 36 (better late than never, I suppose). I flew to Canada (with Air Canada) via Hawaii to conduct the first phase of my PhD fieldwork. 

Since then, travel has fast become a natural part of life. Thank God.

At the time of setting up the Travel Blog, I was on sabbatical. I was learning to dive at Aqaba Adventure Divers in Aqaba, Jordan. I was diving in the mornings and the evenings, and working on my PhD when I wasn't conducting interviews. I also set up my Dive Record (which is not very impressive, and this is incomplete). We completed the PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses. So for someone who lived in Cairns from 1980 until 1992, I had my first dive in the Red Sea!  The Dive Record is below.
Dive Record as at 29 December 2009.
We've been back to Aqaba since and had a refresher dive, but that has been about it for diving. I am surprised that the websites I was using back in 2009 are still working today.

From this point forward, I intend to transfer some of my numerous travel journals to my blog. Reading Ralph Potts' Vagabonding tends to do that to me! I will use the label "Travel Notes" for all travel-related posts.

Book Notes: "Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel" by Rolf Potts

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World TravelVagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the book I would carry with me if I had to sustain myself through misfortune. Frederick the Great carried the works of the Stoics in his saddlebags for the same purpose. I have read bits of this book for more than a decade and the words of Ralph Potts have inspired my blogging and my travel writing since I first left Old Girty's shores in 2006. There are so many quotes in this work, and so many pointers to other books to read, it is like a crystallisation of everything Potts ever read or learnt all jam-packed in a relatively quick read. For me, this book is nothing short of inspiring. Always has been, always will:
As Salvador Dali quipped, "I never took drugs because I am drugs." With this in mind, strive to be drugs as you travel, to patiently embrace the raw, personal sensation of unmediated reality - an experience far more affecting than any intoxicant can promise.
Potts has something special. He is the me I only hope I can be. I don't mean that I want to quit my job and become a vagabond. Far from it. Potts is a philosopher. Vagabonding is a 21st century philosophy book in the tradition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, only better. Potts has what I want, and ever since reading bits of his work all those years ago, I have been inspired by his philosophy. For me, education and travel make us free. Not politicians or political systems. If I had the option of returning to my youth (which I do not want!), I might consider becoming a vagabond. But I am the sum of my experience and rather blessed for it. So for me, the philosophy is key. But a practical philosophy. Think of tending your own garden, like Candide. Then read this book.



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Friday, 24 February 2017

Book Notes: "The Barefoot Investor" by Scott Pape

The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You'll Ever NeedThe Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You'll Ever Need by Scott Pape

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I wan't going to write anything about this book. It is written much like a blog, with no real paragraphs, corny humour, "literally", "totally", "like", Americanised adverbs, and sometimes corny drawings. But the central message is important, and after some hesitation I thought it right to record some of the highlights. In my journal, I wrote down this quote from Warren Buffet:
Stay away from debt. If you're smart, you don't need it. If you're dumb you got no business using it.
Pape writes about precisely what he does, including the companies he uses in implementing his financial strategy. There is a story about two alpacas that will bring a tear to your eye, and this adds moral impetus to Pape's purpose in writing. His personal story is an important part of the work. The only part that I was not comfortable with concerns earning additional income through side businesses or freelance work. I have worked more than one job since leaving the regular army in 1997 until 2012. Admittedly, I was doing so to maintain a self-constructed treadmill of stupid decisions, but these days I am content with my earnings and have no desire to increase these more than "natural increase" brings. That said, it would have made no difference to my 18 year old self if I had received this book back then. Fools must learn from their mistakes. But it may be helpful for a disciplined parent to develop themselves as a financial role model for their children or grandchildren, if one finds their time has come and gone. I have taken many of the steps mentioned in this book - indeed, some I took as I arrived at the precise location of the advice on the page. Much of the other advice has confirmed and given me confidence in the steps I have already taken, but I am too shy to reveal this side of my existence. I was sceptical about this book, but now I am glad I read it anyway.



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Monday, 20 February 2017

Seminar Notes: Ontology, Epistemology, Theory and Methodology

Image: Laurentius de Voltolina [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This morning I sat at the feet of a professor who wrote many of the texts I studied as an undergraduate student. I still have a sense of wonder whenever I do so. I tend to be a positivist and so far I have ignored normative aspects of the world as I conduct my research. However, recent challenges require me to be more in tune with different perspectives of "being" and "knowledge" as I develop my research philosophy. Here I want to record the key things I took away from the session this morning.

This is the third time I have attended this particular seminar, yet today was the first time I went with an open mind and an open heart. Previously, I have tended to neglect anything that did not fit with my ideas, not about the world, but about the form my research takes. It is clear that this narrow view helped me in the past, but it is of little value today. In many ways, I was ready to attend this seminar for the first time today.

I will start with some definitions. First, ontology refers to a theory of the nature of being. What is there to know? For example, a foundationalist/realist might say that men and women are essentially and eternally different, then this is our ontological stance or statement. Whereas an anti-foundationalist/ constructivist might say that gender is socially constructed, and that across time and space the differences reflect different social constructs, then we have a different ontological stance. The crucial thing is the way we understand the world.

Which ontological statement is true? How do we determine the truth? How do others perceive the truth? And on what basis can one claim to have an accurate assessment of how people understand the world?

Second, epistemology refers to a theory of knowledge, or what and how can we know about the world. There are three broad points of view:
  1. Positivism - the dominant view, where we tend to get on and do the research without concern for epistemology. This has been me for a long time but I think I am ready to move beyond a narrow conception of ontology and epistemology in my research (I have never been a pure positivist in my understanding of the world). Put simply, we develop a hypothesis to explain an observed phenomena, and then we test our hypothesis through experimentation or, in the social sciences in particular, by testing our hypotheses using quantitative data based on an appropriate sample size. I have tried to do this using the comparative method - often referred to as a "quasi-experimental" method, but while the text books mention this approach, examples of comparison that are not based on large-N, quantitative methods are rare. This probably reflects the focus on scientific method I addressed in my Journal Notes. Put simply, positivism attempts to make "if, then" statements as broad generalisations about social phenomena. The approach states that, in establishing causal explanations, objective relationships between phenomena can be observed.
  2. Constructivism - anti-foundational, where we believe the world to be socially constructed, and rather than existing in "reality". We can only discover how people narrate or understand the world. It is not about "truth" (because there is no "real world" as espoused by positivists), there is only meaning. The double hermeneutic can be useful in conceptualising meaning in the research context. First, we need to discover from people their understanding of their actions. Second, we need to discover our understanding, as observers, of people's understanding of their own actions.
  3. Critical Realism. A middle way? I asked about these epistemologies in relation to technological determinism versus social constructivism, and the "middle way" known as technological momentum. Critical realism takes a similar space by critiquing positivism and constructivism. So material versus cultural, structure versus agency, and so on. Roy Bhaskar was known for this approach in critiquing Tony Blair's "New Labour" or Third Way. I was studying commerce and management during Blair's time and when I returned to political science in 2004, I was so far behind. Tiananmen Square, the Spratly Islands, and whether China would retain Most Favored Nation (MFN) status with the United States, in the light of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, were all in vogue. By the time I returned to the fold, it was post 9/11, and things were different.
  4. Others. Foucault, Deleuze, and the role played by dominant narratives or dominant discourses about action. I will need to delve into this again soon (I have avoided Foucault since my undergraduate degree as advised by the positivists who surround me!).
These three perspectives relate to the three 'grand old men" of sociology:
  1. Max Weber - positivist
  2. Émile Durkheim - constructivist
  3. Karl Marx - critical realist
The point of knowing these things is an understanding that, as a social scientist, using the right methods in the right way is crucial to sound research. These issues should be in our thoughts, but necessarily all the time.

But we must be aware of "reflexivity" as a key aspect of methodology. This means that our own biases and conceptions of knowledge can influence our research decisions, in particular, how "our" understanding of "their" understanding is affected by these.

My learned professor argued that our ontological and epistemological conceptions are a "skin not a sweater" - they are not something one can easily take off.

Some discussion around Enlightenment thinking and whether neoliberalism had rejected this, rather than attempting to find the "truth" in order to improve things. Thankfully, "post-truth" was ignored, probably out of boredom with the stupidity of it all. But to sum up, positivism looks for a real world independent of our understanding, whereas constructivism argues that there is no real world except how we understand it. There was also a suggestion that there is a third level of hermeneutic, that of the person reading's understanding of your interpretation of their interpretation of meaning. If that doesn't make you want to be a positivist, then nothing will!

Another way to conceptualise the differences is that of the material versus the ideational. Here, the issue is the definition of  what is "real". In my learned professor's view, concepts such as structure and agency are "metatheoretical issues" that all lead back to ontology and epistemology. 

Once we have our ontology and our epistemology under control, we can then look at our methodology. So unless you are a post-structuralist, the crucial link flows from ontology to epistemology to methodology. I mentioned this above, but positivism leads to general statements about the relationship between social phenomena, and points towards "if, then" statements that horde for the population. Now to look at all the research design in series:
  1. Positivism: Theory > hypothesis . testing > falsification (see Karl Popper) > re-specification of theory.
  2. Critical Realism: Theory > identification of the problem > empirical investigation > interpretation of results which is theory > dependent > changing elements of theory. If your theory can explain what another theory cannot...
  3. Interpretivism: Narratives rather than theory as narratives are one understanding of reality. Which narrative or discourse is dominant?
  4. Major/minor approach: E.g. positivists major = quantitative, minor = qualitative. Your work must be quantitative if you want to make generalisable statements.
Karl Popper's mention of "white swans" (of course, Canberra has black swans), made me think of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his book The Black Swan. I am currently reading Antifragile, so will need to go back to his earlier book. Interestingly, I am struggling to get through the book because of the exact words used by David Runciman in his review of the book in The Guardian

Here's me busting my butt to develop my understanding of the world while Taleb is telling me my whole life has been a crock and he knows all the answers, like some other popular figures at the moment both here and abroad. But I digress.

For the future: Design thinking and co-production?

And finally, why are these differences important? The differences relate to what we can do, how we can do it and, crucially, what we can conclude on the basis of what we find. Some interesting discussion of deduction versus induction caught my attention and I must delve into it in detail.

An example of deduction is rational choice theory. We start with a theory.

But induction starts with a puzzle. Most of what I do starts with a puzzle. I think I have been trying to force a deductive model on an essentially inductive approach. 

Mention also of Herbert Simon's term "satisficing", rather than maximising preferences in rational choice theory. But induction starts with observations and builds a theory based on those observations. This predominantly is what I do. It is a major discovery.

Can we find the truth? How can we do it? We could start by more deliberate reading of our weaknesses. This session today was a good start.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Book Notes: "Meditations of a Solitary Walker" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Meditations of a Solitary WalkerMeditations of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I find it hard not to feel like I am cheating when I read abridged books, but I have a stack of these Penguin 60s classics that need to be read properly, so I started with the master. Rousseau sums up his philosophy in the last line (p. 52):
I laugh at all their scheming and enjoy my own existence in spite of them.
This work is an abridged version of Reveries of a Solitary Walker and I will get on and read the full book this year. But the shortened work does not lose much as a standalone piece of work. I see Rousseau as the polar opposite of Benjamin Franklin. Both Enlightenment creatures but while Franklin looked at the process of becoming a better person by reflection and deliberate self-improvement in the eyes of others, Rousseau worked at self-improvement as living by one's very nature. While you can feel Rousseau's pain in this work, you can also identify elements of Stoic philosophy, and no doubt precursors to Emerson. It is worth reading even this abridged version. The cover is interesting, too, with a painting by Gustave Courbet, The Artist before the Sea. Courbet, too, lived life his way, and is a fitting companion to Rousseau. Both admirable characters in their own right who present lessons for living even in today's times.



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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Journal Notes: "Regulation and Time: Temporal patterns in regulatory development" by Joshua Newman and Michael Howlett

Photo: geralt/CC0 
Newman, J. and Howlett, M. (2014). Regulation and time: temporal patterns in regulatory development. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 80(3), 493–511. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020852313517995

In this article, Newman and Howlett develop a model of regulatory regime evolution, and then test the model against six case studies representing various situations. I have been working on my own model of policy regime evolution, but need to either find the right space so that my ideas are not lost in interdisciplinary translation, or redevelop the concept so that I can articulate my ideas more precisely.

I find this article fascinating, as it looks at issues of time and space in the context of the comparative method, but where the temporal dimension is of special importance in understanding regulatory regimes. This article was sent to me after my recent presentation at the PPN Conference in Adelaide.

I’ve read the article in detail and it has given me new hope for a model I have been working on for some time based on a comparison of communications technology policies in Canada and Australia. I appreciated the focus on the temporal element observed in regulatory regime evolution. My model has a temporal element based on a most-similar comparison but I am losing much in translation between the political science and policy studies, and telecommunications and technology policy disciplines, and need to articulate my ideas more clearly – or less clearly, I am still not sure.

Previously, I called my model a model of co-evolution of institutions and communications technologies, using Thomas Hughes’ idea of technological momentum. Originally, I was looking at the model being a way to “operationalise” historical institutionalism, but I need to do some more ground work.

The article mentions exogenous “cris[es] in affecting policy change”, and this fits the historical institutionalist concept of critical junctures. But I have found that regulatory regimes (I have been referring to policy regimes but also trying to capture regulatory regime design as a subset of policy) tend to be path dependent. So while they may evolve and mature, in telecommunications at least, regimes tend to be self-reinforcing and mature along the trajectory set at the beginning (for telecommunications this is the telegraph).

If one views a new communications technology as a “crisis” or critical juncture (as these tend to be exogenous), then I can see a deep connection between the model tested by case studies in this article and the model derived from the case studies in mine. I have used words like “evolution” previously but I seem to have a missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting traction!

This is the first article that comes close to the space I am working in, and the paper gives me a sound example of how I can develop the sugar, automotive manufacturing, and taxi industry case studies I presented in Adelaide. This is one of the few articles I have read that is "speaking" my language.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Work-in-progress: "Restructuring Protected Industries: The efficacy of policy responses to disruption in the sugar, automotive manufacturing and taxi sectors"

Wavebreakmedia
Institutional funding for conference attendance is now a distant memory, and I have sorely missed the opportunity to present my work in progress and receive frank and honest feedback, to the point where I have been self-funding my conference attendances. This article covers my most recent presentation at the Australia and New Zealand Public Policy Network (PPN) 2017 Annual Conference at Flinders University in Adelaide. It still fills me with a sense of wonder when I have the opportunity to have my work critiqued by some of the greats in political science whose names were familiar from my undergraduate textbooks some 23 or so years ago. So when I write about my journey here, it is in the spirit of memories past which I present my work in progress.

So I've decided to write about my research work in progress. It is likely filled with factual errors and poorly articulated ideas, but that is the nature of the process. Since starting this blog I have found that my writing somehow "gets going" if I blog regularly. I recall, too, that regular blogging opened up numerous opportunities for me in the early stages of my career, including the first of a series of paid gigs for ABC Unleashed (which would later become The Drum). This was an important time for me as I observed many others, who were also writing regularly for Unleashed, who went on to change careers and become journalists or freelance writers. But my heart was never in it; certainly not as a journalist, and I am glad I didn't go there. Indeed, if I were writing about the new president in another country for a living today, I would not be glad at all.

But what writing for the media did for me was to create an area of specialisation and to gain the support of my colleagues. It was an interesting phenomenon, amid immaturity, life crises, career change, returning to full time study, and being broke-arse poor, but it has proven a useful vignette for my leadership classes.

I would run around seeking validation for my work. I wanted to be accepted by my colleagues. But it didn't happen. It was all critique and no joy, and, strangely enough, exactly the type of critique I now deliberately seek out! But the point is that my colleagues would not validate my expertise. That is, until my work was validated externally by the media. Then when speaking of me, my colleagues would routinely say "Oh you should speak to Michael. He is an expert in..." Bizarre.

I do not mean to flatter myself. Indeed, one of the comments I received while writing for Unleashed was something like: "Expert! Ha! This guy doesn't have a PhD. He is lucky to have a job!" Besides, my favourite definition of "expert" is: "X being the unknown quantity and spurt being a drip under high pressure". But I do have a spot on expertguide.com.au, so for the point of what I am trying to say, there it is.

So by looking for validation within the organisation, I found nothing and came across as a needy freak. But by obtaining validation outside of the organisation, my colleagues just went with it. It is so strange to think back to these times, and the recent PPN conference was attended by some of the very same people. Nothing much has changed, and their feedback and criticism is as frank as ever. And God love them for it. If anything, their feedback is probably better, because I have grown up just a tad and I suspect they aren't so worried about hurting my delicate little ego!

Why we aren't taught such things, I think, is a function of class. Silvertails won't talk about such things because they might lose some of their silvertailed mystique. I played that game as an army officer and they can have it. Now, rather than asking "Why aren't we taught such things?" - I just get on and teach them.

Of course it takes age and experience, and for some, like me, age and experience are probably not the best ways to gain wisdom. Fools learn from their mistakes and I am a fool. But Rousseau (1782/1995: 11) says it best:
No doubt adversity is a great teacher, but its lessons are dearly bought, and often the profit we gain from them are not worth the cost.
While I am visiting Rousseau (1782/1995: 2), I am reminded of why I do things as I do, and while not so very good at it, I am less inclined to fight against my nature:
For a long time I put up a resistance as violent as it was fruitless. Being without guile, without skill, without cunning, without prudence, frank, open, impatient and impulsive, I only enmeshed myself further in my efforts to be free, and constantly gave them new holds on me which they took good care not to neglect. But realizing eventually that all my efforts were in vain and my self-torment to no avail, I took the only course left to me, that of submitting to my fate and ceasing to fight against the inevitable. This resignation has made up for my trials by the peace of mind it brings me, a peace of mind incompatible with the unceasing exertions of a struggle as painful as it was unavailing.
Interestingly, Rousseau's words echo Stoicism. But again I digress. Below is the work in progress so far.
Abstract
Disruption created by globalisation and emerging technologies has resulted in various policy responses to manage the decline of long-standing, protected industries in Australia. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, cheaper labour rates overseas, and challenges to existing regulated monopolies have affected the sugar, automotive manufacturing and taxi sectors respectively. In the first two cases, the Commonwealth introduced policy responses to manage the decline of the sugar and automotive manufacturing industries, whereas state governments have responded to the emerging ride-sharing providers by lowering the barriers to new market entrants. In each case, different approaches to compensating existing industry players for the impact of market restructuring have produced various policy approaches. This paper, then, compares the rationale for the respective policy responses to disruption in the sugar, automotive manufacturing, and taxi sectors. While the Commonwealth managed industry restructuring with deliberate, well-organised policy responses, the states ignored the need for reform until a disruptive business model had garnered such support from consumers that the states, politically, had little choice but to rush through policy responses that do not augur well for approaches to managing future disruptions. Indeed, the states created a high level of sovereign risk that has had a significant financial impact on small business investors in the taxi industry that may set a precedent for policy responses to the sharing economy in other state-governed industries such as hospitality. The paper argues that the states’ protracted policy responses to disruption, compounded by limited resources for policy-making, have resulted in inefficacious outcomes compared to the industries governed by the Commonwealth. Based on the experience of the three cases, the paper concludes with recommendations for governing future industry disruptions to ensure that small businesses do not bear the financial brunt of poorly implemented anticipatory industry policies.
There are a number of issues with my abstract. The most important feedback I received was not for me, but another. Much like the military appreciation process, where one must constantly ask oneself, "So what?". It is not uncommon in political science research to address some form of injustice, with an aim of improvement, as I discussed previously via Charles Merriam and Gabriel Almond. But to present little more than a series of moral judgements of political happenings, leaving the audience to state "So what!" rather than the researcher to point out clearly the answer to the question "So what?" is not political science, but a form of political journalism. I need to tidy up that part of the story.

Presentation


The introduction of ride-sharing in Australia presents a number of issues that are of concern for the future. For example, if the state governments did not have the power to reform the regulated taxi monopolies, and then did not have the power to enforce their (or more appropriately "our") own laws, then does this not represent a level of sovereign risk that should be of concern? Again, so what? The word "should" immediately brings in a normative element. While normative questions are fine, does it fit with my understanding of the purpose of political science? I don't think so.

When comparing telecommunications policy in Canada and Australia, I accepted that nation-states wanted to increase the penetration of communications technologies. I did not consider whether broadband, for example, was a "good thing". What I wanted to do was to understand questions like: Why has Canada consistently outperformed Australia in the penetration of new communications technologies? How do governments enable, coordinate, and regulate new communications technologies? And so on. Out of this I hoped to develop a meso- or industry-level theory to explain the interaction of the institutions of the state and new communications technology inventions over time.

When I look back to my abstract and my presentation, I can see that I need to remove the over- and under-tones of moral judgement and focus on explaining the process. To ask "Why?" But also to ask questions such as: How do governments respond to disruption? How does timing influence the policy options available to governments?  And so forth. But I need to be clear and focus on one element of the issue. I need to avoid that great academic disease: conflation.

I will write more on this project later, but in the meantime, it was recommended to me that the temporal aspect might be useful, hence my reading of the following article:
Newman, J. and Howlett, M. (2014). Regulation and time: temporal patterns in regulatory development. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 80(3), 493–511. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020852313517995
I hope to have a write-up on this paper in a future post.


Journal Notes: "Clouds, Clocks, and the Study of Politics" by Gabriel Almond and Stephen Genco

Summer Tablelands Storm by Margarita Georgiadis
Almond, G. A. & Genco, S. J. (1977). Clouds, Clocks, and the Study of Politics. World Politics, 29(4), 489–522.


Written in 1977, this article considers the scientific turn in political science. Traditionally, political science focused on descriptions of political systems, laws, and history. I have discussed Charles Merriam, founder of the "Chicago School" of political science, in an earlier "journal note". Along with Harold Lasswell, Merriam encouraged greater scientific rigour in political science research. Almond was notably a product of the "Chicago School" of political science, earning his PhD in 1938, the year Harold Lasswell left and two years before Merriam retired. The adoption of the scientific method of the hard (or natural) sciences, which had influenced psychology and economics, and, by this time, was influencing political science, is the subject of this article. Almond and Genco bring to the attention of political scientists the issue of "philosophers of science and some psychologists and economists [having] second thoughts about the applicability to human subject matters of strategy used in hard science" (p. 489).

The metaphors of "clouds" and "clocks" are from Karl Popper's idea of a continuum of "determinacy and indeterminacy in physical systems", from "the most irregular, disorderly, and unpredictable 'clouds' on the left to the most regular, orderly, and predictable 'clocks' on the right"  (p. 489). This reminds me of Rene Descartes and the beginnings of systems thinking, with mechanical objects functioning as closed systems, whereas living organisms function as open or "living" systems.

I have as yet been unable to connect systems thinking with my research. Almond and Genco connect to this stream of thinking via Newton. But in "systems thinking", the terms tend to come across as buzzwords or jargon and overcoming the limitations cross-disciplinary translation seem like too much effort at this stage.  

I recall from my strategic management studies that the characteristics of living systems tend to follow the laws of thermodynamics, and living systems can be disturbed, but not directed. Here, Almond and Genco refer to Popper, who suggested that understanding "rational" human behaviour required:
...something intermediate in character, between perfect chance and perfect determinism - something intermediate between perfect clouds and perfect clocks... For obviously what we want is to understand how such non-physical things as purposes, deliberations, plans, decisions, theories, intentions, and  values, can play a part in bringing about physical changes in the physical world (p. 491).
I use the concepts of "living" systems in my teaching of leadership. If a living system does not interact with its environment, it dies. So, too, do organisations. For example, if your company is the manufacturer of the highest quality typewriters in the world, nobody cares: you have not kept pace with your environment. Think Kodak. Organisations tend to resist change, and, in my view, leadership can overcome this resistance. To me, leadership is a political process, and, like organisations, policy stasis may also benefit from leadership. My diagram below explains the concept:
Model of Strategic Leadership: Michael de Percy

But I digress. Popper seeks a form of plastic control, that allows for the free-thinking individual, who cannot be forced to submit to the control of our theories: "Not only do our theories control us, but we can control our theories" (p. 491). This relates to the idea of technological momentum, based on the work of Thomas Hughes, which provides a middle position along the continuum between social constructivism and technological determinism, thus:

Intermediate approaches that allow for freedom and constraint.

Popper states that we cannot look at the world as a "closed physical system", but an "open system". The author's cite Popper's approach as accepting "there is a kind of feedback here": terms that clearly relate to systems thinking (and systems theory). If the task of political science is to explain political reality, then plastic control, or the third conceptualisation between chance and determinism, can cope with ideas and:
...human decisions, goals, purposes - in constant and intense interaction with other ideas, human behaviour, and the physical world. At the centre of this complex system are choices and decisions - decisions to command, obey, vote, make demands. The political universe has organization; elites make decisions to command or not to command, what to command, how to implement commands. Citizens and subjects make decisions to comply, how to comply or not to comply; to make demands, or not to make demands. That is the heart of politics, the subject matter our discipline is committed to exploring and understanding.
In such a system, "Political decisions are not made and implemented in a vacuum; they are subject to a complex array of constraints and opportunities". But what of cause and effect in providing explanations for political phenomena? In earlier work I attempted to use Mill's method of difference to provide plausible (as opposed to Popper's falsifiable) causal explanations, but often this was regarded as unsophisticated or insufficiently mathematical. Yet this is precisely the issue taken up by Almond and Genco, albeit back in 1977:
What we seem to observe in this particular area of political research, then, is a rhetorical or metaphorical - rather than explanatory - usage of causal language in formalizations and definitions. This accounts for a lack of a subsequent commitment to actual causal analysis in substantive research. The somewhat incongruous gap can perhaps best be explained as an attempt on the part of political scientists to create a "halo effect" around their theoretical formulations. Our longing for full scientific status has led us to create a kind of "cargo cult," fashioning cardboard imitations of the tools and products of the hard sciences in the hope that our incantations would make them real (p. 504).
The pressure to conform to other disciplines seems to have reached its peak around this time:
Psychology and economics had been the first disciplines in the social sciences to move in this direction, demonstrating the possibilities of experimental methods, sophisticated quantitative methods, computer simulation, and mathematical modelling. The combination of philosophical legitimation and the demonstrated progress of psychology and economics was impossible to resist (p. 505).
Further, Holt and Richardson (1970) argued for more mathematics. Not just statistical, but mathematical, rigour:
[S]tatistics provides a science with a basis for rigorous induction. Our critique suggests that the crying need in comparative politics is for more rigorous deduction and this is where mathematics, not statistics, is relevant (p. 507).
Almond and Genco raise an important issue at this point. Rather than focusing on problem solving, which is a key purpose of political science, commitment to mathematics and the rigour of hard science tended to move political science away from its very purpose. This creates a conundrum where to be more scientific becomes more important than the purpose of political science, where it seems that:
For political science to advance, it must shed this professional commitment to solving social and moral problems (p. 508)... [leading to] priority of method over substance in political science (p. 509).
This "narrowing and technicization" means that the "older intellectual traditions" of political science, including "descriptive institutional analysis have all become defensive, peripheral, and secondary subject matters". The trouble with this approach is the type of science it evokes. Political science is "ultimately a commitment to explore and attempt to understand a given segment of empirical reality". To do so, "Social scientists need to construct their own notions of 'good science', [and] their own methodological approach to their particular subject matter". I have tried to point out "how extensively political decisions now override the mechanisms of the market" in my work, and despite feedback to the contrary, I agree with Almond and Genco that as the "subject matter is becoming more political, it is becoming less susceptible to scientific and formalistic methodologies" (p. 516).

There are some implications for my research philosophy here. First, political science plays "a central role in the study and evaluation of public policy" (p. 520). Regardless of method, work that "contributes to the aims of understanding, interpreting, and exploring political reality and policy alternatives... is crucial to policy analysis (see McRae 1976 The Social Function of Social Science). Lasswell, in developing the behavioural approach to political science, adopted the "scientific hardening of method... set in a context of problem solving, value clarification, and the enhancement of the human condition" (p. 520). Lasswell sought greater rigour to achieve the purpose of political science, not to create a science through processes that happened to involve politics.

The problem now is not that the hard science approach, in particular the quantitative drive, is bad, but that it has not been legitimated "by  successes in the explanation of political reality, but by example and the demonstration effect of the hard sciences (p. 520). Such "clock" approaches try to reduce everything to mechanical laws which deny "the special characteristic of social reality... [especially] man's adaptive behaviour" (p. 520).

In summary, Almond and Genco provide an appropriate guiding principle for my research philosophy:
To progress scientifically, the social disciplines require their own philosophy of science based on explanatory strategies, possibilities, and obligations appropriate to human and social reality (p, 522).
Next week I will be investigating some quantitative methods I plan to use in a new study. In establishing my research philosophy, I must address the issues of methods and scientific rigour. But it would certainly be useful to start with my own view of the purpose of political science.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Journal Notes: "Charles E. Merriam and the ‘Chicago School’ of political science" by Herbert A. Simon

Professor Charles E. Merriam. Photo via University of Chicago website.

Simon, H. A. (1987). Charles E. Merriam and the ‘Chicago School’ of political science. The Edmund Janes James Lecture, delivered by Herbert A. Simon, 10 October 1985. Urbana, Ill: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Political Science.


In my experience, it is not unusual for a metaphysical thread to appear across my various undertakings, often seemingly at random, yet so consistently observable that to deny the empirical evidence goes against my very core. I will expand on such a moment that occurred this morning when reading Herbert Simon's speech about Merriam, which follows my series of déjà vu experiences in the last week. Simon (p. 5) suggests that Merriam, although the political scientist most often credited with bringing about the behavioural revolution in the discipline, was at times "unmodern" in the quality of his evidence. In my other reading this morning, Mark Twain, in Mental Telegraphy, stated that he had been on the receiving end of similar charges. This thread runs everywhere - while it is all rather bizarre, I must write it down before the thought escapes me.

On 2nd January this year, I journalled about the concept of "stamina". Stamina has been one of my strengths, both physically and mentally, but it can be, and I have, on numerous occasions, pushed too far. Nowhere does talk of stamina mention the natural progression of "rest, repeat". It is much like a movie, where people never eat, go to the bathroom, or lock the doors of their cars. It is unseen. Simon refers to his last meeting with Merriam (p. 8):
Human lives, too, have brief Golden Ages. But good ideas can achieve a longevity much beyond a single human life.
Now, how does this all fit together so far? Well, writing a research philosophy while learning to practice Stoicism deliberately, and reflecting and writing each day, provides a thread between thought and action, and a history that would otherwise escape one's memory. For example, at times I can feel the extent of my scholarly or spiritual progress, only to look back at my journal and discover that this other person, the less-advanced version of me, is not a distant cousin but was me sometimes less than two months beforehand. So here is the thread, but what of stamina?

The word "stamina" is derived from the Greek word "stamen", which refers to the "thread" spun by the "three very old women who spin the threads of human destiny". Stamina, then, refers to how long one's "thread" is, of course in individual moments such as running a race, rather than in the sense of one's lifespan. Yet there is a connection between Simon's discussion of Merriam's "followers", as opposed to his "disciples", and the subsequent dissolution of the "Chicago School" after Merriam's retirement. Harold Lasswell, for example (another famous political scientist), had also left the University of Chicago around that time. Of course, when we live our own lives, we do not only see our Golden Age, but we have to live with ourselves before and after the good years that others (hopefully) will recall. Learning to love the process rather than the outcome is essential, I believe. The end, after all, is dying, so better to enjoy the trip - the goal is inevitable no matter how well or poorly we live!

So I go off to check my information on Harold Lasswell, and the collapse of the Chicago School, and I stumble across the work of another great political scientist, Gabriel Almond. This sends me off on a tangent. Years ago, I read Naomi Atkinson's book, Cloud Cuckoo Land (which is set in Ancient Greece), because of the title. It related to Gabriel Almond and Stephen Genko's journal article, Clouds, Clocks, and the Study of PoliticsSo this will be the next article I review. But I even have Almond talking about threads in his book, From Ventures in Political Science: Narratives and Reflections (p. 1):
I had a long apprenticeship. I wasn't really on my way, so to speak, until 1946, after World War II, when I was in my mid-thirties. It was then that my European and German experience combined with my University of Chicago training to give me access to research opportunities in comparative politics and international relations. How this came about is told in Chapter 5, "A Voice from the Chicago School," where I place my beginnings in the setting of the University of Chicago in the great days of Charles Merriam and Harold Lasswell. The University of Chicago thread takes me from Midway in the 1930s to Yale in the 1940s [underline mine].
Which brings me to Mark Twain. First, it is about telegraphy, which is part of my field. Second, it is about coincidence versus empirical evidence, which is the space I find myself in now. So there is a thread linking all of these different readings and activities. But what does all of this mean for my research?

Given that I have been writing about developing a research philosophy, and given all of the other "coincidences", I would like to think that I am in the right place at the right time, which fits nicely into my theme of politics in time and space. But there are many lessons to be learnt from Merriam's career, provided by his student, Herbert Simon, the Nobel Laureate who brought us the concept of "bounded rationality".

In terms of having a purpose to the process of living, rather than the achievement of death, that final of finals, Simon points out that Merriam's lasting influence on the discipline of political science meant that he had lost the battle but won the war (p. 10):
If Charles Merriam lost the local battle - probably a poor way to describe the impermanence of the Chicago department that he shaped - he gained total victory in the war across the land.
But what seems to matter is that Merriam hoped we would now be "using our new-found knowledge of political behavior to improve the human lot". His purpose was to develop an understanding of human behaviour, as it related to politics, so we could then use that knowledge. Simon points to Merriam's characteristics, and suggests that if Merriam were to have a second lifetime, then he would use the knowledge he had helped to create:
There he would find his new cause, which would occupy all of his optimism about  the potential of intelligence, all of his courage, patience, and humor in the face of persistent difficulty, all of his intellectual and entrepreneurial skills, for another lifetime at least.
For me, this means that the difficulties are a good thing - maybe "the obstacle is the way". It also means that the series of coincidences that have occurred around Merriam - incidentally, I found my original notes dating my first reading of the Merriam quote to 15th March 2006 (the first time I left Australia) - and were brought to light by my other "non-work-related" reading (Mark Twain). Now the challenge is to articulate the purpose that my research might serve. It also means that the process, amid the endless performance reviews that are certain to mean nothing after I am gone, but present "persistent difficulties", is more important.

So better to do what I enjoy doing, rather than do what I am "told" by rules that are changed at whim. Funnily enough, "change fatigue" is a major reason one loses once's stamina. Better to play the long game, doing the things that I enjoy, so when that final of finals comes along the daily process meant something to me. After all, any personal Golden Age is but a snapshot of the outside, like someone's Facebook profile where for a fleeting moment it looks as though you are living the high life, while the reality of the other 99% of the time, which is the daily grind, is agony and torment for your soul. It doesn't have to be so.  As Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, 6.31:
Clear your mind and get a hold of yourself and, as when waking from sleep and realizing it was only a bad dream upsetting you, wake up and see that what's there is just like those dreams.
But to conclude, another coincidence. Today is my birthday, and on reading and journalling this morning, based on my Daily Stoic ritual, Raymond Chandler appears: "I never looked back, although I had many uneasy periods looking forward". I finished my first Raymond Chandler novel last week. Is this a mere coincidence? So something else for the research philosophy: What is knowledge, and how do we know?!

Journal Notes: "Government and Business" by Charles E. Merriam 1933

Morton D. Hull distinguished-service professor of political science and chairman of Department of Political Science, the University of Chicago
I first "discovered" Charles E. Merriam while conducting a literature review for my PhD thesis on a fieldwork trip to the University of Ottawa in 2005. I was reading Systematic Politics (1945: 3) when I stumbled upon this quote:
There are those who cling to life as if shipwrecked in some great storm, anxious only about clinging to a thin rope of existence which may at any moment break. Others are full of the joie de vivre with every step and every breath a thrill radiating throughout their being and questioning nothing in a world of sheer delight in existence.
This remains my favourite quote of all time. To me it means that we have a choice. But that is not my purpose here.

For a few years now, I have been writing notes on the books that I read, and then set reading goals using www.goodreads.com. I was using Goodreads before it was purchased by Amazon, and I have since become a Goodreads Librarian. I enjoy the platform and the way it integrates with my Facebook page and this blog.

Using Goodreads has proven so helpful for me, that I have decided to do the same for my professional reading. My intention is to write up reviews of journal articles and to make it a habit of completing a set number per week I have decided to start at the beginning with this article by Merriam.

I have used this article for many years in teaching the subject Government-Business Relations, a first-year introductory course covering the basics of political economy. I found this article useful as it is a speech, and tends to be less heavy reading for first-year students. Yet, at the same time, the article covers many of the issues that continue to challenge the arrangements of our society today.

Merriam begins by mentioning graft and corruption as the first of a number of common problems, and that the major problem is "getting rid of those who will not play by the game in business or government" (Merriam 1933: 182). Second, Merriam (1933: 182) refers to the problem of identifying the appropriate "unit of organization" for governmental and business administration. A number of smaller government units at the time had been "thrown into complete confusion by recent developments, by communication, by transportation, by redistribution of population and wealth" (Merriam 1933: 182). The urban/rural divide presents a problem for government: "How shall we reorganize our two hundred thousand governmental units in such a manner as to put them on the highest level of efficiency and at the same time reserve the necessary degree of democratic control?" These issues remain problems to this day.

The "third problem of government and business is the relation of both of them to what we call technology". Merriam (1933: 183) discusses the issues facing "an age of rapid speed communication and transportation [and]... "dealing with the emerging techniques of social control that are coming up through medicine, through physiology, psychology, and psychobiology". Again, these issues remain extant. He expresses his concern for the future and the changes to how human behaviour might be regulated as a result, and the implications for "machine technology... for production, employment, industrial security" and how political and business relations are perplexing as a result.

The "relation of these units to each other" represents the fourth problem. This problem is at the core of the academic sub-discipline referred to as government-business relations, and how interest groups and the transfer of skills between the two might be an issue for concern or management. Merriam goes on to mention tariffs, trade associations, education, and so on. What is interesting for the times, and again this works well with teaching first-year students the various isms, is that Merriam mentions how the world and the way it is understood will lead to different isms and answers more complex than yes and no resulting from the polar-opposite views espoused by John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx. For Merriam, (1933: 185), various levels of governmental autonomy and "hybrid" organisational types foretell of the "boundary-less" organisations which were the subject of so much attention in the late 1990s to early 2000s.  

Merriam covers the various approaches to social policy, be they "paternal, maternal, or fraternal", and mentions how similar trends were occurring in Germany at the time., It is worth noting that in 1933, Hitler had commenced the restructuring of the German state and there was much focus on how Fascist states were recovering their economies in the wake of the Great Depression. Merriam also mentions that at this time, the University of Chicago and the government were undertaking "perhaps the most interesting experiment ever made in American administration" where partner arrangements between government and higher education to "consider the interchange of information and experience and the building-up of higher professional standards".  

Merriam (1933: 187) suggests that the rate of change was so fast that it was impossible to plan. Rather than searching for a "blueprint", it was more important to establish "your general goal and the general spirit" of the enterprise at hand. As a foundation requirement, a minimum standard of living and greater "distribution of the gains of civilization throughout the community" were an essential part of "American democracy". Modern times have sent "pestilence" and "famine" "back into their caves" and while there was no excuse for poverty, and war remained a reminder of oru "primitive origins".

Special mention is made of "the growth of skill in social engineering", fed by the "stream of technical invention" that "will roll on at an increasing rate unless signs fail". Now, more than eight decades later, the basic problems of economic management remain largely unchanged, at least within the confines of the nation-sate. Merriam concludes by reminding us of the necessity to equip future generations with the skills to address these challenges, all may be well. There is a proviso that is worth quoting at length (Merriam 1933: 190):
If we can look the facts in the face and not deny what we do not like; if we can consult our fears less and our hopes more; if we can think more in terms of the present and future rather than the past; if we can show inventive ability in social and industrial arrangements equal to that developed in technological advancement, we can realize the promise of American life more fully than even the prophets have ever dared to dream.
Merriam concludes by stating that the educational system and research activities "are the vast symbol of this emerging power of man over nature, both human and non-human; of conscious creation of an environment instead of passive acceptance and adaptation"; of a day when slaves become masters of their own destiny".

I must admit that it has been some time since I read this article, but I continue to see the usefulness of the key issues for a modern audience. Much of the modern era is missing, such as global trade and finance, immigration and global security. However, in looking at the role of government within the confines of the nation-state, the article is useful in indicating the importance of history. The article also provides a warning for us - Merriam seems to believe that the isms of the nineteenth century would be left behind, only for history to prove him wrong. 

The twentieth century resulted in a large and brutal battle of ideas between fascism, communism, and capitalism, and later liberal and social democracy, and many more isms were added to our vocabulary: totalitarianism, fascism, Nazism, corporatism, and so on. Yet many textbooks of the early 2000s suggested that the twenty-first century would be somehow different from the twentieth century, that the great battle for ideas was over, that capitalism and democracy have won. However, I think Merriam's enthusiasm serves as a warning for us. If we continue to think that somehow humanity has improved and will continue to do so whether we are deliberate about it or not, and given current global political circumstances, it is difficult to see how this century, and our arrogance about our own abilities, cannot lead us down a similar path.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Developing a Research Philosophy Part 3: Digital Morality: Neo-Luddism, or Noise and Nonsense?

/@olly18

In the previous post, I said I would focus on my choices in transport and telecommunications. But before I do that, a discussion today forced me to think about my research focus and how I can make what I do relevant to the institution. I often arrive at views that are not trendy, which can be anathema to one's research career.

It is not that I want to conduct research that arrives at a particular view - this would not be political science. But I do not want to conduct research that helps to make the world of Terminator a reality either. So I will explore this issue here before going any further.

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong time period. But then I like the time period I was born in (the 1970s) - it's everything that has happened since social media and smart phones came along that irks me. If nothing had changed after 2007, I would be fine with it all.

But what does this mean for my future? Can I stay where I am now? Or will I be propelled along against my will? Do we live in a technologically determined world?

I recall a story about General George S. Patton living out of his time. But this was not the case - he claimed to have been reincarnated, so it can be said that he lived in several times. But I don't believe in reincarnation. In fact, lately I have taken to saying that I am glad that I will be dead before Terminator becomes real. But it is happening so fast it may happen before I die (assuming I die of old age, that is).

My 1988 Mercedes W124 300E
Things like driver-less cars. I drive a 1988 Mercedes W124 300E. It is the greatest car ever. When people talk about Bluetooth in their cars, I cringe. If I could, I would not have a mobile phone and therefore I have no need for Bluetooth.

I mean it. From 2009 until 2015, I went without a mobile phone. It was such a novel idea Campus Review wrote an article about it in 2012. I was free. I have some of this freedom left because I don't give out my number and I rarely answer so nobody calls me, and I detest texting.

But another anti-technology decision forced me to accept the mobile phone. Not because I wanted to, but because it was a condition set by my partner.

I was increasingly annoyed by the changes happening in Canberra. "Freak shakes" was the last straw. How freak shakes represented Canberra coming of age was beyond me. Not only did the emperor have no clothes, but he was playing with himself in public.

Keswick, Gunning NSW
So we moved to Gunning and we live in a Federation-style house built in 1926, built on a quarter acre block. It is my dream house. The three dogs, two cats, two chickens (we'll get more as soon as I finish the expanded coop), and three fish have room to breathe. When there is no moon, it is so dark you can't see two feet in front of you. The yard next door has sheep in it. We often see complete rainbows after it rains. 

You can hear the Hume Highway in the evening, and the trains go past at all hours, but this just fits into the rhythm of the place. I felt my first earthquake a couple of months ago (I thought the cat had knocked something over). We have a 1923 Beale pianola in the "parlour" (the living room). I grew up with one (a 1928 model - my sister still has it). This takes pride of place and there is no television in the room.

We don't have a microwave and I use an aluminium stove-top espresso made in Italy. We have hundreds of hard-copy books and I subscribe to several hard-copy magazines. We have wood fires for heating.

I had to get a mobile phone in case either of us broke down on the commute to Canberra. It was a small price to pay. 

And I don't need Bluetooth because I burn my podcasts onto CDs and have a stash of these in the glove box. I tried audio-books (from the Gunning Library) but I don't like them. Podcasts from Art of Manliness, which include a surprising array of academic content, are my listening of choice at present.

In Gunning, almost every house and building has a history. I spent weeks researching the history of our house and the town using Trove. This inspired me to join the Gunning and District Historical Society and we have since started a blog capturing local stories from the past.

The Gunning Library is superb. We have run a few workshops on conducting local and family history research and these have proven successful. Trove published a blog article about our first workshop.

The village consists of a small community and most people know each other. Village life is relaxed and quaint. You can even have a coffee with your local councillor in the local cafe. Sleeping in a room with an open wood fire is par for the course in winter. Of course, I am grateful for what we have, but all of this is material and therefore fleeting. But what isn't fleeting is the sense of living.

I keep hearing about how technology is giving power to the people. Ride-sharing is sexy. Stay in somebody else's house instead of paying full price for a hotel. Sack your staff via text (I get in trouble for saying SMS - apparently nobody says that anymore). Use your UAV to wipe out your enemies without ever looking them in the eye. You get the idea. I think it is all noise and nonsense.

But it does raise a number of issues, especially if I will actually live to see Terminator in my back yard (maybe not in Gunning, but I can picture Arnie exposing his titanium skeleton while riding around Canberra on a Harley armed with a freak shake).

The first thing that got me was the concept of digital morality (as a colleague named it today). This could cover all aspects of the morality of new technologies, from biotech, to big pharma, to UAVs, to digital citizenship. 

There is such belief in an inevitable technological future that how we teach will be assessed against this imagined future. I am cautious. I once thought that social media was going to save the world. If current events are anything to go by, we might be better off looking for John Connor

I was reading KPMG's @gov magazine recently, and an article on the policy imperatives of autonomous vehicles got me thinking, especially this bit:
It is 2025 and autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a fact of life. Many drivers are still behind the wheel of their “classic cars” but the switch rate to autonomous is much faster than predicted. Indeed those still driving are feeling embarrassed by their choice, because society is increasingly intolerant of any road accident, particularly those involving injury or fatality (KPMG @Gov).
In the meantime, the peer group pressure to conform to driver-less vehicles could prove problematic. When I smoke my (tobacco) pipe at home, all is well. But if I lit up while walking around Civic, well! Hopefully I will still be alive in 2025, so wishing and hoping that I will pass the Terminator world by is a sub-optimal strategy

I lost interest in it all (Terminator III was terrible and I can't stand popular movies these days), but if the script is anything to go by, it all starts in 2029. This is only four years after KPMG's prediction!

But as Hsee et al. (2012) hint at, seeking happiness in the face of technological determinism may well require such sub-optimal choices that defy contemporary economic wisdom. If personal experience is anything to go by, I couldn't be happier.

I think we are being conned into higher density living. Light rail = trams, and even Brisbane had trams before 1901. High density living in Sydney led to slums. Really, what are we thinking? Even Money Magazine is telling investors to avoid buying inner city apartments because there are too many. 

And what happens when the trendy thirty-somethings (I was going to say something about smashed avocado but I had to ask my wife what that was all about so I won't) have families and realise that raising your "tin lids" in a single bedroom apartment in the middle of the city is a really, really, really stupid thing to do? Unless, of course, the richer millennials see Idiocracy (see below) as a viable alternative to Terminator



In thinking about all of these issues, I searched for an article about being born in the wrong time period. Thought Catalog provides a useful checklist for those suffering from such a condition. Here is my assessment against the twenty-six signs:
  1. Yes. I have to use Urban Dictionary whenever I see posts by my kids (who are both in their early twenties).
  2. No. I do not say "jive talk".
  3. No, but then again, I don't know who the hell J. Alba is.
  4. No, but I had to look up "Dougie" on Urban Dictionary. I am none the wiser.
  5. Yes. I own several typewriters and I have one right next to me as I type this now.
  6. Yes, I appreciate modern technology. I tried using the hard-copy Gregory's when driving around Sydney but don't do it - it is impossible. I use Google Maps all the time I drive in Sydney now and I don't get as lost.
  7. No. I don't know these people and I haven't seen Family Feud since Tony Barber.
  8. No. I can't stand dress-up clubs or bars.
  9. Yes, see photo of my car above.
  10. Sort of - I don't know what Oregon Trail is but if it was Squatter, then yes. Wow, you can still buy Squatter? I'm buying it!
  11. Yes. I had to buy a television when our old analogue televisions stopped working. I bought a 32" Sanyo from Big W for about $249 in 2012. It is still going strong and you can find it by sticking your head around the kitchen door hidden in a recess in the "conservatory".
  12. No. I don't care to watch sport, and although I played basketball as a kid, I am not interested. It's true. I've even been to the cricket twice in the last year and the drunken booners annoyed me so much I wrote complaints to the Australian Cricket Board (they didn't respond).
  13. No. But my mum didn't agree with vaccination, so during the 1970s, my sister and I sat through mumps, chicken pox, measles, and scarlet fever as we watched World Championship Wrestling Australia on television for what seemed like weeks at a time. In the army, I was completely vaccinated several times (they kept losing the record) and my kids were definitely vaccinated.
  14. No. I am known to be so clean I annoy people. If I don't have at least two showers a day, I am out of sorts. Even in the scrub I have to shower twice a day, "regardless of season, weather, or terrain". But my shower habits do not fit the current water-wise approach and water-saving devices have to be installed while I am not looking.
  15. Yes. I don't like gossip. I do it, but I am trying to rid myself of the habit by following Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues program.
  16. No. I dress more like a character from an old Crawford Productions television show and I wouldn't
    Photo: Sydney Morning Herald
    even know how to ride the magic carpet or find the ganja man these days. But I didn't have to look that one up.
  17. Yes. I can remember buying aniseed balls for 1 cent each and salty plums for 2 cents each.
  18. Yes. I have physical photo albums. I also collect stamps and I still write letters.
  19. No. I am not very good at trivia. And I agree with Bruce Lee - Breakfast at Tiffany's is racist. But I do like Truman Capote's books.
  20. No. And I had to look up both The Temptations Radio and Pandora. Oh, I get it. I listen to The Temptations on Microsoft's Groove via my laptop or my XBox 360 4GB I think it is (I used this to watch ABC iView before we had the latest Telstra T-Box).
  21. Yes. Adam West is definitely my favourite Batman. I also like to watch Adam-12 on YouTube.
  22. Yes. I hate "texting". It takes me forever. I even hate calling SMS "texting", and I cringe when I hear somebody say "I texted them". I prefer to "speaked" to you.
  23. Yes. I try to eat breakfast at the table each morning and we have had several meals at the table in the last week.
  24. No. I don't use the term "supper". I still say "tea" instead of "dinner" sometimes. Does that count?
  25. No. I do drink tea, including St John's Wort, but if I am sick, I will take the Western drugs.
  26. Yes. I think I was born in the wrong era, therefore I am - wait, is that a question, or am I paraphrasing Descartes? OK, the world before 2007 works for me. As long as I could still have seen Madmen.
Of course, these signs are from 2012 and are therefore all out of date. Which completes the profile and confirms I was born in the wrong era. Mind you, if I was born so that I died before 2007, then I would have been too old for the beginnings of personal computers and the Internet, and I would have been writing this about how crappy things were before social media.

So it is more than a dissatisfaction with the modern era.

But if we go back through history, not much has changed. Indeed, Horace wrote in 20 B.C. what we still say in the present:
Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.
Which means that living in another age is all bunk.

But how can I conduct research that doesn't perpetuate the current madness?

Take Twitter, for example. The only reason Twitter is such a big deal is because the regular news media are making Twitter a big deal. Out of the 20,000+ students I have taught in the last twelve years, I know at least 2 of them who have a Twitter account.

It is an echo chamber. Much like the stuff about the new US president. The same media saying the same things to the same people. It is more like the Two Minutes Hate:



Is it even possible, then, to find some middle ground? Well, I think so.

A few years back I stumbled upon a recommended reading list that one could subscribe to - it was sent out what appeared to be intermittently. The reading list was by Ryan Holiday. I've since read Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way. And his Daily Stoic has been a blessing.

I like what Holiday does because he reads. And not e-books, but hard-copy books. He also blogs and uses social media. But he doesn't crap on about social media saving the world. I like these two things most.

As for the Two Minutes Hate and the echo chambers that annoy me so much, he has some illuminating things to say.

In his latest post on the New York Observer, Holiday explains why these echo chambers perpetuate. It is a marketing technique. I knew it! I feel vindicated etc. Yes, but so what?

The first thing is that I have this blog for me. It helps me think, it helps me keep a record of things. It is public therefore I check myself (mostly) before ranting like a fool. But I also read hard-copy books and I enjoy practising and learning through Stoicism and I like my old stuff and so on.

But I am not a Luddite. I can still teach many a young person how to use web-based tools and I have been acknowledged as a cutting edge practitioner in e-learning or online and blended learning and the flipped classroom and insert buzzword to describe technology-based teaching and learning here.

But I don't want to give up the tried and tested ways that work. If you want to learn, read and write essays. Technology won't change that except for in technical training. We keep hearing about all of the jobs we don't even know about yet. It would seem that technical skills will be mostly useless, outside of software and information technology development.

So what skills will be needed in the future? Not what can be gleaned from Ted Talks, I am sure. I am with Benjamin Bratton on the "recipe for civilisational disaster" bandwagon for sure (see Idiocracy above).

That doesn't mean that I am anti-technology. But I am not entirely a fan of the digital world. Fortunately, the Huffington Post has put together a Field Guide to the Anti-Technology Movements, Past and Present for people who are "not a fan of the digital world".

I am drawn to some of the ideas of Neo-Luddism, but not all. For example, Neo-Luddites oppose globalisation. I don't. They support the environment. So do I, but I don't have to be a socialist to do so. I will have to suspend the thought there or I will go off on a rant asking Why is there no economic liberal AND social liberal (or libertarianism as some refer to it) political party? (No, that party is not libertarian at all). Anyway, this idea can easily be taken too far. But I digress.

I tend to agree with this statement by David Gelernter:
I think it would be tremendously valuable, not in the sense of a destructive Luddite movement that makes it a practice of destroying computers... But a group of intellectual dissent that asks us to slow down, that asks us to evaluate what we have achieved, that asks us in practical terms what we have gotten for our money, asks us what environment our children are growing up in.
Further, Geoffrey Poitras suggests:
Today's neo-Luddites continue to raise moral and ethical arguments against the excesses of modern technology.
Which brings me to my colleagues' point today: digital morality. My telecommunications research suggests that between Marshall McLuhan's conception of technological determinism and Berger and Luckmann's conception of social constructivism, there is a third way, referred to by Thomas P. Hughes as "technological momentum". This theoretical understanding of technology and history proved useful in my PhD thesis.

Hughes states the key issues here:
To draw attention today to technological affairs is to focus on a concern that is as central now as nation building and constitution making were a century ago. Technological affairs contain a rich texture of technical matters, scientific laws, economic principles, political forces, and social concerns.
Now to the point. If I focus on transport and telecommunications (and pedagogy, naturally), and I am interested in history, time and space, then it follows that I can devote my research to issues of digital morality as they relate to these areas. For Hughes, electricity networks formed the basis for his understanding of the history of technology. If I look at the issues of transport and telecommunications then there is scope for an ongoing contribution that fits in with the direction of the institution.

This means that in Part 4, in the absence of some other brain wave, I will need to explore technological momentum in more detail.


Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Connecting the Nation by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio