Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Do You Do With Rules?

Are you a nihilist? Are you a trickster god?

You're probably neither one.

You either play by the given rules or rebel against the rules. Both acknowledge the power and legitimacy of the rules. Both work to reinforce and strengthen all the rules.

But suppose you come to understand that all the rules could have been other than they are. Yes, all of them. And may yet be. Some rules have great duration--the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, in decreasing duration--even the evolved psychology of humans has great duration, such that we work best in certain social rules that themselves could have been other than they are, but now must be as they are, given our evolved psychologies. And some rules could still be other than they are. See the varieties of languages, foods, poetries in all our varied cultures. Rules that could be otherwise, and have once been.

How, then, do you respond?

Despair? Contempt of the rules? That's nihilism.

Joy? Appreciation of what the rules can do even while knowing they can change? Then you're a trickster god.

We know the nihilists. Sad-sack, pathetic whiners who bomb to bomb, destroy to destroy, despair because nothing matters or has meaning.

But you don't know the trickster gods. Challenging the rules because they're rules, using them when they're useful, ignoring them when they're not, building new things, dancing our of love of life, joyful in meaning-creation and making-matter.

The nihilist is serious and appreciates nothing.

The trickster god appreciates everything and is serious about nothing.

The trickster is bound to ridicule the binds you place upon yourself. The trickster is bound to ridicule you if you seek to tighten all the binds of others. He ridicules your cruelty and misanthropy.

He laughs at autocrats and nihilists alike.

He laughs because he knows you could be free.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Colonizing by Church and State

In Spiral Dynamics, communitarian and individualist stages alternate. The state we are in, the egalitarian stage, is communitarian and the community feeling is created almost entirely by government. The communitarian stage that preceded it was the authoritarian stage, and the community feeling in it is created almost entirely by (typically monotheistic) religion. Between was classical liberalism, an individualistic stage.

In an essay I posted on Medium, I point out that we see alternations between the colonization of spontaneous orders by a single order (itself dominated by a single hierarchical organization) and the separation of the spontaneous orders. The Catholic church dominated all the spontaneous orders in the Medieval period, then the arts, the sciences, morality, philosophy, and even the religious order itself was separated off from it. Over the past century, governments have been colonizing those orders. Now that they have been as colonized as possible, they are being released yet again.

But this was the short version.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path and the Middle Way

In the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sihkism, and Jainism you have the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path. The Right Hand Path is the orthodox path; the Left Hand Path is the heterodox path. The Right Hand Path is typically collectivist in nature, while the Left Hand Path strongly emphasizes more individualist approaches. One is order, what is disorder. One leads to unity; the other to disunity. One should note that both paths lead to the same place---enlightenment.

Heraclitus argued that the way up and the way down are the same, suggesting that he had a similar view. Whether you are going up or down, whether you are going left or right, you end up in the same place.

Of course, with Christianity, the way up and the way down are not the same. The way up leads to Heaven; the way down leads to Hell.  The Right Way leads to virtue and God; the Left (Sinister) Way leads to vice and Satan. If the right is collectivist and the left is individualist, we see an equation with collectivism as good and individualism as evil. This is then a deeply Christian equation.

The Buddha emphasized The Middle Way. One could argue then that any emphasis on a Right Hand Path or Left Hand Path is missing the point. One should take the middle way. What is the middle way between orthodox and heterodox? What is the middle way between individualism and collectivism?

F.A. Hayek argued that continental European philosophy gave us collectivism precisely because it argued for a kind of radical individualism, where the individual is inherently unsocial and must be made to be social by "society," which gets equated with government. Collectivism is the solution to the problem of radical individualism. That is, the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path lead to the same place; the way up and the way down are the same. However, Hayek argues that Scottish Enlightenment Philosophy argues for a socially embedded individualism, where the individual is individuated in their social contexts, and the social environment is a product of interacting individuals. The Scottish Enlightenment view of the socially embedded individual is thus a Middle Way, a more complex interaction that leads to better things more quickly. Like the Buddhist Middle Way.

Medieval mythology also provides us with a middle way. Many stories provides us with a middle path between those to Heaven and Hell---the path to Fairy Land. Fairy Land is a liminal space where magical things take place in a more complex environment. This path is neither easy (like the path to Hell) nor extremely difficult (like the path to Heaven), but is between these two, through the thick, green forests where the mind and monsters dwell. This middle way provides us with the great stories.

The Middle Way is a more complex pathway, a liminal space, on the boundary land of order and chaos, there creativity happens. It is the place where you are neither obeying the rules (Right) nor violating the rules (Left), which in both cases means you are taking the rules seriously and, thus, are really playing the same game, but rather are questioning the rules, understanding the degree to which the rules could be other than they are, where the rules are no longer taken seriously, even as one appreciates what can be done with the rules, especially good rules, and where play takes place for the sake of place, where truly new things are and can be born.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Preparing for a Culture

Education prepares you for culture, and the kind of education you receive will prepare you for particular kinds of cultures. A liberal education will prepare you for a liberal culture. An illiberal education will prepare you for an illiberal education.

There are of course a variety of illiberal cultures, ranging from theocratic cultures to secular illiberal cultures, from national socialism to international socialism and progressivism to postmodernism. The kinds of educations you would receive in each would involve some sort of unifying, totalizing world view or propaganda-- that is, the "right way" of viewing things. The result would be that you would in fact be for all intents and purposes trained in a particular way of thinking rather than having your thinking freed. But it would result in the creation of a particular kind of culture.

From the perspective of preparing you for culture and tradition, these are clearly forms of education. Yet from the perspective of freeing you to challenge tradition, it is at best a weak form of education.

Yet it would not be fair to training to call this training, either. When you are trained to do something, the goal is for you to master it so well that you can achieve things with it. In the sense that you master something through memorization, you can be considered to be "trained," but in fact, you can't really do much if anything with it other than continue to insist on the maintenance of tradition and to oppose any changes to that tradition, to maintain culture as is.

No, it is properly understood as education. Illiberal education is still education. It is still preparing you for a culture. Whether it's a good one or a healthy one is another issue entirely.

Training vs. Education at The Pope Center

Today I have an article at The Pope Center on training vs. education. I wrote a blog post on it as well, here, where I use the same quotes, but make some different points. I think they mostly complement each other. George Leef also has a short piece at National Review on my article, bringing up several other points. I think the distinction is a necessary one to understand, because each implies different things about what learning is for and how to teach. I think many professors are also frustrated by the fact that they want to provide an education, but are primarily required to provide only training. In the humanities, many of the training classes are handed over to adjuncts and lecturers so the tenured and tenure track professors can teach the educational classes.

One problem too, though, is that too many of the "educational" classes in the humanities have been hijacked and turned into propaganda classes. Thus, they end up being training classes, too. But training for what?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What Is Neurotypical?

About 84% of the genes are expressed in the brain. Given that humans have 20,000 genes, that means about 16,800 genes are expressed in the brain.

We should not be surprised, then, if we were to find more than a bit of variation in human brains.

We should expect to see variation in degrees of creativity vs. copying, on liberalism vs. conservatism, on selfish behavior vs. altruism, introversion vs. extroversion, leadership vs. following, variations in thinking styles, degrees of mental energy, I.Q. and flexibility of I.Q., and of course any of a variety of learning and mental disabilities. These last are of course often disabilities based on a certain accepted mean of learning and/or behavior.

I have noted in some previous posts, linked above, that each of these consists of a spectrum of behaviors, which can be placed in a 20-60-20 grouping of the two extremes and a varying middle. I suspect that the same is true of the autism spectrum as well. The numbers don't seem at first to support this, but I suspect that the number of people with Asperger's is grossly underestimated and that ADD/ADHD is properly on the spectrum, such that the true spectrum looks like this:


About 11% of the population has been diagnosed with ADHD, and while only about 0.2% of the population has been diagnosed with Asperger's (the distinction of which has been lost by being folded into autism), I strongly suspect it's more. Many we would just call "introverted" are probably on the spectrum and specifically have Asperger's. Many upon my telling them I have Asperger's insisted that, no, I was just very introverted. But as anyone on the spectrum will tell you, much of our "introversion" comes from a combination of complete mental exhaustion from having to negotiate a social environment that doesn't make much sense to us, and our not understanding how to be social, rather than a desire not to be social.

If we take these things into consideration, we have an expanded autism spectrum that includes something like 20% of the population. If that is the case, what we have here is not really a disorder, but a natural variation that contributes to social complexity and dynamics. At the other end, constituting another 20% of the population, would then be what we could consider solipsistic thinkers, who are in many ways truly opposite of autistic, as I discuss here.

Also, one may note that there are a lot of overlaps in categories. Many introverts are on the autism spectrum, and vice versa (many with ADHD may be considered extroverts because of their hyperactivity, so the correlation, in my expanded definition of autism, won't be perfect with introversion); many on the spectrum are creative and non-conformists. (It is notable that people on the spectrum, while being non-conformists, also dislike a great deal of change, while the more conformist neurotypicals are more capable of change; this tension also likely contributes to social dynamics in interesting ways that should be investigated.) Variations in thinking styles also maps well onto the solipsistic to autism spectrum.

Variations in brain structure, then, is going to be quite common. Given the number of genes involved in the brain, what should be most surprising is that so much is common among humans. This is in no small part because various streams tend to converge into the same general pathways (as described by constructal theory). This is why there can be a variety of causes of autism, with there being similarities among those who have autism (even with variations in degrees of expression). For there to be complex human societies, it would be necessary to have a variety of ways of thinking or even a variety of kinds of minds so that our societies are neither too stagnant nor too changeable. The most stable societies will be those that both honor tradition and are open to change, that change on the margins rather than abruptly.

Even though we have had literally millennia of species experience with the presence of such variation, we still nevertheless see a great deal of prejudice and discrimination against those who have variations in their thinking. This seems especially true in the postmodern period, where we have developed institutions whose job it is to separate out anyone who has a difference in the way they think, process information, etc. This institutional discrimination is very widespread today, to such a degree that you almost cannot get a job unless you are solidly in the 80% solipsistic-neurotypical range. Businesses quite often, if not almost always, actively discriminate against anyone on the autism spectrum, which is why so many on the spectrum are unemployed.

This discrimination against people who think differently comes from more recent egalitarian attitudes which insist that everyone is/must be identical. Given that these variations in mind/thinking cut across race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and sexual orientation, one can actively discriminate against mental variation even while insisting on acceptance of other categories. Worse, because these mental differences are real and are a consequence of structural differences, insistence that all children are the same and learn the same results in the development of the idea of learning disabilities and of behavioral problems.

The politically correct change of this to "learning differences" has not resulted in any real change in attitude toward those differences as being bad. And differences in processing and interacting with the world are treated as behavioral problems to be solved. But the fact of the matter is that people on the spectrum cannot and should not be expected to behave like neurotypical people, because the are literally structured differently. This isn't a matter of something superficial like culture, which can be written on any individual born into that culture, regardless of race, etc.; no, this is something deep and fundamental that cannot be so readily changed.

And even if the changes can be made--typically, forced--they always feel artificial to the person. It's much like insisting that gays can just ignore their preferences and act heterosexual; it can be done, but it will never feel quite right, and it will likely make the person feel anxious and depressed. Perhaps not coincidentally, anxiety and depression are typically part of autism.

Our societies have been formed by the majority of those not on the autism spectrum. There are obvious reasons for that--not the least of which being that those people make up 80% of the population. As a result, it is not entirely unreasonable to insist that we on the spectrum conform to them and not vice versa. Of course, this seems easy enough to a group of people for whom conformity is natural. But what they need to understand, what everyone needs to understand, is that it's not easy for us.

More, by preventing us from being ourselves--at least on occasion--I suspect that our societies are losing out on a great deal that we could and would otherwise contribute to society. Free to be ourselves, with less anxiety and depression, we may feel more up to innovating and creating and thus contributing to society in the many ways we have in the past. That's all we ask: to be allowed to be ourselves, to be allowed to contribute, to be allowed our humanity.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Some Thoughts on Education

One of my central concerns is education. While on the one hand, I believe that (with obvious exceptions, such as learning disabilities) all students learn the same general way and will learn the same kinds of materials in the same way, there are also bound to be differences in learning speed and in interests (which in turn affects speed, or perhaps vice versa). Because children develop at different rates, learn at different speeds, and have varied interests, I do not believe that children should be educated according to age. I find such a concept ridiculous and arbitrary. While it is true that there is a bell curve of development and learning speed around a child's age, there are a sufficient number who are slower or faster that it makes no sense to make every child advance according to his or her age. Children should advance purely by ability, and that advancement or maintenance of position needs to be determined more often than once a year. This would of course mean a radical change in school structure to accommodate this change, but it is necessary if we want students to learn what they can as quickly and effectively as they can. 

I am persuaded that a lot of lack of interest in subjects comes about because of difficulties in performing certain tasks or understanding the ideas. This happens when a student is moved too quickly through the system. A student should not move until the concepts are fully grasped at a given level. If we divide the school year up into 6 week periods, as happens now, that means a student may master a set of knowledge in one period, two periods, three, or four. Or more. The student would have to repeat that set until it is mastered. With mastery, the student would move into the next section. 

Given the fact that learning is nonlinear, we should not be surprised if a student moves slowly through one set and quickly through another set. Some students have more difficulty getting the foundations--the seemingly simple stuff--but then do exceptionally well with the more advanced concepts. 

Further, learning must be developmentally appropriate. Don't be having students learning the "writing process" when they don't know their alphabet. There is foundational knowledge that must be grasped first. Also, we need to base our system on the way the brain actually works and learns. This means, again, understanding that learning is nonlinear. It also means grooming interest, as interest in something facilitates learning it. I likely would have learned math better and easier had I been made to understand the ways in which it would benefit me in my interests over the years. It really does not take a lot of time and effort to find out what a student is interested in and to connect what is being taught to those interests. It is likely that there are going to be groups of students with similar interests, and coming up with examples that fit those interests should be a part of teaching. 

At the same time, we have to get rid of this ridiculous notion that unless a student can relate to something, we shouldn't teach it. It's ridiculous because no student can relate to anything we teach them until they are taught it, because by definition, you are only learning what you did not previously know. This means we need to teach students more stories, and those stories need to encompass a wide variety of experiences, cultures, ideas, etc. Stories are ways to gain experience without having to actually, physically experience them. Again, we must keep in mind that students who have difficulty reading will not like reading, and as a result they are likely to develop an aversion to reading and then to stories themselves to a certain degree. Of course, so long as a student watches TV or movies, plays certain kinds of video games, or just plain gossips, they are demonstrating their interest in stories. The job of the teacher is to try to get them to enjoy more and more complex stories over time. That means, again, teaching developmentally appropriate stories. And well-written stories. 

It is important that children receive a broad education that includes history, because you cannot know where you're going if you don't know where you've been; social studies, so they can get a sense of where they are in the social world; health and biology, so they can understand themselves from a biological standpoint and from the perspective of being a biological being that needs to be physically healthy; physics and chemistry, so they can understand the structure of the physical world and how it works; economics, so they can learn how money works, the nature of trade and work, etc.; literature, because students learn best from stories, and they need to be taught how to understand more complex stories; mathematical logic, so students can understand relationships among quantities; grammar, so they can learn the structure of language and of thought itself; and ideas, so they can connect everything together, learn logic and reasoning, and understand that they are part of a conversation that goes back thousands of years. Some of this will have to be detailed and particular--grammar and math, for example-- while others, like history and ideas, can be more general, so long as the students understand their place in history in regards to events and ideas. Note that most of these things will necessarily reinforce reading skills. Some, like logic, will reinforce math skills, though it should be encouraged to bring out math wherever appropriate to the subject. In other words, keeping a math journal in an English class is, to put it bluntly, stupid. But showing the importance of math to biology or economics or general living is of course sensible. 

If much of this goes against the way things are currently done, all the better. What is currently done does not work. The primary job of the teacher is fostering as much interest in a student for the subject in question as humanly possible. When that happens, the student will learn. The "because I said so" approach that dominates clearly does not work, has never worked, and will never work. Of course, this means that teachers themselves have to be interested. If a teacher is not interested in teaching every single subject in, say, 1st grade, that person has no business being a teacher. The teachers' attitudes rub off on the students; if the teacher isn't interested, the students will often not be interested, either. 

Of course, education does not end with high school. Certainly not anymore. And that fact, that over half of all high school graduates go to college, is why colleges are in trouble now. The fact is that most are going to college to get job training. But traditionally universities were not designed for that purpose. No, they were designed to provide a liberal education. The switch to becoming trade schools training people in a variety of trades has resulted in the degradation of education to becoming little more than illiberal propaganda and training programs. Since universities have become trade schools, those interested in providing a liberal education need to develop a new institution to provide that education. It cannot at all resemble the current Prussian-style institution, as that is what has degraded into becoming what it now is. The new institution needs to be practically anti-training in nature, wildly interdisciplinary, extremely integrated, and rabidly liberal, with both unity in variety and variety in unity driving the curricula. It should not be narrowly Classical, but rather broadly natural classical in nature. 

But that is an institution whose details I need to develop more explicitly some other time. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Should Universities Provide Education or Training?

If you were to ask what it is that universities are supposed to provide, perhaps everyone would say that they are supposed to provide a person with an education. But what, exactly is an education? And is that what our universities are in fact providing?

What if I were to tell you that many if not most classes in our universities are not designed to provide you with an education but, rather, are designed to provide you with training? This of course only raises the question of what differences there are between the two. For that, I want to refer you to James P.  Carse’s classical book Finite and Infinite Games, in which Carse makes this distinction between education and training.

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.
Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition.
Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future. (23)

There are many classes in our universities that on the one hand train us, and others that do in fact educate us. So when, for example, you take a composition class in college, the professor is going to treat grammar and syntax as something that has been finished in the past, which you need to learn as it now is. Grammar and syntax are considered to be established rules you need to learn. If, on the other hand, you take a graduate level class on the grammar of languages, you will discover that the rules of grammar and syntax do in fact change in languages over time, that each language has its own grammar and syntax, etc., and this knowledge then prepares you for when you encounter an unknown language to be prepared for differences from what you know from the language(s) you know. You are thus prepared for surprise.

Education also helps you to be able to continue to make more and more discoveries in the past. The more literature you read, for example, the richer you find all literature to be—and of course all literature is necessarily “past.” As is all knowledge. Even a biologist is studying already-established processes. Economists are studying economies as they once were. In a sense, each is a kind of historian, each trying to discover the rules of those processes. Education is what prepares you for such activities.

Training, on the other hand, is more akin to engineering. The person trained in writing is going to write future books and papers. The genetic engineer is trying to create future changes in the organisms he is working on. The policy maker is trying to create a healthier, stronger economy. Training prepares you to be an engineer, to make things now for future purposes.

Naturally, there are going to be mixtures. Future scholars all have to be trained to write papers in their fields, so need some training. They need to be trained in appropriate methods, and so forth. But most of what they do is get educated in their fields.

What Carse is calling education is of course what we typically think of our universities as doing. However, universities have very much moved away from that model and have embraced the training model. Our universities attempt to train people to write, and there are departments of engineering, business, information technology, and so on, each designed to train people for certain tasks. And this has been happening for a long time. I, for example, did not get my undergraduate degree in biology, a field of education, but rather in recombinant gene technology, a field of training. I was of course educated, because you have to have background information with which to work, but there was an end-goal of producing a technologist rather than a scholar.

Carse argues that training is designed to prepare one for society, while education is will prepare you to participate in culture (50-55). “Society” of course involves engaging in business, governance, and any number of organizations. “Culture” on the other hand involves the ongoing change of tradition, is founded in history, but plays with boundaries. Through investigating the past, we discover ourselves, and as such change the very culture in which we live. Only education can prepare you to do that.

Education, then, would involve the natural sciences as discovery, the social sciences as understanding, philosophy, the study of art and literature as not just things to study to write scholarly papers, but as inspiration for the creation of art and literature. This is the proper role of education. 

Both are kinds of learning. But they have completely opposite results.

If you teach composition, you will train students in grammar, and there is a finality to that grammar.

If you are a linguist, what you teach and learn about grammar its that It changes, varies, and is generative. Grammar is open.

I'm familiar with both. I tried to explain to a linguist why teaching grammar was important to teaching writing, and the linguist couldn't understand my points. Because grammar As open knowledge is nothing like grammar as closed knowledge.

Chemists need education. Chemical engineers need training. Molecular biologists need education. Biotechnologists need training. Physicists need education. Engineers need training. Anthropologists, historians, and politicians all need educations. They are not trades. They participate in culture. 

The maintenance of a culture means working in a certain tradition and maintaining it to work in it on the margins.

Even a good pop star works in a tradition to which they are responding and in which they are educated. That education in that case won't take place in a university. But out is an example of what is meant by education and culture.

Universities help maintain a different kinds of culture. Increasingly a global culture, which involves a classical tradition. This includes the arts and literature, the sciences and social sciences, philosophy and theology. One must be educated to contribute to these things, to the creation of knowledge and understanding in them.

With an education, you actually never stop learning. An education never ceases. Those working in culture never stop educating themselves. What one learns through such an education, even if one chooses to stop studying (which I don't think actually happens), still affects one's choices in life, decisions, ways one thinks, etc. Further, getting an education, even if one doesn't participate in the culture through cultural production in a direct fashion, can help one to be more creative, more compassionate, more humane in one's societal actions. Which is why it remains an ideal, even if rarely realized. 

Literature creates empathy through allowing us to experience another's mind in a safe place space. More complex literature affects our abilities to experience social complexity. And these necessarily affect behavior. The books don't just reinforce, but create. And while creativity is only learned if you are inherently creative, and the vast majority of people are not because creativity is extremely difficult and requires a great deal of energy, meaning few have what is needed to be creative, one can increase one's inherent creativity--through gaining an education. Whatever creativity a person may have is maximized through an education. The fact that few are creative this way is perhaps why few actually want an education.

But training for trades is what our schools are now promoting. Increasingly, they seem to be eschewing education for training. It is less important to read than it is to learn how to write—as though it were possible to learn the latter without doing a great deal of the former. We are supposed to go to school to become business people, engineers, programmers, and so on. And as more students enter our colleges to get training, they resist getting an education. They are not interested in culture and the continuance of culture. They are interested in getting trained to get a job.

And that is fine. Except that it is increasingly coming at the expense of education. We are not educating people for culture, to participate in culture. We are more and more preparing our students to work at jobs in the economy, but we are less and less preparing them to create, discover, and understand.

Perhaps that is why we are increasingly finding college students engaging in political correctness, resisting new ideas, and calling for limitations on free speech and academic freedom. Perhaps we are seeing students acting this way because we are no longer preparing them for culture. We have been training them, but telling them they are educated. They are not, and the ramifications for that are beginning to show.
Too often college classes give students anything but an education. Most are now mere training. And too often the classes that were once for education are now used for propaganda. But it doesn't have to be that way.