Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Liberal Education and the Three Illiberal Educations

A liberal education must be rooted in grammar, logic, and rhetoric. (Not just these, but I'm only going to discuss these three). If any are neglected, you do not and cannot have a liberal education.

Education today is postmodern, meaning exclusively rhetorical, meaning illiberal. Almost all of our problems with education, from the general lack of knowledge to the rise of the social justice warriors, can be traced to this fact. Grammar and logic are both actively neglected, indeed outright discouraged. I have taught composition classes, and I know. I have been told explicitly not to spend more than a week on either grammar or logic, and most of the composition classes I have taught have even been titled "Rhetoric."

Grammar is of course more than just grammar in the narrow sense of the term, though is most certainly must include that as well. Stratford Caldecott in Beauty in the Word argues that grammar also includes mythos and memory as well. Indeed, ht points out that the ancient Greeks understood the arts as being products of the memory. We have to have an education founded in memory, in stories, in understanding the deep relations among things. With grammar, we see that each and every sentence is really a little story, and thus we understand the narrative structure of our thinking itself, insofar as that thinking is rooted in language. More, what are we remembering but tradition? Thus tradition is tied in with grammar.

Caldecott points out that a grammar education (and grammatical world view) is what dominated in the pre-Enlightenment era. With the Renaissance and the rise of the Enlightenment, we moved toward a more logic-reason based education and world view. Logic, thinking, and knowledge are what came to dominate, with the resultant rise in science. Logic is unconnected with tradition, and an over-emphasis of logic can result in a rejection of tradition. Naturally, we need an education in logic, broadly understood, as it helps us better understand what is true (and to reject what in tradition is not true), but its over-emphasis unbalanced us and resulted in a backlash.

Rhetoric emphasizes persuasion and it is deeply connected to community. What will persuade people? What will foster community? While Aristotle argues you need logos, ethos, and pathos, if rhetoric becomes overly dominant, it is typically logos which suffers (especially if it is logic which is specifically what people are reacting against). And while stories are typically used to persuade and create pathos, those stories are inevitably unconnected to tradition (or outright reject tradition). Ethos becomes emphasized over everything, which gets expressed in the postmodern world as 'I am good because I oppose racism and sexism and homophobia, so you should listen to me and do as I say.' While the first may be true (I think it is, anyway), the latter doesn't necessarily follow. More, it gets reversed such that people think that 'Because I am good, I am right,' meaning that if they are right then you are wrong, and if you are wrong then you are not good, and if you are not good you are racist, sexist, and homophobic. More, that ethos is based almost entirely on pathos, meaning how the person feels about something is what matters. This is where the social justice warriors come from.

The danger is that we react against rhetoric in the same way and return to either a pure grammar or a pure logic. Indeed, there are some indications that we are returning to a more grammatical way of viewing the world with complex systems theory. The good news is that complex systems theory is also a logic based on that grammar, and it is a recognition of the necessary fact of community in all things as well. A recognition of deep structures fostering ecological rationality in the creation and maintenance of community at all levels of reality is precisely what systems theory, or spontaneous orders theory, is all about.

To understand the world this way means we necessarily must start receiving a liberal education. A liberal education prepares us to understand the world as deeply complex, interactive, and interrelated. Each of the parts of liberal education contribute, but when they are individually emphasized at the expense of each other, education becomes deeply illiberal. Which is why education (and our societies) seem to swing between liberalism and various illiberalisms. Rarely do the three liberal language arts come together to reinforce each other, but when they do, we get a renaissance. Our current illiberal society is dominated by rhetoric. We need to reunite it with grammar and logic (and of course the other liberal arts) to rebuild our educational systems and renew our world.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Three Poems Published in The Dial

There's a new literary magazine out there called The Dial: A Magazine for Poetry, Philosophy and Religion, in which I have three poems. The editor tried to place the poems in thematic conjunction, meaning you should really read it from cover to cover.

My poems in the collection are:

The Culture of Children

Ends and Means

Divine Knowledge

The editor is interested in publishing libertarian authors, though as you can see from the collection that the magazine itself doesn't have an overwhelmingly oppressive ideology upon which it insists. It's much more interesting than that. 

Monday, January 02, 2017

Constructal Law, Rights, Morals, Justice

Does the constructal law prove the existence of natural rights? Is the constructal law the bridge between is and ought we've been looking for?

While I do think there is much to recommend in the linked approach, the author seems to neglect our evolved social behaviors, which do provide us with a certain degree of duration if not eternity.

Of course, these network processes producing these structures are found at the physical, biological, psychological, and social (including economic) levels, so we shouldn't be surprised if life itself doesn't create rights through following these rules of flow, and we also shouldn't be surprised if these rights find varying expressions in social-level flows.

On Coalitions

John Tooby argues that humans do not live in groups; rather, we live in coalitions.
Coalitions are sets of individuals interpreted by their members and/or by others as sharing a common abstract identity (including propensities to act as a unit, to defend joint interests, and to have shared mental states and other properties of a single human agent, such as status and prerogatives). 
A coalition is something you can " form, maintain, join, support, recognize, defend, defect from, factionalize, exploit, resist, subordinate, distrust, dislike, oppose, and attack." Unlike a group, which is sort of the human equivalent of a pile, a coalition has structure, identity, and emergent properties. Societies are made up of a variety of coalitions, but it would probably be best to identify a society as an interactive set of coalitions than of a group of people. That is, a society would be a degree of complexity greater than a coalition, and a coalition a degree of complexity greater than its human constituents. 

It may be the case that the stronger coalitions are, the weaker the society, and vice versa. That is, the Hayekian Great Society requires relatively weak coalitions to ensure a high degree of social cohesion at the level of a given society. That society may or may not be limited to a given nation's borders, as the fact that one can go to Europe and, for the most part, fit in and get along without a great deal of trouble proves. That is, there is a degree of "society" that transcends national borders, and is increasingly encompassing the globe. 

We need to better understand coalitions and their roles in our lives if we are going to better understand our social psychologies. These coalitions in part overlap many of our organizations, but may include many such organizations, or none. These coalitions in part extend out into greater society, but at the same time weaken as they extend. Of course, that weakening is both a problem (we may feel something missing in our lives) and a solution (the weaker they are, the better we can get along with others). This is clearly something we need to better understand to develop better ideas of what it means for us to have a healthy classically liberal society and what it means for the idea of individualism, and what individualism itself means.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ostrom Commons vs. the Smithian Market

Can a well-regulated commons as described by Elinor Ostrom replace the market? The problem is one of scale. A well-regulated commons only works if you literally know everyone participating in the commons. It cannot really work with strangers, and that's where the market shines.

More, for the commons to work, you have to have some sort of enforceable punishment. In the market, if you don't like what you're being offered, you can withdraw participation. Those are two quite different proposals, although market withdrawal is too often mistaken for punishment. Any harm from withdrawal is coincidental to the withdrawal, while punishment is direct harm in response to a perceived harm.

Those who think that such regulated commons are superior to the markets seem to "miss" on some psychological level the kinds of social interactions one finds in a family or a tribe. What they are also missing is the fact that, as observed above, well-regulated commons don't scale as well as markets. This doesn't mean that there is a place for such commons. There clearly is any time there is difficulty in establishing property rights (like wild animals that have a bad habit of moving from one area to another). So while a well regulated commons is a great development in response to some very specific property rights issues, it cannot replace the market---any more than the market can replace the coordination problems solved by the Ostrom Commons.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Variations on Beauty, Virtue, Truth, and the Just

"Virtue aims at the beautiful" -- Aristotle
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" -- Keats
Justice is fairness, and the fair is the beautiful -- Elaine Scarry

Virtue is right action at the right time in the right portions.
Right portion is the golden mean.
The golden mean ratio is beautiful.
Right action aims at the beautiful.
Right action is always healthy and creates health and healthy growth.
Right action is beautiful action.

Healthy growth results in beauty. Healthy growth is beautiful.

Poetry is an imitation of an action. -- Aristotle
Poetry that is the imitation of a right action at the right time in the right portion is beautiful.
Poetry that is in the right portions is beautiful
Poetry that is beautiful is true.

Monday, December 12, 2016

We Must All Do More as a Society

"We must all do more as a society."

We have all heard that statement before, but what on earth could it possibly mean?

First of all, a "society" simply cannot "do" anything at all. It is incapable of action. Society is a complex network, a human environment that is a result of human (inter)action that in turn creates the conditions for further human actions. It makes as much sense to say that a society ought to do something as it does to say that the tundra ought to do something.

We typically hear this statement when the person really means, "The government needs to do more." More what? More of whatever that person's pet project for humanity is, of course. Of course, "the government" is really just a set of institutions equally incapable of action. It is necessarily people--in each case--who will be doing the acting. In the case of someone working in and for the government, that person has the ability to use the threat of force to accomplish his or her goals. And yes, any time someone uses the word "must," they mean "or else."

A good, a virtuous person should completely rephrase this to read, "Each of us ought to do X so that we can accomplish Y." This allows the action to be voluntary, it puts it in properly moral language (the moral "ought" rather than the forced "must"), and it allows each person to judge the efficacy of the proposed solution and the desirability of the goal itself.

I would propose that the kind of people who make statements like "We must all do more as a society" are in fact completely uninterested in letting anyone make those kinds of judgments. They are so certain of their rightness that they believe that everyone else ought to be bent to their will. But are they in fact so certain? If they were in fact certain, wouldn't they trust that the truth, beauty, and justice of their proposal would carry the day over time? Is it insecurity about one's own moral judgments, or is it impatience (an unwillingness for it to happen "over time")? Vice simply piles on vice, it seems.

While each individual society does in fact have an effect on the choices and actions of its members, it is still only the members themselves who can act, who can do anything. And as they act, they change the society, the environment in which they act. But in the end, only individuals act. And if you want to change something about society, don't ask for it to do something it simply cannot ever do; rather, persuade each of the members of that society to act, to change that society.

And never, ever confuse the government with society--that's much like mistaking the eyebrows for the head.

Comparing Yourself to Others Is a Source of Suffering

What happens when you compare yourself to others?

There are a number of responses:
  1. Envy
  2. Lust 
  3. Pride
  4. Greed
Four of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each creates suffering.

The 10 Commandment tell you not to covet your neighbor's wife nor to covet your neighbors things. You would of course not covet those things if you were not comparing your lot with theirs.

Envy comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel like you are coming up short. You think your suffering will be assuaged if you bring the person down to your level.

Lust comes about when you are sexually attracted to someone you should not be sexually attracted to. You are comparing yourself with and without that person. Comparing yourself with your future self can also create suffering.

Pride comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel pleasure that you are better off than them.

Greed comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel like you are coming up short. You think your suffering will be assuaged if you bring yourself up to that person's level.

Each of these sins, then, comes about from comparing yourself to others.

None of these sins could take place if people did not want to mimic others. Humans are natural mimics. The overwhelming majority of things you do are simply because you mimic everyone else around you. But what happens if you find you cannot mimic everyone else? Envy, lust, pride, or greed, depending on your own situation and your own feelings.

One could also include a kind of shame, which would be the flip side of pride, where you feel ashamed that you are better off. Due to greed, we don't want to give up our own wealth, so we promulgate envy to try to shame others into giving up their wealth, or to get others (government) to simply take others' money to try to ensure everyone is the same--sameness, egalitarianism, is an extreme version of the kind of mimesis about which I am speaking.

All of these things are sources of suffering.

We need to avoid comparing ourselves to everyone else. We need to accept that our learning is overwhelmingly mimetic in nature, but that does not mean we have to compare ourselves to others. We can accept without envy, accept without greed, accept without lust, and accept without pride. And we can give without invoking any of these things, either.

We should fill our cups to overflowing, and pour ourselves out to the benefit of all, but without ego to the extent we can do so. Our actions will then be beautiful. Our actions will then be creative. This is what happens when a person is creative. They are in the flow state, which is always without ego, which is always focused on the task. The flow state is always a happy state.

When you compare yourself to others, you are sinning. You are destroying yourself and you are seeking to destroy others. Sin is always destructive, and destruction is the opposite of creation, wealth, virtue, truth, and beauty.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Jobs are Relationships, Not Objects

This is absolutely true. More, this is something feminists have been correctly arguing regarding the marriage relationship between men and women. We do hear the phrase "He took my wife" when another man "steals away" another man's wife. Here we are treating the woman as an object that can be taken away. But what is being taken away is a relationship -- which in fact cannot be "taken," since a relationship isn't an object.

A feminist would rightly observe that the phrase "took my wife" objectifies the woman in question, turns her into an object rather than a fellow human being with whom we have a particular relationship. When the relationship is severed, the woman in question is no longer a "wife," so when a woman severs her relationship with her husband to be with another man, she is no longer a wife for another man to take.

Feminists complain that such phrases as "take her as your wife" or "took my wife" or "stole my wife" are indications of patriarchy, but in fact, as we see with the phrase "took my job," this kind of objectification of relationships is not uncommon. Since a job is a relationship similar to that of a wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc., any objections to the objectification of women in their relationships to men should apply equally to other kinds of relationships, including jobs.

So the feminists are probably not right that these phrases are an indication of patriarchy, but they are certainly not wrong in the implied critique of objectifying relationships.

In other words, Patrick Peterson provided us with a feminist critique of the phrase "take your job" that, quite frankly, could use considerably more unpacking. Especially since if we understand that jobs are relationships, the idea of someone taking it away loses its bite and we have to reconsider what it means for a job to be "taken" or "lost." Are there new ways of phrasing these things such that they reflect the fact of their being relationships rather than objects? There certainly needs to be.