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Bias, Conformity and Creativity

Basically this post is about discernment, and is concerned with how we use the internet/news.

In this NBC mainstream article the reporter describes how he "was helping his son research outer space for his school project. When he searched for "Saturn" the first results were mostly documentaries. One of the recommended videos was "10 facts you didn't know about space". That video led to additional recommendations such as "can you believe it" videos, a synthesized voice reading Nostradamus predictions and a clip "they don't want you to see" of pro-Putin propaganda." In this blog I recommended not using youtube for political understanding, but it also cannot be used sensibly for research without discernment. The reporter could discern, but his son, the student, maybe could not. So it is important that we educate for discernment but that is not easy.

Difficulty in educating for discernment brings us into why news suddenly became "fake news". It is illustrated by this TED-ed clip. The clip begins with almost an acceptance that back in the day, when I was young, fake news was not a problem. Then gradually it described various establishment scandals such as Watergate, and that it then became legitimate to question the establishment. Throughout the ages genuinely creative people have always questioned the establishment - quite rightly, in those early times of this clip there was still bias, people accepting the news as neutral were being conditioned.

The big difference then was that the fake news was not so extreme; it is the extreme nature of fake news that is now the problem, and the way some of those extreme opinions have become part of the mainstream. People rejecting the mainstream are now turning to alternative sources who are credible to them but which lie and have the sole purpose of division. These are primarily, although not exclusively, the alt-right who appeal to the arrogance of the MAWPs. And who gains from the division? The 1%, who are the source of all our problems.

In this article Caitlin introduces the acronym NPR (to me at least). As she says the left has always seen the right as conditioned - "Republican echo chamber", but the liberal left has not seen themselves as conditioned. Snowflakes and alt-right are both conditioned - NPR. News conditions us - along with much of the society we make agreements with. We have to be aware there is bias, and know that it is our responsibility to overcome this bias - through discernment. As educators we have to educate against this bias, educate for discernment. For me the progressive aspect of the fake news awareness narrative is that we can now legitimately educate for discernment about liberalism, something I couldn't do as a teacher. In general education does not see itself as being biassed because it is liberal, it is good this is questioned - although going right is not good enquiry nor is it a good consequence.

So what can we credibly cite as sources - references? I remember with pride back in 1976 giving Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" as a reference for my PGCE dissertation. Although Pirsig is now academically sound (Antony McWatt made it so), I am not sure whether it was acceptable back then. I have been horrified by the emergence of the Professor Watchlist, knowing academia a little this will scare many lecturers into conformity as it is more than their job's worth - their houses.

This then drew me to how is academia coping with this liberty infringement, and I came across this interactive training on choosing sources. The first thing it says is ignore blogs without references, and it gave this very clear clip on what is safe. Whilst I understand the self-protection implicit in the conformity of this advice, it frightens me almost as much as the watchlist. Fundamentally it means that creativity cannot be used as a source. Examine the works of creative writers and poets. Where are the references? Many writers disdain referencing, it is not a creative process. Maybe some creative would get in. But would an unsourced creative be given the same credibility as Richard Spencer or Tommy Robinson? They would be given less credibility than Heather MacDonald's espousal of the right under the guise of academia.

What about the 1%-satrapy?

I am comfortable stating the existence of this 1%-satrapy but would I be able to do so in academia? In academia do they now have to justify saying we live in an oligarchy, corporatocracy or plutocracy? Back in 1976 we were still living in the same although the accumulation of the 1% was far less, and therefore the ravages, war and exploitation were equally much less - explonentially much less. Would I have had to justify it then?

Misuse of bias for alt-right political ends within academia has become more blatant, as opposed to the more subtle maybe just 10 years ago. Academia has been forced to conform, and this conformity is further eschewing creativity. This blog which has no pretence of academic rigour could not be cited academically as offering a valid viewpoint. With tightening conformity few could connect academic citations, I presume. Academia needs creativity, it is the way of removing cobwebs but now it is more constricted.

Can we now cite Shakespeare with any academic rigour?

We have to recognise that there are powerful forces manipulating the internet now. There are many theories being offered as to the source of this manipulation but because of the internet's potential for communicating to all I argue that this manipulation stems from the root power - the 1%. In the same way that we had to learn systemic bias of MSM, we have now to see that the internet is equally controlled. What is powerful on the internet represents the interests of the 1%. What portrays itself as independent media is powerful on the internet, and it is therefore logical to conclude that it represents the interests of the 1%.

To be discerning we have to accept this and move beyond it. We have to accept that a search engine using neutral terms is likely to take us down an alt-right rabbit-hole. With videos requiring some level of finance, unless we can see that the video is crowd-sourced, we have to accept that the video is independently-funded - usually meaning that the funding is (directly or indirectly) coming from the Dark Money Network. Who does money belong to? 1%. Unless it is crowd-sourced.

Education needs to recognise this bias, and move away from treating the internet as neutral. In the past education has supported liberal sources, eschewed the genuine left, and eschewed the far right (alt-right). This approach was presented as a neutral and balanced way - although I claimed it always favoured the right. If the internet is approached as a neutral platform it will now take students further right, especially with the spate of attacks misdescribing teachers and education as being left.

The way that education can teach this is through conformity - as described above. This of course is a sad consequence of the pressures exerted on education. But the worst consequence is the eschewing of creativity. All education needs to promote creativity far more than it has done in the past. Not only does it need to help students develop their creativity more, but it also needs to help students learn to discern creativity - typically bonus-marking for a creative reference. Unfortunately due to pressures on teachers this creative promotion is unlikely to happen.

When conformity wins the world suffers. Despite what they would say right-wing violence is a conformity pressure. Discerning teachers need to recognise the alt-right internet bias, and start to promote the creative.

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Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education. Blogs:- Zandtao, Mandtao.