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October 2019
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December 2019

A Wild Blogger Appears!


My social media break is officially over, but as usual I'm reluctant to rush back into the chaos of the hive mind, and taking my sweet time at reconnecting to it all. I've caught up on comments (a whole one of those...), but I have yet to uncork Twitter.

Maybe next week.

Have enough #100Cyborgs pieces to see out the year, but I am hoping to get in a couple of blog letters this December that I still need to find the time to write. Also, I have to start thinking about what happens when A Hundred Cyborgs ends, which is going to happen sometime next year. Chronologically, it's the longest blog campaign I've run (although it might not have as big a word count as The Ethics Campaign)... it's going to be strange when its over!

The Game resumes shortly!

Intermittent Immuration

Autumn SunsetAs usual, I shall be taking a break from blogging and social media in November. I'll be away for at least two weeks... I hope to write some blog letters in December, but as usual it's dependent upon how much spare time I have. Any comments left during my absence will get answered when I return, as usual.

Only a Game will return in a few weeks.

Quality Forms

Red TapeAh, the ubiquitous bureaucratic form, not at all descended from the Latin 'pro forma' (for the sake of the form) as its common usage in UK Higher Education might make it seem. Indeed, this Latin phrase is an adjective and not a noun... we seem to have gained this new meaning out of some strange desire to evoke the mystic power of Latin to make ourselves sound grandiose, a power the Catholic church was accused of wielding when Latin was the language of mass. Through its own vacuous, secular rituals, contemporary form-filling bureaucracy has shown itself to be an excellent producer of irritable yet docile cyborgs throughout society, and especially in the British university.

What might be called the Cult of Quality lies at the heart of the way form-filling is used in Higher Education in the UK, an all together different approach to the way the same practices are used in government to evoke an anti-pay wall. The dogma of Quality asserts that our practices will be enhanced if in addition to whatever it is we're supposed to be doing, we also document it in standardised paperwork. There is in fact one practice which does improve as a result of quality paperwork: our capacity to complete quality paperwork. But convincing evidence is never provided (nor likely to be found) that quality paperwork improves teaching or research practice, which the bureaucracy inevitably makes harder by whittling away both time and patience.

If it is to be objected that the paperwork is necessary, it must seriously be asked: for what purpose? For neither teaching nor research are adequately summarised by standard forms, and the practices of neither are transferable willy nilly across disciplines. The way we engage in chemistry, or philosophy, or theatre, or game creation have little in common - certainly nothing worth enshrining in a kind of paperwork for tracking quality, nor in a mythic 'best practice' that would transcend circumstances, a critique brilliantly pursued by Frank Coffield and Sheila Edward in 2009.

Ironically, benefits can come from our becoming embedded within the cyborg networks of quality forms. They bind us to others in that network in ways that are superior to having no such ties to draw upon. But whenever the operation of those networks buys into the Cult of Quality, the result is not enhancement but mere stultification, and attempts at enhancing anything then flounder on the impossibility of translating achievements between radically distinct situations. The greatest success stories come not from any form-filling power trip, but simply from letting university staff watch each other at work. Alasdair MacIntyre warned of our metaphysical faith in management expertise - the quality form is the physical embodiment of that faith. Let they who have achieved perfection fill in the first form, the rest of us have better things to do with our time.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #65


Denied-insurance-claimA paywall is a cybernetic system for ensuring that money is collected before some service is rendered. An anti-paywall, conversely, is a cybernetic system for preventing money from being given out by deferring service to the other side of a bureaucratic process. Anti-paywalls are used by governments, insurance companies and other organisations to both slow and reduce the amount of money they have to pay out. They provide no benefit to the victims of their labyrinths and traps since their purpose is precisely to slow and reduce the amount of money that might otherwise be paid out.

Government anti-paywalls are the most straightforward, consisting merely of a layer of form-filling, document-checking, and rubber-stamping. Social services of all kinds are guarded in this way from excessive claims. Ironically, the cost of administrating the anti-paywall then becomes one of the biggest expenses of such services. But fear of what might happen if the wall came tumbling down, and 'handouts' escalated, keeps the anti-paywall running. I will not claim such a system is necessary, but it certainly feels inevitable, given the current way nations are organised.

In insurance companies, anti-paywalls risk being far more pernicious. While most of my experiences of these kinds of organisations have been benign, I have encountered both vet and medical insurance companies willing and able to contort themselves to avoid paying out - and of course, both routinely 'exclude' coverage under circumstances that transform them from safety net to mere leech. Here, where insurance companies betray the trust that is placed in them, the anti-paywall is just as likely to be a phone maze as a form, but the purposes remain aligned even as the methods change: as little as possible should be paid out, regardless of what impression was given to those who supported the company by regularly paying their premiums. 

The cyborg we become when facing the anti-paywall is either demotivated or angered, but either way the anti-paywall serves its purpose by thwarting yours. Even if your rage keeps you pursuing matters, the longer you are kept from payment, the more money is 'saved' by the organisation keeping you outside. There is nothing humane in this mistreatment of our fellow humans, it is just the petty evil of contemporary bureaucracy that has become so familiar to us we barely even notice. Not all insurance companies are guilty of this... but we have seen enough abuse of our trust to know that when we hit the anti-paywall, we are in one of the dark corners of contemporary existence.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #64