Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes."

My wife and I had an enjoyable couple of days in a cabin on Grand Mesa last weekend. She was cold at times, and had some cramping and pain that was tough on her, but for the most part it was nice to get away with just the forest, a lake, her company, and time to relax and get some reading done. The Spruce Lodge is a very nice place. End of shameless plug.

of this reading was the cover story of this month's issue of Wired magazine, titled "The New Atheism". The article was intriguing and well-written, more confirmation for me that Wired is one of the most interesting publications out there, an Omni for the 21st Century.

The article was a good analysis of the singular belief of those involved in the "movement".
I agreed with the author that the approach by Sam Harris and others was "extremism in opposition to extremism", leaving most of us in the middle. As for those of us languishing there, trying to reason the challenges of modern living with the doctrine, philosophy, and sacred writings of the past, another British atheist had this to say:

"Moderates give a power base to extremists...A lot of Catholics use condoms, a lot of Catholics are divorced, and a lot don't have a particular opinion about whether you are homosexual. But when the Pope stands up and says, 'This is what Catholics believe,' he still gets credit for speaking for more than a billion people."

This approach reminded me of the quote in the title of this post, which is often cited as an example of the misguided nature of seeing things in just black and white terms. Like most things, however, you need to look closer to really see the meaning behind it. In this case, the line before this one in Star Wars III was "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy".

These quotes have been debated ad nauseum in Star Wars fan sites and elsewhere, many trying to draw comparisons to the current political climate, particularly with regard to Iraq. While as philosophy and pop culture they may be somewhat contradictory, they do illustrate the seeming lack of discourse and mutual understanding that has popped up in current events, and not just because it's election season.

Because I'm married to someone born with a significant hearing loss, I've paid a lot of attention to issues in the news that bring the deaf community to the forefront of mainstream debate. The recent protests at Gallaudet University over the appointment of a successor to it's first deaf President is such a time, and it was disappointing to watch the outcome. After months of blockades, building invasions, and much emoting, the school's trustees withdrew their nomination of Jane Fernandes to succeed I. King Jordan as Gallaudet's President.

I've been to Gallaudet, which sits behind some high walls and security gates in a not-so-attractive part of Washington D.C.. The walls made it easy for the protesters to set up tents and limit access, but are also a metaphor for the nature of most of those who populate and control the institution. One of the benchmarks of the protest, or at least the one that Mrs. Fernandes focused on, was her having been taught to speak at an early age (like my wife was), and not learning American Sign Language, the preferred method of communication at Gallaudet and those who identify with the so-called Deaf Culture, until she was 23.

While Ms. Fernandes' leadership skills were also called into question as the bulk of faculty and students forcefully declared their lack of confidence in her, the actions of the Gallaudet community are illustrative of a largely cloistered group of people who are resistant to the changes inherent in society, especially one where advances in technology, education, and awareness have integrated many deaf and hearing-impaired persons into the workplace and elsewhere as vital, involved and included members of 'mainstream' society.

Commentary in the Washington Post last week and in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle illustrate what many of us who are part of or close to the deaf and hearing-impaired community know all too well; that there are those who prefer the community of the Deaf to the community at large, and will forcefully defend that community against growth, choice, inclusion, and common sense.

As mainstream society continues to grow to include the "differently abled" as members of that society with all of the implied rights and responsibilities, those who cloister themselves behind ideological walls against improvements in oral education and technology such as Cochlear Implants will find themselves more isolated and less included. A word of advice; celebrate your differences, but don't use them as weapons against an increasingly diverse world. My prayers are with you for understanding and peace.

You might have noticed that several of the protagonists of the New Atheist movement, as well as the Gallaudet protests, come from within the academic community in our country and elsewhere. While others might be quick to draw comparisons to Ward Churchill, you have to look closer when taking these ideas in.

One such example of an idea coming from academia that is worth reading is a paper written by Jon Peha, a professor in Electrical Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie-Mellon (a shameless plug for Pittsburgh here, especially with the game this weekend).

Mr. Peha made a presentation to the New America Foundation last week on the future of public safety communications systems. A lot of his ideas run counter to the way that these systems have been planned and administered for many, many years. He basically debunked a lot of the recent efforts at improving public safety systems, and a lot of the assumptions that I and others like me have lived by for all of our careers.

Reading his paper set my gut a-churning, but was interesting and challenging at the same time. This dichotomy tells me that this is something I need to pay attention to, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me or how much more it may complicate my work. Unlike the students at Gallaudet, I'm dedicated to analyzing change, adapting to it where necessary, resisting it when I have to, and making the best of it for the greatest number of people.

I'm forwarding Professor Peha's paper to many of my colleagues, as well as the leadership of our trade organizations, looking for comment and direction. In the meantime, many of his ideas will undoubtedly help to shape the future of public safety communications in this area and elsewhere.

It's time to get going, lots to do tomorrow. I have to contact some radio vendors, take Jan to the doctor, and vote. Have a great weekend.

1 comment:

Yadah said...

John, have you read "How Now Shall We Live?" by Charles Colson?

I found it to be intelluctually sound without a lot of religious words that seem to marginalize any discussions with those who don't believe in God.

Just a thought . .