Oxford U. Press published librarian Thomas Mann, who proof-read and is quoted in my two papers on the frame "Authority is Constructed and Contextual"

Oxford U. Press published librarian Thomas Mann proof-read and is quoted in my two papers on the ACRL FW frame “Authority is Constructed and Contextual.”

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I wrote a paper vigorously challenging one of the frames of the ACRL information literacy Framework: “Authority is Constructed and Contextual”. Again, as I mentioned in the last post, I make the argument that “the Framework… fails to clearly establish the critical connection between truth and authority… this decision is fatal for the Framework.”

I have fewer gripes about the frame “Scholarship is a conversation,” and I am glad that Bill Badke, who I consider to be one of the Framework’s most formidable defenders, continues the conversation.

Bill Badke and some of his good work.

Bill Badke and some of his good work.

Again standing up for the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, Bill says:

“The challenge with using the word “truth” in the Framework is the same one Pontius Pilate faced in the trial of Jesus, “What is truth?”  I think I know what the truth is (and it is solidly based on evidence), but truth has become as small “p” political as, say, the term “justice.”*  I seek for truth all the time (yes, the OED definition), but putting the word in the policy politicizes it and misses the point that the whole Framework is in quest of reason-based advancement of knowledge and understanding, which we hope will come out in the same place as the OED definition.

I’m more torn on this than it might appear.  Being someone who is sold on a quest for truth, I at the same time find that the word all too easily can be used as an ideology (or several different ideologies) when it is put into any official statement, even the Framework.  To say, “I have found the truth,” means nothing unless I know how you arrived at it.  The process task of getting to a conclusion has to be the main focus of the Framework.”

I responded:

“I again sympathize with you. I know where you are coming from! And yet I again push back. Does not the word “political” goes along with “social”? Are we not, as human beings – a “human community of practice” – inevitably social and political creatures? That said, I often get the impression that for many, politics is best understood as being that which can be reduced to matters of power and oppression (clearly a part of our humanity!)

Therefore, when you say that merely “putting the word in the policy politicizes it,” I think this unintentionally and indirectly reinforces the idea that politics is strictly about power and oppression (overcoming others in this or that fashion to ultimately get one’s own way) and that power, in the end, is what is true for us. Is all that is true for us. Therefore, authority, likewise, can’t not be all about power. This is the truth. 

Not true, I say!

Everyone: Note that I am not seeking to pummel anyone into submission here – everyone feel free to push back! – but to persuade.

Again, my point is that AiCC should be scrapped for the reasons I mention in my papers and that it would be a good idea to not build a frame focused on truth, but to simply give a nod to the seeking of it, in the context of scholarship and otherwise.

…and we know they are always truthful. : )”
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Just a marketing strategy? Or are there bigger issues?

Just a marketing strategy? Or are there bigger issues?

Bill’s counter:

“My use of the term “political” was not in reference to the wielding of power (though that can happen) but the pursuit of agendas.  “Truth” for all its value can become a shortcut for the hard work of dredging through the evidence, having the conversations and constructing the authority by use of good methods.  Truth as shortcut has all the abuses of vested interests pursuing agendas whether that being an exercise of power or not.  Doing the hard work may well arrive at the truth, but the path to it is legitimate.

Ultimately, the Framework, far from being a vehicle for old white guys to exercise their traditional power, is a way of levelling the playing field by asserting reasonable methods for us to solve informational problems with a minimum of bias and presupposition.”

First, before answering Bill (again, all of this has taken place on the ili listserv), I responded to another person, who I will call Anne:

Anne made the claim that the entire conversation on the listserv, where the “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” frame was being debated (instead of just being simply taken as it was) was proof that “Authority is Constructed and Contextual”.  I responded by saying the following:

Boiled down, [Anne]’s argument (and I hope that she will correct me if I am wrong) is that because “there are so many constructed authority structures in my life, it must just be that *all* authority is constructed, especially truth.” But, to use a silly illustration, just because a football team has a coach, and runs unique plays, and all other football teams have different coaches, and run different plays, that does not prove the truth does not exist. “Abusus non tollit usum,” the Romans said, which can be translated ‘misuse does not remove use’. This means that the misuse of something – like the word “truth,” for example – does not eliminate the possibility of its correct use. We could just as easily say that since human beings are constantly constructing authority structures there is a concept of authority which is intrinsic in us – and that this can point us to the existence of an ultimate authority, which might just ultimately be truth.

Practically speaking, in order to be open to “new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought,” one need not adopt [Anne]’s viewpoint. In fact, I make the case that adopting a viewpoint like hers ultimately undermines intellectually one’s intentions to hear other voices and perspectives. I think that what I’ve written below in response to Bill also helps, in part, to make this case.

[Then, my email message addressed Bill, while not leaving Anne’s concerns behind]:

…first, I again appreciate much of what [Bill] shares – I am confident of real wisdom there. That said, I am quite certain that we should be very skeptical (yes, that apparent disjunction is intentional) about whether we can continue to maintain good methods without knowing that we can know truth (I am not necessarily talking about big T Truth here!) – or, perhaps, at the very least, believing we can know truth. I very much doubt that we can (and really, I question whether believing we can know is enough either).

To paraphrase an old book, if we are not faithful with the little things that have been given to us (note that “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” as a phrase, from the get-go, in addition to giving the impression of describing a universally active process [in other words an all-inclusive claim not dependent on any particular context], also seems to be constructed specifically in order to highlight the diversity and variations of human experience instead of experiences common to – given to – all human beings), the bigger things (like much of the specific knowledge that we have now obtained about the world and ourselves) will evade us as well.

I think that proponents of agendas which give the impression of discouraging or even not encouraging (no neutrality!) this truth-knowing or believing orientation should second-guess their approach and re-orient themselves. Even if one thinks that current methods are good but need to be strengthened – or even supplemented with other good methods, seeking truth is how this is accomplished and not otherwise. For example, on the face of it, this video strikes me – and I’m sure I’m not the only relatively conservative white guy who get this impression! – as being highly intelligent, well-argued, compelling, etc. I definitely want to see Michelle Alexander in conversation (both discussion and debate!) with others!

In short, without the certainty that we already have (in this ongoing conversation we are having with one another – are we, at the very least, *beginning* to better understand each other – in part because we share at least some common experiences, words, concepts, things?) and can have more common ground – “little t” truth – power, in effect, becomes the overwhelming consideration. Power as truth. Words as mere “power tools”. “Fake conversations”! We don’t want that, right? (it pains me to think that some reading this might think this is what I am doing).

Then, I think, something a friend of mine said about a recent Atlantic article about technology – “we are getting what we have dreamt of, asked for & love. The desire to have a slave makes a slave of us” – becomes true for us as regards our neighbor as well…*

I get the impression that Bill thinks (or hopes!) we can maintain the good methods we have by simply continuing to use them and realizing their ongoing practicality. I am far less confident of that. Without a grounding in truth – and issues of ethics and character, of course, go hand in hand with this – I think that confidence in our methods will wane, as it has already begun to do so. Or our methods will be used to ends that are not good – as has certainly happened in the past (and, I would guess, in time, if the impact of religion continues to dissipate in the West, they will become more associated with “magic” performed by gods as opposed to “science” performed by men – at least in many quarters).

I don’t foresee myself getting tired of hawking Epictetus here, who seems to encapsulate well the thrust of what I am trying to communicate…:

“If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain a victory by every possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not fear being defeated.”

In sum, vote “no” to AiCC, and “yes” to the importance of “seeking the truth”.

Thanks again for listening! I really am ready – at least as much as I think I can be – to listen to. If people do continue the conversation here, I myself am going to take a few days off.

Best regards

-Nathan

Again, I hope people will check out my papers, the second of which has now been downloaded from the main Emerald site almost 300 times. These papers contain much more extensive argumentation.

FIN

 

*Bill interestingly brings up justice here. In response to another person on the listserv who said that bring “truth” into the Framework would just be another definition/concept that all would be forced to sign on to, I said the following:

I would argue that there are things in the cosmos that can be nailed down pretty good and that there are also things which we know are real, but are more “fuzzy”. For example, things like justice, goodness and love, while being known to be real (yes – perhaps many of you now say I am assuming far too much!), often seem hopelessly fuzzy and/or multi-faceted. Nevertheless, we still endeavor to speak about these things in our shared life together – and often – because they are very important.

Re: justice, for example, it is not necessarily the case that no sense of clarity at all can be obtained:

“Moral indignation is evident even among those, who, like robbers, have little active regard for the common good.  Gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just, and resentment for injury only because it falls short of justice. All these natural sentiments presuppose the idea of justice.  Property rights likewise depend on it.” (arguments and insights from Thomas Reid, per Holmes, Arthur, Fact, Value, and God, p. 117)

And so I argue that the same goes for “truth”. In not seriously considering the importance of even mentioning this very human issue in our discipline, are we thereby, in effect, making the case that the meaning of the word “construct” is more clear? More helpful? Less liable to abuse by the powerful?

**You can get a taste of my analysis of wider technological trends and thoughts about how librarians should respond by checking out my slide presentation, Big Data, Big Libraries, Big Problems? When it comes to technology in general, I find myself very much concerned about the kinds of things Yuval Noah Harari speaks about here, discussing his new book Homo Deus.

 

Nathan Rinne | Librarian | Concordia University, St. Paul | 651-641-8273 (ph) | rinne@csp.edu
| My librarian blog: https://reliablesourcessite.wordpress.com/ | My librarian Twitter: https://twitter.com/NRinne1

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