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.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

On the Temporally Atomized Individual

Because he said I could share it, I am going to share this Facebook comment made by Mikhail Voloshin. I am sharing it because he nails so much of what is taking place in the world, especially the West, today and I didn't ever want to lose it:

The Western education system has become very bad at producing people *who feel themselves to be part of Western civilization*. Or of civilization of any kind, for that matter.

The point of being able to answer questions about Plato or Beckett or Chaucer, as the author uses as examples, has nothing to do with being able to show off esoteric knowledge and playing a game of I'm-smarter-than-you. It has to do with understanding the shared experience of countless generations, and being in a position to continue to build upon that edifice.

Humans are utterly unique in our ability to communicate life experiences from one generation to the next. In a sense, the advent of language has granted our species biological immortality.

So when you study Plato, and Chaucer, and Newton, and Erasmus, and Locke, and Schopenhauer, and Bach, and Turing, and Lewis... You're not merely accumulating facts. You are, in fact, retracing the steps of people who have lived full lives before you, and you are absorbing those lives into your own. You are, in essence, fast-forwarding through thousands of years of human life; discovering things that you yourself might discover eventually if you were biologically eternal, but it might take you literally millions of years to accumulate the sum total of the experience at your disposal right here and now.

And this accumulation of experience doesn't just confer knowledge, but also wisdom. The humans who have lived before you didn't *just* figure out why crops grow or how gravity works and what disease is. They also pondered questions like, "What is virtue?" "What sort of things are worth being upset about, and what can I let slide?" "When is it okay to intervene in the actions of other people?" "When is it *obligatory* to do so?" These are *extremely* difficult questions, and people throughout history have spent entire lifetimes working on solutions. You can try to discover them yourself, but you'd literally have to spend millennia catching up. The whole point of being a participant in a civilization is to download past minds into your own, internalize their train of thought, and pick up where they left off. And, of course, to speak literately with present people who are in likewise the same position, because all of you are trying to answer the same problems together -- in effect, you're each extensions of one great mind.

And different civilizations represent different collections of great individuals, having left off at different points and coming to different tentative conclusions.

This is most blatantly obvious when one looks at Muslim civilization. For all of Islam's faults, what gives it strength is its ability to unify three billion people with a common history, a common set of heroes and villains, and a common set of perspectives about how life should be lived. And while the state of literacy and education in the Muslim world is beyond miserable, every Muslim is able to answer questions like, "What do you believe? Why do you believe it? What templates do you use in deciding how to interact with people and the world?" (Part of the reason why Islam is so popular, especially among the poor and uneducated, and why it spreads so quickly, is that the answers it provides are exceedingly simple.)

Likewise, the Jews are able to answer this question very directly. While the Muslim answer for everything is, "What would Mohammed do?" (with some additional interpretation and extrapolation by various subsequent philosophers), the Jews have a much more complex system of both written and oral tradition that can take decades to internalize (there are books in Jewish mysticism that you're literally not allowed to read until you're at least 40 years old, on the premise that there's no way you can be ready for it until then and exposure to the knowledge would be wasted on you). It's a much more complicated answer, but it's one of the most complete examples of civilizational coherence in the modern world. Essentially this means that every Jew, to one extent or another, is a continuation of the consciousness of every Jew that came before us; and we can answer questions about meaning and virtue with precise citations of ancient philosophers almost as though these were answers that we ourselves came to. As I said before, that is why we remind ourselves every Passover, "*I* was a slave in Egypt, and God delivered *me* to salvation."

This is where the article, and Troy, come in. Schools today, in general, *do not teach* the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization. They teach the present tentative conclusions, but they fail to connect those conclusions with the process that produced them; which not only leaves these conclusions void and pointless, but also leaves the student in no position to expand upon them. Even in the rare instances where students today are able to talk about, say, the writings of Thomas Acquinas, they typically do so by reciting a few Cliff's Notes takeaways; they don't *put themselves inside the mind of Acquinas* to understand how he came to his beliefs; they don't imagine themselves to be dressed in thick wool robes in a monastery in medieval Europe, bent over a candlelit desk, reading encyclicals on parchment delivered by horseback pages from the Holy See. Same goes for the writings of the Founding Fathers, or the speeches of Cicero, or the drafting of the Magna Carta. At *best*, they are willing to project themselves into the personae of black protesters during the Civil Rights movement, but even then it's a distorted simplification of something that happened *within living memory*; after all, if you think you can understand the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. without understanding the mind of Martin Luther, you're in for some unpleasant revalations.

My point is this: If you ask a Westerner today, "What templates do you use in determining how to act with regard to other people and the world?", most would literally have no answer; and the few who do, are likely to cite a cartoonish Manichean Marxist Foucault-ist template along the lines of, "Well, it's easy: In every interaction between human beings, there is always an oppressor and there is always someone being oppressed, and the former is bad and the latter is good, and they are both defined by superficial and plainly observable physical characteristics..." For many in the West today, it's as though all of Western civilization started only in the mid-1800s with the publication of "Das Kapital". Or in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement. Or, from the POV of Millennials, there was no Western philosophical tradition before Tumblr. Some of the *extremely* well-versed can trace their beliefs back to perhaps Robespierre, but you can probably fit in my apartment all the people in America who have actually read him.

And don't think I'm only attacking the Left here, either. Conservatives at least can solidly trace their beliefs back to figures like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, but ask them to go older than that and things start to get fuzzy.

My point, and the article's point, and Troy's point, is that Millennials in general have a weaker connection to the origins of the contents of their heads than any previous generation in Western history; you'd have to look at pre-literate Germanic tribes before you find people who knew less about who they are or where they came from. The question is not whether or not they can program a computer; the question is whether or not they see themselves as heirs in the line of logical minds, from Aristotle to Occam to Russell to Turing to Hopper to Knuth, who led in sequence to the very program that the kid is writing right now. The question is not whether or not they can play a piano, but whether or not they feel themselves personally to be extensions of Pythagoras and Arezzo and Bach and Brahms. The question is not whether they can point to a case of people committing violence and say, "This is Bad," but whether they personally have the wisdom inherent from sharing in the collective memories of millions of people over thousands of years so that they can form a cogent and meaningful understanding of *why* it's bad.

And for the most part... No. No, they cannot.

This observation needs to be developed. And it needs to be read and understood by everyone. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Creativity and the 20-80 Split

A common story we like to tell ourselves is that everyone is creative. We perpetuate this by calling a large number of what are essentially uncreative activities creative. 

For example, if you have a sewing machine and you buy a pattern and you make a shirt on your sewing machine and wear it, people will compliment you on how creative you are. The problem is, you weren't creative at all. You literally copied a pattern someone else developed and selected cloth with a pattern someone else designed. You are a copier in this case. Now, you may in fact enjoy sewing, and you may in fact enjoy following purchased patterns, and there is certainly nothing wrong with loving to do this activity, but it's not creative.

The above kind of person probably constitutes 20% of the population. They are an uncreative core of copiers who greatly stabilize society. Many of these will even go so far as to resist change. This has the social/cultural benefit of preventing change from taking place so fast that the culture/society is torn apart. For the creatives they are a royal pain in the neck, but from a group selection standpoint, they are vital for social health.

At the other extreme are what I would call the extreme creatives. These are novelists, poets, artists, creative programmers, technological innovators and other disruptors of society, culture, the economy, etc. Those who engage in "creative destruction" and are thus Schumpeterian entrepreneurs. These people probably constitute another 20% of the population. They destabilize society and keep it on the edge of chaos. They are the change-makers. 

In the middle is a wide variety of modestly to rarely creative people. They may have a clever idea once or twice in their lifetime. Many won't even follow up on it. Some will, but it will be something like adding embroidery to the shirt they sewed. The remainder of the population---about 60%---are these kinds of slightly creative people. These will also be entrepreneurs, but mostly in the Kirznerian sense of noticing opportunities. Which is a form of creativity, and an important one socially and culturally, but certainly not in the way we think of highly productive creative people as being creative. 

From the highly creative person's perspective, only about 20% are creative and about 80% are not, while from the copier's perspective, only about 20% are copiers and 80% are those crazy creatives. This mixture seems to be the most stable one to maintain a stable culture/society, which must always be changing to remain stable, but but also be stable to remain stable. Resistance is necessary for movement, even at the social level. It is the simplest expression of the power laws that necessarily underlie all complex systems. Another way of understanding it is that the 20% highly creatives almost certainly engage in 80% of what we would identify as creative activities, while the other 80% engage in only 20% of such activities. And as noted, the 20% who are almost pure copiers won't share much if any of that 20% creative actions.

Copying is a vital aspect of cultural/societal stability, because we need to be able to copy what we have been shown to work. Tradition is vital, and the copiers keep tradition alive. Studies show that the vast majority of people are indeed copiers the vast majority of the time, and will engage in copying even when they can see that there is an easier way to do things. Indeed, even the ultracreatives do not extend their creativity to every single aspect of their lives, even if they may do so to much more of their lives than most people. They may raise their children in more traditional ways, for example. Or like eating the same things over and over. Few are like Goethe and seem to be a genius at everything. Most genius creatives are geniuses like Shakespeare, and genius at one thing. Of course, those we identify as geniuses, let alone universal geniuses, constitute a much smaller percentage of the population still. And they typically require specific times and places and networks to arise. 

I also address the 20-80 phenomenon here 

* The percentages given above come from Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, and have likely changed somewhat since the publication of their book. the percentages provides are intended to give a rough sketch of what is happening. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Donald Trump and the Pull of Nihilism

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are run by elites who have nothing but contempt for the average person. The only difference this year is that the Republicans have Donald Trump running, on the path to the nomination, a usurper from the outside who is not supposed to be able to get this far. And that has the elites panicked.

To show how out of touch these elitists are, their solution is to have Mitt Romney, perhaps the quintessential out of touch elitist, explain to the American people why they shouldn't be so stupid as to support Trump. Based on the success of all of the GOP's past attacks, that should boost his numbers just fine.

The elites (of both parties) are completely at a loss to explain Trump's appeal. The appeal is precisely that he acknowledges the feelings of a large number of dissatisfied people who see themselves as victims of the system. And the politicians we currently have are part of the system. Trump as an outsider appeals to these people.

Trump is appealing to the most basic drives, including tribalism. Those who are primarily tribal in their thinking consist of about 10% of the population, but only have about 1% of the power in society. Those who are primarily driven by the feeling of being a victim and who support empires are probably about 20% of the population, who have about 5% of the power in society. Groups like the Klan and people like Farrakhan are part of this group, and see themselves as victims of others actions. The next group Trump is likely pulling from are those who support a generally authoritarian world view, who believe in absolute right and wrong, and who see our culture as actively degrading those values and tradition. They make up about 40% of the population and have only about 30% of the power in society. They are the Christian conservatives, who support conservative social issues, but aren't really in favor of free markets. It may seem odd that someone like Trump attracts such people, but he does after all come across as an authoritarian, and his economic populism is very attractive to this group. And he's actively attacking those who seem to support relativity and political correctness.

If we assume only about half the people in the last group support Trump, that gives Trump about 50% of the population. Which is about where he polls.

The next group are those who have an entrepreneurial mindset and are generally classical liberals. They are about 30% (perhaps less) of the population, but have about 50% of the power in society. Almost none of these people support Trump. They are likely to be Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton supporters, depending on how close they are to also being egalitarians. Or, in their purest, postmodern form, these people are libertarians.

Egalitarians/communitarians are only about 10% of society (perhaps more), but have about 15% of the power of society. They are the primary supporters of Bernie Sanders.

The people who are attacking Trump are in the last group, or a combination of the last two. They come across as out of touch elites to everyone else, so the more they attack Trump, the more they like Trump, who at least says out loud what they are all thinking at some level. Trump is a bully? They want someone to be a bully FOR THEM. They don't perceive anyone else to actually be for them, and if those nerds/elites need some bullying, all the better.

More, Trump is tearing the curtain back and showing how superficial and stupid everything is. The wizards are panicking and trying to cover themselves back up, but Trump is exposing the absurdity of the entire system.

And that is a danger to the system itself. Its survival depends on everyone agreeing to the game and the rules of the game. Trump is violating the rules of the game, insisting that it's all just a stupid game anyway, so why take it all so seriously and follow a bunch of stupid rules.

The problem is that this is what all of civilization is built upon. If you go around and do like Trump and show that in fact there is nothing there, civilization itself will collapse. Trump promises to keep the barbarians on the other side of the wall, but in fact he is the very expression of barbaric nihilism that is the true root of the collapse of all civilizations.

But then, I'm just another elite complaining about Trump, too.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Ringer

So here's my idea for a play.

The story is pretty much the Presidential campaign to date. Republicans are having a hernia because there is a candidate like Trump running, and it looks like he's going to win. And, indeed, he does win the nomination of the party.

What they don't know is that the crazy person running is a plant from the front runner for the Democratic party, who wants to create chaos in the GOP. Neither think the plant will win the nomination, but they do think enough chaos will take place to make the GOP look foolish and dissuade people from showing up to vote Republican. The idea is that the plant will say increasingly ridiculous things until he loses.

But when the plant wins the GOP nomination, the plans are thrown into chaos. Of course, the DNC candidate expects the plant to basically throw in the towel. And they agree that he will in fact drop out of the race right before the election, with enough time to make people not want to vote for him, but without enough time for the GOP to come up with another candidate.

However, as the campaign goes on, his poll numbers keep going up. And it suddenly occurs to him that he could, in fact, become President. And who wouldn't want to be President? So he runs all the way through to the end and wins.

Now, given that the DNC candidate is the kind of person to do the above scenario, what do you think (s)he would do?