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Probably one of the most important days of my life was spent with my grandmother in the kitchen in my early-20s.

She was trying to cook and I was trying to help her. You see in my grandparents' (I was raised by them - a lower working class family) my grandmother would prepare the meal and serve everyone (as a side, she also had a full-time job as a cleaner, making MORE than my grandfather). She would eat (she still does) after everyone else.

It was a fight, a big fight. Now it struck me, you see nobody was forcing her to behave like this. Indeed my grandfather is a bit macho, but she had (has) more money, was/is financially independent and in an environment (surrounded by urban elites) where social support would be on her side.

But she was actively the biggest enforcer of the status-quo. For me (a materialist-rationalist troskyist at that time), this was a massive revelation. Suddenly male-oppression narratives were giving way to voluntary servitude ones.

Ten years later another idea struck my mind: I was making my grandmother distressed and unhappy with all my attempts of shared cooking. A nice old lady that deserves some peace.

Monday I will be lunching with them. My grandmother will be making the food, cleaning the dishes. I will be eating everything and smiling. They will be happy and I will be extremely happy because they are happy. I will be able to bear this for a couple of days at most - but they will be profoundly happy and that has to count for more than my liberal bigotry, right?

Of course there are consequences: probably my biggest shame (really) is that I do not cook. And being lazy makes me not act on this. I am profoundly embarrassed by this...

Now, lets change gears and fast-forward to the hyper-liberal, hyper-progressive (and if you do not believe this, just see the voting records in areas where students/faculty live - start with Cambridge and Oxford), hyper-rationalist environment of British universities (which deserve to be considered some of the best in the world). I have been to plenty of them for considerable time. Suffice to say that I tend to compare Academia to North Korea. It is a highly hierarchical environment (and getting worse through reasons that I will not discuss here). This is supposedly in the place where rationalism is bred.

The painful conclusion that I have taken in my life is that we are just a garden variety of primates with a strong sense of hierarchy and very little reason.

If you believe in the fairy-tale of the nice, rational, pure human which society spoils, then you are in for constant disappointment. It is the base material that is not up to your standards.

But, on the other hand, if you see a species with primal instincts (like any other) which is endowed with (a little bit) of reason than there is cause to be both pessimist and optimist. Pessimist because that tiny bit of reason can make ugliest part worse. But optimism because reason can make the sharper edges a little bit less sharp (though I would not say, soft).

What we would need is an educational programme devoted to the idea of softening the edges. This is a completely different perspective from the enlightenment view that human material has in-born all the qualities that just need to be nurtured. This is also a completely different perspective from the conservative view which seems to want to sharpen the edges.

by cagatacos on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 05:01:53 AM EST
There are indeed multiple hierarchy threads in the academy. I had to realize that I was playing a low status chump all time - not displaying competitiveness, initiative, leadership unasked; lazy to build networks; being rudely polite without asking or giving respect. Particularly the administrative layer has been growing and pushing down scientific activity to lower status - probably worldwide.

What we would need is an educational programme devoted to the idea of softening the edges.
Softening edges in the sense of restraining the instincts in each lifetime, or in an evolutionary sense? In the later case, some selection rather than education would be needed. That does not has to look ugly - just think of building some anti-idiocracy. But instead of a society-wide project, you would rather start by nourishing a network, a layer (or even some sect) of people you would like to be selected. And watch out for the trends, events that would select against your preferences!

Just educating for softening edges would meet silent (or submerged) resistance: We don't need no education.... The real game would be playing with human subpersonalities - foremost, teaching people to reason without hierarchy concerns, disregarding intimidation. The post-WWII decades had a little success here.

The edges are actually useful sometimes, and you cannot take them away from people. In particular, the modest intellectual types would benefit from some instinct education - leading to a better competition to simplistic hierarchy machos. Such initiatives may even meet well organized resistance.

by das monde on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 06:30:33 AM EST
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Regarding education, I think the whole discussion is one of the most important that can be had. I was vague on purpose just because there is a preliminary point that I was trying to make:

The understanding that humans are not naturally uber-rational or potentially omniscient.

An education system devised to deal with human flaws (for the lack of a better term) has to start with the assumption that humans are flawed. This seems tautological, but it is not what we are thought to believe. The prevalent belief is that we can be super(wo)men: highly rational actors.

A discussion about how to educate "flawed" humans, would be indeed gigantic. But I could speculate on some ideas:

  1. training in delusions and self-delusions. For example learning on how to detect fallacies in speech (typical in marketing and with some politicians). Learning on how to detect self-reinforcing views of the world.

  2. A contextualization of current options in society. History of law is an example (as dry as it sounds). For instance why do liberal societies assume "innocent until proven otherwise"? These options do not spring out of nothing (though a without-sin view of humanity might disagree)

  3. Making people present arguments against what they believe (e.g. make an Atheist put forward an argument for Christianity and vice-versa)

  4. Accepting error

...

But my point, for now, is rather simple and something that goes before all this: the idea that we need to discard the premise of the human-as-mostly-a-rational/good-being.

by cagatacos on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 07:11:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
cagatacos:
the idea that we need to discard the premise of the human-as-mostly-a-rational/good-being.

Even with the 'mostly' qualifying your statement, it still smacks of binary thinking.

People are not born full of sin or virtue, but the potential for both. The old paradigm education was to 'knock sense into the rogues' and now seems more to address the problem of ignorance and not traumatise children by letting them feel 'less-than'.

People left feral act badly. When over-disciplined they turn rebellious or over-passive. A middle, hard-to-quantify way is needed.

No binary easy exit from the crux of the problem that all children are different in their abilities to accpt and thrive in structured environments. Some will 'get it' that spending the best part of their youths indoors in uncomfortable chairs studying instead of playing outside or goofing off is a good trade-off for the life of Reilly they will enjoy when the long-delayed kicks in, others will be less likely to trust in that promise.

There is the social pact to consider in all this too. In the boarding schools I went to the bullying prefects (students) when asked why they perpetuated the system that had so humiliated them when they were younger said it was their revenge.

How misplaced that was eluded them.  

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 08:54:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A middle, hard-to-quantify way is needed.
That way should bold down to (or involve crucially) inspiring leadership. Whoever leads that way, must employ all instinctive bio-neuro-chemisty for leadership and following. The world awaits to get fucked by a great idea and action. Maybe ours?
by das monde on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 12:13:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Like the Dutch say, you paddle with the oars you have, not the ones you wish to have. The Catholic focus on flaws is a too serious, even depressing, approach. Who are we to judge what is a flaw, what has to be improved - especially if yourself would not take action? The humanity was never close to a rationality, omniscience ideal - why would we seek to reach it above everything else? Hardly anyone wants to believe in (or be) a highly rational actor. Are we sure about real educational premises put to action?

The human mind is still a wonder in this world, capable of observing, experiencing, analyzing, making decisions. An yes, we can do rational thinking pretty cleanly, just as our legs are capable of running. But rational thinking requires more than having a few lessons in analysis of delusions, fallacies. Firstly, it needs regular practice, like a muscle. Secondly, it needs to discipline (but not to dash) the "flawed" mind circuits. Thirdly, it is not a particularly fun experiential activity, so it needs to be friends with the "flawed" states of mind anyway. Rationality is void without motivation, priorities, purpose, experience. We would be greatly lucky if most people would just practice the second aspect.

Memorizing is a rational mental task, but savants and memory competitions show that the effective way to memorize is to link the given objects to emotions, spacial experiences. So it is worth to be creative, with whatever you have.

by das monde on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 11:52:50 AM EST
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