Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Everyone playing their part?

Peace and blessings,

First off, I must apologize for the long hiatus, but this past month has been hectic with graduations and moving and all. But as always, I'm back like I left something. The focus of today's entry is something that has been on my mind for a little over a month during a course I was taking. In one of the required readings, Michael Resnick (1996) argues that people tend to view things from a centralized mindset, namely that massive or large-scale events/phenomena are caused by a "central" source. Common examples of this type of thinking include the belief that the productivity of hundreds of worker ants and bees is the result of their respective queens. He further contends that this way of thinking is misguided, because these and other phenomena are not the result of a central source, but of the combined choices and actions of individual agents. To illustrate this idea, Resnick (1996) and colleagues developed a computer program called StarLogo, which allows people to experience various ways in which individual agents work to create unintended phenomena. For example, high school students were able to alter the rules of different StarLogo environments (e.g. cars in traffic, turtles moving in particular directions, and termites picking up wood chips) and see how a series of individual actions can create massive results. To the students' surprise, they found that without a "central" cause, cars eventually formed a traffic jam, the turtles still organized in clusters, and termites still stacked wood chips in a pile. Although these activities may not seem that important, it is the idea behind these activities that we must consider: Individual choices and actions are important, and collectively they are powerful.
Once this idea was made clear to me, I started to think about a movie I recently saw, V for Vendetta. In a nutshell, the movie was about a man who sought to achieve justice on behalf of all the people who lost their lives in the past and are currently being deceived, due to the lives and cover ups of a corrupt government. Sounds familiar? Examples of such lies and cover-ups addressed in the movie include immoral medical experiments resulting in the deaths of many people, and government-fueled ideologies that elicit fear and compliance. Again, sound familiar? I don't know about you, but the syphilis experiments in Tuskegee and the "war on terror" comes to mind for me. Although the movie included good action scenes and the main character was very fascinating, the most significant scenes in the movie came not from the main character, but from the actions of the "community." by 'community" I am referring to the everyday citizens who realized they were being deceived and collectively did something about it non-violently. After discovering "the truth" about their government, huge multitudes of people marched to a central location (for the specific reason of the march and location, go peep the movie) and the government powers nor law enforcement could stop the because it too many people on one accord for a righteous cause. The most memorable line in the movie for me was the statement: "the people should not be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of its people." While most of us would agree with the first part, we rarely focus on the second part. Governments should "govern" its citizens in a way that reflects not so much fear in terms of being scared of its citizens, but fear in the sense that the government respects its citizens enough to the point where it is afraid to deceive and disappoint them. There's all this propaganda and focus on how much love citizens don't have, have, or should have for their country (i.e. patriotism), but I pray that the hearts and minds of all governmental officials are oriented towards showing love, devotion, and allegiance to its citizens.
In sum, I wanted to draw-out a connection I made between the StarLogo program and "V for Vendetta." Although the former is a computer program and the latter a major motion picture, the common thread is that they both demonstrate the power of individual choices and actions. Further, they show how agents can create massive change by each playing their role in collective action. It doesn't happen often, but it puts a smile on my face when education and popular culture converge for a cause worth considering.

Source: Resnick, M. (1996). Beyond the centralized mindset. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 5(1), 1-22