Saturday, December 18, 2021

Ethical reflections

In 2009, in a conversation with a university ethicist, I noted that researchers at Cambridge University were reported to have undertaken research to ascertain a correlation between testosterone and the collapse of the economy in 2008.
The research was based on the premise that credit defaults and the bundling of undervalued mortgages and selling them to unsuspecting buyers stemmed at least in part from a surge of testosterone among the math brainiacs behind the scheme.
A disdainful laugh and a dismissive brush-off of intellectual contempt accompanied by the words," I don't think so!" greeted my comment. And the conversation was terminated.

Clearly ethicists do not concern themselves with gender politics as the subject is "outside" their purview.

Prior to this abortive chat, in another conversation with a highly respected legal mind, deeply experienced in national politics, I inquired if the political science department at the university would be interested in discussing the role of masculinity in the public debate of national issues.
Again, with a benign and kindly smile, he asserted, "I seriously doubt that they would have any interest in that topic."

More recently, in a chat with a Dean of a graduate school of education, I inquired into the possibility of studying the work of James Hillman, archetypal psychologist, through a lens of curriculum development for Canadian secondary education. Silence and an off-hand comparison to Jordan Peterson were the respectful and professional responses.

These anecdotal notes are not intended to disparate any of the three individuals on the other side of each conversation.

Only a few weeks ago, I listened to a dental professional describe the caution from her teen daughter's English instructor, as pedagogical direction for an essay that was intended to focus on the role and depictions of women in the works of Margaret Laurence and Emily Bronte.
"Be careful not to indulge in any references to the culture in your paper," was the kernel of the teaching.
Although I merely raised my eyebrows,   privately I wondered how such a directive was either feasible or intellectually honest.

Just this week, I read the comments of a former student upon his retirement from a career as a mathematics instructor at a university.
A brilliant mind, with a passion and talent for piano composition and performance, this scholar also has a website of his brilliant art.
His driving question, "Can mathematics ever develop an appreciation for and a relationship to art?" lingers after decades of his research, thought and praxis.

Are these examples indicative of a degree of perfectionism and purity of different but similar attempts to preserve and protect the academic disciplines to which their respective doctoral graduates have committed?

Specialization, in the pursuit of COVID-19 cells, spikes and mutations, for example, depends directly on specific tests and protocols performed under highly strict and hygienic discipline and conditions in labs by schooled  and supervised scientists.

The questions about any potential correlations between and among disciplines, while partially embraced by and reducible to multivariate analyses, nevertheless remain "outside" the academic main stream.

Upon seeking direction from a second acting Dean of education about a potential opportunity to focus on Hillman as the lens for a critical examination of secondary school curriculum for male students, I received a polite email directing my inquiry to a different professor who deals with gender studies from a feminist perspective.
You will not be surprised to learn I did not follow up.

Here is the nexus of the concern.

If scholars of gender are focused primarily, if not exclusively, on one gender (either make or female) then the wider culture risks the impacts of disseminated and somewhat unbalanced research and the implications in the classroom and beyond.

Another conversation with a superintendent of education in an urban area when I asked about the existence or plan for curriculum that addressed male students replied curtly and dismissively, "We just need to get more computers and programs into the male students' school experience!"

Academic boundaries and professional reductionisms do not appear to be dissimilar. Indeed, the culture's dependence on funding and then deploying siloes of information mined in siloes of academic research risk a permanent dependence on the kind of "experts" whose personal and professional biases "infuse" each and every interaction including those designed and intended to be ethical and comprehensive and balanced.

"Rifle shots" of evidence, symptoms, even lists of contextual support are the stuff of medical, legal, financial and accounts of public issues and affairs.
There is a belief that such specificity signifies competence, professionalism, and expertise. And to some degree. it does.

However, to build first a curriculum and then an institutional foundation on such pillars as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a means to accomplish the goal of raising the number of female enrollees in those fields (dominated by males) as well as incubating new potential workers in a tech culture brings significant risks.

One risk is contained in our dependence on numbers/graphs/equations/calculi/algorithms as means to solutions of problems. Our analysis, diagnosis, prognosis and prescriptions are founded too much on such numbers and calculations.

Archetypes, metaphors, poetry, stages, and their respective connotative and denotative meanings too often are relegated to "emotions" and to the "artsy-fartsy" irrelevancies (another prominent vestige of hypermasculinity).
Just this week, in a conversation with an aspiring business consultant, I was trying to advocate for his adoption of values and mission statements in order to more precisely identify the primary purpose and benefit if his consults to his clients.
A graduate of a reputable business school, he acknowledged he had received no instruction or even orientation to the abstractions of vision, mission and identity. Those were not reducible to a formula.

Trying to "carve" his "artist/poet/painter" from the granite of his professional and disciplined busyness, however, may prove to be a reach too far.
Phrases like "connecting the dots" in a rational, calculated and cognitive process still resists the imagination that not only seeks but actually depends on the "free-reign" of the wholeness of the landscape of all factors, including the intellectual, the emotional, the psychic, and the spiritual.

Our wholeness and our humanity come with us, and with all others into all situations. And we are not and will never be reducible to "digits" or "precipitates" or even "algorithms". Our complexity is not reducible to our biology, nor to our intelligence or emotional quotient. It is our imagination that brings all the factors together...and even if that "composite" picture seems unruly (who can deny it is?) if is precisely that "unruliness" that epitomizes the unruliness and the unpredictability and the irregularities that we embody and that nature reflects.

Compressing our reality to formulae, dogma, containment and order for whatever motives remains ultimately and definitively hubristic and unholy.
I remain committed to bringing Hillman's perspective to whatever tables I encounter...even if that perspective finds few if any listeners/readers among the curious.


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