1. Educating Individuals
2. Individuals create journalism and society
3. Individuals relate to culture through society
4. Individuals mature using dynamic process tools
5. Individuals were taught character haphazardly
6. Individuals use experience to produce character
7. How individual character blossoms
8. Individuals validate character
9. Individual principles matter
10. Individuals validate governance
11. Taking individual responsibility
12. Individuals find meaning
13. Individuals find their place in society
14. Individuals prepare for the future
[Article 1 of 14: Future articles will address how to inoculate students to defend society with principles they revalidate for themselves. We just don’t have the habit.]
Students are eager to learn. Too bad they find little traction in many everyday lessons. The themes offered fail to guide and motivate them. It need not be that way. Threads of wisdom run throughout patterns drawn from human experience.
“College and career ready” might seem a driving force for political adults, but students have more interest in dealing with the simple daily problems of living: what can I know, how should I behave, and how should I interact with others.
Philosophy used to deal with those questions, until schooling became the province of government. Socrates was killed in 399 BC by the democratic majority in Athens for daring to ask, “Does an education belong to the individual or to the government?” Does the majority get to decide simply because it is the majority? Or should education arm individuals to defend against intellectual assault from any quarter, including government and its scholastic view.
Government has decided to hobble students to make them “good citizens” with “good” defined by elite administrators. When not an individual accomplishment, but a social good, molding people to be docile and compliant falls short of education.
“College and career ready” is not enough. Absent proper society, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) leave graduates no secure environment in which to practice. If one wants to drive a car, it is easy to see why STEM is insufficient:
The car you need to learn to drive is you. Traditional courses like History, Economics, and Political Theory touch on those issues, but the question that gives traction to individuals and society is: Can you recall an instance in your personal past experience when you thought you were correct and later discovered to your regret that you were mistaken? Regardless of age, religion, culture, upbringing, or education, that focus nudges one to participate in society with others.
Pushing extraneous material, authorities have squeezed out of the curriculum useful patterns of experience. Patterns help recognize when a “social good” is more likely government gone bad, legitimized by victims gulled to become a voting majority. Rather than learn the hazards of democracy, 2nd Grade learn by rote that democracy is good, majority rules, and democracy legitimizes government action. How convenient. In a time as politicized as ours, neither Leftists nor Rightists should indoctrinate children.
Present day teachers seldom object because colleges taught them how to teach, but not revalidate what is taught. Weak curricula leave to chance what students need to know to plan their best future. As Dorothy Sayers, the 1930s mystery writer and medievalist said, “For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.”
Teaching subjects alone has left us unable to recognize what schooling has become, and certainly unable to resist the darkening trend. But all is not lost. Students develop character as they deduce behavior that is positive, instructive, and constructive. Practical wisdoms help us sort out where great thinkers made mistakes and to understand why, within the limits of their time, they might have done so. Traction comes from self-interest.
Proper education offers processes kids understand, admire, and wish to emulate in a deeper way.
[The next article examines how individuals create society.]
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[Article 2 of 14: The previous article examined whether an education belongs to an individual or society.]
Economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith said that we enter into society. In practice, when you master why you as an individual need society, it is society that enters into you. Individuals create society out of sheer need. Individuals created journalism to help them, and also created society. Journalism and society extend out from individuals like concentric circles.
Sometimes those creations contain flaws that mirror the flaws of individuals. Those flaws seem to pass almost unnoticed because people are not tuned to see such behavior as flawed. What is worthwhile for an individual is equally important to journalism and society. Skill developed to detect the patterns of bad journalistic habits helps detect similar misbehavior for individuals and society.
The relationship between society and culture is often obscured because society often is confused with culture. Once people understand how society that underlies culture differs from culture, society’s simple elegance becomes clear. Recent multi-cultural confusion that creates a quagmire of moral relativism muddles society’s prospect for peaceful problem resolution.
People who see culture and society the same are like those who see the subject of a photograph in the foreground without sufficient depth of field to see the context background offers.
Focused on foreground activities alone, they overlook the background represents framework for society. Understanding society generates the courage to defend it against those who, resigned by their actions to living the law of the jungle, would destroy it.
Society is simple. Society is the edge where any two individuals or cultures meet. Society requires no religion, no shared experience, and no natural law.
Individuals need society because each person is alone in one’s own consciousness. Even people together are alone. You can’t hug someone close enough not to be alone inside your mind, unsure of what to trust, aided only by pattern-recognition skills with which one was born and rationality developed over time.
People are like ships, alien, alone, and adrift, on a sea of sense experience, buffeted by the waves.
Society can be built projecting forward, in an exercise like linking two ships sailing a storm-tossed sea.
One ship uses a messenger gun to send a thin light line between ships that the second ship uses to return a stronger line. The process is repeated using successively larger lines until the ships are lashed together.
A verbal “messenger line” is simple: Can you recall an instance in your personal past experience when you thought you were correct and later discovered to your regret that you were mistaken?
The question plumbs personal experience to deduce insight into one’s thinking. Personal experience is not religious dogma, not natural law springing from culture, and not related to the experience of the questioner. An answer invariably leads one to conclude that thinking can be fallible. While not universal, the understanding might as well be. Sometimes you think you are right, not because you are right, but only because you think you are right.
Decisions are not based on reality, but on an abbreviated and incomplete mental map of reality. Self-interest requires one assure one’s mental map is as accurate as possible. Self-interest encourages engagement with others who also have come to doubt their own perfection. Society with others can help detect instances where one’s thinking may have gone astray. Self-interest encourages community.
That decision-making uses an abbreviated mental map of reality is an idea accessible across all cultural and religious boundaries. It fosters a compelling framework for civilization, a path to honorable decision-making, and creation of virtues. It helps people deduce that long-term interests are served by a character-centered life. Respect is directed inward towards ourselves and our treatment of others. Responsibility is directed outward towards friends, school, community, and world.
René Descartes ostensibly said, “I think therefore I am”, but he was really saying “I doubt, therefore I am.” Doubt and humility are complimentary. One who recognizes doubt becomes humble. Humility comes to those who recognize doubt. Doubt and humility provide compelling incentive to manufacture society with others.
Ingenious creative thinking improves our odds of survival. From simple threads fashioned from humility and a shared sense of need, a sturdy fabric can be fashioned between individuals, independent of their cultures, to encourage a peaceful process of problem resolution. Manufacturing society lifts us slightly above the rest of the animal kingdom and the law of the jungle, to manufacture a protective umbrella using a process of peaceful problem resolution that others learn to trust and embrace in their self-interest as their own.
Self-interest is why individuals create society. Self-interest motivates learning. Self-interest motivates society with others.
[The next article examines how individuals relate to culture through society.]
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[Article 3 of 14: The previous article examined why individuals create society.]
Culture and society are different. Cultures form on top of society. Cultures are like the pile of a carpet, varying in color, shape, texture, length, thickness, and material, while society is like the warp and weft threads beneath the pile that hold the carpet together.
Without the warp and weft threads supporting the carpet, all that exists is a pile of pile. Nothing else holds the carpet together.
Students validate for themselves that humility and reciprocity are the warp and weft threads. They discover individually why the threads are worth defending. Absent society’s supporting threads citizens risk either serfdom or slavery.
Ethical bases are challenged today. Many don’t understand why one should be decent. Understanding the minimum requirements for society addresses why one should do this or why one should believe that. When interacting with others who do not share a culture’s background and beliefs, culture alone offers no such framework for interaction.
Individuals create ethics. Good reasons for being decent and honorable are deduced from personal experience. There is nothing more to ethics than that individuals matter. Morality springs from the minimum behavior required for society. Morality—ethical behavior—is derived from humility and reciprocity:
The mechanism is kept honest by conversation with other individuals in society.
Ethical behavior and morality need not be rooted in religion or natural law. The foundations of religion and what cultures call eternal truths operate on top of the framework of society.
Among the things that distinguish humanity from others of the plant and animal kingdom are the skill to communicate complex ideas to each other and the potential to project the consequences of plans for the future. That leads to ethics. Those without such skills revert to the rules that nature requires and nothing more. Be human or be no more than an animal. The choice is individual.
Morality is purely a creation of thought. A seal that snips off the fins of a fish, leaving it a terrified, living, helpless toy to be batted around until boredom and hunger make it lunch, has no conception of good and evil. Good and evil don’t exist in the world of seals and fish outside the framework of morality. Life is simply the way things are.
People don’t sign up as if morality were a contract. An individual does not so much explicitly subscribe to protection under the moral umbrella as reject it by an explicit anti-social act. An anti-social act as simple as lying or heinous as murder act opens oneself to any response in the arsenal of the laws of nature we may choose to use. The perpetrator has chosen the battlefield, not us.
We, in turn, are subject to the laws of nature in our response. We need not reply using the standard of the moral umbrella the offender has rejected, although we may choose to do so. Astute pacifists and generals know war is a nasty place to be and should be avoided, if possible. But those of us who understand morality can defend by any means necessary. And one might survive or both might die. Nature does not care.
Not everyone will be convinced. No compelling reason in the laws of nature or mankind will irrefutably justify morality to any and all men. One who chooses to act by the laws of the lion need not even consent to listen to the arguments in favor of morality. He need not choose to heed anything but that which compels itself to be heard by the laws of nature, if even that. People cannot be forced to join together under the protection of a moral umbrella. We can only encourage them because long–term security depends upon it.
[The next article examines how individuals mature using dynamic process tools.]
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[Article 4 of 14: The previous article examined how individuals relate to culture through society.]
The evidence of writing is that humans acquired consciousness over time and not in a single cataclysmic event. Some acquired it, some did not, and, unbelievably, some cultures lost the skill. While there are a lot of things that consciousness is not, psychologist Julian Jaynes holds consciousness to be a very simple thing that includes:
Author Douglas Hofstadter suggests that the emergent phenomena of the brain–those are ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will–are based on a ‘strange loop’ that we have learned to call recursion, an interaction between the top level reaching back into the bottom level and influencing the thought process for succeeding iterations. M. C. Escher’s Print Gallery is a visual representation of the recursive process.
The subject of the print is a person seen through a gallery window looking at a print of a cityscape that has a person seen through a gallery window looking at a print of a cityscape . . . a description that cycles infinitely.
Thinking as we have been talking about it—conscious thought—is acquired. Self-reference is acquired. Narratization—the ‘I will do this, then I will do that’—is acquired, reinforcing the concept of time, one’s place in time, and the concept of recursion. Narratization is what Lucy Calkins teaches in her Columbia Teachers College Writing Workshop, successfully even to students in Kindergarten.
Experience, process, pattern recognition, defensive rhetorical skills, practical experience are all dynamic tools one uses to make more accurate one’s mental map of reality the better to make decisions and the better to defend against what is destructive that people, including oneself, might propose.
Metaphors from experience motivate. Useful processes and experience can be mined from what has gone before. In the 1300s, Sociologist Ibn Khaldun studying historiography, discovered in the flaws of earlier historians the need for humility. He emphasized Hegelian or Marxian dialectic—feedback loops—a process of continuous re-evaluation necessary because—and this is the keystone of wisdom—sometimes we think we are right simply because we think we are right.
Negotiating our way through life, we are interested in the simple daily problems of living such as dealing with people and dealing with the loops that we get into in our own minds. Loops that we have described happen every day in thought. It is positive insight not to blindly trust what we think simply because we are the ones who think a thought.
[The next article examines how character has been taught ineffectively across history.]
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[Article 5 of 14: The previous article examined how individuals mature using dynamic tools.]
In the 1700s, philosopher Immanuel Kant wondered, why it was that moral instruction accomplished so little. Yet, he observed, even little children understand that you should do a thing because it is right. The challenge is to go beyond rewarding good behavior, which Kant recognized was ineffective, to do that which Socrates called not ‘teachable, like geometry,’ but teachable in a way, that we might produce not docile sheep but responsible, growing, inquiring citizens.
Fixed rules are incomplete. The Social Studies frameworks consider rules and law to be an enduring understanding. Confucius, 2500 years ago, knew that approach to be a last refuge.
Confucius determined there were natural saints who intuitively knew the way to live. A second, larger group, to which he considered he belonged, could learn the way. The least capable group remaining required fixed rules of behavior he called laws or ritual. Current school curricula plays to the last group, supporting order imposed rather than order individually understood and voluntarily applied.
Forcing obedience doesn’t teach character. Virtues like ‘respect’ and ‘obedience’ sometimes lead to the wrong result. Sometimes ‘respect’ is not deserved, as when authorities demand action that would be unethical and blind obedience would not be virtuous. ‘Obedience’ is important, until it comes into conflict with other virtues. If teaching only virtues leads to lack of character, there needs to be a way.
Teaching vocabulary doesn’t teach character. Some suggest courses propose to teach vocabulary to learn to exercise judgment. Teaching the vocabulary of virtue may not develop character by any means other than chance. Learning virtues is different than developing virtue. To teach someone to ‘Be this way’ or ‘Be that way’ attempts to teach the result you want to achieve, absent the process to get there. Character isn’t promoted through character vocabulists plastering posters in public places:
That is a platitude that masquerades as wisdom. Who are those served, and why should one commit to them? Commitment became a liability during the Nuremberg trials after World War II.
New “virtues” can be manufactured that are as fact-based as anything other vocabulary offered:
Far from promoting ‘Character’, virtue-promoters want the warm feeling they get when they convince themselves they promote character. Results don’t matter when mastery of the vocabulary of virtues substitutes for character. Vocabulist virtues are like numbers trying to substitute for mastery of arithmetic. ‘Seven! Seven is a good number! Learn seven and arithmetic will certainly follow. Five! Five is another worthwhile number. Master seven, five, and other numbers and arithmetic will magically appear.’ Numbers and arithmetic are not the same thing.
Emulation doesn’t build character. If to encourage character, one holds up exceptional people to emulate, like Luther Burbank, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, should one emulate their actions or emulate how they decided to act?
How does one decide who to emulate or what trait to emulate? Emulating virtues leads to the appearance of virtue, not to the solid thought processes that lead to why virtuous behavior is worthwhile. Persistence shouldn’t be emulated because Washington had it. Persistence comes from understanding what is important and why. People teach the result they want but not the skills to get there. Teach virtues alone risks overlooking the need to nudge people to recognize for themselves critical processes of thought.
People insist on trying to push character onto others when much of the real work—the work inside their own head—remains unfinished. If you think you know what to do but don’t know why, then you don’t know character, much less how to convey it to someone else.
A virtue is a shorthand label for the result of thoughtful analysis about a general concept that is, itself, easily acceptable and easily understood from one’s own personal experience. Process concepts help people decide what to do so they can plan for their better future.
Virtues result from thinking about yourself, society, life and your place in it. A handful of process concepts allow people to help themselves.
Youngsters may have to be guided by rules until they mature enough to come to see the practical value in it for themselves. They need to develop the skill to consider points of view, and to value thinking as a tool for self-protection.
[The next article examines how individuals produce character.]
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[Article 6 of 14: The previous article examined how character has been haphazardly taught.]
Self–interest leads to a character-centered life. In your own experience you can recall painful experiences that occurred because you thought you were right and later discovered you were mistaken. This is accessible to everyone across cultural and religious boundaries and helps fashion virtues, a compelling framework for civilization, and a path to honorable decision-making.
Point 1: Sometimes we think we are right, not because we are right, but simply because we think we are right. It’s possible for you to be wrong, even when you think you are right, because your brain—the tool you use to plan your very best future—decides what to do using not reality itself, but its very own internal map of reality. If that map of reality is inaccurate, you can get hurt.
Point 2: Your long-term self-interest depends on maintaining the very best map of reality to work with. Even though other people have different experiences from yours, they can recall their own painful experiences that invariably lead them to the similar conclusions about humility and reciprocity.
Point 3: Those other people live life as acutely as you do. They have the same needs with reason to join together in society. Society becomes mutually beneficial so we can help each other refine our individual mental maps of reality.
Point 4: Reading, writing, and conversation hone skills used to better individual futures. Language is the tool we use to maintain our map of reality, to check it, to refine it, and to represent it on paper so that tomorrow we can look back and see if it makes as much sense then as it does to us today. They capture our expressions of concepts to convey them over immeasurable distance and time to others. Quality of language and its tools matter. The Trivium—the first three of the Seven Liberal Arts—refine those tools:
Point 5: A sense of time and one’s place in it provides a check on one’s map of reality and decision-making.
Point 6: Thinking about thinking recursively is a powerful tool when harnessed constructively.
Point 7: People are responsible for themselves and need to take that responsibility. As children connect language and thought, they are empowered and motivated by practical wisdoms that underlie their conversation:
Dynamic processes are the type of thought that matters. They help prune what does not work and reinforce what does. If drops of water in a river represent that which is understood, then boulders along the shores that guide the flow of knowledge represent the dynamic processes of thought. A handful of practical wisdoms accessible to anybody channel the flow constructively, but we don’t habitually teach such things. They include:
These are processes kids understand, admire and wish to emulate in a deeper way.
[The next article examines how individual character blossoms.]
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[Article 7 of 14: The previous article examined how individuals produce character.]
One can identify with Michel de Montaigne, inventor of the essay as a literary form in 1585, “If a man remembers how very many times he has been wrong in his judgment, will it not be foolish of him not to mistrust it ever after?” Montaigne’s personal experience is distant from ours, but one can identify a similar pattern in one’s personal unique experience. Montaigne said he would run to embrace truth from others when he saw it coming.
He shares a frame of reference despite extreme differences in religion, language, upbringing, culture, time-shift, and almost everything else. People can go beyond the traditions that only carry them so far.
What is perceived as lack of morality is the hollow framework of earlier philosophers crumbling under the heavy weight of more recent criticism like Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ and Jean Paul Sartre’s nausea at discovering a universe both Shakespeare and Faulkner called “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” They found nowhere to turn.
With nothing to replace what had been lost, authorities beat the same drum louder and harder, with no greater expectation of success. Brittle rules could be drummed into students, or students could be nudged to develop a process by which they can decide how to respond honorably. Dynamic process produces citizens better able to recognize the ethics of a situation they find themselves in, and to decide how to respond appropriately to changeable circumstances.
Unique words do not exist to distinguish between culturally dependent traditions called morals, and dynamic process concepts that are paths to moral decisions deduced from humility and reciprocity. If one were to try to find a word to distinguish cultural morés from societal morals, the word “character” fits the morals deduced from humility and reciprocity. Character represents the processes one mind uses to decide how to act toward others. Concepts considered “virtues” map to process concepts:
Other so-called virtues are skills like rhetoric or worthwhile habits like creativity, orderliness, or endurance. Still other useful understandings are important to know but are not usually classified as virtues:
Consider where the courage represented by the Hobbits in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings might come from. Characters in books find a well of strength to draw from as surely as they find it in real life. Thomas Mann’s hypothesis in Magic Mountain does not have to play out, that our culture creates people that are docile and compliant. Docile and compliant isn’t courageous. Joshua Chamberlain at the battle of Gettysburg was courageous, not docile and compliant.
[The next article examines character is validated.]
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[Article 8 of 14: The previous article examined how individual character blossoms.]
Civic virtues change over time. If virtues like kindness, wisdom, and integrity do develop character, one has to decide what constructive virtues should be encouraged.
o Piety, because they felt they were a chosen people.
o Honesty, because they could be trusted.
o True, because they kept their word.
o Just, because they believed in equitable application of law.
o Vigilant, because they would fight to protect that which they believed.
The question is how to know for certain that the virtues one would teach are true virtues. Wealth or fame, while popular, are not considered virtues.
Virtues have been described as those traits that cultures value. To discover them, one could go with what has worked and accept what has gone before as gospel. But which gospel from hundreds of conflicting religions and sects should one accept on faith? The one you believe in, simply because it’s yours isn’t good enough. George Bernard Shaw sarcastically asked in 1919, in Heartbreak House, “Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of England simply because you were born there?”
World War I dashed any vestige of belief that liberal values and technological advancement in natural sciences would lead to steady, civilized society. The world was left in wreckage with cultures in conflict. If one decides to adopt that which other cultures discover to be virtues, one still would have to fashion a virtue detector to test them.
Validation is everyone’s task. Reflective judgment is called for, not compliance, to remain continuously open to new information to review that which we have learned regarding what has gone before in light of what over time becomes better understood. Since politics has become cutthroat competition, people need to develop skills to test its claims. Philosophers say knowing comes from authority, a priori understanding, or the contest of science. People need to determine what authority underwrites particular knowledge and value it accordingly.
We may not be able to decide what is ‘true’ but we can consider what might be ‘workable.’ To draw on the canvas of the new century, all we have are recollections and patterns recognized from them, massaged by language within its limitations, and used to project consequences of proposed actions into an imagined future.
Philosopher Karl Popper reminded people that science is not about truth, but about doubt. Science is a continuous test for falsity that helps prune ideas that don’t stand up to patterns of experience. Otherwise, in one kind of arrogance, people become convinced that their own ambitions are worth the suffering of others. What is true one cannot know, but science helps one understand what is not true. Phrased another way, society is at risk without the freedom to challenge an idea even though someone may not care to hear. Even so, the freedom to offend does not imply the necessity to do so or determine the form it might take.
When deducing morals, dynamic process concepts encourage thinking about yourself, your place in society, and life itself. A path seeded with process concepts offers practical help that people can easily embrace that ultimately leads to virtuous behavior. Process concepts ignite the spark of self-regulated learning that just this easily pass Socrates’ torch on to the next generation.
Journalism is the perfect vehicle to make these essential concepts accessible, and is a division of labor that, for usefully serving individuals and society, would have pleased philosopher Socrates in ancient Greece, sociologist and historian Ibn Khaldun in the Islamic empire, and economist Adam Smith after the modern industrial revolution. As a surrogate for the individual, journalism fits neatly in a concentric circle between the individual and society.
[The next article examines how individual principles matter.]
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[Article 9 of 14: The previous article examined why teaching character has been ineffective.]
A solid foundation of process concepts leads to principles of character among those capable of grasping them. Experience can reveal patterns that, if we choose to recognize and think about them, can give us insight. One needs skills to tell constructive ideas from destructive ones. The skills help produce understanding that inoculates people to defend themselves sensibly.
People often mistake practices for principles. In ancient Athens, the practice of democracy was instituted as a check on consolidated power. Their democracy trusted one person–one vote and majority rules, but still fell to tyranny of the majority and votes bought for political advantage.
The real strength of democracy is that it codifies humility as a permanent check to find a better way. It represents a commitment to freedom of speech because the least of us, given the opportunity, may try to convince others how to improve. Democracy assures the ability to challenge veracity in front of an audience tuned to judge the accuracy of the argument. Brought to consciousness by the charge, individuals choose one side or the other. And, in the end, the penalty for poor reasoning is to have what is said dismissed.
In a democracy, capacity to make individual decisions matters. A representative democracy, when supported by an effective education system, can put forward political candidates with enough character to stand up to a misguided crowd long enough to educate them about what matters. Proper education nudges students to discover what might matter and verify it for personal use. A figurative ‘friend-or-foe’ indicator should warn about those unwilling or unable to value society.
Like democracy, the word freedom is used to stop thinking. Often mistaken as a principle, it is not freedom that we would wish for others, but the opportunity for individuality. Freedom is the result of individuality, not individuality the result of freedom.
Athens in the time of Socrates failed because its democracy, instituted for other reasons, never saw the advantage of institutionalized doubt. Socrates’ language didn’t make a distinction between culture and society. Plato proposed rules for behavior, but no one could prove their universality. Ancient Rome schooled children with operational skills to become good citizens who spoke well, but Rome still lost its republic.
St. Augustine, after 350 AD, took a different approach suggesting virtues are written on the fleshy tablets of the heart as some kind of natural law, but such laws are culturally dependent and cannot be proven to be absolute. Churches have difficulty getting the message across to others beyond their faith because dogma doesn’t convince; it compels.
Charlemagne in the 700s developed liberal arts. The Trivium nudged students to think using Grammar to put thoughts in order; Logic to see if those thoughts were consistent; and Rhetoric to explain those thoughts clearly to others and analyze their replies. Students then practiced thinking on subjects. The Trivium was dropped in the 1500s as it was hoped that by teaching subjects only, students would learn to think.
In the 1300s, Muslim sociologist and historian Ibn Khaldun described government as “an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself.” Embracing a culture’s government without reservation is dangerous because it too easily becomes a user of people.
Europeans continued to discount the importance of individuality relative to one’s culture as Philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) believed the necessary supremacy of government because life in a state of nature was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Believers in the social compact (social contract) assert that those born into a culture owe their heritage to that culture for the quality of life they enjoy. In 1700s Europe, Voltaire’s enlightenment rationality proved insufficient, leading to its overthrow.
Charles Dickens mocked presumptuous “forward-thinking” educators in his 1854 book Hard Times that describes attempts to rigidly control education according to the best technical understandings of the day.
Early 20th century educator John Dewey, enamored both with popular democracy and Soviet developments in behavioral schooling, sought to meld the two to develop participatory democracy. His major works were completed before the bloom fell off the communist rose.
Teachers after World War II lost confidence in what experience had to teach. They dismissed the advantage the founders brought to the table. What should one do if one can’t be sure what to trust?
[The next article examines how individuals validate governance.]
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[Article 10 of 14: The previous article examined principles of character that have changed over time.]
Individuals have little reason to trust governors who control schools. Across the better part of a millennium, the institutions of governance challenged to raise human society have instead sown the seeds of their own destruction:
Each refinement of governance failed to clean up the mess left by the previous century, and left a different mess for succeeding centuries to deal with.
The 20th century was an incredible century advancing the sciences—chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, geology, and archeology, engineering, electronics, set and graph theory, gaming, and computation. But socially, we deal with each other much the same as we have for a hundred years: unable to identify how a different culture was destructive or explain why.
Ethics did not mature in the 20th century. Morality never grew beyond Machiavelli and politics became what you can get away with. The ‘-isms’ that come to mind—Libertarianism, Conservatism, Classical Liberalism, or any of the political parties—have not inoculated individuals to defend themselves. Nor have they countered the political class with an alternative that values the individual and explains the tie between individuals and society. Most unsettling of all, institutional subjects like history, philosophy, art, science, language—the subjects traditionally used to compose alternatives—have themselves become suspect.
You cannot value what you cannot see. If you can’t see why individuals need society, manufacturing society will remain unimportant. It’s not hard. It’s just not habit. A person keyed to search for a pattern in personal experience is more likely to recognize when that pattern shows a useful way to behave. A pattern gives you a tool, not a rule. It does not insist how you should behave. Practice to recognize patterns in personal experience is useful with governance, thought, language, ethics, and culture.
People trust their own judgment, when they know it has failed in the past and will likely fail again. Their thinking machinery jumps to conclusions it tries to justify by the flimsiest of means. If one can’t trust oneself, how can one trust others equally likely to jump to their own conclusions? Conversely, how can they trust you?
Our country is exceptional because it has confidence in its citizens. Confidence in “We, the people” was and remains the singular most important revelation about the founding of our country. As a corollary, education is not used to achieve power or to maintain it.
Until now. The most powerful advisers in government suggest that manipulation of citizens by government is okay. It is an inversion of the relationship of citizens to their government from which the founders of the country sought to insulate us.
A proper goal for school is not to be “college and career ready”. It is not even to create government–approved “good citizens.” The goal is to develop maturity and independence that lead one to value and guard society.
The question “Is there room for the individual in society?” was put to bed a century ago, and certainly put away during Ronald Reagan’s confrontation with the Soviet Union. After years of dullness and lack of vigilance, the question returned. People become uncomfortable if the question is recast as “Is society a user of people?” or “Should individuals be suppressed for the advantage of society’s powerful?”
Individuals need to claim space in a dominating society. Technology has blinded you; you are connected but not social.
The Greeks valued liberty, and for that liberty were willing to sacrifice everything rather than give up. Too many today would casually trade in liberty for the empty promise of security and the certain slavery of a free lunch, never appreciating its true price. Ours is a generation so free that it has lost the meaning of freedom, the reason for freedom, and the will to reach for it. As surely as people who have no liberty yearn for it, the people who have liberty handed to them lust for absence of risk.
[The next article examines how to take individual responsibility.]
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[Article 11 of 14: The previous article examined the individual and governance.]
Humbling, isn’t it, to know your consciousness:
One’s shoulders are not broad enough to carry them all. So, does one give up? How many does one help? Should one help as many as someone else helps? Should everyone tithe?
That could make one feel small, but it puts each individual in charge of that single point in the universe that is the center of their unique consciousness at this one instant in time, gifted with the will to make decisions. Whatever its physics, the center of the universe is here, now, where each unique individual meets it.
Just as you are in charge of your point of consciousness, others are in charge of theirs. It is your responsibility to defend your point and path from others, and, reciprocally, resist the temptation to impose your trajectory on them. You can teach, but you cannot rule, except insofar as they violate the minimums of society. How does one decide what to do?
Socially imposed altruism uses others to pressure individuals into what to do for those in need. Charity is how one decides for oneself what to do. Altruism gives no practical way to answer the question, ‘Do you help one, two, ten, or ten thousand?’ But if altruism is unworkable, one needs to come to personal terms with generosity to create a reasonable, human alternative that puts one’s today, one’s life, and that of others in context.
Decide first whether to give up on altruism. Altruism is a premise whose time has never come and never will because it is too easily used as a club by others for their own interests. One has no obligation to help others—although those who would take advantage of an individual for their own reasons may try convincing them that they do. Instead, recall Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge after his epiphany. Scrooge’s new perspective on his own existence led to reverence for the situation of others. More alert to one’s own journey, one is more sensitive to others, which presents opportunity and personal interest in charity.
Few people, if any, read Adam Smith‘s first book, Theory on Moral Sentiments any more, but he recognized that altruism was not an effective virtue. Self-interest brings the truth of experience and, ironically, can be more effective at prompting people to help others. That may sound contrary to observation in today’s selfish world, but Smith described a principled position not to be confused with unthinking consumerism. Consider these good people:
For whom did Livingstone, Schweitzer, and Mother Theresa do their work? Not the poor as conventional wisdom would have it, but for themselves. Joseph Campbell advised people to follow their bliss. That’s what Livingstone, Schweitzer, and Mother Theresa did. They put themselves where they felt they belonged.
Central Africa, India, or our poorest neighborhood may not be where you belong. It is not a role a teacher, a parent, or someone else can press upon you. Not altruism, but your own inquiry into yourself will lead to your particular answer.
Approach the issue obliquely with these questions. Figure how far along a continuum you’d place yourself:
Along the X, Y, and Z axes an individual can, respectively, place answers to those questions. There is only one location in the graph that describes one’s unique comfort zone for today. It will be different on other days and different for other people. Certainly there are more questions and axes possible, and all of them challenge one to be responsible for setting the mean between the extremes. Aristotle called one’s balance point the virtue between the vices. The balance point for each question can change over time. The task is not to put oneself at the center of one continuum or another, but to understand where, along each continuum, is at the time the healthy, comfortable place for one to be.
And if, among the considerations, one finds bliss tending to a garden, tending to family, tending a neighbor, tending to community, or tending to the world, at that moment, that is where one belongs. If it is in the heart of Africa, at a soup kitchen at the Welcome Hall, teaching, writing, or coaching Little League, or simply loving family or friends, go for it! It is not the job of someone else to shame one into altruism. How dare they try!
When you are at peace with your place in the universe, when you are in balance, one will find that Kant’s concept of duty is not the powerful motivator. Reciprocity—the sense that others live their lives as acutely as you live yours—is a powerful motivator to help and share, and find great joy in it.
[The next article examines how individuals find meaning.]
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[Article 12 of 14: The previous article examined how individuals take responsibility.]
A philosopher asked the meaning of life. Say to anyone who asks, “You selfish, egotistical bastard! You sit there, surveying the world from a very pretty perch, indeed, provided you by everyone who has ever gone before. And you dare to break the gift they have given you. You contemplate abstracts self-indulgently, complain how hard you have it, and that there is nothing to live for, when you cannot see the gift you have been given. You rush to escape, into drugs, alcohol, television, hedonism, small talk, self-pity—anything to stop looping in your head or facing the reality of the meaninglessness of it all. Oh, the horror! Well, grow up! You may not find meaning, but meaning can find you. Your job is to get out of bed, no matter where that bed may be, and say, ‘Damn! This is a wonderful day, and I’m going to make the most of it. I am going to laugh, cry, and work myself until I’m happily tired. And, by God, when I die, someone will be able to look back on what I have done, and say thank you for clearing my path just a little more.’”
Uncertainty—that is what we are given. Certainly, we are alone, but we are also together. Sartre reminded us that, although alone, we still have those that we love on whom to practice loving.
Society is so simple, but it is not understood easily or often because appreciating ‘why society’ takes more steps to independently deduce than it takes steps to see clearly once society’s simple elegance is pointed out.
Once you do figure why society matters, you can sell the personal advantage society offers others, and, furthermore, you are armed with the tools and the courage to defend it against those who, resigned to living just the law of the jungle, would destroy it.
To protect society, you need to know what it is and what it does. That arms you to detect and label behavior that would undermine it. The first weapon of choice is laughter, but every weapon in the arsenal is available to those who would use every weapon in the arsenal against you. Speak softly, but carry a big stick. Keep the big stick but keep it sheathed if possible because you can’t predict its unintended consequences. In the end, use the tools you’ve got.
Whatever authorities may try to impose in schools, we have the tools to independently educate ourselves. Books give you insight, perspective, hope, and companionship. Books nudge you toward a way out. They give you clues to what is wrong. Literature is the way to become sensitive to patterns and the consequences of them. Literature compresses enough experience into a concentrated point that one can manufacture a way to bust out of limitations.
People have every reason to hope. Just as Confucius’ carvings on some ivory could reach out to touch someone 2500 years later, any insight recorded now can reach out to touch someone else in the unimaginable future.
Congratulations! Individuals get to disperse the creeping fog—now that they can survey the past centuries in coffeehouses, work, journalism, art, education, character, individuality, politics, economics, advertising, history, academia, religion, literature, language, community, and culture. Now, make your own hope.
[The next article examines your place in society.]
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[Article 13 of 14: The previous article examined finding individual meaning.]
In today’s schooling, your place in society is less an individual than a participant. To do that, authorities have filtered out of education the best of what has been said and thought. Seldom do students learn to work the complexity of life.
Montaigne, despairs of making sense of himself and speaks to the internal complexity with which every individual must cope, “All contradictions may be found in me—bashful, insolent; chaste, lascivious; talkative, taciturn; tough, delicate; clever, stupid; surly, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; liberal, miserly and prodigal: all this I see in myself to some extent according to how I turn—I have nothing to say about myself absolutely, simply and solidly, without confusion and without mixture, or in one word.”
Many ought not trust what they think. Too many people with degrees have not the skill set, attention span, or interest to recognize everyday flaws in themselves, journalism, or society. People like to think they are rational, but fresh evidence arrives every day to question that. Besides, people are not so much rational as learn to use rationality to check their work.
We clutter the curriculum when the central subject worth teaching is how to live.
Discover that you matter. You matter and you need to discover how much you matter. Then you need to learn to defend yourself. Once you discover that you matter, you can shoulder the responsibility to make sure you are up to the task. The resolve not to be taken in by ignorant, selfish game-players depends on you developing process, pattern recognition, defensive rhetorical skills, experience, and a will to work at it, to resolve. The tools are simple, yours to discover, and yours to own:
Where do you learn to struggle? The myth of Sisyphus tells how the gods condemned him for all eternity to roll a boulder up a mountainside only to have it tumble down again just before it reached the top. The myth is a metaphor—a fiction that tells a truth. In his interpretation of Sisyphus in Once and Future Myths, Phil Cousineau reminds us of something every generation has to learn for itself: It is not what happens to us that matters; what matters is our attitude towards what happens. The story doesn’t ennoble suffering, it ennobles struggle.
Struggle is inevitable, and those who learn to see it as an obstacle rather than a burden make life a lot easier for themselves. Cousineau concludes, ‘the secret of the creative life consists in taking the next step, doing the next thing you have to do, but doing it with all your heart and soul and finding some joy in doing it.’ If you forget all the facts and formulas you learn in school, you will nevertheless have grown to be an educated person if you shun the self-absorbed, downward spiral of suffering and develop in yourself, instead, the will to apply yourself each time you approach the mountain.
Minds are not always changed constructively. Sorting out unsound ideas becomes every individual’s responsibility. Unfortunately, citizens schooled today often are only partially prepared to weigh what others feed them and what they think.
[The final article examines how to prepare for the future.]
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[Article 14 of 14: The previous article examined one’s place in society.]
Individuals today have the advantage of a world of experience that those in the past did not have. That makes it easier to avoid the tar pits others in Philosophy attempted to explore and got caught in. Our predecessors did heavy lifting, but we have incentive others before did not have—the need to act before civil society is trashed. It is too dangerous to be ignorant about judgment in our age. As powerful weapons become more readily available, this becomes a race between civilization and Armageddon.
Mother Nature doesn’t care if we succeed, but we do. We care for ourselves and for our children. Nor can we put off our work, now that isolation no longer protects us. As Jacob Bronowski noted, science has put the power of knowledge in the hands of anyone who cares to learn, so that no longer will a strong box protect our wealth or barred door protect our families. We are in a race with no guarantee civilization will win. The competition is to inoculate ourselves to recognize and defend against others who would destroy rather than build society; a race to expand civilization with an accessible, compelling message others might decide to value and adopt as their own.
Happily, civilization has a better chance today than ever before, because all it takes is a change of mind. It took only a change of mind for villagers to see that the emperor, parading in what he and his officials supposed was finery, wore no clothes.
Adrift on a communal sea of individual ideas clawing at each other to grow and survive, ideas will be lost, and many should be. The way forward is to sift down to the useful because truth is not so easy to prove. The purpose of logic and rhetoric, the way it used to be taught, is to serve as a sieve to sort out what works from what has not in the past and unlikely to work in the future.
Viral ideas transmit experience that tempers wisdom and culture. The viral nature of ideas is why some pre-computer Balkan states registered typewriters and why the Soviet state later concluded that a country with individual computers could not be restrained.
Individuals motivated by strong ideas can influence people and great nations. The future of humanity depends, not on the success of one country, but on the preservation of sound ideas and sound processes to think about them, until sometime, somewhere, soil is ripe for germination. We touch others with sound ideas. Some Confucian ideas engraved 3500 years ago in scraps of ivory projected good sense into the future. That can happen at any time.
Patterns from experience nudge us to embrace the compelling process to engage in life-long learning mastering the tools by which to proceed. Although written about for millennia, they have not always been universally taught. Confucius taught the sense that other people exist, “Don’t do to anybody else what you wouldn’t have them do to you” in the form of the Golden Rule phrased as a negative, and much more practical way of expressing the idea. Karl Marx followed Hegel’s notion that we must constantly evaluate where we are. He fostered a process by which we can examine the way things are; the way we can use time. Unfortunately, and to the pain of millions, after Marx developed the tool his successors mistook a single iteration, rather than continuous review, to be process.
Across all grade levels and subjects, current courses already contain teachable moments to which practical wisdoms easily attach. Process matters because, as Robert Heilbroner pointed out, when you master logic, logic masters you. It becomes compelling and unavoidable. When you understand that two plus two equals four, nothing will entice you to believe it equals five.
Herodotus believed the Greeks at Thermopylae found courage because they valued liberty so highly that they would rather sacrifice their lives to try to preserve it than live any longer without it. Socrates was a tenacious soldier during the Peloponnesian War because he understood his duty. Defending Little Round Top against all odds at Gettysburg during the Civil War, earned a grammar teacher from Maine, Joshua Chamberlain, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Courage to defend what is important springs from mastering why something is important. Teachers nudge individuals to master living for themselves and, from that, to discover courage.
 Sayers, Dorothy. “Lost Tools of Learning.” Web. 17 Jan 2010. <http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html>
 Studying journalism exposes “gotcha” techniques, style over substance, ignorance, misuse of statistics, gullibility, historical amnesia, double standards, misrepresentation, misplaced tolerance, misplaced judgment, silence, politics, overused and underused language, rhetorical games, and logical fallacies.
 Creative Commons License from: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
 U. S. Navy.
 Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976. Print.
 Hofstadter, Douglas. Gödel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Print.
 Escher, M. C. Print Gallery.
 Montaigne, Michel de. Essays. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1958. Print.
 In medieval times, students might argue such things as how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. They didn’t care how many angels that might be. They cared to exercise skills used in discussion. The purpose was rhetorical, to exercise detection of logical fallacies. When one was detected, a student would call out, “Distinguo!” to challenge what had been said. Detecting logical fallacies, a core rhetorical skill, is only incidentally part of the ELA frameworks.
 Ibn Khaldun. Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History.
 Hobbes. Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme & Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill.
 Cass Sunstein http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2565892
 Cousineau, Phil. Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001. Print.
 Bronowski, Jacob. Magic, Science, and Civilization. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1978. Print.
 Heilbroner, Robert. Marxism: For and Against. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980. Print.