Whenever I see an automated lawn mower my first is often: lonely. it’s as if I want to ascribe feelings to this free range device which performs this sisyphean service by only cutting millimetres of grass at a time. The device is in nearly constant motion except when it stops to recharge itself. It’s an interesting and peculiar thing to want to have such a visible convenience. How nice to have the lawn in a consistently manicured state without the bother of physical effort. To maintain a mowed lawn becomes a task we can leave to this single device that requires nothing of us beyond it’s charging station and grass to cut.
The device cannot be lonely. It is created to neither feel nor emote. It has its task, its energy source, a program of operation and not more. That is both the point and the dream.
One thought I have about the rise of robots and AI powered service devices is how they are marketed to us as harbingers of freedom and ease. We receive the impression that all we will need to have our wishes fulfilled will be the sound of our voices and an ever receptive personal assistant named Alexa or Siri that will then set the logistical wheels in motion to trigger the necessary steps of wish fulfillment. In this way, we are told, we shall be freed.
It dawned on me, however, that perhaps the fascination of having an Alexa at hand or being able to bark commands at Siri may have less to do with actual freedom and much more to do with the joys of a sleek and modernized subjugation; the satisfaction of the command and control of our surroundings through machines that we appear to boss around.
Slavery is out(dated), automation is our present and future.
Think about who most ardently supports increased automation and the necessary 24/7 surveillance that feeds its learning database.
*Note: this untitled post was in my files unpublished. Until June 21, 2019, that is. I got updates on my phone that 3 such posts were released. I have no explanation. I trashed the other two. I drafted it some time last Fall I think.
Our school celebrated the opening of the Elementary Art Show for grades 1 – 5 on Friday. Positioned along a main corridor of the school, students and their families were able to feast their eyes on over 300 distinct pieces of artwork, selected by each student to be included in the display. Because I travel this hallway several times a day on my way to and from the gyms, I had multiple opportunities to glance at a few pieces each time through. What really caught my attention, though, were the artists’ statements. Alongside each artwork, my colleague, Sabina Trombetta, posted the artist’s name with a statement. I was struck by these honest testaments to students’ relationships to their effort, their craft, their enjoyment and their understanding. Here’s a sample of what some of them said: (The number refers to the grade level of the student)
Art makes me feel happy. 1
I am an artist because my teacher taught me how to be an artist. I like to do different things. 1
I am an artist because I can turn everything into art. 1
I am an artist because it is my thing. 1
I have learned that not all artworks have to be perfect and how you want. 2
I like art because it’s fun seeing new stuff, looking in a different way, and exploring. 2
I love art so much. It is my favorite subject. Art makes me feel happy and loved. I love art so much I even drew with my left hand when I had a broken arm. 2
I have learned feelings in color. 2
Art is very calm. It makes me smile. 2
Art can be a dream. You can fly or visit outer space. But most of all art is from the heart. 3
Art can be a great inspiration. I have learned art takes time. 3
Art can be good and normal. Everybody does different art. 3
Art is good. But it’s challenging. 3
Art is so fun even if it’s boring. I always find some way to make it fun. 3
I love art. Art is my life. On the first day of school I was like “Is there art?” 3
To me, art is anything you want it to be. 4
This artwork is a musical country. My inspiration came from Motown. I ran wild with my imagination making it. 3
Art is something everyone can do. 4
When I create art it makes me feel relief. 4
When I create art I think that I’m in the picture. 4
I have learned that if you want something to go your way you have to work for it. 3
I have learned that art is everywhere. 4
Without art I wouldn’t have done this beautiful piece. I would have some boring blank spots. 4
Art makes me feel free. My inspiration for this artwork is reality. 5
I think art is important for me because you can be creative. 5
The experience draws the art. 5
I have learned many things, but art is a gift granted on all. Some big, some small, art is everywhere waiting to be found. 5
My inspiration comes from the things around me. 4
I love art because when I’m mad at my brother or I’m sad, art always calms me down. 3
I wish I could share more of their insights and ideas. Reading each one gave me a fresh view of each child. Again, I am humbled by what children will tell us if we would simply listen.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains “identity politics” at the beginning of her landmark book, White Fragility:
“The term identity politics refers to the focus on the barriers specific groups face in their struggle for equality. We have yet to achieve our founding principle, but any gains we have made thus far have come through identity politics.
The identities of those sitting at the tables of power in this country have remained remarkably similar: white, male, middle- and upper-class, able bodied. Acknowledging this fact may be dismissed as political correctness, but it is still a fact. The decisions made at those tables affect the lives of those not at the tables. Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion. While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.” (p. xiii)
I turned to DiAngelo because a friend described a situation in which someone exhibited behaviors I would associate with White fragility although the topic in question was not race related. I was looking for a way to understand this person’s reactions which included extreme defensiveness, a focus on her own feelings and sense of being wronged, concern that her authority was being undermined by my friend. I wondered: Is it possible to demonstrate white fragility even if race is not the source of the inflammation?
I don’t have a definitive answer for myself but I do believe the same symptoms may be typical when someone’s sense of entitlement is threatened. A sense of entitlement is defined here as “[a]n unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.” Given this, a sense of entitlement might emerge from seniority in a position, elevated status in a hierarchy, deep identification with the status quo, being a member of the in-group. When a power structure is inhabited and led solely by members of the in-group, it’s no wonder that an awareness of the struggles faced by out-group members is diminished. As DiAngelo suggests, “inequity can occur simply through homogeneity.”
My big questions remain: What motivates people to become more careful and critical observers of self? What motivates people to reflect on and correct problematic behaviors?
I often express the wish for others to be and become more reflective. I want that for myself, too. I want to be a better listener, negotiator, coach. And I want others to join me in these pursuits. But it seems harder to do if you are holding onto a sense of entitlement that blinds you to the need for more than surface reflection. Entitlement will always prefer comfort and ease. Deep, consequential reflection promises the opposite. It’s no surprise that more of the privileged and seriously entitled are not jumping on the bandwagon of reflective discomfort.
I’m thinking about my friend and her situation and how it’s part of a larger pattern of power relations stories being told the world over: folks in power feeling threatened by those laboring under them expressing dissatisfaction with their working conditions. Instead of asking, “what can we do to better meet your needs?” power holders seem more likely to embrace defensiveness and denial. When do power holders recognize the need to do things differently?
Usually crisis. Something needs to seriously break down, go awry, come to an irreversible head. Reflection becomes a survival necessity. Change is made. Not always dramatically better but often in the direction of improvement.
How can I help people see this process more clearly? What can I do to increase the likelihood that those who hold power will develop eyes, ears and speech for equity?
I’m scratching my head over this one. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to my friend, offering support where I can and continue to mull over the questions that need big and generous answers.