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America, we need to have a talk. First, we get that the whole multiple personality disorder thing comes with the territory. You know, pluralism and all that. But we need your personalities to work together a bit more. For instance, the racist bully personality, let’s call him “Trumpster” (since we need a name for him and that one just came to mind), needs to chill out. And the “na-na-na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you!” personality needs to get its fingers out of its ears and its head out of its ass. You’re all in the same body…, politic…, so you’re going to need to get along.

Second, yeah, pretty flag, nice camos, love the rousing military music, but, you know, you have neighbors. Those other countries, they keep complaining about how noisy you are. You’re keeping them up at night. Just, you know, turn it down a little. No, “liberty” does not mean pissing on other people’s doorsteps and through their open windows. And that informal national anthem: “We’re the greatest, that’s why you hate us, so eat my plutonium, mother f***ers!” It’s a catchy jingo,* but the rest of the world is tired of hearing it…, and increasingly concerned.

Third, populism, democracy’s demented cousin. Sure, democracy is a great thing. We love it. The Greeks Loved it. The British loved it. Power to the people! But too much of a good thing isn’t all that good. It’s okay to let surgeons perform surgery without getting upset about how elitist it is that the hospital won’t let your drunken Uncle Donald cut into that 230-year-old kid’s chest and poke around a bit. I mean, “let’s give him a chance,” right? What harm can an ego-maniacal ignoramus with no skills, no sense, no filters, and no awareness of his own rather striking array of brightly lit deficiencies do with a scalpel, a patient unconscious on the operating table, and a reckless indifference to anyone else’s welfare or rights possibly do?

Let’s agree that “democracy” doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the least well-informed and least well-reasoned positions on complex issues should prevail as long as there are more idiots than experts in a country. Let’s agree that just because the people with your skin color and religion and sexual orientation have enjoyed centuries of screwing everyone else shouldn’t mean that that’s right and good and should continue unabated. Let’s agree that “freedom of religion” doesn’t mean that no one else is free to practice theirs because you consider their doing so to be an infringement on yours.

Now, you’ve screwed up, big time. You’ve Charlie-Sheened us into a disastrous state of affairs. You didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid; you snorted cubic meters of the raw powder while jerking off with a plastic bag tied over your head. It’s bad. Really bad. But we’ll forgive you for fucking everything up, for placing this nation on the path to self-destruction and infamy, for endangering multitudes of innocent others, for crapping on the Founding Fathers’ graves and spray-painting obscenities on their monuments and calling it a tribute, for sticking a perverted comic book inside the covers of the Constitution and pretending that what you’re reading there is the actual law of the land; we’ll forgive you, if you just help us clean this mess up. Okay?

We know you’re not too bright, and we know you mean well (well, some of you, maybe), and we know, in any case, we’re stuck with you –like the weird, psychopathic, deformed relative locked in the attic that keeps getting out– so, please, just help us clean this mess up, and all is forgiven.

Or, at least, go lock yourself back in the attic, where you belong, and let the sane among us, the rational among us, the responsible among us, the knowledgeable among us, the humane among us, govern, as intelligently, and wisely, and fairly as we can. Because, as you love to say, this isn’t a democracy; it’s a republic, and the reason why it’s a republic is because the Framers of the Constitution strived mightily to prevent toxic stupidity and bigotry such as yours from actually ruling us. Thanks to you, their dream has now been supplanted by everyone’s nightmare.

(*Yes, that was intentional.)

I see life as an adventure of the mind and imagination. Whatever we do, wherever we go, however we thrive, it is our minds that define us as uniquely human, some weird and wonderful thing in this vast and varied universe of ours. The desire to help others discover that is a big part of why I’m a teacher.

We should all be students, all of our lives, because our world grows the more we learn about it, our lives expand and grow richer, our own identities deepen and ripen, who and what we are becomes something more than what it was. It’s easier to believe that about great literature, great music, great art, but I’m going to make the case for something not everyone realizes is so incredibly beautiful.

Mathematics is one of the great products of human genius. It is not the only one, maybe not superior to others that occupy its heights, but neither inferior to them. It occupies a pantheon of human consciousness that includes great literature that can take you on journeys of the imagination into ever deeper and subtler spheres of reality; brilliant music that provides not merely a beat to move to but an intricate language of tightly woven sounds that speaks to our very soul; philosophies and sciences and fine arts of various kinds.

But math is not least among them, and perhaps is most remarkable of all, music that has not been played, science unyoked from the constraints of observable reality or at least stretching an ever-more elastic tether to them. It distills some essence of the universe, of the macrocosms and microcosms, of ubiquitous and eternal forms, speaking a language that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers and historical epochs with a completeness that not even music and the fine arts can attain.

Math is the purified mind, the celestial symphony, a strange and beautiful sphere of human thought, god’s own soliloquy echoing within us. And when applied to the practical questions that assail us, either directly or through its verbal twin of logical analysis, it enables us to do better, to discipline our passions and channel our thoughts, to arrive at wiser rather than more foolish conclusions. It is a vehicle of both beauty and purpose, a tool and an instrument, delicately plucked to play truths too subtle to otherwise hear.

Anarchists and libertarians fail to acknowledge the nature of collective action problems, and the ways in which various modalities (including hierarchical organization, of which government is one example) are used to address it. The trick is to most effectively blend these different modalities, not to reduce reality to a caricature that allows us to pretend that that challenge doesn’t really exist.

(There’s a famous example used in economic literature, of a barge-pullers guild in 19th century China, that hired overseers to whip slackers in order to eliminate the free-rider problem. In other words, the barge-pullers themselves chose to impose on themselves an overseer in their own collective interest. It’s a strange and complex world in which we live; we need first and foremost to face up to that fact before rendering judgment in broad brushstrokes that fails to acknowledge fundamental aspects of reality.)

The “problem” with government isn’t its existence or the fact that people rely on it for certain purposes, but what in economic, legal and managerial theory is called “the agency problem.” In a popular sovereignty, government is constituted as an agent of the people, its principal. This is in many ways a reversal of most ancient notions of sovereignty, which saw the people as “subjects” of the sovereign. The problem, or challenge, is the degree to which reality can be made to correspond to theory.

In one view, this reversal of theoretical roles occurred organically, because in the crucible of European internecine warfare the crown’s (particularly the English crown’s) need for revenue to finance such wars drove an ongoing liberalization of the political economy to generate such revenue, In other words, international competition drove sovereigns to empower ever-more ever-broadening swathes of their citizenry, since those that did so fared better in the wars among relatively small and easily swallowed states.

In the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, this reversal was institutionally recognized, laying the groundwork for the American revolution’s clearer codification of that institutional shift in its break from Great Britain. The challenge then became aligning the agent’s action’s to the principal’s interests, a challenge compounded by the size and diffuseness of the principal in comparison to the agent. This is the ongoing challenge we face.

A centralized agent ostensibly working on behalf of a diffuse principal can always exploit the transaction costs facing the principal in its translation of some hypothetical “popular will” into a mandate to the agent in order to serve the agent’s interests at the expense of the principal’s. This is the challenge we must continually face. But to then leap from the reality of that challenge to the conclusion that the existence of the agent is a sign of our own self-enslavement neglects the real need we have for such an agent, the real function it performs, and the costs of choosing to “liberate” ourselves from any centralized agency through which to address the collective action problems that face us.

The bottom line is that we live in a complex and subtle world, and that our neat reductions of it, our caricatures of reality, do not serve us well. While it’s true that, historically, governments of large political states were established through military conquest and exploitation, it is also true that the benefits of civilization are a derivative of that brutality, and that there are indeed benefits (as well as costs) of civilization, of a large-scale division of labor which freed up some to do things other than produce food. Our challenge now is not to feed our emotionally gratifying sense of superiority to “the Sheeple” for “knowing” that government is our oppressor, but rather to face, intelligently and effectively, the real challenges and real enterprise of aligning the actions of our agent with the interests of its principal, of making government ever more something that serves the interests of the people in general and ever less something that serves the interests of the few who capture it for their own benefit.

And that is a complex challenge, a complex enterprise, best framed in precise, analytical ways. It is our task to work to maximize the robustness, fairness and sustainability of our political economy, by applying disciplined reason and imagination to methodically gathered and verified information in service to our shared humanity. Unfortunately, caricatures of reality like those popular among ideologues of all stripes do nothing to help us accomplish that, and do much to interfere with our ability to do so effectively.

One ancient and well-known social phenomenon greatly accelerated by the internet and social media is the spreading of false rumors, particularly politically motivated false rumors, and particularly relatively complex ones such as those that come in the form of conspiracy theories. Many cloak themselves in elaborate pseudo-arguments that can be very easily debunked, and many are passed along and eagerly consumed like a spreading contagion. The phrase “going viral” isn’t just a metaphor; these complex “memes” and narratives are cultural pathologies that sweep through the population in epidemic waves feeding off of one another and forming one, overarching pandemic of enormous destructive power.

The confluence of a set of evolutionarily produced psychological quirks and their strategic exploitation by opinion-makers (particularly right-wing opinion-makers) helps explain how easily pernicious falsehoods resonate and spread.

One such “cognitive glitch” is due to the natural, psychological attraction to anomalies, because we evolved to be attentive to anything out of place (since being adept at noticing things out of place was vital to survival on the African savanna). But that, coupled with a lack of awareness of what I call “the probability of the improbable,” creates a constant attribution of heightened significance to observations of things that have no real significance.

It’s highly improbable, for instance, that any given individual will win the lottery, but it’s highly probable (virtually certain) that SOME individual will. We mostly get that one, because we’ve institutionalized it on the basis of its probability structure. There are lots of similarly improbable events –like a bullet hitting a “lucky” coin in someone’s breast pocket, or someone being delayed by some chance occurrence and thus not getting on a flight that crashed– that occur in general on a regular basis, because in a world with millions of events constantly occurring, it’s highly probable that improbable events will occur at a certain frequency determined by the degree of their improbability.

In a world of instantaneous mass communications, any highly improbable event that occurs anywhere in the world is instantly brought to everyone’s attention, and draws people’s attention in proportion to both the degree of its improbability and its resonance with existing narratives.

If a religious icon appears to be crying, for instance, that is a miracle that confirms the religion. If a disproportionate number of planes and ships have disappeared in any concise geographic area (a probable improbability), that geographic area becomes imbued with a supernatural aura. If some of the vague and broadly interpretable predictions of an ancient mystic “come true,” that is proof of his power of prophesy.

More mundanely, this is part of the larger phenomenon of cherry-picking convenient evidence that supports a desired narrative, such as cobbling together a narrative that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US from any snippets of evidence that can possibly be used to support such a narrative. Our shared cognitive landscape is littered with such products of probable improbabilities or cherry-picked “evidence” and our tendency to imbue them with a special significance (or an evidentiary value) that they don’t really merit.

Another quirk is that we are attracted to the plausible, especially if it fits into some narrative or archetype that resonates with us (again, because primate brains evolving in the wild thrive by being able to create plausible scenarios on which to rely) . So, for instance, when I heard the (erroneous) rumor a few decades ago that Jerry Mathers, the child star of “Leave it to Beaver” in the 1950s, had been killed in Vietnam, I was already aware enough of this quirk to say to myself “it’s too plausible, fits too neatly into a clear and relevant narrative, to be assumed true; it’s exactly the kind of rumor that would be almost certain to exist regardless of its truth or falsehood.” The narrative of the iconic little boy of the 1950s dying in the iconic unpopular war of the 1960s is just too neat and cognitively attractive not to emerge and spread.

Similarly, those who want to discredit Obama are attracted to any narrative that discredits him, and those who want to believe in the mystical supernatural quality of their own religion will be attracted to narratives supported by “evidence” which support that conclusion.

When you combine these, you get the frequent phenomenon of people with ideological agendas cherry-picking (or manufacturing) probable improbabilities and weaving them into plausible narratives that serve their ideological agendas. This can be found across the political ideological spectrum, but it is by far most pronounced on the far-right, which is where reason and critical thought are in shortest supply.

But it’s not just a decentralized, organic process. We’re seeing a lot of the increasingly sophisticated exploitation of known and understood human cognitive foibles by the most greedy and ruthless among us. Whether they would articulate it in the same way I did or not, all of the right-wing opinion-makers understand the cognitive glitches I described above, and know how to exploit them to maximum effect.

And the convoluted irony of it all is a thing of horrible beauty: Those on the far-right, thoroughly manipulated and easiest to manipulate, call all those who disagree with them “sheepies,” and announce that they alone are the ones who “think for themselves,” “thinking for oneself,” in this case, meaning ignoring fact and rational analysis in favor of the preferred dogmatic ideology. Those who are thinking for them know how to exploit their cognitive weaknesses and their lack of commitment to critical thinking, so much so that they turn it into a narrative of independence from such manipulation!

What drives me to confront this phenomenon when I encounter it is my own inability to believe that this fortress of self-delusions in which these cultist ideologues ensconce themselves can’t be breached; to my mind, the walls are paper-thin, the foundations cracked and crumbling. I always feel as though all it should take is one small tap of reason in just the right place, and the whole thing just has to come toppling down. But the one impenetrable reinforcement that this fortress has, that, despite the paper-thin walls and crumbling foundations can’t be penetrated, is the decision to disregard fact and reason under any and all circumstances, and to defend the cultish dogma in any way necessary.

And that is why I think our greatest responsibility is to consider how to cultivate the habits of mind and interaction, of disciplined reason honed in rational debate in which the best informed and best reasoned arguments prevail, following the rules similar to those of scientific methodology and legal procedure, all channeled in service to our shared humanity. That is who and what we should be; that is who and what we can be.

I. Preamble

In the gardens of Athens in the fourth century BC (planting the seeds of Western Civilization), in the plazas of Florence in the 16th century AD (ushering in the modern era), in the salons of Paris in the 18th century AD (informing and inspiring others in a small meeting room in Philadelphia in 1787), to a lesser extent in mid-19th century Concord, MA (informing and inspiring Gandhi and King and Mandela in the 20th), the genius of a few unleashed new currents of the genius of the many, currents thick with reason and a stronger commitment to our shared humanity, changing the course of human history. It has been done before and it will be done again, whenever and wherever people choose to do it.

They did not gather in those times and places to discuss only how to win this or that election or to shift power from one party to another or to address the human endeavor one issue at a time. Rather, they gathered, with wonder and hope and passion, to explore and discover, to create and innovate, to raise reason and our shared humanity onto a pedestal and dedicate themselves to the enterprise of perfecting our consciousness and improving our existence.

In every time and place, including these ones of particular florescence, most of the people went about their business, engaged in the mundane challenges of life, fought the battles we all fight, both personal and collective. But the great paradigm shifts of history have happened when a coalescence of inspired minds reached deeper and broader than others around them, beyond the individual issues of the day, beyond the immediate urgencies and power struggles, and sought out the essence of our existence, to understand it, to celebrate it, and to change it for the better.

Imagine a gathering of great minds today that were not lost to the minutia of academe or the mud-pit of politics or the selfish pursuit of wealth and fame and power, but were free to devote themselves to the challenge of catalyzing a social transformation, a peaceful revolution occurring beneath the surface of events, a new threshold reached in the advance of creative reason in service to humanity.

Imagine gatherings of engaged citizens that, guided only by the broadly attractive narrative of reason in service to our shared humanity, of emulating our Founding Fathers and fulfilling the vision that they had for this nation, dedicated themselves to learning how to listen to one another and weigh competing arguments rather than regress ever deeper into blind ideological trench warfare. Imagine forming the nucleus of a movement that would extend the logic of methodical reason in service to our shared humanity ever more broadly, not just through direct participation, but through the promotion of the narrative that we are capable of doing so and that it is incumbent on us to do so.

What is stopping us from establishing such gatherings, and such a movement? What is stopping us from bringing together small cadres of brilliant minds to develop ideas designed to cascade through the social fabric in beneficially transformative ways, and large populations of engaged citizens to stir and be stirred by the sea giving rise to those cresting waves of brilliance, together advancing the tide of imaginative reason in service to our shared humanity? Only the precise combination of vision, drive, sophistication and resources that would make it happen, not just in some stumbling and unsustainable or unproductive way, but as a living, breathing, current reality.

I’ve designed the nucleus of an idea, a social movement that is realistic as well as idealistic, a secular religion to promote the narrative and practice of disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity. As a person who learned how to dream as a child; who drifted and worked and lived around the world for several years as a young adult; who became a social scientist, author, teacher, lawyer, public policy consultant, candidate for office, and member of several nonprofit boards and advisory councils; who has done urban outreach work and community organizing; who has synthesized ideas from many disciplines, many great minds, and much experience, this is not a Quixotic quest that boasts much but can deliver little; it is a carefully considered strategic plan for moving the center of gravity of our zeitgeist in the direction of an ever-increasing reliance on imaginative reason in ever-increasing service to our shared humanity.

II. A Very Brief Outline of the Proposal

The fully developed and implemented social movement I propose has three components: 1) a network of community organizations with a specific purpose (described below); 2) a data-base or internet portal allowing easy access to the best peer-review quality arguments on all sides of any social issue; and 3) a meta-messaging program, whose purpose is to create, gather, and disseminate messages (works of art, movies, documentaries, books, plays, advertisements, internet memes, etc.) which reinforce our shared commitment to one another, to reason, and to humanity.

(In its ideal form, there would be a fourth component as well: A community, or set of communities, completely dedicated to the ongoing exploration of how best to advance the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity, or, more generally, of human consciousness ever more fully realized. It would be a sort of permanent cultural constitutional convention, perhaps located in inspirational locations of various kinds, monasteries of the secular religion I am proposing, just as the meeting halls of the more numerous and more broadly populated community organizations would be its temples.)

The community organizations would leverage existing community organizations (HMOs, park districts, PTOs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of any and all kinds, etc.) , to provide a vehicle for community solidarity, for tutoring and mentoring programs for local youth, and a forum for frequently held and formally moderated public discourse and debate among neighbors, with carefully cultivated and strictly enforced norms of civility, of listening to what others have to say and trying to see the world through the eyes of those you most disagree with. One custom that could be implemented to do this would be that of having community organization members routinely argue the opposite position from the one they actually hold in formal debates, to the best of their ability; researching it and composing the best argument they possibly can.

The data base or portal is to inform these debates, to provide easy access to the best arguments and best information on all sides of any issue. A larger, longer-term project is something akin to “the human genome project” in the social theoretical sphere, creating a coherent, comprehensive mapping of the human social institutional landscape through a rigorous social scientific lens, synthesized through the complex dynamical systems social analytical paradigm I outline in the essays hyperlinked to in the first box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” on Colorado Confluence. This will provide a subtler, deeper and broader basis for informed public discourse, for those inclined to engage in such discourse at a more sophisticated level of analysis, ideally eventually transforming an ever larger swath of the public into an extended national academy of social analysis.

While membership in the community organizations would probably not be any greater than membership in any other community organizations, the point here is not that everyone participates, but that participation is seen as a normal part of our social institutional environment, that we are not just a bunch of individuals left to shout obscenities at one another, but that we can be, if we choose, deliberative citizens of a civil society, using our reason and our discourse to forge a more rational and humane society. The community organizations represent a commitment to civil discourse.

The value of this is not just the direct fruits of one institution promoting rational discourse in service to our shared humanity, but also promotion of the narrative of rational discourse in service to our shared humanity. Ideologies dedicated to other purposes, to the promotion of irrational dogma and inhumane bigotries, often claim to be both rational and humane, since these values (of rationality and humanity), these cognitive frames, have already won great legitimacy in principle in modern society. Few ideological positions, in modern societies, are explicitly dedicated to irrationality and inhumanity. This movement would provide a challenge to any and all ideologies not only to claim that mantle, but to live up to it by engaging in a process designed to increase the degree to which we truly are rational and humane people. By providing a community forum for rational, civil discourse in service to our shared humanity, it increases the difficulty of dismissing the arguments that prevail in that forum, by the rules of logical debate and reliable evidence (similar to those of scientific methodology and debate), as just another ideology, and increases their legitimacy as the true locus of reason and humanity.

The third pillar of “meta- messaging” is one dedicated to reminding one another of our shared humanity. In politics, strategists recognize the importance of “messaging” to promote a particular stance on an issue. This is the cultural equivalent, but, instead of promoting a particular stance on particular issues, it only promotes a commitment to reason in service to humanity. Christmas “feel-good” movies are a good example of what meta-messaging looks like: A reminder of our shared humanity, of the goodness of caring about one another, of the ugliness of failing to. This pillar of the movement is a constant, intentional, strategic campaign of bombarding the public with such reminders by all means and mediums possible, as often as possible, in the most effective ways possible.

Combined, these three pillars constitute a cultural movement advancing the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity. It is more methodological than substantive (it cannot take, as an organization or a movement, any positions on policy issues other than this generic commitment to reason in service to our shared humanity, and this process for better realizing it), an attempt to extend somewhat the methodological virtues of scientific methodology and legal procedure for determining contested truths.

Modern history has been defined by an undercurrent, an evolutionary impetus, favoring both increased reliance on methodical rationality (scientific method, legal procedure, formal organizational structures, etc.) and an increased commitment, at least in principle, to our shared humanity (political revolutions based on the values of “liberty and justice for all,” the abolition of slavery, anti-imperialism/national independence movements, civil rights movements of various kinds, etc.). This movement is designed to reduce the chasm between the loci of these undercurrents of modern history and the public at large, and to promote the already well-established narrative that favors reason over irrationality and a commitment to our shared humanity over conscious inhumanities, making it more difficult to claim their mantle arbitrarily and falsely.

PRG (the politics of reason and goodwill) does not replace conventional political maneuvering as we know it, nor deprive participants of their ability to engage in it; it is an investment in a long-term seismic shift, moving the ground beneath those struggles so that their outcomes are increasingly skewed in the direction of reason in service to our shared humanity, whatever that direction may be. It doesn’t predict it, presuppose it, or insist that it be in accord with any particular ideological predisposition; it merely facilitates it, as an ongoing process, and continual discovery, an intentional evolution of human consciousness.

III. Nuts and Bolts

The preliminary step is to establish a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing to develop, refine, and implement PRG. Once the organization is established, catalyzing the formation of community organizations dedicated to PRG is its first order of business. The development of the data base, or portal, naturally follows the establishment of community organizations, in order to inform their debates. The development of the meta-messaging project can begin and continue as resources permit.

To accomplish any of this requires initiative, imagination, expertise and funding. I have an abundance of the first two, some of the third, and none of the fourth. I am looking for people willing to invest in humanity’s future, in “hope and change” that does not emanate from a charismatic presidential candidate, but from us all, catalyzed by unlikely political entrepreneurs. I am putting this out there yet again, in a new form, as a way of blowing on a small ember than I know can grow into a roaring blaze. There are moments in our history when someone glimpses something that is possible, something that is powerful, and something that is worth reaching for. This is one such moment.

For various treatments and explorations of the PRG proposal and philosophy, please see the essays hyperlinked to in the second box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” at Colorado Confluence

For more information about my experience and training, please see my autobiographical page at Colorado Confluence, or my resume at Colorado Confluence.

To contact me, email me at attorneysteveharvey@gmail.com.

There is great demand for an ultra-simplified version of my proposal for a social movement to shift the cultural ground beneath our political struggles, in favor of reason in service to our shared humanity. If this abbreviated synopsis raises questions, they are almost certainly answered in the comprehensive treatments I have given elsewhere.

The organized social movement I propose would have three components: 1) a network of community organizations with a specific purpose (described below); 2) a data-base or internet portal allowing easy access to the best peer-review quality arguments on all sides of any social issue; and 3) a meta-messaging program, whose purpose is to create, gather, and disseminate messages (works of art, movies, documentaries, books, plays, advertisements, internet memes, etc.) which reinforce our shared commitment to one another, to reason, and to humanity.

The community organizations would leverage existing community organizations (HMOs, park districts, PTOs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of any and all kinds, etc.) , to provide a vehicle for community solidarity, for tutoring and mentoring programs for local youth, and a forum for frequently held and formally moderated public discourse and debate among neighbors, with strictly cultivated and enforced norms of listening to what others have to say, and trying to see the world through the eyes of those you most disagree with. One “ritual” that would be implemented to do this would be debating the opposite position from the one you actually hold, to the best of your ability; researching it and composing the best argument you possibly can.

The data base or portal is to inform these debates, to provide easy access to the best arguments on all sides of any issue. A larger, longer-term project is something akin to “the human genome project” in the social theoretical sphere, creating a coherent, comprehensive mapping of the human social institutional landscape through a rigorous social scientific lens, synthesized through the complex dynamical systems social analytical paradigm I outline in the essays hyperlinked to in the first box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” on Colorado Confluence (see URL below). This will provide a subtler, deeper and broader basis for informed public discourse, for those inclined to engage in such discourse at a more sophisticated level of analysis, ideally eventually transforming an ever larger swath of the public into an extended national academy of social analysis.

While membership in those organizations would not be any greater than membership in any other community organizations, the point here is not that everyone participates, but that participation is seen as a normal part of our social institutional environment, that we are not just a bunch of individuals left to shout obscenities at one another, but that we can be, if we choose, deliberative citizens of a civil society, using our reason and our discourse to forge a more rational and humane society.

The value of this is not just the direct fruits of one institution promoting rational discourse in service to our shared humanity, but also promotion of the narrative of rational discourse in service to our shared humanity. Ideologies dedicated to any other purpose often claim to be both rational and humane. This movement would provide a challenge to that claim, and a more credible claim to being the community locus of rational, civil discourse in service to our shared humanity.

The third pillar of “meta- messaging” is one dedicated to reminding one another of our shared humanity. In politics, strategists recognize the importance of “messaging” to promote a particular stance on an issue. This is the cultural equivalent, but, instead of promoting a particular stance on particular issues, it only promotes a commitment to reason in service to humanity. Christmas “feel-good” movies are a good example of what meta-messaging looks like: A reminder of our shared humanity, of the goodness of caring about one another, of the ugliness of failing to. This pillar of the movement is a constant, intentional, strategic campaign of bombarding the public with such reminders by all means and mediums possible, as often as possible, in the most effective ways possible.

Combined, these three pillars constitute a cultural movement advancing the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity. It is more methodological than substantive (it cannot take, as an organization or a movement, any positions on policy issues other than this generic commitment to reason in service to our shared humanity, and this process for better realizing it), an attempt to extend somewhat the methodological virtues of scientific methodology and legal procedure for determining contested truths.

Modern history has been defined by an undercurrent, an evolutionary impetus, favoring both increased reliance on methodical rationality (scientific method, legal procedure, formal organizational structures, etc.) and an increased commitment, at least in principle, to our shared humanity (political revolutions based on the values of “liberty and justice for all,” the abolition of slavery, anti-imperialism/national independence movements, civil rights movements of various kinds, etc.). This movement is designed to reduce the chasm between the loci of these undercurrents of modern history and the public at large, and to promote the already well-established narrative that favors reason over irrationality and a commitment to our shared humanity over conscious inhumanities, making it more difficult to claim their mantle arbitarily and falsely.

The biggest challenge that faces human beings is to make sense rather than to make noise. Effectively addressing all other challenges depends on it. Whether we want to change the world or want to protect ourselves from the impositions of others trying to change the world, our beliefs, our goals, our actions, are all a function of how we understand reality, and it is clear, at least in the abstract, that some understandings are more precise, more accurate, and more useful than others.

The first thing we have to understand is that we are not just a collection of individuals, but rather are members of a society and organisms in a biosphere. We exist interdependently with one another and with our environment, unable to survive at all without the latter and unable to survive as human beings without the former. Our continued existence as organisms depends on ingesting food and breathing air, two vital needs that are produced and maintained by the living planet which we inhabit interdependently with other living things. Our consciousness as human beings and our existence beyond bare survival (and in almost all cases our survival itself) depends on our coexistence with other human beings in organized groups, through which our use of language allows us to thrive through a shared but differentiated mind and a shared but differentiated enterprise.

That leads to the first question we must face: Do we, as individuals and as a society, take responsibility for our impact on those systems of which we are a part, or do we leave them to their own organic trajectories, pursuing our own immediate goals without attempting to act with conscious intent beyond them? Do we attempt to be conscious and conscientious participants in these larger wholes of which we are a part, or do we simply live as individual organisms pursuing our own individual desires? Do we take responsibility for one another, for the distribution of suffering and well-being, of opportunity and of relative lack of opportunity, for how well our systems are functioning in terms of their sustainability, their robustness, and their fairness, or do we insist that doing so is either impossible or undesirable?

The second thing we have to understand is our own fallibility. Anything any one of us is certain about may be wrong. Our various beliefs and certainties are conceptualizations of reality in our minds, and must always be considered fallible. This leads to two considerations: 1) the best (and perhaps only rational) argument supporting those who insist that we must not try to govern ourselves as rational people confronting the challenges and opportunities we face is the argument that perhaps we are simply not up to the task, and that we should therefore rely on simple principles that best liberate our collective and individual genius rather than try to “micromanage” our shared existence, and 2) our focus should be on how we arrive at our conclusions, rather than on insisting that our current conclusions are the one absolute truth.

The first consideration is easily dealt with: Recognizing our fallibility and the power of organic processes is a part of being rational people working together to do the best we can, not a displacement of it. The Constitution (created by intentional human thought, arguably a very ambitious act of “social engineering”) and the modern marketplace (also a product of much intentional thought and oversight) are not magical panaceas which free us from the responsibility of striving to be responsible and humane sovereigns, but are merely part of the accumulated material of past efforts by past generations to do what we ourselves are called upon to continue to do: To govern ourselves intelligently, responsibly, and intentionally, in service to our shared humanity.

We should strive to emulate rather than idolize our “founding fathers,” to be the same kind of proactive rational citizens, working together, mobilizing our intelligence, believing in our ability to rationally and humanely govern ourselves. We should utilize rather than surrender to market forces, recognizing that there is nothing about them that automatically resolves all human problems and challenges, but rather that they are one useful institutional modality upon which we can rely in concert with others, in our ongoing efforts to work together to do the best we can in service to our shared humanity.

The second consideration flowing from our recognition of our own fallibility is the one that leads to a broader and deeper commitment to the methodologies that have proved most useful in the modern era at diminishing the aggregate effects of bias and increasing aggregate accuracy in our conclusions. Both scientific methodology and legal procedure are sets of techniques for informing and framing rigorous debates over what is and is not true, following sets of rules regarding what evidence to consider reliable and how to organize and channel the determinations that follow from that evidence. In science, the purpose to which this process is put is to refine our shared consciousness; in law, it is to increase the justness of our coexistence. These, indeed, are the two things we should always be striving to do, as responsible sovereigns, and to do so most effectively we should build on the methodologies that already exist for doing so.

In other words, the most pressing imperative facing our shared human enterprise right now is the expansion of the logic of science and law into the realm of public discourse and public opinion and policy formation. We need to transcend, to leave on the dust heap of history, the myth that all opinions are equal (while protecting the expression of all opinions in order to determine their relative merits), and engage in rigorous, increasingly formal debates in a constant quest for the best understandings, in best service to our shared humanity.

Tragically, we, as a people, are not only faced with the challenge of cultivating these disciplines more broadly among ourselves, but also of convincing those least committed to them that they have any value at all. We are also faced with the challenge of overcoming the reality that human beings in general do not arrive at their conclusions primarily through rational processes, but rather through social and emotional processes that often circumvent or disregard reason and evidence, and often serve narrower interests than our shared humanity.

The challenge facing rational and humane people, therefore, is not just to make the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity, but also to create a context in which the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity are more likely to prevail. That requires us to be rational about human irrationality, and to engage not primarily in a competition of rational arguments but rather in a competition of emotional narratives. The challenge, in other words, is to create a compelling emotional narrative out of the notion of being rational and humane people, and, even more, the notion of being rational and humane people in certain specific, disciplined ways, and then to create a set of mechanisms by which the most compelling rational arguments in best service to our shared humanity are also, simultaneously, compelling emotional narratives that persuade people who do not engage in or necessarily understand the disciplines we are promoting.

The most immediate challenge in the ongoing human endeavor, in other words, is to create, promote, and disseminate a compelling emotional narrative that systematically favors reason in service to humanity, not on a case-by-case basis (as we have been doing), but in a more general and comprehensive way.

There are, therefore, two major branches to the human endeavor: 1) to continue to develop, deepen, and broaden a commitment to disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity, using the methodologies we have developed for doing so, and extending the breadth of contexts in which they are utilized and the number of people striving to utilize them; and 2) to create an emotionally compelling narrative that attracts those who lack the desire or ability to utilize or defer to those disciplines (rigorously applied and debated rational argumentation) or that objective (our shared humanity) to support them not just in name, but also in some effective and authentic way.

To some, this will all seem too abstract, too far removed from the political and cultural realities we grapple with, or too far removed from their own emotional and cognitive inclinations. But those of us who are truly committed to striving to become an ever-more rational and humane people need to recognize that the ongoing mud-fight isn’t the height of what we can do, that we need to reach higher, think deeper, act more ambitiously in service to the highest of ideals and the noblest of purposes. The great cultural and political heroes of modern history, who we revere for their inspired and effective leadership, are who they are precisely because they have had the courage and determination to bite off rather large chunks of this challenge that I have just laid out, opposing imperialism or racism or other injustices. But we can invoke them all now, we can rally them to the greater cause of which they all were a part, and we can promote that cause with the same degree of passion and commitment that they did…, because that truly is the essence of the human endeavor.

(My essays on Colorado Confluence elaborate many of these themes. In the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts are hyperlinks to essays laying out a comprehensive social systemic paradigm through which to understand and analyze our shared cognitive/social institutional/historical/technological landscape. In the second box are hyperlinks to essays laying out a social movement idea for promoting the narrative of and actual commitment to reason in service to humanity. Scattered among the remaining boxes are hyperlinks to essays exploring various aspects of both of these branches of the human endeavor. Together, they form a comprehensive and detailed map of the human endeavor as I have described it in this essay.)

Regarding educational reform, I think there are two main dimensions to address: 1) Student socialization and culture, and 2) targeted student (and teacher) placement. (Though issues of teacher socialization and training are also relevant, in this essay I’m going to focus only on student socialization, which I think is the most critical issue in educational achievement; and, yes, in response to a comment to this essay on Facebook, that does include addressing parent socialization as well.) The issue of student socialization and culture involves how students are taught to be students and encouraged to engage in those behaviors most conducive to successful learning, both in the school and in all the years and hours outside of (including prior to) the school. The issue of targeted placement involves making sure that every student and teacher is placed in the environment most conducive to satisfying their particular needs (for students) and most able to exploit their particular talents (for teachers). In other words, neither students nor teachers are fungible (interchangeable) , and we need to stop acting as if they are.

Student socialization is really the critical factor in student success or failure: Those students who are better socialized to be good students will excel more certainly and in a broader array of contexts, whereas those who are not will require increasingly precise, expensive, and elaborate interventions (that are decreasingly successful) and will to varying degrees obstruct the education of those around them. Addressing student socialization requires both more attention to the role that time prior to and outside of the school plays in determining how students perform in school, and more attention to the role that kids play in encouraging/facilitating either educationally conducive or educationally counterproductive behaviors among one another both in school and out.

To address the socialization issue of what goes on prior to and outside the school, I think we need to implement a very robust volunteer tutoring and mentoring program, locally, statewide, and nationally. We have enormous social and professional resources, including a growing cadre of retirees looking for useful places to put their time and energy, and a huge need on the part of many students to be socialized into a sense of intellectual curiosity and how to feed the hunger for knowledge and comprehension that such curiosity instills. (To some extent, such socialization primarily requires careful nurturing of innate tendencies, because children are naturally curious.)

As for in-school, student mutual socialization, I worked on a research project years ago involving incentivizing mutual encouragement of positive behaviors in a target population (something I’ll call “group-mediated behavioral reinforcement”). The project was enormously successful, and can and should be applied to schools. We already have in Colorado programs like The Legacy Schools Project implemented by The Colorado Legacy Foundation, rewarding students for their own good academic work, but what if we extended such incentive-based programs to rewarding not only good academic work (e.g., passing an AP exam with a 3 or above, as Legacy does), but also helping others to do so as well, paying successful students for their recruits who also pass with a 3 or above? What you end up with is a positive pyramid-scheme of increasing numbers of successful students scouring the remaining student population search of recruits to train and assist in excelling academically.

Finally, targeted placement: We throw students with various and competing needs all together, and frequently don’t address any of their needs very well, particularly in failing schools. We need to identify student needs, and target their placement into schools that can specialize in meeting those needs. For instance, some of the most responsible and motivated students in the articulation areas of failing schools would benefit most from a college-like environment; others need military-like discipline due to the degree to which their own dysfunctional behaviors have become entrenched in them; and others still need more personal, emotional, and focused attention and nurturing. School choice does not really address this, because parents and students generally seek out the schools that they wish were right for them rather than those that actually are, or, in some cases, that satisfy needs and desires other than educational achievement. We need to find ways to target the assignment of students to schools in order to give them each what they really need, and to prevent those with incompatible needs from undermining the education of those around them.

“Targeted teacher placement” simply refers to the fact that we assign teachers too haphazardly, frequently  putting teachers with less subject area expertise but great technical and classroom management skills in high performing schools and advanced classes, and teachers with extraordinary subject area expertise but poorer technical and classroom management skills in behaviorally challenging schools and classes, losing the comparative advantage of both and setting both up for failure or sub-optimal performance (which in turn means that the students in both contexts receive educational services inferior to what they would have had teachers been more strategically and consciously placed).

Clearly, all of these recommendations raise a host of issues, primarily involving the tension between centralized decision-making and local autonomy. But identifying the most fundamental, underlying factors affecting educational success and failure is a critical component of any truly robust and ambitious plan for educational reform. It’s time to move past the superficial panaceas and start focusing on the real educational challenges we face and on developing richer, deeper and more structurally penetrating strategies for addressing them.

(See also Education Policy Ideas, Real Education Reform , Mistaken Locus of Education Reform, School Vouchers, Pros & Cons, A Colorado Teacher’s Perspective on Education Reform, American Universities: Two Dimensions on which to Improve)

“School choice” is all the rage. “Accountability” is all the rage. “Funding” is all the rage. I’ve written before on the more fundamental concerns we should be addressing: Student socialization both prior to and within the school, requiring us to pay more attention to that larger portion of a child’s educational preparation that occurs outside the school building and outside the school year and hours, and requiring us to focus more on preparing students to be students than on seeking superficial panaceas that can succeed without attending to this fundamental challenge.

But there is another dimension on which we are systematically failing to address our real educational challenges: The manner in which students and teachers are placed. “School choice” is based on a notion of educational consumers and providers, relying on market dynamics to discipline schools. “School choice,” however, is a misguided effort to homogenize schools, to set them up to compete for generic clients, rather than to create more targeted educational institutions, in which those students who currently do the most to undermine the education of others are placed away from others where they cannot do so, in highly disciplined environments where they can learn to behave in a manner that does not adversely affect others, and in which all other students are similarly assigned to environments which are specifically tailored to meet their particular needs and to leverage their particular talents.

Neither teachers nor students are fungible; each is unique, and all fall along numerous axes of variation. School reform, and intentional educational policy, has paid little or no attention to the challenge of ensuring that we make an effort to place the right students with the right teachers, that we utilize our human capital to maximum advantage by playing to individual teachers’ comparative advantages, and that we serve students most effectively by assigning them to the teachers and schools that best serve their needs.

There are students currently thrown together in struggling urban schools with very different sets of challenges and difficulties, often exacerbating one another’s problems, feeding into one another’s dysfunctions, and creating unmanageable or difficult to manage chaos together, whereas removing just a few of the students who really need strict military-style discipline from that setting would free the teacher and the remainder of the students to engage in a far more functional and fast-moving educational process. Further, assigning students more carefully according to their strengths, weaknesses, and needs would allow those particular strengths weaknesses and needs to be most effectively addressed. This is, in many ways, the opposite of the direction we have gone in, insisting that students with identified special needs are placed in “the least restrictive environment,” meaning not separated from other students lacking similar needs unless “absolutely necessary” (by criteria of necessity that does not include overall educational effectiveness for all children).

Similarly, teachers with a gift for teaching the highest functioning and most motivated students (highly intellectual college-level teachers with vast enthusiasm and expertise in their discipline and imaginative, intellectually stimulating lesson plans) often find themselves stuck in struggling schools beset by serious behavioral problems, frustrated by the fact that they have no special gift for this job, though they do for another that goes by the same name. As a result, their careers are short and education loses excellent teachers who were destroyed by a dysfunctional system. At the same time, teachers whose subject-area expertise and imagination are less well developed but have excellent classroom management skills are often promoted to teaching advanced courses in pedestrian ways, where the most highly motivated and capable students are deprived of the benefits of more knowledgeable and imaginative teachers.

This is one more dimension to our deep-structural educational dysfunction, along with an unwillingness to tap into, in a very robust way, the community resources available to our kids (i.e., professionals and retirees who would be glad to volunteer their time tutoring and mentoring kids, but are never asked to do so), to broaden the educational mission to include more focused and extensive work with families in order to assist them in assisting their children to become intellectually curious life-long learners, and to engage in programmatic strategies for developing student cultures in which students themselves mutually reinforce educationally productive behaviors and mutually discourage educationally counterproductive behaviors in their peers.

(See the seventh box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for hyperlinks to essays on related education policy ideas and critiques of current popular education reform obsessions.)

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Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.

A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.

Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.

A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.

As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.

Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.

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