27 May 2010

Oh. My. God. I've Just Figured Out Why and How Viral Videos Happen

And I'll be musing on it as a potential theme of my talk at an upcoming conference on Public Health Communications. Hint: it has to do with the generalized model of organization as expressed in Valence Theory.

Update (22 June 2010): Okay, so my talk went in a different direction. Short version of the realization: for viral videos, there is a strong interaction between knowledge-ba and identity-ba valences that help to create an inclusive environment in which fungible socio-psychological valence has traction (in other words, you create inclusiveness in order to enjoy the social capital of being part of the in-the-know crowd). This is distinctly, but fascinatingly different than the sometimes exclusivity of a privileged in-crowd that uses f-knowledge and f-identity to enhance the value of f-socio-psychological valence connections in a social group. The other interesting consequence of this realization is that this explanation in valence-theory terms is consistent with the observation that viral aspect of viral videos is emergent, and cannot be manufactured. If you're a marketing or PR person and need to explain to a client why you can't set a "and the video goes viral within 3 weeks" objective, this is it... sort of (having to explain valence theory is a whole other matter, of course).
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26 May 2010

(Attempting to) Create the News

It's an age-old question: do the mass-media merely report the news, or do they create it? To my mind, there is little doubt that an editor or producer's ability to sway public opinion and convey a particular point-of-view is unmatched by any other profession. Even professional politicians rely on the same sorts of out-of-context video clips to create public opinion that is unfavourable to their opponents as do biased news reporters.

Questions of questionable ethics aside, there remains the issue of tactility - whom do the newsmedia intend to touch and in what ways? - that takes on an almost frightening dimension of incitement to hatred in many cases. The following exposé, broadcast on Australian television demonstrates the principles at issue.

So here's a question for Canadians and Americans: In what substantive way (i.e., difference in kind, not merely extent) does the original Australian news coverage of the altercation differ from Stephen Harper's attack ads, or the type of rabble-rousing nonsense used by Fox News to rile up the Tea Partiers?

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22 May 2010

Valence Theory in the Forest

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement is a landmark achievement. I don’t mean that in the environmentalist sense, although the caribou habitat will indeed be preserved with species preservation taking priority. I don’t mean it in the business sense, although calls for boycotts of Canadian forest products will cease. And I don’t even mean it in the zero-sum game sense, although each side of the long-standing controversy and enmity between the forestry and environmentalist industries can claim some sort of victory. All of these are, in one way or another, true enough. But for me, the landmark aspect of the agreement is in how well it illustrates the principles of Valence Theory, and how its success over a very long and difficult series of negotiations may retrospectively point to the language of Valence Theory as a means to discover shortcut, effective approaches to seemingly intractable problems.

The details of the Agreement, and loads of commentary, are widely available. As I read the story as reported in NOW magazine, several aspects jump out at me. First and foremost, there has been a shift in approach by all parties from a focus on outcomes, goals and objectives to a predominant awareness of effects, as I suggest in Effective Theory. This switches the supposed “vision” of the various organizations involved to something closer to tactility: what effect does each participant organization want to have on each of the other constituencies; in other words, whom do they want to touch, how do they want to touch them, and how do they anticipate being touched themselves?

Second, there seems to have been another shift in the various relationships that exist among the many diverse, constituent organizations from strictly fungible to more ba-like aspects. For example, throughout the years of the controversy, each organization was vested in its purpose: the environmentalists in stopping old-growth logging, the forestry companies in maximizing profitable “harvests.” They wore their purposes as a large part of their identities, and their organizational well-being was vested heavily in the external representations of their success relative to their respective, but single-minded, purposes. However, over the period of what is described as “hard-nosed negotiating” all parties achieved a common understanding, a meeting of minds, a common sensibility about the totality of the ecosystem (both natural and economically constructed), and a common volition to action—all of these characterize organization-ba for the newly emergent “CBFA organization.” And, there is indeed a (closer) balance among all the valence relationships: Economic, Identity, Knowledge, Socio-psychological, and especially Ecological.

All in all, quite a remarkable accomplishment, and easily understood via the dynamics of Valence Theory. As Forest Products Association president, Avrim Lazar, observes, “This is of global significance because it is the way we all hoped the world would work. This is a business strategy.” Indeed, but it’s much more than that. It’s a model for significant social change, and new ways of understanding the complexity of emergent organizations across the planet.

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11 May 2010

Private Member's Bill to Defund Electroshock

Kudos to MPP Cheri DiNovo for introducing a private member's bill to defund electroconvulsive/electroshock therapy in Ontario. The research is overwhelming: ECT is not safe and not effective. In the words of Dr. Bonnie Burstow, "the government should not be in the business of paying to brain damage its citizens."

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08 May 2010

A Response to the National Post on PsychOUT

The National Post did what could be conservatively called a hatchet job in its report on this weekend's PsychOUT Conference. Here is the letter I submitted to NP's editor in response:
To the Editor:

In one lopsided article, filled with falsehoods, misconceptions, and outright lies, opinion columnist Joseph Brean did OISE’s PsychOUT conference a tremendous service. Better than the nearly 200 participants who attended the weekend conference at the University of Toronto, his “Mad Pride” story clearly demonstrated the profound importance of the conference’s message.

The conference participants were far more than the “motley crew” characterized in the article. They included PhD researchers, professors, health care professionals (nurses, psychologists, social workers and outreach workers), lawyers, delegates to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Person, among others from around the world. Research findings funded by multiple government agencies, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada, were presented together with testimony of both those who advocate for psychiatry’s abolition, and those who currently praise the care they receive. Unlike the bigoted opinions of “Mr.” Edward Shorter, who did not bother to lift himself out of his Hannah Chair, and “Mr.” Rohan Ganguli of CAMH, whose staff were apparently waiting for a special invitation (only the keynotes were specifically invited), all perspectives, views, and opinions were sought, welcomed, and given space throughout this inaugural event. That the obvious paranoia of the psychiatric establishment self-precluded their attendance may be a matter for their own diagnosis via the latest DSM (the so-called psychiatric bible whose main editor admits is problematic elsewhere in the newspaper). Throughout the conference, specific note was taken of the multiple, differing opinions relative to psychiatry that were represented; mutual respect and working in coalition for the improvement of the lives of those who have been marginalized by vested interests of power, control, and corporate profit were the primary outcomes sought by all attendees.

Brean – whose journalist contribution cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered objective reporting – made a point to denigrate and minimize Dr. Bonnie Burstow’s professional credentials, and her decades-long professorship at the University of Toronto, while emphasizing the credentials of those upon whom he wanted to bestow credibility. I take especial note that among the key critics quoted in the article, Edward Shorter’s role as a professor of psychiatry was conspicuous by its absence, hiding his obvious, but undisclosed, conflict of interest in the matter. But through his ridicule and fiction, Brean did the work of the conference in conveying its powerful message: Those who exercise power and control will seek any means possible to suppress the voices of those they oppress and marginalize, first by derision and humiliation, next through legislation – especially in the name of “helping” – and finally by employing the coercive force of the state—the police, judiciary, and (in the case of the academy) deans and provosts. The profound importance of PsychOUT’s message of coalition, inclusion, respect, agency, autonomy, and most of all, the primacy of human rights and dignity, can be made no clearer than through the whimpering complaints of the vested interests who decided to absent themselves, preferring ignorance to scholarly academic inquiry, and ridicule to engaged conversation.

Mark Federman
Ph.D. Candidate, Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

Update (11 May 2010): An excerpt of my letter was published, along with those of David Oaks, Geoffrey Reaume, and Don Weitz.
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07 May 2010


Shocked. Angry. Incredulous. Sad to the point of tears. Moved beyond being able to cry. Frustrated. More than anything else, frustrated, with an overwhelming sense of desperate powerlessness.

Today was the first day of the two-day PsychOUT Conference at OISE—the first, international, scholarly conference specifically focusing on activism and organized resistance against the abuses of psychiatry, and the institutions and industries that support those abuses. I am volunteering at the conference (and moderating a paper session tomorrow on organizing youth resistance).

Were it not for the fact that I have witnessed, with my own eyes, events that corroborate and are consistent with some of the psych-survivor (and family members’) stories I heard today, I would not believe that such things were possible in Canada.

Had some of the descriptions of institutional and authoritative abuse come from the detention centres at Guantanamo Bay or Bahgram Air Base, they would have made headlines in the press.

Had some of the testimonies of family members being psychologically abused and manipulated to perpetrate beatings of children been written in a history book, they would have been examples of some of the worst tortures of Stalinism, or Nazism, or the contemporary hell-holes of brutal conflicts in some African war zones.

Had some of the pleas of individuals faced with impossible choices of seemingly inevitable death one way or the other, under threat (unless one of the presented options is chosen) of yet a third even more excruciating and slower death been enacted on a stage, they would have been scripted by Kafka or Orwell.

And yet, each and every one of them was perpetrated in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the privileged, supposedly civilized world. Each of them was perpetrated under the auspices of legitimated authority, most often wearing the white coat of psychiatric medical establishment, aided and abetted by governments, police, schools, and other institutions that have come to define civil society.

The conference brings together an often at-odds coalition of psychiatric survivors, individuals who self-identify as members of the Mad movement, and those who are vociferously anti-psychiatry in all its forms. Its focus is personal and collective empowerment, resistance to systemic abuses, and collaborative approaches to activism that results in overall beneficial change. Its messages are powerful, shattering, and profoundly disturbing. These are messages that should – no, must – be heard personally and directly by anyone who seeks to work in the healing and helping professions.

Let me also be completely clear on my own standpoint here: There are individuals who have been helped by psychiatric treatment. There are good, helpful, and caring psychiatrists. There are institutions that, in fact and effect, perform good and useful work with those in emotional and psychological need. I deny none of these. However, there are also pervasive and systemic abuses being perpetrated in the name of a particular model of treatment that is, by definition, limited in its ability to understand and give credence to those most in need of assistance, most vulnerable to systemic abuse, least able to be heard by the wider society. It is not that there are those who do good that we may ignore or deny the rest; it is that there are those who do unspeakable evil in the name of good that this conference exists.

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05 May 2010

Contemporary Leadership and Trust

Today, I was in beautiful, downtown, (blustery and cold) Regina. I was invited to present this morning’s keynote at the Project Management International Professional Development Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is (was) The Power of Trust. I decided to share some ideas on Contemporary Leadership (which, of course, is constructed as UCaPP leadership in a valence-constructed organization) and Trust.

Regular readers will already know how I build the case for BAH and UCaPP organizations in valence terms. Those who may have glanced at my thesis wiki may have come across some of the differences between BAH and UCaPP organizations, especially with respect to some of the categories of distinction between them, and how these impinge on our conventional (i.e., post-Gutenberg, modern/BAH) and unconventional (i.e., contemporary/UCaPP) understanding of leadership. Essentially, traditional leaders lead in a very commonsensical understanding of what it means to lead: they construct the vision, translate that into a mission, determine the overall objectives and goals for the organization, divide up the tasks, create mechanisms to control people’s activities through various extrinsic motivators and checking-up procedures and protocols, and – most of all – ensure stability and predictability through establishing good structures and good management. On the other hand, in UCaPP organizations, most of these sorts of processes are dispersed among the members who act with a high degree of individual autonomy and agency in an environment of collective responsibility and mutual accountability. Thus, UCaPP leaders’ roles differ significantly from those of BAH leaders: the latter is predominantly instrumental, while the former is environmental.

I’ve previously written on trust in organizations. In that post from a year ago, I described that trust is like a three-rung ladder: first you have familiarity, simple knowledge that is sufficient when the stakes are low; next comes confidence, based on a combination of familiarity and an emotional perception that makes an unknowable future momentarily certain; and finally, trust in which no certainty is possible when faced with a relatively high risk and cognitive judgement must be suspended in order to move to action.

BAH organizations and their leaders have confidence down pat. Through their extrinsic motivators, control procedures, and yearning for stability and predictability, BAH organizations are great at confidence. They cannot, however, get to trust. For trust to emerge in an organization, its leaders must be able to responsibly cede control, and for that, one requires a UCaPP organization. It is the cohesion that characterizes organization-ba which provides the requisite common understanding, sensibility, values, and volition to action. Organization-ba suggests that when no one in charge, everyone is in charge, with individual autonomy and agency, collective responsibility, and mutual accountability. These conditions that characterize UCaPP organizations, facilitated by UCaPP leadership, in turn enable the Power of Trust.

Thanks to Patrick Au and the other members of the PMI organizing committee for inviting me. If you attended - and even if you didn't - and would like to engage further on some of these ideas of organizational transformation, contemporary leadership, and trust, I'm easy to reach!

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03 May 2010

Compassion is Nice - I Would Settle for Some Sense

Today's Star reports that the marijuana trafficking charges against most of the members of C.A.L.M. have been dropped. Charges against its owner are still pending. Why police decided to suddenly lay charges after fourteen years is beyond me. Anyone who says that police don't decide which laws to enforce, or when to enforce them, is either naive, ignorant, or not paying attention. There are clearly some politics behind this - someone trying to make a point, a name for themselves, or a reputation.

While we're at it, could someone please explain to me why more serious and potent pharmaceuticals and addictive substances are sold through government outlets and pharmacies, while marijuana - for either recreational or medical use - is not.

What is at play here, I think, is a typical BAH response to a not-that-complex social and moral issue: "To change the laws and regulations is to admit that we were wrong all along, and the System can never be wrong." Could some pot-smoking MBA student please do a final project on the economics of marijuana regulation (and enforcement), touching on the direct costs of keeping the substance illegal, the indirect costs of prosecution and incarceration, the health cost equations for those who suffer diseases whose symptoms are alleviated by the substance, and the revenue potential for a new MCBO to parallel the LCBO?

Governments typically don't listen to a bunch of protesting potheads; nor do they generally respond to tales of suffering. They do listen to cold, hard numbers emerging from one of its premier business schools. So here's the challenge: Which among Rotman, Schulich, Rogers, Ivey, or Queen's will be the first to create the air-tight business case demonstrating the net economic benefits of ending prohibition?

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