Entries Tagged 'AA Human Nature' ↓

First amendment and social media

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

“You don’t have the right to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” is a long-standing description of the limit to an Americans’ first amendment rights.

That seems to be a reasonable limit for two reasons:

  1. If there were no fire, yelling ‘Fire’ would be a lie.
  2. That lie would physically endanger a lot of vulnerable people.

In the past that was not an onerous limitation because none of us frequented crowded theaters. Now that social media formats are ubiquitous, however, do the same limits apply? Do our social media first amendment rights still end where we express a lie that physically endangers a lot of vulnerable people?

If we use the theater example, for social media situations we would ask two questions:

  1. Is the statement false?
  2. Does it physically endanger a lot of vulnerable people?

The second question is addressed in the Twitter policy that prohibits the promotion of violence. That leaves the first question unanswered, which seems to be the sticking point for Facebook.

So, for all you Facebook users, remember–it is the right of every American citizen to spread lies. (Just don’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.)

Culture War

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

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Alexander (Republican Senator Lamar Alexander) said Friday during an interview in his Capitol office. “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”

Earlier in the morning, I was reflecting on the “cultural fires that are burning out there.” As I wrote in my book, American public schools teach three virtues (understanding, strong character, and generosity), and three vices:

  1. lack of imagination (Sit down, shut up, and don’t ask too many questions.)
  2. fear of truth (Democracy is the best form of government.)
  3. pride (Be proud of yourself, your country, your state, and your school.)

When I go to the polls next November, I will remember that we are engaged in a culture war. What is that about democracy being the best form of government? Does it apply to countries in which voters are taught to be unimaginative, fearful of truth, and proud?

Next November’s results will be a verdict on public schooling in America. And I won’t need to know a thing about students’ test scores.

Incentives and education

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

Sixteen days ago, I returned from a Road Scholar tour of Cuba, one of 4 Communist countries. China, Russia, and North Korea are the others. Yesterday I said to my wife:

I noticed that in Cuba there is little incentive to produce things to improve their economy. In our capitalistic society, however, there is always the same incentive–to get more money for one’s self.

I must clarify. When I say economic incentives are lacking in Cuba, I am not saying Cubans lack incentives to improve their quality of life. Our tour group met many Cubans doing just that. It means their economy is not stimulated in the way our economy is–by the incentive to get more money for one’s self.

Here is how Steven Brill (Tailspin, 2018) describes America’s recent economic trends in the chapter entitled, “Casino Country:”

We should remember that the innovators of what became the short-term-obsessed, casino economy were not villains. With some exceptions, the world does not divide that simply into black and white. Joe Flom, his raider-clients, the stock buy-back engineers, Lew Ranieri and Blythe Masters, even Angelo Mozilo, didn’t set out to do harm, let alone create a crash that cost America $20 trillion in lost gross domestic product and boosted the have-a-lots far above everyone else. Even those who broke the law didn’t wake up in the morning determined to destroy the economy so they could make money. They simply responded–many with trailblazing ingenuity–to the incentives put in front of them and the culture of the times. Change the incentives and change the culture and the genius of their successors can be redirected. Short-termism, which has been so devastating to so many Americans, is not immutable. (p. 85)

So, dear educators:

Who is going to change the incentives? Who is going to change the culture? Brill (2018) claims the capitalists who made millions by crashing the economy were not villains. He says they were just incentivized to make more money. And he says they responded to economic conditions with “trailblazing ingenuity.”

Really? These imaginative geniuses had no idea of the harm they were doing to others? They did not think they were stealing from others? Where did they think their money was coming from? It looks to me like Brill felt a need to fudge his description so he could promote capitalism, while telling a story about its evils.

Or maybe I missed something. Maybe I missed the news accounts of how Joe Flom, his raider-clients, the stock buy-back engineers, Lew Ranieri, Blythe Masters, or Angelo Mozilo gave back some of their imaginatively gained millions of dollars. If they are so imaginative, and they are not villains, surely they want to give some back. Oh–I forgot–they are not incentivized to give back. They are incentivized to get all the money they can for themselves. And, evidently, they are not incentivized to care about others.

So, how does the argument go–the one about how capitalism is good and communism is bad? If you believe selfishness is our human nature, you can make that argument with glee. On the other hand, if you believe selfishness is our uneducated human nature, but generosity is our educated human nature, you can’t make that argument.

Educators must start teaching the six virtues of the educated person. Our capitalist economy depends on it. Even Steven Brill says so.

Celebrate Xmas and Trump courage

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

The local television commercial for the 2019 Charles Taylor annual Christmas dinner concludes with this invitation:

“Guest speaker and best-selling author, Sidney Powell, will have a Christmas card you can sign to thank President Trump for his courageous stands.” 

I was struck by this because, at first, I could not think of any courageous stands taken by the president. Then I started counting them:

  1. Trump described himself as a serial pussy grabber. Any teen-age boy will tell you that takes a lot of courage.
  2. According to a White House report, Trump recently warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia better not meddle in our next election. Russian television edited out footage of Putin quaking in his boots when he received the warning.
  3. Trump said he would shut down the government and take the blame. I guess it takes courage to shut down the organization you are hired to run.
  4. As commander-in-chief, Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have kept us safe from asylum-seeking children, who are now in cages across the nation. All Americans are sleeping better, now.

Or maybe only those Americans who want to sign a Christmas card thanking the president for his courageous stands are sleeping better.

The rest of us are tired of his despicable cowardice. 

The Divide

Here is John Dewey’s description of what Americans are taught to believe about democracy:

We have been taught not only in the schools but by the press, the pulpit, the platform, and our laws and law-making bodies, that democracy is the best of all social institutions. We may have so assimilated this idea from our surroundings that it has become an habitual part of our mental and moral make-up.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan, p. 34.

More than 80 years have passed since Dewey described this quintessential American belief. The fact that we have rarely (if ever) challenged that belief is proof that it has become “part of our mental and moral make-up.”

And that belief relates to my suggestion for addressing our current political divide. Everyone, who writes about the divide, or who defends one viewpoint against the other, must start with one of the following sentences:

  1. “My side is not corrupt, but the other side is.”
  2. “My side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.”
  3. “Both sides are equally corrupt.”
  4. “My side’s corruption is a good thing; the other side’s corruption is a bad thing.”

By starting with one of those sentences, writers/commentators put their argument in the context of what is true–that our system is corrupt in various ways; instead of what we cannot know to be true–that “democracy is the best of all social institutions.”

For more than 200 years we have failed to live up to the ideal of a fair, democratic system of governance. One reason is that we are in denial about systemic corruption. If we start by recognizing that every system of governance is corrupt (even American democracy), we could start building a more fair and just system of the people, by the people, and for the people.

If we don’t, our divide will grow as powerful actors continue to enrich themselves at the expense of those with less power, which is the definition of corruption.

In the spirit of following my own command, I choose sentence #2.

Are we great again, yet?

Yes – the Democrats nominated a lousy candidate in 2016. Evidently, their party is so empty that they couldn’t find someone to defeat a narcissist.

But that is nothing compared to the Republicans. Evidently, they cannot find a candidate better than someone who displays all the vices of our uneducated nature — ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weak character, fear of truth, pride and selfishness.

The Democrats made a huge mistake in 2016. Short of death or illness, it is too late for Republicans to avoid the same one. Therefore, we will find out in November, 2020, if Americans once again choose to be governed by an uneducated, vicious person.

Test for value of six virtues

I am currently reading Society as it Is: A reader (Second Edition, 1976). The Pathology of Imprisonment chapter is a re-print of a 1972 article by Philip Zimbardo, the creator of the famous prisoner-guard social experiment. After describing the experiment and the horror he experienced while monitoring it, he concluded:

Each of us carries around in our heads a favorable self-image in which we are essentially just, fair, humane and understanding . . . However, there is a growing body of social psychological research which underscores the conclusion derived from this prison study. Many people, perhaps the majority, can be made to do almost anything when put into psychologically compelling situations–regardless of their morals, ethics, values, attitudes, beliefs, or personal convictions. (p. 91)

As an example, Zimbardo described another famous experiment–the study conducted by Stanley Milgram, in which test subjects continued to give electric shocks to subjects who were pleading with them to stop. According to Zimbardo, this experiment is an example of people blindly obeying “the command of the authority figure (the experimenter) who said they must go on.” It supports his conclusion that people “can be made to do almost anything when put into psychologically compelling situations–regardless of their morals, ethics, values, attitudes, beliefs, or personal convictions.” (p. 91)

Zimbardo is a sociologist. He studies people in society and draws conclusions. The book which reprinted his article is entitled, “Society as it Is.” Who can disagree with his conclusion that people can be manipulated to do horrible things to others, “regardless of their morals, ethics, values, attitudes, beliefs, or personal convictions?”

But I am an educator, so I ask if our educational system fights against this conclusion or contributes to it. My belief is that schools contribute to it and may be the main cause of Zimbardo’s conclusion. Children attend school to develop the knowledge and skills valued by authorities. After 12-16 years of schooling–180 days per year, 5 hours per day–almost every citizen has learned this lesson. Learning to do what is directed by authorities is one of the primary purposes of modern American schools. (And from my experience with schools in other countries, I would say it is a primary purpose of all formal schooling.)

So my conclusion is slightly different from Zimbardo’s. His experiments tell him that people in psychologically compelling situations can be made to do almost anything by authorities. I would say that applies to people who are schooled, but not to those who are educated. “Schooled” people earn diplomas and degrees by earning the approval of educators. Of course they will do almost anything directed by authorities. They learned the value of obedience during years of schooling. But educated people are those who have developed the virtues of understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. Before we conclude that it is human nature to obey authorities in “psychologically compelling situations,” we need to test that conclusion with citizens who graduated from schools that teach those six virtues. Here is my suggestion for developing a citizenry that will not send electric shocks into strangers who are pleading with them to stop; and who will not become sadistic prison guards.

Take a group of kindergartners and make their classroom a six virtues classroom. That means the six virtues would be the foundation and guide for everything that happens. Every lesson has the development of the six virtues as its purpose, and every situation is judged by the extent to which it demonstrates and promotes understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and/or generosity.

Continue that approach through 12 years of school. Then conduct a study in which “six virtue graduates” are placed in “psychologically compelling situations.” What are your predictions as to whether they would send electric shocks into strangers pleading with them to stop? What are your predictions as to the extent to which they would become sadistic prison guards?

The sociological experiments described in this Reader took place more than 40 years ago. Educators are not shocked by Zimbardo’s conclusion. Instead they have moved farther away from a virtue-based system of schooling. Today’s education policy makers say it is essential to hold educators accountable for students’ knowledge and skill. Really? How is that going?

Idealism of Youth

Michael Moore (Stupid White Men, 2001, pp. 212-213) wrote the following about Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacy in 2000:

The anger now leveled at Nader seems so personal, so intense from Baby Boomers who blame him for Gore losing the election (he didn’t lose). I look at these individuals in their forties and fifties and I wonder why Nader seems so personally threatening to them.

It’s taken a while, but I think I have figured it out: Nader represents who they used to be but no longer are. He never changed. He never lost the faith, never compromised, never gave up. That’s why they hate him. He didn’t change his tune, didn’t move to the suburbs, didn’t start structuring his life around “Let’s see how I can make the most money for me, me, ME!” He didn’t conform to the new Baby Boom Code of Sell-Out Ethics in order to advance his power. No wonder millions of high school and college kids love him. He’s the opposite of their parents, the people who “raised” them by handing them a latchkey, a Ritalin, and a remote for the TV set in the bedroom. Nader didn’t make the trek down the dial from Sgt. Pepper to AOR to Kenny G. He stayed in the same rumpled clothes. Those who beat up on him now are like the bullies in high schools who will not cease their harassment until you conform and start to look, think, and smell like them.

Moore went on with the following, which relates to the second topic in this category:

Well, guess what, fellow Boomers—this Nader dude ain’t ever going to change. So why don’t you save your breath, increase your Prozac dosage, and get some suburban therapist to see you once a week? Or just chill out and be thankful there are people like Ralph Nader out there. He’ll do all the work; you just relax and order up another margarita.

I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow, having to get up each morning to feed the corporate beast, to take your check from the bastards and try to look the other way despite all the crap they’re shoving down your throat.

But somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind there’s a little nerve ending going off, like the faint and blinking light of your cell phone a few minutes before it goes dead. It’s your brain’s memory bank reminding you about a time when you were younger and you passionately believed that you and you alone could make a difference, before the forces of adulthood surrounded you and told you to get with the program—or spend your lonely life barely scraping by.

And so you did. You learned to compromise your values while believing you still maintained them. (“Yes, I drive an SUV—but I give to the Sierra Club!”). You learned to mollify your conscience at your lousy job, out of fear of the only imaginable alternative—homelessness and starvation! You put up with the oppressive nature of your church because–well, Jesus did say a lot of good things (“Love your enemy”), and so what if the money you just put in the collection plate is going to a woman-hating organization? You learned to say nothing when friends or coworkers spoke in coded racist terms because you knew you didn’t hate black people and you were sure they didn’t either. . . but why don’t we cross over to the other side of the street just to be safe?

Best of all, you got to keep voting for the Democrats, the way you always had. After all, they say they have your best interests at heart—and just for saying that, you believe them!

Moore went back to Nader’s candidacy:

What kind of nut would vote for a third-party candidate, anyway? Why even think of going there—of revisiting the younger version of you, who was ready to get his head busted open while standing up for what was right? Out here in Adult World, you better forget about what’s “right”—you gotta win. Winning is what it is all about, whether it’s your company’s market share, your stock portfolio, or your kid’s ability to beat all the other kids in kindergarten French class.

“Do the right thing?” HA! Go with the winner! . . .

How do you describe human nature?

The following is a response to a letter to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times several months ago. The first letter-writer was concerned about the thoughtlessness of others. The second responded:

. . . you naturally desire what you will never get, which is a world that is fair and just. You want to live in a world where people always do what’s best for themselves and for everyone else.

But, alas, you live in this world. And in this world, people are forever doing things that are thoughtless, rude, vain, ignorant, cruel and just old-fashioned stupid.

Don’t we all want a world that is fair and just? Is that a world we “will never get?”

Please respond by clicking on “Comment.”

New “Human Nature” category

Everyone is invited to comment on the two questions in this category:

1. What are your adult experiences with human nature–Are we basically generous or selfish?

2. What are your experiences moving from the idealism of youth to the practicality of middle- and old-age (45-90)?

The “Human Nature” category is a philosophical forum for discussing adult life experiences related to those two questions.  I remember marijuana-inspired discussions of these questions during St. Norbert College dorm sessions and weekend visits to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the early 1970s. Some of us argued that the turmoil of the sixties and seventies was permanently revolutionizing American society–moving it from materialism to a kind of spiritualism.  Others argued that we were fooling ourselves. We we would join the American rat-race as soon as we entered the workforce, and we would be just as materialistic as our parents.

Both arguments were related to our beliefs about human nature. Are humans fundamentally generous or selfish? Do we possess a spirit of generosity within us (like the nurturing instinct of a mother/father), or is it our nature to be selfish, so generous acts go against our basic human nature?

The first two posts in this category are examples of how others have addressed these questions.

Please respond by clicking “Comment.”