Monthly Archives: October 2022

Is Our Children Learning?

I am what you might call a guppie in the Twitterverse. My position and standing in Internet conversation has been fairly constant over the years that I have used it to communicate. I’ve run a couple of blogs over the years, and occasionally I would hit pay dirt and draw people to my site because a bigger blogger took notice of something I said. Soon after, I would slip back into obscurity. I like writing, but I don’t have the education nor the discipline to be “someone”.

And so it goes on social media for me. Especially when it comes to Twitter, the so-called “public square” where people meet to discuss ideas. But you have to be quick! It’s not like blogging at all. You don’t get to ramble longform, you need to limit your participation to about three sentences. Once in a blue moon, I say something that goes somewhat “viral”, where thousands of people look at a tweet I’ve composed.

Well, I went somewhat viral (for an account my size) a few days ago, from a simple reaction to another tweet. Here is what I reacted to:

My reply was simple and mostly glib, but I have started a minor firestorm about our failures to educate people. All I said was:

To me, it seems absurd that someone in that generation (likely a boomer) hasn’t got clue #1 about what a communist is. They spent half their lives feeling existentially threatened by them, so my question is, why do they know nothing about them?

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I can’t believe how often I have to explain this, but there is NO FUNCTIONING “FAR LEFT” IN AMERICA. IT IS A FIGMENT OF YOUR STUPID IMAGINATION IF YOU THINK OTHERWISE.

We’ve all watched how communism has not succeeded in bringing about a worker’s paradise. We know logically and empirically that communism is not the inevitable result of the decline of capitalism. To date, no one has done a very good job of bringing forth a humane revolutionary state that ends private control of property and production. Not even close.

Now let me stop you right here because I know what you are thinking: oh great, another idiot who thinks reflexively that “communism only works on paper”. I will not discard the ideals of Marx so blithely; in these modern times nothing is more plainly obvious than the fact that we have become economic animals, fighting between each other for position through possessions and money. The moneyed and the propertied among us would like to stay that way, and if it means that people die in the streets of the richest country in the world from hunger and lack of shelter because of it, oh well, so be it, they were useless workers anyway. Especially this nouveau riche class coming up- they have no taste and no sense of noblesse oblige at all. Young rich fucks like Elon Musk skirt their obligations to the society that hosts and nourishes them by being “cash poor” and living on gigantic loans that are untaxable. And when government comes up with a novel solution to obscene wealth hoarding like an unrealized gains tax, an entire political party is paid handsomely to make sure it never happens.

But anyway, people really wanted to talk at length about my little response. It’s been 48 hours and I am still watching some interesting conversations from a few dozen people. About a thousand people responded in some way or another to the tweet. This tells me that it may be a burning question that lots of people are asking to themselves, just as Shrub did, perhaps using better English.

So how long have we been stupid? Where did things go horribly wrong, and was it and is it by design?

I suppose the people who wind up picking up the tab for public education might think that they deserve a little say in what is being taught. But that’s not how a public service functions; once tax money is out of our hands, it goes, or should go to general welfare of some sort. However, our government today is sharply divided about this idea. Half of it thinks we can use government funded initiatives to enrich all through smart planning and smart thinking; the other half thinks that those people are “elites” who want to tell individuals what to think and do or some such nonsense. We don’t even know why they are in government because they detest it so much. Furthermore, their candidacies are funded by actual elites with billions of dollars in PAC and dark money to flood the political system with their influence. They are obsessed with an ROI, because that is how they think ALL of the time. Everything is transactional to rich people.

Cui bono? Not me? Fuck you, then, is what they are saying to us. And sometimes, that value system rubs off on the more brutish of our kind.

How are we supposed to run a society based upon this idea of extreme self-centeredness? There’s nothing like it in the primate world, as far as I know. Naturally, all orders have their peculiar hierarchies within a social system, but at least they have a system. The far-right (which does exist in America) would like to do away with this idea; some intellectuals believe it’s an evolutionary advance for us to be such individual creatures. The idea is a joke. Everyone is dependent on someone or something, I don’t care if you are the idea man or the laborer who brings the idea to life; we simply cannot get anything truly great done without each other. You can have freedom of conscience and still serve your fellow man, these ideas are not mutually exclusive. Look up “interdependence” if you don’t know what I am saying.

The end state of anarchy is oppression and likely, slavery or serfdom. Libertarians don’t seem to understand what a vacuum is. Or maybe they do, and are good with the basic savage laws of nature that we have spent oh, I don’t know, 40,000 years or more trying to protect ourselves from. It will go from liberty to authoritarian oligarchy in six seconds flat. Your little 2A pea shooters will not do much good against the army and police they purchase that will most surely grind you down.

Equally bad is fascism, which, funnily enough, is unwittingly promulgated by the very same people who preach radical individualism. Once again, the end state of the participants will terminate in them being crushed under the weight of the state and some raving lunatic with a silver tongue pining for good ‘ol days that never were. I don’t want to go Nazi here but it’s a readily available comparison. Hitler’s brownshirts were not unlike our new angry set of conservatives, and once the fix is in, our useful idiots will be discarded much like the brownshirts once they have outlived their utility to the so-called strongman that ascends.

And so we have tried an interesting middle ground to maximize freedom: to govern ourselves in a way with the aid of sage representatives. We decided a patchwork of differently behaving states would be far more preferable than an overarching government making nonlocal decisions for them. Our experience with the British crown soured any interest we had in an intrusion into affairs from up above. We tossed together a founding document after the revolution ended, and it worked poorly.

Enter the vaunted Constitution. Modern conservatives’ relation to the Constitution is pure irony; it was literally created to exert more control over the states. At the same time, a separation of powers was introduced to confound the activity of the government. Enshrined within was something relatively novel; guaranteed rights that are natural. However, let’s step back from the document and look at it as a whole and it is a severely dated compact that has not been updated properly and in the absence of fixing it to change the times, we use the judiciary instead to add meaning to the amendments which were not intended. Don’t get me wrong; if we’re not going to fix the Constitution, this is the only way to keep it current, by new legal reasoning. All the more reason to be careful who makes it into office, as it is the politicians who select these opiners, because even the judges can suffer from myopia or be inappropriately political.

In any event, promoting the general welfare, an oft-forgotten clause in the Constitution, is the point of it all- the idea of the more perfect union, not 300 million people in a rat race to get their piece of cheese.

I happen to feel that public school is a way to show the direction to that better place of union. But perhaps it has been ill administered from the beginning.

Note: this is a HIGHLY abridged glance at a few inflection points in our education system.

Protestantism has been hugely helpful in the pursuit of public education; after all it was they who insisted that the laity should have access to the Bible without interpretation by the clergy. It would take another post for me to discuss how Protestantism helped so many lose their way and become splintered over dogma. I’m probably not qualified to discuss it at length anyway. But for the sake of argument, they helped make us literate. In the 19th century, public schooling exploded, funded by tax dollars. Things went well-school became compulsory, and a bureaucracy was formed to standardize learning. Parochial schools existed, but were denied the use of public funding, as they should be. No one should have to support a religion centered education.

The Second World War interrupted progress in education, sending many teachers and students to fight and die. LBJ is the poppa of reordering 20th century education, though. In his War On Poverty, he sent extra federal dollars to struggling locales. He spent money to train an army of professional educators. We spent money on art, foreign language, and even mental health care at school. One of the things buried in his education act though, was that there be no attempt at a national curriculum.

This, to me, was a serious mistake. We are the United States. Furthermore, as I have said elsewhere, a “state” is a highly artificial concept, whose borders are drawn at caprice. There is nothing special about an American state as a unit of a federation. Doing things 50 different ways or more seems to me to produce lopsided outcomes for people stuck between arbitrary borders. I’m sure there’s lots of dumbshits out there who think this is a good way to create a fucking “laboratory” for democracy, as if experimenting with a thousand ways to run things is a great idea at this late stage in the game of federalism. We should be pointing towards perfection (in the abstract), but we seem to be dissipating and atomizing instead. Sometimes our labs are full of toxic fumes and you can’t afford to get the fuck out of the building to breathe. Our fixation on the marketplace as the only context where anything can be considered has caused us to be obsessed with the idea of “choice”, inserting it where it is unneeded.

Then, asshole Reagan came along, and institutionalized the very problem I outlined above, declaring blatantly that”government is the problem”, ushering in the era of the politician who wants nothing more than to stand in the way of other politicians trying to do their job. States were free to do what they wished without federal input. Obviously inequality in outcome was the result, as states and locales were now free to mismanage their educational system and damn near anything else in the manner they chose. We’ve made some attempts since his misrule to bring back accountability, often through wrongheaded ideas like using standardized testing and charter schools as a way to supplant so-called “failing” schools, which has only served to put teachers and administrators on edge and make them meet a milestone in a timely manner rather than teach, but on the whole we have just strengthened the idea that local control is best, and that a state knows better than a federal bureaucracy comprised of experts, thinkers, and protectors of institutions.

Since the deregulation of the school system, it has seen its funding slashed, its teachers discouraged, and its curriculum narrowed. Homeschooling by ignorant parents is on the rise. Other parents are demanding to pore over teacher plans and accuse them of brainwashing their students. We’re banning books from the school libraries. Socialization and empathy skill teaching is verboten. The secular nature of our system is under attack. Teacher pay is abysmal and a lot of prospective educators don’t know if it is worth all of the student loans they would have to take on to go into a system that makes them miserable instead of inspired. This is what local control has wrought.

Most people that responded to what I had said believe that there has been a purposeful long-term attempt to make students dumber, to make more docile, manageable workers. The wave making, drop-outing and near street level chaos of the intellectual student movement in the 60s must have shaken a few deep-pocketed families, and it’s highly likely that they are trying to prevent it again by not teaching our young about fairness, justice, empathy, civics, history, economics, philosophy-all of that good stuff is now hiding behind wildly expensive paywalls. Many veteran teachers took umbrage-which was certainly not intended. Teachers are not the problem AT ALL.

The idea that twelve years of school really only prepares you to be an average worker has been with me for a while, and right now, that is more unacceptable than ever. Had we done a better job educating in those 12 years, we wouldn’t have grown people begging for fascism and ersatz independence while screaming batshit about communism that isn’t being proposed. No one would have listened to the trash coming from the radio and the TV if they had been properly educated to realize what it was- and I’ll call it what it is-mindless hate speech. Now we have even more trouble emanating from the Internet, where all your prejudices can be validated with a coax connection and a mouse click.

Am I asking for some collectivism? Yes. I probably am. But that’s a far cry from communism. It’s just organization. No need to get spooked about it. It’s common sense. A complete, perspectivized education will not stop you from being “free”, in point of fact, you will have a better jumping off point than before if you know some very important fundamentals. No good teacher, and no sane parent wants to tell children what to think. Rather, they want students to get used to learning how to think. Let’s teach kids the best of what we know, tell the whole truth as best as we can, trust our professionals, fund public education fully, and then watch them soar. It would be supremely gratifying to once again see a generation do better than the last.

Stranger Memes

I’m not talking about the shit you pass around to your friends on Facebook or wherever the fuck you go to be clever. I’m talking about actual memes. Cultural markers that reproduce and either flourish, or fail. Of course, there’s still wide debate about whether a meme is a “thing”, but then again we don’t really know what a “mind” is either, having never observed one. We just know the brain makes one. But some evolutionary biologists think an idea is like a virus, transferable to others with the same chances for successful replication or error that genes have. Dawkins first coined the term in 1976, and there are still adherents to the concept today.

I’m reading some oldish Daniel Dennett at the moment, and as of 2004 he was still a proponent of memetics. It’s as good a theory as any, and not being an educated person in any of the fields studying why ideas and behaviors live and die I will just accept his argument that memes exist and are subject to the rules of nature just as our DNA is. He wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that our evolutionary advantages like speech replicate in a virus-like manner. Mutations can be happy accidents for the carriers of memes and genes, and of course, they can be quite damaging to their hosts if not copied correctly or if an environment is hostile to a change.

Dennett put forth the idea that it was possible to scientifically study the origins of religious ritual. At the time he was writing the book, he had scant ideas on how that could be accomplished-merely asserting that it could and should be examined given how much human activity is inspired by it. But he did believe that some of the strange affectations surrounding worship of a supernatural being were products of evolution. A new folk dance by a trusted holy person that brought rain at the same time the dance was done per se could inspire confidence in a group of humans, and that could be passed on over generations, perhaps with slight variations. Our concepts of God and gods have surely evolved in different places and different times. The war-god in the Old Testament of the Bible is markedly different from the merciful one in the New Testament. Different times and places caused different mutations. Millions of religions over the course of our existence as a species failed having been eliminated by stronger and more cohesive religious memes.

One big question is: is religion escapable, or has the God meme persisted for so long that it’s dug deeper into our brain as something that can be physically expressed? We aren’t going to know any time soon. As far as I know, neuroimaging can’t see a “thought” and I have my doubts it ever will, given that we do know that multiple centers “light up” in the brain for a single activity. But as we know, there is no such thing as pure nature and pure nurture that makes a life form what it is. Handed down tradition also gives us our idea of God. But these don’t have to be permanent memes; memes can be replaced by better ones by simply reading or being taught something more compelling. This could be where free will lies, the ability to resist a stubborn meme and undo its influence on you. The God meme is still there, but your relation to it has changed. You can believe in belief, as Dennett says, but you don’t have to believe.

Well anyway, it is certain that religious memes can bring benefit, or destruction. It could do both at the same time. I think about my brother, who has a terrible image of himself for reasons I can’t always discern, and the Jesus meme makes him feel delivered from his dark urges. The Jesus meme helps my mother, who has had more pain in her life than any one human should. It doesn’t seem to do much for my father, who carries the Jesus meme but it doesn’t deliver him from the need to get attention from young women at the age of 79. He has a “Playboy” meme has hasn’t been able to shake. This, as you may imagine, has made him a target for internet con artists. But he likes to participate in the delusion that women still want him, so whatever.

The point is, it doesn’t really matter what truth actually lies in these memes. The fact is that they, by and large, work. What is truth anyway? It’s a metaphysical concept. There is an objective reality out there, for certain, but we cannot see all of it and really, what good would it do to be able to? The best humanity can do is find paths to a better, richer life. And memes are part of that effort, if they exist. We hew to lies and call them truths if they foster our survival, optimism, and pleasure. Love memes and hate memes accomplish similar things in this vein.

But I feel bad that I cannot de-program my family as the only nonbeliever. I feel really good about being free to not have to worship something or not having to worry about being punished for my actions by an unseen being. It helps me remember that this is the life you get so make it a good one if you can. But my feel-good free-will meme might not be transferable and probably would be super damaging to all members of my family. What might I unleash within my brother, with all that hate and anger suddenly out of check? How could I make my mother happy if I convinced her that she will never see the people she loves again? What kind of a lecher could I turn my father into were he completely free to indulge his tastes in blondes with big tits?

In all these cases, my wish to replicate the atheist meme is a bit stymied, and for good reason. I have given up trying to change these people I love, because they are doing the best that they can and don’t need me to upset their applecarts. The atheist meme in America is a lonely one right now, because it has never really coalesced into a group of people with any actual power. Fortunately, I’m mostly content with the fact that the other three members of my family are nonbelievers. My wife and I never introduced the God meme to our kids and they simply turned out to be atheists. It’s the default natural position, undermining the idea that belief in God has become somewhat hardwired.

Anyway, philosophically I’m back to my old friend Nietzsche, who was the first person to scare the God meme right out of me. Thinking back on some of his other contentions, I remember one was that falsity, artifice and appearance were realer and of more utility than anything “nature” could come up with. Trying to find the nature of reality was a secondary concern to him, which at the time differentiated him from any other major philosopher before him.

We are the creators now. We are the gods, the scientists looking for the paths that help asking no assistance from the sky. We put the memes to work for us, and create new ones. In this sense, the control of the meme is relatively new. We have domesticated their transmission with things like writing, politics and computers. Our lies have become quite sophisticated and as a result, and I wonder sometimes if that is a boon or a curse. Sometimes the “memes from every corner” feeling (a feeling produced a lot by things like advertising) is deleterious to us. It causes conspiracy thinking, a type of destructive memetic that makes you feel like someone is always out to get you and that you need to find “the truth” to escape. But that’s what happens in a free market of ideas. It can be good, but God knows there’s plenty of shit memes to indulge in today no better than the delusions that religion produces.

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