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Tame Problems and wicked problems

Community Of Practice In Philosophy for Management

The clear definition of the problem also unveils the solution.
The solution is determined according to criteria revealing the degree of effect— goal is achieved fully or partially, outcome is true or false.

Systems are difficult to work with, and seeing things for what they are is an essential first step.  Horst Rittel in the late 1960s distinguished between “tame” and “wicked” problems.  This is not the distinction between easy and hard problems—many tame problems are very hard.  But wicked problems, while not evil, are tricky and malicious in ways that tame problems are not.  The unexpected consequences we’ve seen have been because systems problems are wicked.  We will understand systems better—and why they spawn unexpected consequences—if we understand a little more of the properties of wicked problems and approach them with appropriate respect.


Tame problems can be clearly stated, have a well-defined goal, and stay solved.  They work…

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Did Social Media Cause The Egyptian Revolution?


social mediaI was recently asked (by otherwise sensible people), “Dr. Peterson, how would you assess the predominant media narrative that the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions—nicknamed ‘Facebook revolutions’ at the time—were caused by social media?”

This was my answer:

Much depends on what you mean by causality.

A few years ago I sat in on a senior capstone course on international policy. The idea was to assess a particular problem in US policy and make recommendations. One of the student projects recommended that the US could start a revolution in the particular country about which they were advising simply by promoting Internet access in the country. Apparently they had read Wael Ghonim’s maxim ” if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet” as policy rather than exuberant hyperbole.

I had to explain to them just a few of the complexities of the so-called Internet revolution in Egypt, not least of…

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Ethnocentric View

How does our ethnocentric view contribute to our production & decoding of media? Do we have the right to subjugate others to our beliefs and values under any circumstances?

Ethnocentrism, a term coined by William Graham Sumner, is the tendency to look at the world from the perspective of our culture/identity. Each of us has an ethnocentric lens on our reality and every bit of media we consume either challenges or reinforces those beliefs and values. The content of the Internet is overly oriented to an Occident (yes I am actually using that word on purpose) ethnocentric worldview of values and beliefs based on neoliberal ideologies, protestant work ethics, patriarchal structures with a consumerist core and hyper-sexualised imagery through the exclusive use of the English language. Everything  else seems to be either judged through that lens or just excluded from it. The global media is not much different, so the social norms being set by a minority in the global village could be coercing the majority into subjugating local knowledge, values and beliefs for something else.

Today this is of particular relevance as more and more individuals exercise their human right to migrate into and across over-populated spaces. Arguments abound as to what values and beliefs national laws and social norms should follow.

Some people are consciously/unconsciously selecting their exposure to information to avoid cognitive dissonance and in this way their beliefs and values are consistently reinforced in addition to engaging with people of like mind. Others may get the same messaging by accident-on purpose due to their lack of access to diverse media and opinions.

Franz Boas suggested (1887) that an individual’s beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s own culture. This approach is known as “cultural relativism” and a key component of cultural relativism is the concept that there is no such thing as a neutral worldview. Therefore the best way to deal with our ethnocentric assumptions is not to pretend that they don’t exist but instead acknowledge them, and be aware that they inform our interpretations of the world around us.

Researchers can try to mitigate their ethnocentric lens on the world as much as possible by:

  • accepting that other world views are not better or worse, just different
  • apply alternative viewpoints to research questions for a wider scope on a topic
  • promote/present diverse world views whenever/wherever possible
  • share the value of diverse viewpoints and the benefits of learning from them
  • consider alternative viewpoints of contentious issues to seek common ground

The Masks We Wear

The Masks We Wear

Revolutionary activist Mohammed Magdy and his bride, wear masks against tear gas and jointly hold a used tear gas container, celebrating their wedding in Revolution Square, the center of weeks of anti-government clashes, in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, Egypt, on March 4, 2013. (AP Photo)

In The Atlantic April 3rd, 2013

Social Identity & Whedon Month

The Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) played by Scarlett Johansson in the Joss Whedon film: the Avengers (2012)

Interesting expression of fan culture: Joss Whedon Month on Facebook where for the month of April all his fans change their profile pic to one of his characters from his works:




He also has a free webcomic, titled Sugarshock!, a blog and other collaborates in online media.

As a screenwriter, film/television producer, director, comic book author, composer, and actor, influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers such as Ray Bradbury and Tim Burton his works is pretty extensive and many of his work have attained cult status. He is also the founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-founder of Bellwether Pictures.

What I find particularly interesting is the frenzy and loyalty of fans who identify with his characters especially at the multi-genre comic con conventions to the point of living their lives (often in meticulous detail) for a short or long period as their interpretation of one of these characters. Having the icon of your Facebook page is not as involved as “identify performance” – but it could still be seen as a way of extending one’s identity through fan culture.

There are also similar events such as Renaissance festivals and Cosplay conventions where adults dress in fantasy costumes in a way that would be expected of an adolescent  exploring the “possible extensions of self” (Elliot 1986, quoted in Kaiser 1996:162). So what is so intriguing about this type of performative identity for adults? Is this is a way to avoid a horrible reality of a suffering psyche in a way that is less self-harming that crack?, a fetish thing? or just a way to alleviate a dull 9-5 life? or?

Susan B. Kaiser asked the question of whether role-play dress is important “in terms of providing some means for ‘escaping’ from mundane daily routines,that could also be an expression of creativity,” but discovers that there is very little academic literature about this and that too “little is known about fantasy dressing; this is an area with a great deal of potential for contributing to an understanding of creativity and self-expression” (1996:163).

Jen Gunnels has also explored this area and found that the “behavior isn’t necessarily mere escapism”. She argues that “adults engage in costumed role-play to explore an identity that may not be practicable in everyday life”. She also notes the social, and communal nature of such events. For example, she observed members of Generation X  revelling in and comforted by the popculture of their childhood at a Star Wars convention she attended in NYC . Gunnels reasons that “Star Wars helped socialize this generation and may be providing a template for their own parenting, especially because current socioeconomic issues are not dissimilar to those of 1977. In this way, cosplay, as a performed identity, can provide a means of permitting individual agency and social commentary on current and past social stresses.” (2009).

Scholars, such as Joseph Campbell (1968) and Bruno Bettelheim (1991), claim that fairy tales and myth are vehicles for the interpolation of social norms for a society. In our post-modern world, these fairy tales and myths are expressions of popular culture such as films, television programmes and video games. Since these events are particular to industrialized  nations, perhaps this is our contemporary way of re-connecting to old world socialization and interpolation through performance art in the way of Shakespearean theatre or masks and dance used to?

So my questions remain but now I have new ones: Is dressing up as Buffy or Black Widow  perhaps just one of our tribal masks that help us illustrate our society’s meta-narrative?, or could it be a way to resist those narratives and find empowerment in an over-mediated society?…or perhaps it is just about escapism, alleviating boredom and sex?


Bettlelheim, Bruno. (1991). The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Penguin.

Campbell, J. (1968). The masks of God: creative mythology. New York: Viking Press

Gunnels, Jen. (2009). “A Jedi like my father before me”: social identity and the New York Comic Con.Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3

Kaiser, Susan B. (1996). The social psychology of clothing: Symbolic appearances in context. 2nd ed. New York: Fairchild Books and Visuals.

‘Race Shifter’ In A Post Racial World?

'Race Shifter' In A Post Racial World?

“…is this racial shifting a good thing? Is it a genuine sign of progress, or is it just an easy way to avoid dealing with the serious issues of racism and intolerance that still linger?”

“It could be easy for people too easy: “Look at Dwayne Johnson. He doesn’t make race an issue, so why do you people still have to?””

excellent questions – what do you think? Click on the photo to read the whole article from *Shadow and Act* – cinema of the African Diaspora

Problematic Ethnocentrism & Identity

The Boy with Sapphire Eyes

Boy-with-the-saphire-eyes-2 by Vanessa Bristow

When a photo of a young lad in Africa with pale blue sapphire eyes was posted on the internet the immediate reaction from non-Africans was that it must be photoshopped.  It is the typical reaction because how could an African have the blue eyes typical of another race?

No one considered for a moment that (a) all of humankind are descendants of Africa (b) blue eyes, like blonde hair and pale skin are genetic mutations that westerners consider ‘normal’ (c) race is a social construction not a biological one – this is the power of cultural hegemony.

Domesticated dogs were the genetic mutants descended from wolves that were rejected by the pack for their differences and found companionship with humans who bred them for greater genetic abnormalities that have resulted in the dramatic diversity of breeds today – why do humans think they are so different?

We are all a part of the African diaspora, and many clans travelled far and stayed, adapting to new climes and situations that favoured such mutations. That is biology. Our categorization of people into essentialist ‘races‘ is not. There is less genetic diversity between a European and an African than between two Europeans or two Africans and all the genetic diversity of humankind are within Africa.

Only 20-mins and well done!

Africa is a Country (Old Site)

In Between Storiesis a short 2012 documentary directed by Roda Siad. Originally Siad’s Master’s thesis in Media Production at Ryerson University, the film offers a portrait of four young artists of African descent living and working in Toronto. The film draws a connection between one-dimensional media portrayals that focus on war and crisis in Africa, and negative perceptions of predominantly black communities in Toronto. The false depiction of Africa—and by extension Africans—as chaotic, violent, and dangerous, Siad’s film implies, leads to similar stereotypes being applied to Africans in the diaspora. The film’s subjects, however, offer a way out of this miasma. Watch it first: 

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Internet Addiction

…what can happen when flesh and blood human beings become subordinated to, and indeed absorbed into, the realm of virtual commodities.

– John Sanbonmatsu (note #6, 435)

News stories in Korea of a young couple neglecting their baby in favour of 12-hour cyber cafe sessions playing Prius Online & Second Life that resulted in her death; also in Korea a young man keeling over dead of a heart attack after a marathon 50-hr session playing Starcraft have led to much discussion regarding internet addiction; in China a young man dies after 15-days of gamming; in Taiwan a teenager dies after 40-hrs of playing Diablo III; a young man in Thailand was found dead at his home in front of his computer video game; a young man in the UK dies after a long gamming session on his X-Box; in the USA even a fit and healthy young man died while ‘jogging’ with his Nintendo Wii game (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome) and so on…

But it is not just gaming online that is the problem, people stay connected to look at/produce pornography, access news/information, engage in cyber sex or gamble as well. The mental-health community is apparently divided over whether an Internet addiction disorder (IAD) actually exists (despite stories like the ones above featuring in the news for the past three decades)  but researchers in UK believe there is a link between depression and internet addiction. The American Psychiatric Association did add “Internet use gaming disorder” in this years revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (May) but only as a topic bearing ‘further research”. Some studies have found that 95% of citizens under 29 spend a significant amount of time online and that up to 20% of the population in the USA may have an internet addiction. China, Germany  and Korea have recognised IAD since 2004 however and have done more research that has lead to some innovative treatments such as horse-back riding and boot camps as well as some not so innovative – like electric shock therapy (now discontinued).

For more on this: