CCK08: Connectivist Ethics

“Never apologize, never explain” 

I like this aphorism. Stephen Downes explained in last week’s Ustream Connectivism discussion that a former philosophy professor by the name of John Baker said this to him. It took him some time before Downes recognized that instead of being a carte blanche for arrogant behaviour, in fact what was really being suggested was “Never engage in activities that would force you to apologize, never engage in activities that will force you to explain.” Even more simply stated, never cause harm. 

Siemens mentioned that Buddhist monks upon whom ECG readings have been conducted to register brain activity during meditation have yielded some remarkable results in terms of their responses to stimuli. The monks’ ability to remain calm in spite of the stimuli would appear to be linked to the ability to remain in a highly concentrated meditative state which has been perfected over time. By extension, Siemens suggests, “Activity influences the function of our brain, and in turn influences what our brain is capable of in the future.” What is the role of ethical behaviour in Connectivism, with regards to this proposition? 

The Connectivist framework for learning and distributed knowledge encompasses a vast territory in terms of human behaviour, from the minutae of neural-biological systems, to the formation of concepts, to behaviours of individuals and societies. It strikes me that the question ought to at least be posed whether the Connectivism context would not benefit from exploring questions of ethical conduct. 

With the ability to traverse the globe and connect with one another via the Internet, are there protocols common to all cultures designed to govern online behaviour? Is there a need for a Connectivist ethics? Does it already exist implicitly? 

Is it enough to assume that unaccaptable behaviour will decrease the strength of a node within which that behaviour occurs, and that communities of practice are capable of self-monitoring their activities online? 

What about communities of practice that are not open, and that wish to hoard information, in the interests of maintaining a position of power? Downes has suggested that the military might benefit from sharing information, since the very act of hoarding it precludes the risk of its being discovered at some point in the future. What is the military’s contingency plan in the event that this occurs? 

From a non-military perspective, I find this an interesting and compelling argument. However, my interest is less in how hoarding information may be detrimental to the hoarder, and more in how this behaviour factors into the Connectivist framework. Does it follow that information hoarding is not Connectivist? What about the fact that amongst military personnel, a strong network exists? To the extent that the information being shared is top secret and confidential, does it follow that this closed network operates in parallel to open ones, and that there is a place for this within a Connectivist perspective? 

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