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Friday, December 05, 2014

On the Overwhelmingly Dominant Institution in our Culture

I have come to realize, due to some recent thoughts stimulated by some interesting pieces I read of late, that postmodern culture is, fundamentally, university/college culture. Postmodernism is preached at our universities; our postmodern writers and artists are all taught at university MFA programs. The speech codes, the political correctness, the elitist egalitarianism are all from our universities. Almost all our corporations are run by MBAs and Executive MBAs, meaning our corporate culture is that of the universities -- and, thus, postmodern in nature. The ethical wasteland we see within our largest corporations is a direct product of our postmodernist universities.

The university today is the Catholic church of the Medieval period in Europe. It is the place of the priest/mandarin class, and the local priests/adjuncts are kept around only so long as they abide by the the laws of God/political correctness. The Catholic Church presided over a guilt culture, while universities preside over a collective guilt culture.

Everything you love and everything you hate about our contemporary culture can be directly traced to the fact that our college/university system is the overwhelmingly dominant institution within it. That fact should be investigated more thoroughly.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Institutionalizing Everyone With College

Peter Thiel has an op-ed in the Washington Post about higher education, and I agree with every single sentence of it.

Thiel frames the issue of college in a variety of ways I am sure few people have thought about. For one, he points out that "college" isn't a homogeneous thing, but is heterogeneous in its products. "College is good" is a statement that generalizes college into nothing. College is good for what? To train you as a scientist? Yes. To train you as a poet? That's perhaps more controversial. To train you to become an entrepreneur? Absolutely not.

Thiel suggests that what college primarily does is institutionalize people, training them to be worker bees rather than innovators. If you take business classes, you will learn how to run someone else's business, but you won't learn how to start your own.

Where universities can give value added is in providing a broad liberal education, but that's precisely what they are moving away from. Universities can teach you the languages of certain fields of study, so that you can participate in them -- you can learn math, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, the social sciences -- and perhaps gain something that will allow for a degree of insight for innovation, but the majority of innovation will come within those fields, from those who specialize.

To be an entrepreneur, you have to know enough about the issue, subject, topic, technology, situation in order to notice the opportunities present. While getting various degrees in molecular biology will certainly provide you with such opportunities within molecular biology, there is no major in college that will allow you to discover the opportunities available in eCommerce. And quite frankly, many could perhaps participate more in the scientific order if it were not for the institutional barriers to participation.

Of course, to be an entrepreneur, you not only have to be able to notice gaps, but have the ability to do something about it. I have noticed several gaps, but I don't have the computer programming skills to do anything about what I noticed. And I haven't found anyone as interested in these things to help me. Naturally, if I had the money, I could just hire someone, but entrepreneurs early in their careers rarely have the money to be hiring people. Colleges and trade schools could, at least in theory, provide people with such skills, but if we are honest, many who have such skills are self-taught. Universities are usually behind on the latest technology, including programming. And when you get into college, to always run the risk of becoming institutionalized, of having the innovation driven out of you.

It is for these reasons that Thiel is correct about his final observation:

A Reformation is coming, and its message will be the same as it was 500 years ago: Don’t outsource your future to a big institution. You need to figure it out for yourself.
Our university system is the contemporary Catholic Church. In the same way that the Catholic Church ruled over a medieval guilt culture, our universities rule over our postmodern collective guilt culture. They reinforce those values at every turn. If a Reformation is coming, that means there are further implications for our future culture. In the same way that Catholic guilt culture gave way to responsibility culture, university collective guilt culture will give way to another individualistic culture. New institutions will arise. And I have little doubt that that Reformation will be led by the majority adjuncts out there who are growing increasingly tired of being exploited by the current system. I look forward to that day, when the university system breaks up, its power is crushed, and it has to reform in the face of competition. That will happen when people realize they don't need universities to become educated human beings, and that will happen when they realize universities have ceased producing educated human beings in the first place.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Happens When You Revert Back to an Old Social Regulator?

The Hippolytus/Phaedra myth relies on the movement from a common social regulator to a new social regulator, then a reversal to the common social regulator to trigger the tragic action.

In Euripides' version, Phaedra, who is in a shame culture, feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus. When she confesses (from feeling guilt) and then in turn feels shame from people knowing how she feels about Hippolytus, she writes the letter making the false accusation against Hippolytus and hangs herself.

In Seneca's version, Phaedra feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus, but then is encouraged by the Nurse to take responsibility for her feelings and actions. When, prodded by the Nurse, Phaedra denies responsibility by accusing Hippolytus, Theseus has him killed.When she returns to feeling guilt, she kills herself.

In Racine's version, Phaedra feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus because she wants to abide by the law of Theseus. Hippolytus equally feels guilt for his feelings for Aricia. When everyone thinks Theseus dead, the law is lifted, the reason for guilt is gone, and everyone enters into a responsibility culture. When Theseus returns, the law returns, and thus guilt returns. Hippolytus is killed and Phaedra kills herself.

In Robinson Jeffers' version, Phaedra feels responsible for her feelings. She develops feelings of collective guilt, causing her to waver between blaming and defending Hippolytus. Hippolytus argues she ought to take responsibility for her actions. She punishes Hippolytus for being a gay man who, by his nature, could never have a relationship with her. She then takes responsibility for having done so, and kills herself.

Each warns that we should not move backwards, but embrace the emergent social regulator.

We can see this in contemporary American culture. We are currently in a collective guilt culture; all of our institutions are controlled by people with this mentality -- egalitarian leftists and neoconservatives. They deny that anyone has or should have responsibility, and their bureaucratic institutions help ensure few people are held responsible for their actions. Social pressure of various kinds are the primary way our social actions are controlled -- accusing people of being racist, sexist, homophobic, privileged, etc. -- but the law is also there to help. Collective guilt is a kind of guilt, so we should not be surprised if we find those in the collective guilt culture working with those in the guilt culture within a society against the same things, even if they are for different reasons.

A great example of this is the art world, which is beginning to feel the "conservative" pressures of the collective guilt left. Those in the collective guilt culture hate the same art as those in the guilt culture, but for different reasons.

Those who believe in responsibility are mostly left yelling at the wind that people ought to be responsible for what they do. They are left acting in virtuous ways that nobody respects.

There are also shame cultures in the majority culture. Our prisons are full of people from our shame subcultures. That is because shame is in a real sense pre-law; the laws mean nothing to them, but rather how people think of them. And nobody particularly cares if you break the law, so that's not going to shame them into good behavior.

Our society would be worse off if it retreated from where it is. But the article on art shows that collective guilt culture may have played itself out, now that it's eating its own. I personally cannot wait for the  natural principles culture to finally emerge.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the Varieties of Spontaneous Orders: From Cultures to Civil Societies and the Orders In Between

I have a chapter in Austrian Economic Perspectives on Individualism and Society: Moving Beyond Methodological Individualism: "On the Varieties of Spontaneous Orders: From Cultures to Civil Societies and the Orders In Between"

Organization Thinking vs. Systems Thinking in Emergent Psychologies

It occurred to me last night that the two tiers of Gravesean social psychological theory makes a pretty clear dividing line between hierarchical organization thinking (1st Tier) and scale-free network processes, or systems, thinking (2nd Tier). The 2nd Tier thus goes through all of the levels of the 1st Tier, but as a systems thinker rather than as a hierarchical thinker.

Most people want to turn our scale-free systems -- aka, spontaneous orders -- into hierarchical organizations; that is because most people have 1st Tier psychologies. 2nd Tier psychologies understand our social systems are exactly that -- systems. And they understand that hierarchical organizations are components of those systems.

More, we can see an evolution of the kinds of organizations that develop over time based on one's psychological level. Let me use business structures as an example:

Tribalist/familial level -- family-owned business/cottage industries

Heroic/Power level -- single proprietorships/small businesses with strong boss

Authoritative level -- larger, more hierarchical businesses/mercantilist businesses

Entrepreneurial level -- Entrepreneurial businesses/creativity-driven businesses/rapid-growth businesses

Egalitarian level -- Bureaucratic corporations/shareholder corporations

We are in the last social stage in our economy here in the U.S. Such businesses are typified by the presence of huge bureaucracies and dissipated ownership through shareholders, which ensures that nobody is responsible for anything that happens in the business. The result is businesses which exhibit behaviors similar to sociopaths. These are also your megacorporations, which tend to have maximum decentralization for an organization. Entrepreneurial businesses are the more creative kinds of large businesses -- having enough capital to engage in major innovations. Google and Apple are primarily entrepreneurial businesses. Authoritative businesses have gotten large enough to become local/state-wide rent-seekers. They seek protectionist measures to solidify their business and protect themselves from competition. Single proprietorships or small businesses are the most common nowadays (beyond the family-owned/cottage industries, which have mostly been regulated out of business). Just about every business starts off as a family business or a single-proprietor small business; those that survive and grow become mercantilist businesses; those that survive and grow become entrepreneurial businesses; those that survive and grow become bureaucratic shareholder corporations. 

The emergence of the Egalitarian level style of corporate structure, being large and a kind of decentralized hierarchical structure, means many confuse it with the spontaneous order of the market itself. This is the origin of central planning schemes, corporatist governance, and various attempts to fuse corporate structure, government, and the economy into a single whole. All forms of socialism are attempts to impose corporate hierarchical structures onto the scale free network structures of the spontaneous orders. Anyone who confuses hierarchical organization and spontaneous order is a 1st Tier psychology, since to a certain degree the spontaneous orders cannot really be "seen".

With the emergence of 2nd Tier psychologies, there is an understanding that our social systems are spontaneous orders. The first level -- the integrationist level -- is just concerned with trying to figure out how to ensure the survival of the various spontaneous orders, and personal survival within them. The second level -- the holistic level -- is concerned with developing his/her spontaneous order family. That family may be the market order, the monetary order, the artistic orders, the philosophical order, the religious order, etc.

In fact, one can probably figure out what each of the 2nd Tier levels ought to be concerned with given the understanding that the two levels map on each other, with the 1st seeing the world as hierarchical organizations and the 2nd seeing the world as spontaneous orders.

Survival level -- mere survival  : Integrationist level -- systems survival

Tribal level -- family business   : Holistic level -- health of the different systems, esp. one's preferred system

Power level -- small business   : Control level -- trying to control system structures

Authoritative level -- mercantilist business : Law level -- understanding the laws of complex systems

Entrepreneurial level -- creative business  : Creative level -- trying to create new systems

Egalitarian level -- bureaucratic business  : Civil level -- global civil society as non-hierarchical integration and interactions among the different spontaneous orders and civil societies

In current Gravesean theory, only Integrationist and Holistic have been officially named. I am making up names for the next four in parallel with how they ought to develop if they are going to parallel the 1st Tier.

This suggests that people through the 2nd Tier will mostly concern themselves with understanding and developing their own pet spontaneous orders and think that order to be the most important one. This will likely differ from culture to culture. But in the end, we will come to understand these orders are all of equal importance to the full development of not just the human being, but of the systems themselves, both individually and as parts of healthy global civil society.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Robinson Jeffers' The Cretan Woman: A Tragedy of the Transition from Responsibility Culture to Collective Guilt Culture

Robinson Jeffers' play The Cretan Woman is a Phaedra/Hippolytus tragedy involving the transition from a responsibility culture to a guilt culture. In order for this transition to be staged, we should expect to see attributions of the way people behave to their group membership, with a correlative reduction of the importance of the individual. At the same time, there needs to be a conflict between individualistic responsibility culture and collectivist collective guilt culture. And these are exactly what we see in Jeffers' play.

First, note the title of the play. Euripides' play is titled Hippolytus. Seneca's is Phaedra; Racine's is Phedre. That is, all three have plays named after a character in the play. But Jeffers titles his The Cretan Woman. What does this imply? That any Cretan woman would do? Perhaps.

In Jeffers' play, Phaedra is constantly talking about how she cannot help how she feels and behaves because she is, after all, a Cretan. She makes the argument that Cretans are more civilized than the Greeks, but we can see that her behaviors suggest that at best the Cretans and the Greeks, as different as they may be, are really quite equally balanced between good and bad traits. Still, Phaedra goes on to talk about the nature of the Greeks, and in her descriptions of Theseus, one can only come a way with the image of Theseus as the typical Greek. This perhaps implies that any Greek man would do in Theseus' place.

Then, there is the introduction by Jeffers of the idea that Hippolytus is gay. Thus, his aversion to women lies neither in religious beliefs nor in his philosophy/ideology nor even in his racial aversion to members of the opposite sex (which he is said to feel, in Seneca's version, because he is an Amazon), but rather from his homosexuality. Thus Jeffers gets us away from race as nature in explaining Hippolytus' aversion to women, and brings it around to a more biological explanation.

Phaedra's discussion of the nature of Cretan and Greek (and Egyptian) societies is cultural rather than racial in nature. Thus, the Greeks, Cretans, and Egyptians are socially constructed -- this is the quality of their "nature."

Viewed from a group/collective standpoint, we do not have to have Phaedra, Theseus, and Hippolytus specifically -- any Cretan woman, Greek man, and homosexual man would do to have the story. It is inherent in those people to behave as they behave. Cretan women are naturally overly-passionate; Greek men are naturally brutish; gay men are naturally sexually uninterested in the opposite sex.

But where Phaedra insists on these cultural/group identifications, Hippolytus insists that one can, nevertheless, be responsible for one's actions. He insists that she be responsible for her actions, but Phaedra ends up condemning Hippolytus for being guilty of being a gay man who, because of his inherent nature, is uninterested in her. Only after she manages to infuriate Theseus to the point that he is willing to kill Hippolytus -- and does -- does she feel responsible for her actions. After Theseus kills Hippolytus, she berates him for killing his son. She then goes off and hangs herself. This suicide is a more dispassionate one than what we see in Racine or Seneca, where Phaedra immediately kills herself with a sword. She is still passionate, and in her immediate despondency, she kills herself. However, there is little passion in responsibility -- nor, for that matter, in refusing to take personal responsibility inherent in collective guilt. She both feels herself not responsible (as a Cretan woman), but cannot deny her responsibility in Hippolytus' death. Thus, she goes off, quietly and calmly, to hang herself.

Here, then, we see a tragedy of the transition from responsibility culture to collective guilt culture.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

An Intense World

My wife and I have created a blog and a Facebook page, both titled An Intense World. This is in reference to the Intense World Theory of autism, which seems to best describe Daniel's autism and my Asperger's. From here on out, all of my postings dealing directly with ASD will be at An Intense World. That will free up this blog to deal with most of my other interests, which are considerable in number. I hope everyone who has come here interested in my musings on autism will join us at the new blog.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Social Justice and Collective Guilt

F.A. Hayek once argued that "social justice" was a nonsense term and that he couldn't find anyone who could define it. Yet, the term has managed to stick with us over the decades. Where does it come from? What does it mean?

Social justice makes sense in light of the emergence of collective guilt as a social regulator and a certain idea of privilege associated with it. The dynamics is as follows:

Group A is privileged relative to Group B
The world is a zero sum game
Therefore, what Group A has was necessarily taken from Group B
Therefore, Group A should feel guilty about their privilege
And, equally, therefore, Group B deserves social justice from Group A
The idea of social justice necessarily emerges out of the emergence of collective guilt as a social regulator. It is no coincidence that the idea of social justice was developed by Marxist Catholic theologians. It is a different kind of thing from what one typically associates with "justice" when it is associated with either guilt cultures or responsibility cultures. These tend to be more individualistic in nature, even if there can be a collective component to some notions of justice within guilt culture.

The difference is that in guilt cultures, "our" group is just, but your group that threatens our law/principles is necessarily unjust. Keep in mind that the Inquisition was a court system designed to hand out justice. Within responsibility cultures, justice is always necessarily individualistic. You are responsible for your actions; others are not responsible for who you are and what you do; justice is thus related to your actions and your actions alone.

With the idea of collective guilt, you can actually make the argument that your own group is guilty and that therefore justice is owed other groups. It is still group-think and fundamentally tribalistic, but what is gone is the idea that one's own tribe is necessarily and by definition good while others' are bad. By breaking down the us-good/you-bad dichotomy (or, all too often, reversing it), one can develop the idea that other groups are being treated unfairly as groups by other groups as groups. Those groups which are being treated unjustly need some sort of reparation for the injustices they have suffered, while those engaging in the injustices ought to feel guilty, as a group, about those injustices.

But how does a group perpetuate injustice against another group? Through institutions. Now, it is certainly true that there are institutions within pretty much any given society/culture which privilege one group over another. Often by design (Jim Crow laws, minimum wages, anti-drug laws, etc.). While many who promote social justice argue in favor of redistribution, another option is institutional reform and/or the creation of new institutions. There is certainly something to be said about the kinds of criticism which arise out of the idea of social justice. This is why there are even libertarian arguments for social justice. But of course, the solutions are typically going to be different in nature.

Thus we can see that social justice is in fact a coherent idea. One just have to understand it in relation to the right social regulator. As a part of collective guilt culture, it makes perfect sense, even if it appears to be utter nonsense to responsibility cultures, guilt cultures, or shame cultures. Naturally, for those who are regulated by naturalistic principles, social justice is hardly nonsense, even if it is something which, through institutional reform, we can hope to move well beyond.

Racine's Phedre, the Law, and Liberty

This week we have been discussing Racine's Phedre, comparing it, of course, to Seneca's and Euripides' plays on the same myth.

In Euripides' play, Phaedra feels guilt, then shame at confessing her guilt, leading her to commit suicide and write a letter accusing Hippolytus of raping her in order to ensure her children won't be shamed by her actions. Shame is social, and it affects one's family.

In Seneca's play, Phaedra feels guilt, then takes responsibility for her feelings, leading her to telling Hippolytus how she feels. His answer to her angers her, she falsely accuses him of rape, and Hippolytus dies. She feels such guilt that she commits suicide.

In each of these cases, there is a retreat to an earlier social regulator, which results in Phaedra's suicide. Euripides' Phaedra is in a shame culture, but feels guilt; when she retreats to shame, she commits suicide and makes her false accusation. Seneca's Phaedra is in a guilt culture; her attempt to avoid responsibility results in her false accusation, and her overwhelming guilt causes her to commit suicide.

In Racine's play, Phedre feels guilt under the the law of Theseus. Indeed, the law of Theseus also prevents Hippolytus from acting on his own feelings toward Aricia (a love interest introduced by Racine). The law makes each feel guilty about who they love. When it is reported that Theseus is dead, the law is lifted, and Phedre and Hippolytus each pursue their interests. While Racine claimed that he gave Hippolytus a love interest to make him more flawed in relation to the law, I think most people would have been happy for Hippolytus to be free to pursue his love, especially given that she is clearly in love with him as well. Phedre is still in a problematic position in going after Hippolytus, but she is freer to do so given she is no longer his step-mother, given Theseus' death. Regardless, the removal of the law frees people, and they are willing to become the causes of their actions, following on their desires, making them responsible agents. However, Theseus is not dead, and his return brings back the law. Because of the return of the law (and the guilt that comes with it), Hippolyus is killed and Phedre commits suicide.

Here we have a situation in which the social regulator -- the law -- is removed in a quite literal way. With its removal, guilt disappears. With its return, guilt returns as well. The retreat to the older social regulator -- from responsibility for one's own actions to guilt in the face of the law -- triggers the tragic outcomes.

The variations on the Phaedra/Hippoytus myth are very revealing in regards to the nature of our social regulators. But while Senea's and Racine's version deal with the transition from guilt to responsibility culture, it is Racine's version that best demonstrates how this occurs.