Should we orient our lives toward happiness or goodness?

I recently read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where he argued that a fundamental human goal/purpose is the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, it was interesting to read David Brooks’ take on human purpose in “Some People Turn Suffering Into Wisdom,” (NYT, 4/21/2022):

Suffering is evil, but it can serve as a bridge to others in pain. After loss, many people make a moral leap: I may never understand what happened, but I can be more understanding toward others. When people see themselves behaving more compassionately, orienting their lives toward goodness instead of happiness, they revise their self-image and regain a sense of meaning.

Although “orienting our lives toward goodness instead of happiness” conflicts with Aristotle’s happiness goal, he would probably agree with Brooks because he also wrote about the pursuit of virtue. 

Republicans Described (Maybe)

Thomas Edsall, (New York Times, March 30, 2022,) quoted Heather L. Ondercin, a political scientist at Appalachian State University who has written extensively on gender and voting issues: 

Regardless of identification as a man or a woman, more stereotypically “masculine” individuals (male and female) — aggressive, assertive, defends beliefs, dominant, forceful, leadership ability, independent, strong personality, willing to take a stand, and willing to take risks — tend to identify with the Republican Party. Individuals (men and women) who are more stereotypically “feminine” — affectionate, compassionate, eager to soothe hurt feelings, gentle, loves children, sensitive to the needs of others, sympathetic, tender, understanding, and warm — tend to identify with the Democratic Party.

Does anyone else read the description of the stereotypically “masculine” voter and see a person who is aggressive and deeply insecure about his/her assertiveness, beliefs, dominance, forcefulness, leadership ability, independence, strength of personality, willingness to take stands, and willingness to take risks?  Maybe I have taken too many psychology courses.

Headline: Why is Biden now less popular than Trump?

By James S. Robbins, Opinion contributor, USA Today, February 18, 2022

Evidently Americans prefer a president who demonstrates the vices of the uneducated person, to one who does not lie to them, brag about how great he is, cheat on his taxes, and blame others for his vices.

The more important question is, “Why have public schools failed so miserably?”

I know why. Do you?

Headline: Trump claims he couldn’t have lost the 2020 presidential election because his Arizona rally boasted thousands of attendees and had “cars that stretch out for 25 miles.”

If my name had been on the ballot, I know I would have won because a whole lot of snow fell on my driveway last night. 

I ought to stop blogging about Trump. It is too easy to make fun of a clown.





ExxonMobil–Really?

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

I was thinking about high gas prices, and I wondered, “Why do we have ExxonMobil, instead of one supplier named Exxon and one named Mobil? Isn’t competition the beauty of capitalism? Why do Exxon and Mobil no longer compete?

Maybe we don’t have capitalism. What would you call an economic system based on the purchase of politicians?

In 1998 Exxon and Mobil lobbyists purchased politicians who would approve their merger. Since then their stockholders benefit from the higher prices consumers pay at the pump. Apparently, the purchase of politicians at the best possible price is what we call “democratic capitalism.”

That is what I think about when I think about high gas prices.

A conspiracy theory that came true

Our side is corrupt but the other side is more corrupt.

Evidently, over the last 70 years, Russia successfully fluoridated our drinking water to make Americans stupid.

Making the world better

Dear Lene and Thomas:

On page 416 you list the ten circles of belonging because that is an important concept in building meta-modern societies. The idea is that societies benefit as people broaden their circles of belonging:

  1. Self/Ego
  2. Family 1
  3. Peer Group
  4. Family 2
  5. Community
  6. Nation/People/Religion
  7. Culture Zone
  8. Universal Principles
  9. Humanity Today
  10. Planet and future generations beyond great-grandchildren

You also remind us of Kegan’s five layers of mental complexity: (1) early childhood, (2) self-consolidating, (3) self-governing, (4) self-authoring, and (5) self-transforming (pp. 416 & 417). You wrote that meta-modern societies depend on citizens who function at layers 4 and 5:

From an ego-layer 5 perspective as self-transforming, going through life feeling a sense of belonging in all ten circles, with that kind of complexity of mind and intimate as well as global connectedness, is deeply fulfilling. It is very meaningful and exciting, as long as you are not the only one around whose mind works like that; we all need to have others with whom we can share thoughts and feelings.  (416 & 417) 

From ego-layer 4, self-authoring, embracing circles 7-10 may be the inspiring parts of one’s personal journey. By becoming conscious of one’s culture zone, universal principles, humanity, and current and future planet, embracing all of them and feeling a sense of responsibility and excitement about engaging in them, one grows with the challenges. In the process, some may sever some of the ties to one’s smaller in-groups and feel a new kind of personal freedom and responsibility towards something bigger. Not just a bigger consciousness but a bigger conscience. (p. 417)

Both your book (TNS) and mine (TSVOTEP) discuss the ideal of the fully developed (educated) person and the environment in which development occurs. TNS borrows from psychology for personal development (Kegan) and from the world values survey, which presented seven circles of belonging, which you extended to ten.

TSVOTEP points to the 6 ingredients of all virtues, and it describes why we need to shift the 5 elements of American educational institutions: (1) from a core belief in democratic governance to a belief in the six-virtue definition of the educated person, (2) from purposes focused on higher test scores to modeling and teaching the six virtues, (3) from a democratic form of governance to governance that models the six virtues, (4) from an organizational structure that is bureaucratic and hierarchical to one that is communitarian, and (5) from a social scientific improvement paradigm that strives toward effectiveness to one that is aesthetic and strives toward appreciation.

In other words, we are saying similar things as we discuss how to build a better world. You make an important point by arguing that societies need to build several kinds of institutions that make citizenship rewarding. Examples are churches, families, and other cultural institutions. My focus is on educational institutions. As you pointed out in your review of Nordic history, the “secret” started with Folk high schools because the elites recognized the importance of a well-educated citizenry across all classes. 

Transitioning to 6 virtues

Dear Lene and Thomas:

In Societal Transitions (Chapter 17) you described five codes (eras):

Indigenous cultures are hunter gatherers and early agriculture.

Traditional cultures/pre-modernity: This covers ancient societies from the earliest city-states to feudal Europe in the 1800s plus the Middle East and many other places today . . . 

Modernity: This covers predominantly the West in the post-Darwin, nation-state era: we check assertions of fact and have separated religion/spirituality from governance/politics.

Post-modernity has been characterized as the collapse of all meta-narratives, i.e. religion and political ideologies, and one of the suggested dates for the beginning of the post-modern era is the fall of the Berlin Wall. (pp. 396 & 397)

Meta-modernity thus represents a holistic appreciation of the qualities of all the previous codes. (p. 399)

Then, you wrote:

The codes of post-modernity allow us to analyze and deconstruct all of the narratives, power structures and social constructs above and to keep an ironic distance, and this is fantastic, it just happens to be impossible to build a society on deconstruction and irony, and therefore post-modernity is only a phase-transition. Albeit a crucial one.

The codes of meta-modernity enjoy all of the above in their due time and place. (p. 400)

To explain the role of Bildung, you wrote:

The concept of Bildung was developed as part of the transition to modernity in order to add personal development to the collective epistemology, with Bildung came the tool to describe and judge ego-development in self and others and to encourage young people to first become self-governing and to complete the transition to self-authoring or Moral Man. Bildung was so much a term of the 1800s, it now has a quaint image, but it is one of the most crucial elements in establishing and maintaining democracy and human rights for all. (p.404)

A clearer prescription for establishing and maintaining democracy is adopting the six-virtue definition of the educated person. Cultures/Nations that want to benefit from the Nordic secret should build education systems that teach understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity.

That will be difficult in America because it requires philosophical, imaginative thinking, which goes untaught in our current system of education. Instead, today’s schools emphasize that students need to be able to correctly answer multiple choice questions.

Last night’s 60 Minutes show featured a segment entitled, “Talent on the Spectrum,” which described autistic people who had the ability to deal with large numbers of data points.

To explain his talent, one of them said, “I feel there are a lot of strengths to being on the spectrum, and I think imagination is a huge key trait.”

Bildung requires that citizens be taught all six virtues, including imagination, humility and courage–the virtues ignored in today’s public schools.

Demonstrate humility, not pride

Dear Lene and Thomas:

You wrote:

One ingredient in the Nordic secret that may surprise some is the importance of cultural heritage. Given the many ethnic, national and religious conflicts around the world, many would probably be hesitant to promote cultural self-consciousness.

We see it otherwise: the more self-confident people are regarding their heritage, the deeper their roots, the more meaning-making potential, Geistesbereitschaft, the more folklore, the more stories, the more mythologies belonging to their ancestors that people know and can relate to, the more complex and robust their inner world will be. The more one knows one’s own culture and history and can see its development in context, the less threatening the culture of others become.  

What should be avoided at all times is national chauvinism or ethnic/cultural chauvinism; but cultural pride and joy are different. They are crucial even. They allow a sense of belonging, cohesion in a nation and loyalty towards the same state. If the Nordic secret is to be implemented in other parts of the world, it must be done in such a way, of course, that national pride and joy is not based on disrespecting other cultures and peoples. It should never be creating or promoting an “us versus them” mentality. This is where ego-development becomes crucial: as self-consolidators and self-governing, we tend to seek “enemies” in order to define who we are by establishing who we are not; as self-authoring (the next layer of ego-development), we appreciate diversity. (p. 384)

Although you refer to cultural pride in paragraph 3, if other countries are going to achieve the Nordic secret, their people need to develop the sixth virtue of humility, which is deeper than pride. Humble people demonstrate this virtue in four ways:

  1. They recognize the greatness of their own ancestors and culture/nation. (Paragraph 2)
  2. They know that members of other cultures/nations care little about their own cultural/national greatness. (Paragraph 3)
  3. They shine a light on the achievements of other cultures/nations. (Paragraph 3)
  4. They appreciate the beauty of other cultures/nations. (Paragraph 3)

The humility described in Numbers 2, 3, and 4 is needed to achieve the benefits of the Nordic secret. On the other hand, throughout the course of history, cultural/national pride motivated both well-intentioned and evil-intentioned colonizers. That is why it is important to highlight the need for humility, instead of pride on p. 384.

The right philosophy does exist

Dear Lene and Thomas:

You wrote:

With increasing societal complexity, it is obvious that we must create education, symbols, aesthetics, epistemologies, Bildung, and ego-development that allows us to make sense of the reality around us, to navigate it safely and find meaning and purpose in it. It is equally obvious that we need to develop a sense of belonging in still bigger circles and that we need institutions and pedagogical philosophies for this that do not exist yet. (p. 386)

If you had read The Six Virtues of the Educated Person (TSVOTEP, 2009), you would know that such a pedagogical philosophy does exist.

TSVOTEP (2009) described a five-element system of education that (1) starts with an educational core belief, (2) has six virtue development as its purpose, (3) is governed by six-virtue citizens, (4) forms communitarian structures, and (5) promotes an aesthetic improvement paradigm.

Furthermore, your descriptions of Bildung and the Nordic folk high schools suggest that “Bildung” people demonstrate the six virtues of the educated person: (1) understanding, (2) imagination, (3) strong character, (4) courage, (5) humility and (6) generosity.  

Apparently, we are searching for the same thing. The difference is that I read your book and mine. You did not, yet, read mine. If you do, enlighten me about why the six virtues are, or are NOT, the path toward the better world that all three of us want.