Dialog:Curating

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Curating

Draft as of August 31, 2020—
V 1 — You know, R, I worry you are exaggerating the importance of easy access to cultural resources through digital media. Check out an airport newsstand. Amidst all the schlock, you can find a "good" book or two for about the price of a sandwich.
R 2 — That's right, V. That's part of our fast-food ethos—carry it on with your sandwich, speed-read it on the plane, and chuck it in the trash while dashing for your luggage. We want to establish a different sort of presence for primary cultural resources.
V 3 — Yeah. But we seem to have too much access and with social media every passing thought becomes public—in a chaos all utterances are mute. How are you going to fix that?
R 4 — Slowly. Very slowly. And since I'm old, you're going to fix it, you and your children, and their children. But we should begin to fix it now, and I think you've identified how we need start.
V 5 — I have? I simply restated a famous quip. Everyone is spewing everything out into the public, creating a chaos in which nothing has significance. How does that identify how we should begin?
R 6 — We need to stay steady in the surrounding chaos that presses in on us. Starting to thrash about, tweeting anxiously to followers, just adds to the nonsense. We cannot calm chaos by acting on it. Its churning complexity far exceeds our ability to control it. Instead of acting on it, we need to withdraw from it to create seeds of calm meaning. Then others too may draw back to leave the chaos and enter into the stable sphere of meanings, one by one adding their capacities to its scope and power, diminishing one by one the thrashers in the chaos.
V 7 — Ah. I see better now why you want A Place to Study to emerge, if possible, fully in the commons, forgoing the extrinsic incentives of public life. Those power the excesses. But I have to say, I'm nevertheless a little ambivalent. We live in representative systems of governance and as citizens we have duties of active participation and we live in free enterprise systems and marketplace incentives work to correlate production and consumption efficiently and effectively. Or so I'm told.
R 8 — That's OK. Each has to take those expectations into account and decide what to do. But don't confuse the realities in theory with how they actually operate. Take all the sectors of experience into account and chart a course of action within the whole historical process. The chaos is not simply political, simply economic, or social, or technological, or artistic, or cultural. And in proposing to withdraw from the chaos, I don't mean to suggest that we can somehow physically escape from it. It is a question of how we direct our attention. We can withdraw attention from the chaos, finding it devoid of significance. Instead, we can recognize a set of cultural resources, limited yet open, and work out their uses vis à vis our own first-person experience of our lives. Let's curate the resources with which we form ourselves and learn liberally.
V 9 — Hmm. I'm also beginning to see better why you say that to begin we just have to begin. We could keep weighing why and why not forever. By beginning, we see what starts happening, and then having begun, we can decide to continue or stop. Possibly as others see the emergent results, they will opt to join in, and some may drop out. So let's begin—we can't keep going unless we begin!
R 10 — Right. And that's what we're already doing! We are starting to organize resources for study as a copious, cumulative sampling of the cultural resources achieved by our predecessors, which all persons now hold in common. In sampling them, we should illuminate the value specific resources have in supporting a person's lifelong effort to form and fulfill her humane potentials. Let's develop procedures through which contributors to A Place to Study can expand and winnow the sample of resources for study. As users of the site, we build by continually assessing how various works we put on it support our self-formation and liberal learning as users of the site. It should be a recursively circular effort.
V 11 — I'm eager to start, but first I have one more question. When I first expressed some skepticism about the idea of access, you said something about "a different sort of presence for primary cultural resources." Did you have something special in mind in using "presence" rather than access or availability or something else?
R 12 — Yes. Significant educative resources work through their presence, especially the resources facilitating liberal learning. These resources don't make a difference in life through a one-shot encounter like a vaccine. They need to be at hand, on your mind, easy to bring into your attention. A Place to Study should become a resource that people become familiar with, know it's there, available to use whenever needed, a comfortable retreat at times—a source of illumination in perplexity, of calm in anxiety, and of solace in sorrow.
V 13 — Yeah. I guess that's why a couple semesters of Western Civ didn't really have the influence on me and my friends touted for it. It was another of the requirements to get the degree.
R 14 — We can now make the resources supporting self-formation and liberal learning into a continuous, dependable, free and open presence for everyone, lifelong wherever they are. Of course we cannot ensure that anyone will make use of that presence. But throughout history up to now the possibility of these resources having a presence in most persons' lifeworld simply did not exist—it took time, effort, a good deal of money, and yes even power to assemble them into a collection in the everyday world of a person's life. Now we can, all of us, do it for ourselves.