Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Twitter Essay on Education As Maintaining A Progressive Rhetorical Infrastructure

Here is what the essaylet looks like as a conventional paragraph:
Part of what progressive respect for education should entail is taking more seriously the maintenance of our rhetorical infrastructure. Progressive governance and social struggle are premised on a host of insights that may be more counterintuitive than we take them to be. It is true that national economies are not analogous to household economies, but is that obviously true? It is true that no individual succeeds in the absence of public investment and collective effort, but is that obviously true? It is true that the same risk-pooling that makes insurance profitable can make general welfare achievable, but is that obviously true? It is true that weather is not climate, but is that obviously true? It is true that saying humans and apes share a common ancestor is not the same as saying humans are descended from apes, but is that obviously true? It is true that outcomes rightly called racist or sexist result from inertial norms and unconscious biases in the absence of conspicuous animus, but is this obviously true? Reactionaries endlessly exploit the counterintuitive character of crucial progressive truths to organize popular resistance to progress. Progressives rarely exhibit an equal interest and investment in clarifying, reiterating, and rendering intuitive these crucial truths. Public discourse often takes up reactionary frames and narratives because progressives fail to maintain ongoing discursive support for ours. My point is not to revive the fruitless "framing wars" -- there are no "magic words" that win elections every time -- but to insist on the value ongoing civic and science education. Too many progressives seem to become bored or discouraged by the prospect of an interminable education of majorities to support the work of progress. Education always requires an unglamourously enormous amount of repetition, returning to basics, re-explaining of what seems obvious. On top of that, it is genuinely difficult to find ways to overturn intuitive commonplaces with even powerful counterintuitive insights. Many progressives are quick to deride reactionaries who ignore or deny counterintuitive economic and ecologic truths but are not quite so quick to clarify these truths themselves. As someone who exhibits these weaknesses myself I understand their lure, but I am ever more convinced of the necessity to overcome them.
I occasionally play around with the longer-form chains and conversations that yield what get called "twitter essays." My Twitter Privacy Treatise is an example of such an experiment. Of course, @HeerJeet is at once the best-known as well as the most consummate practitioner of the twitter essay. This includes great twitter essays about twitter essays, in one of which she made the great point that real-time responses and reactions can impact the way in which such essays make their case -- the way they develop, illustrate, prioritize, and qualify their claims -- and that this may make the twitter essay a better exemplar of the "experimental effort" indicated by the French term from which the word essay derives. The character limit constraining individual tweets reduces the pieces out of which twitter essays are made into forms more reductively assertive or provocatively aphoristic than the complexity of many topics may seem to demand. This challenge can be unexpectedly productive, as it happens, whatever the obvious risks of miscommunication. Given the emphasis of my twitter essay today on making the effort of clearly and concisely formulating indispensable but counterintuitive progressive insights, making that point within the constraints of the twitter-essay demands a performance of the point as part of the process of making it, for example.

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