Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Social Individual and the Self

Here is some research which I will definitely be following, because it has everything to do with my own developing ideas on human socially-derived individuality. Roy Baumeister has a theory that humans are unique in having true selves, which in turn allowed us to develop highly complex social structures.

His line of research suggests a resolution of the seeming contradiction that social science research shows that groups are good and that groups are bad. In other words,
combining two ongoing lines of research on group dynamics: that groups are bad, since they bring out conformity, social loafing, and the mob mentality; and that groups are good, encouraging cooperation, division of labor, and the wisdom of crowds. To Baumeister and his colleagues, it’s the role of the self that drives groups in either direction, for good or for ill. The group suffers when when the self is subsumed into it, and responsibility — for morality or performance — gets diffused. But if the self retains its individuality, then all sorts of benefits follow.
 This suggests that culture---of a society or of a business---matters a great deal, because it is through the culture that ideas of self and its relation to the group emerge.

For too many, the choice seems to be radical individualism or collectivism. But the fact of the matter is that humans are neither, and do not do well as either. Humans, as thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume, and F. A. Hayek understood and argued, are both simultaneously, meaning we are social individuals.
It’s a marrying of collectivist and individualist impulses, and the parallels abound. Contemporary thinking about how the brain optimally functions contends that the brain is at its best when all regions are differentiated from one another as well as integrated into a whole, like a city where neighborhoods develop their local flavor while still being connected to the rest of them.
 It should not be surprising that things like the human brain and human macrostructures like cities follow this pattern of unity in variety and variety in unity. Another great thinker, Francis Hutcheson (teacher of Adam Smith) argued that that was the definition of beauty. Beautiful brains, beautiful humans, and beautiful cities. None of this is surprising to me, anyway.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

All the Cosmos Is a Stage

All learning should be interconnected because everything in the cosmos is, ultimately interconnected. In Beauty in the Word, Stratford Caldecott makes the same argument, but then he goes on to argue that we can understand this interconnection as a drama:
A drama is a story that unfolds in a given context between several characters---each human life can be viewed as such a story, as can the history of mankind as a whole. Cosmology, astronomy, and geography give us the stage and the set and the props, while history and psychology and religion give us the plot and the action. Everything makes sense, everything connects, through the person whose character, actions, and destiny are the subject of the story. (101)
Not just cosmology, astronomy, and geography give us the stage and the set and the props, but so to do all of the physical sciences. And while history, psychology, and religion certainly give us the plot and the action, so too do the humanities, sociology, anthropology, and economics. More, each actor (you, the student) has to understand the motivation of the character they are playing (them now, them in the future), meaning an understanding of psychology (including neurobiology), sociology, economics, and the humanities is necessary.

In my own experience, the more I have come to learn about how my brain works and learns, the more freedom I have gained. I have learned to see many of the unconscious things I have been doing, and by bringing them to consciousness, I am now freer in my choices. It is the freedom of the author well-educated in grammar, logic and rhetoric: I can now better edit myself to make a better story of my life.

Seeing each of these aspects as part of a great drama allows us to see how they are interconnected, and how and why they relate to us at all. The actors on a stage don't get to pretend that the stage and set and props and lighting and so on aren't there or that they have no effect on what they do, for if they do, they will run into the set, misuse or fail to use the props, and speak from the shadows---not to mention potentially fall off the stage! If you don't understand the plot, how can you act well? If you don't know the character, how can you act well? You'll just be stiffly going through the motions, doing a poor job of acting---indeed, being a bad actor.

This is why a liberal education is vital. And not just a multidisciplinary education, where nothing is connected, but an interdisciplinary education, wherein all the links are clearly made. This is what makes for a truly liberal education.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Foundations Needed for an Education in Rhetoric

Aristotle argued that strong rhetoric requires you to demonstrate logos, ethos, and pathos.

What this implies, and what I haven't really seen anyone discuss in regards to Aristotle's rhetoric (it may be out there, but I haven't seen it discussed) is that if you are going to teach rhetoric, you have to teach students to not only be logical/rational, but also to be ethical and to have empathy.

This means that a liberal education, rooted in teaching grammar, logic, and rhetoric, requires an education in ethics and empathy.

Now ethics and empathy are hardly the same thing, as I discuss here in relation to both of their relationship to beauty and the sublime. And we know now that literature increases empathy in adults and in children in part by improving theory of mind. Indeed, as Aristotle pointed out, fiction/myth is more philosophical/ethical than nonfiction/history precisely because the latter only tell us how things are, while the former tell us how things could and ought to be. And as I suggest here when nonfiction storytellers try to moralize, it actually backfires--or, more accurately, it emphasizes the negative aspects of empathy.

And yes, empathy does have a few negative aspects. For one, it can reduce utilitarian judgment. For another, strong empathy for your in-group means increased hatred for the out-group. Empathy feeds tribalism, while ethics and justice undermine it. Thus, an education in ethics undermines the negative aspects of empathy, and an education in literature increases the positive aspects of empathy, extending it to the Other (thus making us more moral). One can argue that empathy is a part of the moral order, but it's a mixed bag portion that has to be balanced out by other moral considerations. But both empathy and morality are important to develop in no small part because they help us live with others, and they help to moderate other social orders.

Of course, pathos is more than just empathy. It also involves emotions. Meaning, a liberal education needs to educate people in their emotions as well. This is where an education in music and poetry comes in. Indeed, music is one of the liberal arts, though found in the Quadrivium rather than the Trivium. But here we can see where the overlap and reinforce each other. And poetry contributes further by bridging music and the literary arts.

We can see then how deeply interconnected these aspects of a liberal education is. A moral education, gained through moral teachings and the arts, is a necessary aspect of getting a liberal education simply for the fact that it's necessary to most properly learn rhetoric. The same is equally true of gaining an emotional education through music and poetry and the other arts, to be able to develop the pathos needed to better learn rhetoric.

And all of this is just to master rhetoric!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Standard of Justice

Individualism is the standard of justice.

Do you think a person is guilty just because they are African-American?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are a woman?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are man?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Hispanic?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are gay?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Christian
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are poor?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Chinese?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are rich?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are a business owner?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Muslim?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are of European descent?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are a scientist?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Southern?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Easterners?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Jew?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Leftists?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Rightists?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are liberals?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are conservatives?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Buddhist?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are an artist?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are transgendered?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are uneducated?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are college educated?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are Hindu?
Do you think a person is guilty just because they are a laborer?

If you don't, meaning you judge a person's guilt or innocence on what that particular individual did, then you act being just.

If you go through this list and agree with some and disagree with others, then you don't believe in justice at all. And you know it.  Because even if you disagree with some of the group distinctions in this list, you know for a fact that deciding guilt or innocence based on that group membership is unjust. How do you know that? Because you know that it would be unjust for you to have your guilt or innocence determined by your group membership.

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.