Weblog Ethics

Wrongful actions committed by criminal justice professionals, who are black or people of colour in crime drama series. Source: https://colorofchange.org/

Even weblogs must have ethical standards.

Jim Lehrer (1934 – 2020) constructed a list of 16 Rules of Journalism, printed in italics at the beginning of the paragraphs below. These were later reduced to nine rules, marked with an *. These rules were copied from Kottke, who comments on them in general, and points to their original sources. I am using them as a starting point for my own personal reflections on weblogging. It does not mean that I favour these rules over other rules, for many have infuriated me. Others, not so much. Some rules have not been commented upon. Others have. See, especially, rule #15.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.* Coming first and with an *, it could be an important rule, but it grates. It is defeatist, starting with the negative (do nothing) rather than the positive (so something). Even the term defend points in two directions. Is Lehrer concerned about protecting something? or is it about showing support? My replacement would be: Promote causes that you endorse. Cause could refer to a principle, ideal, goal or movement to which a person is dedicated, or the end/ purpose for which a thing is produced, or even something broader still, such as the general welfare of the planet/ humanity/ a more restricted group/ person. Endorse includes a range of support (middle ground), from approval (weaker), to sustain or defend (stronger).
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype. This is a difficult rule to follow, especially the slanting. A slant is a perspective on a problem. All events have to be viewed from some perspective, even if they aren’t acknowledged. Where does slanting stop, and hype and/or distortion begin? How much distortion, hype or slanting does it take, before the result is considered a lie? There are no easy answers. One reason for weblogging is to present alternative opinions, especially those that are not supportive of the mainstream, which for me consist of a libertarian perspective on the economy, and a conservative perspective on social life, that are found/ distorted/ lied about/ slanted/ hyped in commercial media.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes. Quotations and other attributions of thought are difficult. In part, it comes from the inability of some people to speak/ write succinctly enough. Often, there is a need to re-state the essence of a person’s opinion, without distortion. At another level it also reveals a major challenge with journalism and its focus on individuals, rather than systems. One criticism of journalists is that some seem more interested in a subject’s passion or conviction, rather than the truth of their statements.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.* Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez (1983 – ) tweeted a link to an article about the 2003 rape accusation against Kobe Bryant (1978 – 2020), who died on 2020-01-26 in a helicopter accident. Sonmez was subsequently harangued and threatened, her address posted publicly, and her employer placed her on administrative leave. Bryant issued an apology where he made clear he believed the woman when she said she did not feel their encounter was consensual. The Median article describing the Sonmez situation, reasons that that public relations were more important to the Washington Post than Sonmez herself. It wonders why rape victims would trust the Washington Post with their stories if they think the paper is more concerned with appeasing an online mob than holding powerful men to account? It concludes that a powerful publication silenced its female reporter for tweeting about rape. Lehrer’s rule seems to suggest he would prefer people not to write about rape, or any other uncomfortable subject, at least when the alleged perpetrator is a celebrity.
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.* One of the reasons I have stopped reading a particular local newspaper, is that – from my perspective – it covers stories by focusing on one single person/ perspective, and allowing that one person to frame events. There seems to be no balance, until later – perhaps – when a second perspective is described, that is 180 degrees away from the first. Even then, it is difficult for the second party to address issues, because they have already been framed, possibly detrimentally.
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.* Radio, television, newspapers (and more) are mass media, sending out their stories to thousands, if not millions of listeners, viewers and/ or readers. The audience of this weblog is entirely different. It currently consists of 32 other people. Each of these people I know personally, even if there are some that I have never met in person. Others, I may not have met for over fifty years. I have also stated that if this weblog has an audience of more than 100 people, I will have failed at my goal. I have no desire to be famous, or to be popular. Perhaps Bernie Sanders (1941 – ) has expressed it best. Responding to a comment by Hillary Rodham Clinton ( 1947 – ) that no one likes him, Sanders replied, “On a good day, my wife likes me.” This weblog is not trying to influence anyone, apart from a very select group who are (hopefully) equally smart, caring and as good as I am. It is encouraging people to forget mass-market social media, and to engage with a limited number of real friends on issues that are of importance to that small group of people.
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.* I presume this rule is actually stating, that journalists must assume that the subject of a story is as smart and caring and good a person as the journalist reporting. This makes an assumption that stories are about people. Many of my stories are about technology, sometimes its failings, at other times it successes.
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In its editorial on 2020-01-24, Logisk brist = Logical Deficiency, the Inderøyning newspaper takes up the legal situation of a Norwegian woman and her two children, who have been returned to Norway from Syria. The problem is that leading politicians have pronounced the woman guilty of terrorism, despite the lack of any legal judgement against her, in violation of the Norwegian constitution. Her return to Norway has even led to the Progressive Party, leaving the government. In social media, including weblogs, it is far too easy to defame people who must be presumed innocent. It is my understanding that no court of law has found this woman guilty of anything.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.* When I initially read this statement, my mind turned to social media, and how it is encouraging precisely the opposite of this rule. For even the most intimate details of a person’s life are exposed and commented upon.
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.* This rule shows by example, the challenge of finding suitable rules. I think I understand all of the words in the rule until I get to the phrase straight news stories. It grates. Even if journalists use the term story, it is too close to the concept of fiction for my liking. I suspect a news story is a spicier version of a sequence of news facts. Since the adjective straight is being used to modify news story, I am left wondering what other varieties can be found. When I look up straight in a dictionary I find 19 different meanings, including not curved and heterosexual. Fortunately, it also provides me with a better understanding of its journalistic meaning: written or to be written in a direct and objective manner, with no attempt at individual styling, comment, etc. If I were to help Lehrer, by re-writing the rule for him, it would be: Separate and label facts, opinions and analyses.
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.* While sources are sometimes lacking in this weblog, when people are mentioned, I try to put in their name as well as their year of birth and death, to try to put that person’s experiences into context. The same is also true, with respect to the first publication date of a book or article. Unfortunately, not all C.V.s contain essential information, such as year of birth. There are times when I feel I should go further, and include country of birth, or at least residence. L. P. Hartley (1895 – 1972) wrote in The Go-Between (1953), “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It is often difficult to understand what has motivated people. Even more difficult if the context of their life is missing. Personally, I am a pacifist, and refuse to use weapons. Yet, both of my parents, Edgar (1906 – 1991) and Jennie (1916 – ) served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the second World War. While I have been able to condemn almost all wars since then, I still have difficulties understanding WW II, and passing judgement on its participants.
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers. This is a very naive statement, given that much of the media is owned by entrepreneurs wanting to promote a particular political perspective. The right-leaning (Kieth) Rupert Murdoch (1931 – ) through his News Corporation, owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries, with a net worth of over $5 billion in 2 000. In other ages, there have been other media moguls with other priorities. William Randolph Hurst (1863 – 1951) favoured the working class, who bought his papers, and denouncing the rich and powerful. Today, Mark Elliott Zuckerberg (1984 – ) has become infamous for Facebook’s role in allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without their consent and using it for political advertising purposes.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice. Change viewers to readers, and the statement should be true of every serious weblog. Thus, I am curious to know what readers believe should be the principles followed in this weblog. Readers with opinions are encouraged to comment. Those reluctant to do so publicly, are encouraged to send a confidential email. While I will read and evaluate all material sent, this does not mean that I will incorporate it in any final rules for Brock’s weblog.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.* That is a debatable point. Everything related to the media can be considered entertainment, even if some regard themselves above it. Much of the harm initially done there, is subsequently amplified by webblog posts. Take television crime drama, as an example. In Change of Color’s report, Normalizing Injustice, a disproportionate number of wrongdoing criminal justice professionals are black or people of colour, as shown in the table at the beginning of this weblog post. This report reminds people that “the crime genre glorifies, justifies and normalizes the systematic violence and injustice meted out by police, making heroes out of police and prosecutors who engage in abuse, particularly against people of color.” Misconduct is often presented in a way that normalizes it, making problematic characters seem good and their wrongful actions justified. Fiction is not just fiction, and entertainment is not simply entertainment, both are tools that shape attitudes. Entertainment cannot be ignored, for it can be the face of oppression.

This marks the end of Lehrer’s rules. What do readers think should be in a set of rules that should apply to all weblogs? In addition to these, what other rules should apply specifically to Brock’s weblogs?

Ethics of Care

Carol Gilligan (1936 – ) is considered the founder of the Ethics of Care philosophical movement. Much of the foundations of this movement were published in her book, In a Different Voice (1982).

In the 1960s Gilligan realized that men (in contrast to people) were the measure of humanity, with autonomy and rationality as the markers of maturity. To explore this, and its implications, she undertook three empirical studies: college student study about moral development, the abortion decision study looking at conflict, and the rights and responsibilities study which examined concepts of self and morality in men and women of different ages.

Analysis and reflection on these studies resulted in Gilligan developing a framework for the Ethics of Care, where, “the different voice I describe is characterized not by gender but theme. Its association with women is an empirical observation, and is primarily through women’s voices that I trace its development.”

The Ethics of Care is proposed as an alternative to Lawrence Kohlberg’s (1927 – 1987) hierarchal and patriarchal approach to ethics, where he claims that girls (and thus women), did not in general develop their moral abilities to the highest levels. Gilligan explained gendered differences in moral reasoning as cultural constructions, and not in essentialist terms. Kohlberg provided detailed responses to Gilligan in Essays on Moral Development: Vol.II. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages (1984). Kohlberg has been extremely influential, including some of the content in John Rawls’ (1921 – 2002) A Theory of Justice (1972).

Gilligan contended that women approach ethical problems differently, by focusing on responsibilities and relationships while men focus on rights and rules.

In 2011, Gilligan was able to appreciate that care is regarded as a feminine ethic within a patriarchal framework, but as a human ethic within a democratic framework. For her, reason can co-exist with emotion, mind with body, self with relationships and even men with women. This co-existence is not permitted in a patriarchal framework. Gilligan calls this less divisive and more human approach, the Ethics of Care.

Many other feminists, especially, have reflected on the Ethics of Care, and developed their own philosophies. One of the first was Nel Noddings (1929 – ) who wrote Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (1984). She makes a distinction between natural and ethical caring. Personally, Noddings is difficult to understand, except that she seems to be enforcing traditional views of nurturing.

Annette Baier (1929 – 2012) is more interesting because she states that women and men make their decisions about right and wrong based on different value systems: men take their moral decisions according to an idea of justice, while women are motivated by a sense of trust or caring. A major concern is that philosophy, and its history, have been dominated by men, resulting in the feminine perspective being ignored.

Joan Claire Tronto (1952 – ) attempted to operationalize the ethics of care, especially in Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care (1993). She defines care as “On the most general level we suggest caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our “world”so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.” (p. 103)

Tronto differentiates obligation-based ethics and responsibility-based ethics. Obligation-based ethics involve a decision maker determines what obligations s/he has and responding. This contrasts with responsibility-based ethics, where the relationship with others is the starting point. Thus, the Ethics of Care involves/ requires developing a habit of care. (p. 127)

There are four elements of caring, that are the fundamentals necessary to provide effective care. These require certain attitudes and skills. They are: 1. attentiveness; 2. responsibility; 3. competence; and, 4. responsiveness of the care receiver. (p. 127)

Tronto defines four phases of caring. These involves cognitive, emotional, and action strategies. However, they are not in sequential order, and can overlap. They are: 1. caring about; 2. taking care of; 3. care giving; and 4. care receiving. (p. 165)

The one Norwegian philosopher who deserves mention is Tove Pettersen (1962 – ), perhaps better known for her work on the existential ethics of Simone de Beauvoir. In addition to numerous articles, she has written one major book on the subject, Comprehending Care: Problems and Possibilities in The Ethics of Care (2008).

In an interview, later published, Pettersen states, “In our culture, the Good Samaritan ideal overlaps with the traditional understanding of what it means to be a good woman. Female care workers in particular—whether they are mothers or nurses—are commonly expected to be altruistic, to systematically put the interests of others first, while treating their own needs as secondary and unimportant. Consequently, they are expected to work beyond what is reasonable in order to fulfil this altruistic ideal. Using the Good Samaritan as an ideal for care workers in professions where the employer’s goal is to maximize profit and minimize costs paves the way for exploitation. Care workers are especially exposed to exploitation, because they have the responsibility for the well-being of vulnerable others. In many situations, care workers simply cannot reject this responsibility. It is therefore very important to be aware of how easy it is to be exploited when the traditional images of what it means to be a woman, and the traditional images of what good care is, are jointly applied. Unfortunately, the Good Samaritan cannot be an ideal for contemporary care work.

Virtue Ethics

Our hobby business, Fjellheim Institute ANS existed for many years mainly as the publisher of the Norwegian edition of The Virtues Guide (1996). Information about this enterprise is found in Keywords 023 Excellence.

Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (1943 – ) explains the concept of a virtue in her entry for Virtue Ethics in the 2013 edition of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable” character trait. It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say “goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker—but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)”

While Virtue Ethics can be said to begin with Socrates (ca. 470 – 399 BC), it is Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) who puts the field on the map, in Nicomachean Ethics, where he discusses about 11 moral virtues. Each virtue was suspended between two vices, one excessive, the other deficient. Thus, a person was to aim for moderation, a position somewhere between the two extremes.

At this point, we will ease our way into modern Virtue Ethics, by noting Alasdair Macintyre’s (1929 – ) demand in After Virtue (1981/ 1984/ 2007) that virtues have to be a community project. Ethics implies ethos, that each and every virtues has to be grounded in a particular time and place. If I look at my own upbringing, the society I grew up in was racist, discriminated against women, refused to tolerate either abortion or homosexuality, allowed parents to use physical punishment, encouraged smoking and drinking, and punished people who advocated socialist principles.

Each and every individual has to address emerging social issues, and to make a decision as to how to behave in the world. The list of moral virtues has to be applied to countless areas.

In addition to the 11 moral virtues, Aristotle also comments on seven other intellectual virtues. Of these it is especially Techne, translated as art or craftsmanship, that is of overwhelming interest for me, and many others in contemporary society. Here, I am particularly interested in miniaturization, manufacturing techniques – especially those that can be implemented locally, robotics and other forms of physical computing using sensors and activators. Naturally, I hope that there will be many others who are concerned about other challenging areas, such as health and nutrition/ agriculture.

One of the works that has impacted me the most is David Harvey’s (1935 – ) Social Justice and the City (1973), which I read almost as soon as it came out. The book is divided into three parts, of which the first two are most important. When I finished the first part, I felt I had understood the problem of urbanization. Then, as I read the second part I began to realize, that the proposed solutions simply created new problems. People fail to understand the consequences of their actions.

In my mind, I am often comparing Harvey’s work, with A Theory of Justice (1971) by John Rawls (1921 – 2002). The libertarian solutions proposed by Rawls, mirror those in the first part of Harvey’s book. I continually fear that Rawls does not appreciate how much needless damage libertarianism extracts from society. For MacIntyre, morals and virtues can only be understood in relation to the community in which they come from. Harvey expresses the same, but uses different words. Rawls wants people to consider justice as some sort of abstract ideal.

The Virtues Guide (1990/ 1993/ 1995), written by Linda Kavelin Popov and Dan Popov, and illustrated by John Kavelin, consisted of 52 different virtues, one for each week of the year. In our kitchen we also have 100 Virtues Cards. We choose one to focus on each week. Unfortunately, many of them do not feel like virtues.

I am contemplating a new approach, focusing on Aristotle’s original 11 moral virtues, one at a time. First, there has to be an understanding of the social context of each virtue. What does it mean, anno 2020? Second, there will have to be an understanding of how that virtue prepares a person for their ultimate destiny. Third, one must look at how a deficit of that virtue will affect a person. Fourth, a similar approach must be undertaken to understand what excess means, in terms of that virtue.

Workshop Core Values

Even the most notorious motorcycle gang has a set of core values that is hung on the wall near their club house entrance, for all to see and follow. The same applies to the Unit One work space.

Mission Statement

By appointment to the citizens of Ginnunga Gap, the Unit One work space is a supplier of a work area equipped with tools and machines, and helpful people with insight, skill and knowledge, all organized to transform individual and collective visions into practical products that make the world a better place.

Core Values

Work at Unit One is comprehensive. It involves using one’s brain, as well as one’s body. Creativity finds expression through mental and physical work processes.

In terms of health, safety and the environment, the work space is equipped with fire fighting and first aid equipment, bright lighting and air purification equipment. Workers are expected to use protective equipment including, but not restricted to, ear plugs, gloves, respirators, safety glasses, safety shoes and comfortable workwear.

Researching and developing useful and environmentally friendly products and services is an essential part of the work space experience.

Training is an ongoing activity. Almost all tools require a safety checkout or training to ensure that all users have the necessary skills.

Products and services require documentation. These may take the form of technical drawings, written notes as well as videos. Everything made in the workshop shall be open source design.

Power to the workshop is provided by renewable energy.

Material used in the workshop are organically or technically recyclable, using cradle to cradle principles.

Socially useful products and services are to be made in the workshop.

Peace, Equality, Integrity & Simplicity

There are four important traditions within the Society of Friends, or Quakers as they will be referred to here, that promote spiritual life. The first is the testimony of peace; the second, the testimony of equality ; the third, the testimony of truth or integrity; the fourth, the testimony of simplicity.

My religious path involves three and a half stages. First, was a childhood, where I was brought up in a methodist tradition in the United Church of Canada. I left that as a young adult because I could not accept the concept of the trinity, and became a Unitarian. This was followed by a half stage where I investigated the Quakers, before becoming a member of the Baha’i Faith.

Much of the appeal of the Quakers was their testimonies. These emphasized that one’s spiritual life and character is more important than anything else. The focus was not the next world, but the current world. It implies that resources, including money and time, should be used to make life truly better for everyone.

The main reason I never became a Quaker, is because I had reservations about some aspects of these testimonies. As an example, some Quaker groups forbid drama because it involves the assumption of non-truthful roles. For me, this was one step too far.

Quaker usage of the term testify is often misunderstood. It is a commitment to action, in which spiritual ideals require a physical expression. Integrity requires personal wholeness, consistency, honesty and fair dealings. It necessitates not only telling the truth, but also the avoidance of statements that are technically true but misleading.

The testimony of peace requires committed action to promote peace, to refrain from violence, to actively oppose participation in war. Most Quakers are conscientious objectors, and refuse to carry or use any form of weapon. Many Quakers refuse to pay that share of taxes that goes to the military.

The testimony of peace can be broadened to include what is referred to as active non-violence: protests and demonstrations in opposition to government policies of war. Some confront others who bear arms. Restorative justice can also be part of Quaker peace testimony, while only a minority include vegetarianism.

The British Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their work to relieve suffering and feed many millions of starving people during and after both world wars.

The testimony of equality involved equality of the sexes and equality of races. It encouraged the women’s suffrage movement and the anti-slavery movement. Yet, there were other areas where equality applied, especially the humane treatment of the mentally ill, and of prisoners.

In their relationships with others, words and actions had to flow from beliefs. This meant not only speaking the truth, even when it was difficult, to use grace and tact to say difficult things, but also to receive difficult messages gracefully.

Quakers took responsibility for their actions. They fulfilled their commitments, such as taking care of people and things entrusted to their care. They learned to assess people and situations fairly and accurately, but also guarded their reputation for honesty, fairness and fidelity. They were noted for their openness to the ideas of others, and for giving credit to others for contributions. At the same time, they avoided being swayed too easily. They were expected to confront lapses in the integrity of themselves and others.

In terms of economics, the testimony of integrity had many implications. Not only did people have to be paid fair wages for their work, but employers had to be given the right amount of labor for pay received. Quaker businessmen operated with fixed but fair prices to avoid haggling. Similarly, debt financing was avoided to prevent people from spending beyond their means.

They assiduously avoided class distinction by refusing to use honorific titles and by using familiar forms of thee and thou, instead of the respectful you. Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr are avoided. Instead children and adults address people using only the first or both first and last names without a title. They use the term friend rather than sir or madam with someone whose name they do not know. In writing, this becomes Dear Friend instead of Dear Sir or Madam. Letters typically end with yours in truth or yours in friendship.

In the Testimony of Simplicity, there are three areas where this is most pronounced: dress, speech and material possessions.

The Quaker dress code varies today. Avoiding extremes, one would not be out of place at many Quaker meetings wearing generic, dull coloured work wear, without any form of jewelery or cosmetics. In terms of body fashion, piercings, tattoos and hair colour would be avoided.

Plainness in speech, naturally, had to address issues already noted in the other testimonies. In its early years, especially, the vestiges of paganism concerned many Quakers, especially because the names of the days and months referred to Roman or Norse gods or Roman emperors. This resulted in referring to both the days of the week and the months of the year by number.

Quakers often limited possessions to what they needed, rather than accumulating luxuries. It is not the goods themselves, but one’s attitude towards them that is important. There have been many wealthy Quakers, who have used their wealth for spiritual purposes, including helping the poor and oppressed. Others found their wealth a spiritual burden, and gave it away. Three of the largest chocolate manufacturing companies in the world – Cadbury, Roundtree and Fry – were started by Quakers.

Even in death, simplicity is important. A Quaker grave marking will ideally be a simple and low-lying stone.

Despite being only a half-stage in my spiritual development, many of my fundamental beliefs originate in reflecting on Quaker values. This reflection resulted a rejection of some values, but an acceptance of others.


Workshop Ethics

DIY, Workshop or workspace activities encourage people to undertake a wide variety of tasks rather than relying on paid specialists. These activities require people to develop skills needed to complete these tasks. but they also require an ethical underpinning.

Workspace ethics empowers both individuals and communities. It encourages the use of novel solutions when facing bureaucratic or societal obstacles.

Many of the earliest examples involve punk music, notably the proto-punk band Death and the third-wave feminist band Riot Grrl.  Ideally, demos are recorded with amateur equipment in bedrooms, while albums and merchandise are promoted and distributed through nebulous channels outside the established music industry. Concerts are even held in house basements.

Betsy Greer invented the term craftivism in 2003: “craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.” http://craftingagreenworld.com/2009/04/04/what-is-craftivism-division-over-the-definition-explodes-an-etsy-team/

Craftivism is especially noted for its assorted forms of needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch. However, the social aspects are more important. By combining collective empowerment, creative expression and negotiation, critical social comments are produced and spread.

One brand of craftivism is the knit-in, where knitters access a public space and knit. This might involving sitting in a park or occupying a public building. They use the knit-in to focus attention to an issue of concern.

Jack Bratich notes, “Knitting in public also creates a gendered question of space. It rips open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption, exposing productive work that has contributed to women’s invisible and unpaid labor”.  “The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender”. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. That means that women gain power from an activity that previously symbolized their repression.

Ellen Lupton will be allowed the final words in this post. “Around the world, people are making things themselves in order to save money, to customize goods to suit their exact needs and interests, and to feel less dependent on the corporations that manufacture and distribute most of the products and media we consume. On top of these practical and political motivations is the pleasure that comes from developing an idea, making it physically real, and sharing it with other people.” D.I.Y. Design It Yourself, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006,p. 18

Making something great!

NB: Much of this post was actually written in 2016, but has been updated and posted in October 2017.

A year ago, a politician in one of the world’s largest countries came up with a campaign slogan, “Make [name of country] great, again.”

“Wow,” I thought, “that is such a fantastic idea.” I slept well, reflecting on that smart slogan until, in some sort of dream phase in the middle of the night, I realized that the message had to be tweaked.

Why should it be just one country? So, I replaced [name of country] with the world, as in: “Make the world great, again.”

Make the World Great Again

I began to slept even better the next night, knowing that the entire world would be great, again – not just one or ten countries, but all 195! http://www.worldometers.info/geography/how-many-countries-are-there-in-the-world/

Then, during this intense dream phase, I realized that the message had to be tweaked even more. Unfortunately, the entire world has never been that great for everyone. Many people live in oppression. Many more people in the past also lived oppressed, impoverished lives. So, we have no right to add “again” to the phrase.

“Make the world great.”

The slogan was now so fantastic I imagined that it couldn’t be improved, ever. So, I spent the next day painting a banner. It was a banner that could be hung from my sundeck that all the world could see, at least that portion of the world that lives in Vangshylla, and can see the sundeck. Unfortunately, that day it didn’t just rain, it poured. Not a single soul could be bothered to look upwards into the sky to read the banner.

That evening, I was sure I would sleep through the entire night, without interuptions. Not even the honking of the geese overhead, flying south, would disrupt my slumber. It was true, the honking geese did not disturb my sleep. It was the banner, or more correctly, the slogan on the banner, that did.

The problem this time was not with the slogan. Rather, it was what was missing from the slogan. It didn’t seem fair that an Obama, or a Hilary or a Donald or even a Bernie should be stuck with the job of making the world great. If the world was to become great, then everyone had to contribute.

The next day I found more material so that I could add a second story to the original banner. It now read, “Working to Make the World Great!”

By now I had grown to expect waking in the middle of the night. Thus, it came as no surprise at all, when I woke up realizing that there were still challenges with the slogan. Yes, we can all work to make the world great, but I’d actually prefer you to do it my way, rather than your way. It took only a few minutes to come to the realization that “My Way or the Highway” is not a particularly mature approach to making the world great. Then, something unusual happened. I fell asleep.

Sometimes, allowing one’s subconscious to work on a problem is much better than any other approach. When I awoke in the morning, I felt refreshed. After breakfast, I looked at the banner and knew precisely what needed to be added. Within an hour the banner was finished. It was a sunny day, so people could look up and read,

“Working Together to Make the World Great!”

Postscript: There aren’t many people who live in Vangshylla, and even fewer who can look up and see the banner. That isn’t important. That slogan is actually addressed to just one person, myself, and changing my attitude to each and every person I meet.


Industrial Arts, Craftsmanship & Values

The 1950s and the 1960s were a privileged time. Yet, there are only some aspects of it that I would want to return to. It was exceedingly sexist. Men worked outside the house, while women were confined inside suburban houses. At school, girls were required to study home economics which was in general divided into two sections, textiles (with an emphasis on sewing) and cooking (and nutrition). Boys were required to study industrial arts.

I am not going to mention more about home economics in this post, except to say that I probably would have benefited from learning more about cooking. Similarly, many girls would have benefited, if they had been allowed to study industrial arts.

Industrial arts was obligatory for four (later three) years. One period a week was devoted to draughting, and the construction of technical drawings. The other days were spent working in one of three subject areas, each for a third of the school year, in rotation.  The subject areas were woodworking, metalworking and electricity and electronics. For my last two years of secondary school, I took a two year specialization in electricity and electronics. Others were able to specialize in other areas, such as house construction or automotive mechanics. Some people didn’t take any practical subjects at all, after the obligatory years.

There is a Norwegian term, sløyd, that roughly translates as woodwork. Here children use obsolete hand tools to make objects that are either obsolete themselves, or are made in a fraction of the time by industrial machines. I am not sure why sløyd is taught. It shows a great deal of disrespect to children, and the value of their time.

In industrial arts, we learned how to use hand tools, but we also progressed rapidly to machine tools. One does not waste time using a hand saw if a compound mitre saw is more appropriate. This does not mean that the Canadian industrial arts program was perfect. In metalwork, I learned to work with sheet metal, blacksmithing and machining. However, I was never exposed to welding.

Fast forward fifty years …

I am tired of sitting around cafes, gossiping while consuming sugar rich drinks and cakes. Something similar can be said of gyms with their sweat enhanced fragrances. I want to invite people to use their time more constructively, by using the workshop at Unit One. Yes, there will be a “fredag fika” a Swedish term for a sociable coffee break often held on Fridays. It is designed to help bond and consolidate a group of workers. At Unit One it should allow people to discuss projects: present, future and (if necessary) past.

Before people will be allowed to use equipment on their own, they will have to be certified. The first will have to be for general health and safety. When a person enters Unit One, they have to know where their own personal protective equipment is located. Similarly, they will have to know what they are expected to do, during different types of emergencies, including fire and assorted forms of personal injury.

When it comes to certification to use the various tools, one approach is to test out a person using the specific machine. A better approach is to have the aspirant design and make a product that requires a number of different operations on a variety of machines.

Certification misses one vital element – the motivation to work.

Perhaps one should begin with the Arts and Crafts movement, and acknowledge the contributions of William Morris, and several others. That is not going to happen. The two contemporary (?) works that are most inspiring are both written by David William Pye (1914-1993): The Nature of Design (later The Nature & Aesthetics of Design), 1964 and The Nature and Art of Workmanship, 1968.

The workmanship of risk is one of Pye’s most important concepts. It is “workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works (The Nature and Art of Workmanship, p. 20).

He also wrote that people make things to effect change. However, most designed objects are palliative. They do not enable new behaviours. He uses a transport example to illustrate this. One can walk instead of using a car, but one cannot fly instead of using a plane. He also notes that design is limited by economy rather than technique. Since all design is an economic trade off, it is always a failure.

Pye also regards design as arbitrary. Products are developed under the assumption that tools can bring people happiness. His view is that tools can, at best, only help people avoid unhappiness.

David Pye 2
David Pye (1914-1993)

There are two other writers that one may also want to read on the philosophy of work, Richard Sennett and Matthew B. Crawford.

Richard Sennett has written extensively about work. The Hidden Injuries of Class (1972) written with Johnathan Cobb is a study of class consciousness among working-class families in Boston. The Corrosion of Character (1998) explores how new forms of work are changing our communal and personal experience. Respect in a world of inequality (2003) examines the relation of work and welfare system reforms. The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006), much like the earlier Authority (1980) address similar issues.

Richard Sennett (photo: Ars Electronica, 2010)

Yet, it is the newer Homo Faber project that examines work in a 21st century context, an exploration of material ways of making culture. The Craftsman (2008), Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (2012) and Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (to be published in 2018) on the making of the urban environment.

Lewis Hyde states that Richard Sennett’s “guiding intuition” in The Craftsman is that “making is thinking.” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/books/review/Hyde-t.html?_r=1&8bu&emc=bua2&oref=slogin

What I found particularly interesting about The Craftsman, was Sennett’s use of computer programmers as an example.

I will now elegantly hop over Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) to focus on a 21st century replacement, Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (2009). In addition to obtaining a Ph. D. in political philosophy, Crawford has also worked as an electrician and mechanic, and owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop.

matthew b. crawford
Matthew B. Crawford (photo: Adam Ewing)

Crawford writes about work that requires mastery of real things. This work can be more intellectually demanding that more abstract varieties. He feels that maintenance and repair work cultivate ethical virtues, and foster habits of individual responsibility. Crawford wants people to replace passivity and consumerism with self-reliance.

Tools are not the most important elements in a workshop. It is the values that are promoted therein.

“It is permissible to study sciences and arts, but such sciences as are useful and would redound to the progress and advancement of the people. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”

Baha’u’llah – Bisharat

Community Standards

Holbein Hand
Hans Holbein the Younger ca. 1523 Study of the Right Hand of Erasmus of Rotterdam,

Stephen Ellcock has breached Facebook’s community standards, by posting the above image on his Facebook site. For this offense he was to be ostracized for 30 days. He protested, and received an apology.

I am tired of multinational corporations becoming the arbitrator of morals in our post-modern society. Personally, I suggest that Facebook should use a more laissez-faire approach. If a person wants to paste photos showing nudity, my approach would be to allow it, but then allow those closest to the poster to voice their opinions. They will undoubtedly be forthcoming.

If a person’s postings violate laws then this is not a matter for Facebook, but the local police authorities.

My concern is not with Facebook in particular, but the loss of our freedom of speech and expression in general. Those who need trigger warnings should stop reading now! Because life does not come with trigger warnings. It happens in real time. The Girl Guide/ Boy Scout motto still prevails, “Be Prepared!”

College students, and everyone else, need exposure to a variety of ideas, including those they don’t like. Coddling youth is disastrous for both their education and their mental health. Yes, Virginia, trigger warnings have a negative impact, and micro-aggression must be allowed. The following article explains the reasons:


Now that you’ve managed to get through that, here is something at a highter traumatic level:

Breaking Through: “Microaggressions,” “Trigger Warnings,” and the New Meaning of “Trauma”


At the moment, the mail system on my laptop has a problem allowing me to approve comments. So, I am adding this comment from Caroline, manually. This is actually linked to the above Holbein drawing. The request was dated 2016-12-17 00.46:

It seems he has been banned again – all trace of his name has disappeared from Facebook, and google produces v little info. Do you know what has happened? I so miss ( with countless others I am sure) his extraordinary and magical images that he curated with such care and generosity.

Stephen Ellcock, where are you?

End of Caroline’s comment.


Very interesting, Caroline. When I do try searching for Stephen Ellcock I find no reference to him on Facebook. Perhaps he too has found other social media. After writing the original post I googled alternatives to Facebook, and came up with ello.co, which I now visit more often than Facebook.

Also of interest is the fact that when I attempted to visit Caroline’s blog, I was met with “<blog name> is no longer available. The authors have deleted this site.”