A.I. in our future

Our New Promethean Moment, (New York Times, March 21, 2023)

In his commentary about the future of Artificial Intelligence and its potential effects on humanity, Thomas Friedman wrote, 

We are going to need to develop what I call “complex adaptive coalitions” — where business, government, social entrepreneurs, educators, competing superpowers and moral philosophers all come together to define how we get the best and cushion the worst of A.I. No one player in this coalition can fix the problem alone. It requires a very different governing model from traditional left-right politics. And we will have to transition to it amid the worst great-power tensions since the end of the Cold War and culture wars breaking out inside virtually every democracy.

We already have the six-virtue definition of the educated person for “how we get the best and cushion the worst of A.I.” If schools based their curricula on the six-virtues, we would begin to see how to use A.I. in constructive, not destructive ways. Of course, that means educators would have to shift their improvement paradigm from a social scientific one — being more effective at teaching the answers to multiple choice questions; to an aesthetic one — bringing more beauty into their classrooms and the lives of their students. 

Which of the national great powers will lead the way to a brighter future with A.I.?

Why teach history?

I am reading Howard Fineman’s The Thirteen American Arguments (2009). His introduction points out that arguing (and arguments) rarely get a favorable review from authors like himself. Therefore, the purpose of his book is to explain that arguing has always been a vehicle for moving America toward its ideals; and that continues today.   

His first chapter describes the American argument about “Who is a person?” Reading about the answers to that question throughout American history prompted me to think about a different question. This one is related to my arguments in The Six Virtues of the Educated Person (2009).  

Whether or not you agree that Understanding, Imagination, Strength of Character, Courage, Humility and Generosity are the six virtues of the educated person, I want to know your answer to this question: From your reading of history, what conclusions do you draw about human nature? 

For example, reading the arguments over “Who is a person?” would prompt thoughtful readers to draw conclusions about human nature within the context of societies that have addressed that question. By learning how a society grants personhood, we learn about human nature more than we do about the distinctions in that society, although those may be points of interest. 

In Fineman’s chapter on American arguments about faith, he writes this about the founding fathers:

The focus of their intellectual, political and moral ambition was the world, history as it was lived, and the Enlightenment spirit of inquiry and science. (p. 64)

Evidently, our country was founded by men who drew conclusions about human nature from their study of history.

Fineman also writes:

Mixing faith and politics—souls and voting—can be uplifting, but it can be toxic, too. In the South, religion was a bulwark of slaveholding society, with elders interpreting the Old Testament view of chattel, including human chattel, literally. (pp. 65-66)

Can anybody understand that description of a historical period and not draw conclusions about human nature? This is just one example. Are social studies/history teachers asking students to draw conclusions about human nature? If not, why do we teach history?

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.


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.