Advising the Tyrant of Syracuse*
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MIT (and the university in general) is the heir of 2500 years of literate intellection, modified to suit mechanical reproduction, but now arriving at the limit-point of literacy as we engage electracy and the apparatus of digital media. Alphanumeric schooling perfected analysis that disassembled reality into a logical order; but it was unable to accomplish synthesis, which is the implicit challenge of the emerging paradigm. The structure of discrete disciplines is virtually helpless when confronting the complexity of the world as networked “ecology” (to use the metaphor of the Task Force). An education for the future must address the second dimension of dialectic – synthesis – to invent a unified field of learning native to an electrate apparatus in the full sense of the term (technology, institutions, identity – individual and collective). Electracy is not another name for "media literacy," any more than literacy is another name for "alphabetic orality."
The challenge posed by apparatus history to any education reform is that the ground of our familiar world is undergoing mutation: not only technology, but also school, science, personhood, political institutions: all transform. If considering how to adapt learning to a digital apparatus does not produce discomfort, then the conditions of change have not been fully grasped.
Electracy dates from the beginning of the industrial period, including all the registers of the era of "revolutions" – technological, political, and representational. Apparatus theory allows us to frame what is at stake by tracking the profound influence of each media invention: orality, concerned with right/wrong (religion), eventually put speaking into writing, opening the way for rational problem-solving and science; literacy, concerned with true/false (science), invented logic, and recently put this into computing, opening the way for (conjecturally) an entirely new cognitive/social paradigm. Digital computing mutates literacy as alphabetic writing mutated orality, and leads to the implication: native electracy is beyond science, if not beyond school. Polytheistic religion adapted to literacy, resulting in the monotheistic religions of the book; science is adapting to electracy in producing schools of the computer, but risks becoming the Church of Science, antagonistic to an ontology native to electracy.
It is important to keep in mind that while apparatus shift is inevitable, the inventions themselves are not determined. It is possible but not inevitable that school be superseded by the entertainment corporation as the primary institution of learning and (even) credentialing in electracy. Electracy does not replace orality and literacy, but supplements them in opening a new dimension of human development. Electracy does not entail a different science, but a different civilization that includes science and religion in a transformed worldview. The challenge and opportunity is to imagine the learning/education most adequate to the social/political apparatus of electracy.
Gregory Bateson, describing a new “ecology of mind" based on meta-patterns, encapsulated the past two millennia in a pair of terms, covering the two apparati: sacrament and entropy. Electracy introduces a third term, enjoyment, in the sense of "usufruct," the right to usage, having in mind collective well-being, a right to enjoyment of one's full capabilities as a human being. "Enjoyment" in apparatus theory assumes that the dimension of reality made accessible to education by digital media is human embodiment (libidinal energy). Human desire in the previous apparati was suppressed, sublimated, or suspended, but conditions for its full multi-sensorial engagement are now actualizing.
The digital apparatus addresses this opportunity by enabling a new integrative relationship among human capabilities, first suggested by Kant in his promotion of aesthetic judgment as mediator between scientific reason and moral freedom at the start of the industrial era, extended by Freud in his articulation of the Unconscious as the dimension of the unknown now open for inquiry. The Unconscious is nothing mystical, but a convenient label for everything that still resisted the best efforts of the entire apparatus of literacy (school, science, reason). The addition of heuretic (inventive) discovery to hermeneutic (analytic) verification in the curriculum of disciplines proposed by electracy in practice is a shift from understanding theses to undergoing theopraxesis (thinking/doing/making). The interdependence of Kant's three critiques and the central role of aesthetic judgment in a mass-media society, is directly relevant to imagining theopraxesis: the synthesis that electracy adds to literate dialectic, in other words, begins in the practices of the learner. This holism of intellectual virtues includes the generalization of “design” to all areas of education and society, constituting the "writing" of electracy. The alignment of features shared by digital imaging with logics of creativity constitutes a point of departure for a reconfiguration of education as the interface relating mind-body with culture and nature.
We suggest that a framing of the issues of educational change in orality, literacy, and electracy (per apparatus theory) would be a productive way to frame an Initiative for Innovation in Education at MIT (even its naming). Beyond an analytical framing, electrate pedagogy might (already) be explored inventively.
*Plato travelled to Syracuse with the hope of introducing rational justice to the philosophically-minded tyrant Dionysius, but fled fearing for his life and with his friend
Dion banished for conspiracy.
Editor's Note: For a more extended essay on this subject, please visit:
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