Links & Thoughts: Being Nice, Care, Membership vs Achievement

A. Was talking with a 6 year old of my acquaintance, nice little boy. He was telling me that he gets to go to first grade next year, because he was nice and followed the rules. He said almost all the kids in his class get to go to first grade, there was only one boy who was in doubt, because he was always in time out because he talked. I opined that it was pretty normal to want to talk when you’re with your friends, but my young friend said this boy talked all the time and almost never even raised his hand.

No mention of learning anything, except that the price of advancement is being nice and doing what you are told. The young woman who taught at our school (she quit – another victim of the gender fascists discussed here earlier) was in the room. Sotto voce, I asked: how subversive should I get? She seemed to be for it, but I, thinking of this boy’s immigrant single mom, decided not to sow discontent too directly.

His 8 year old brother showed up. He showed me a set of paper strips whereupon were written compliments from his classmates. These included ‘funny,’ ‘generous,’ ‘kind,’ ‘friendly,’ and so on – I half expected ‘punctual,’ as these comments didn’t seem like the kinds of things the 2nd graders I’ve known would come up with on their own. He gets to go to 3rd grade. He is a very nice boy, too.

Once in a while, these kids will tell me about something they’ve learned, all excited about reading hard words or being able to figure out some math. I wonder how much of their school experience is really about learning basics. It seems all but completely about learning to be nice and follow orders.

On a more subtle and damaging level, any sense of real achievement is subverted into awards for mere conformity. Real achievement allows a child to develop a healthy sense of independence, a notion that he, himself, can do worthy things that are not merely plays for somebody else’s approval. (1) Our schools systematically defeat this, by rewarding compliance and compelling empty compliments. It’s telling that one side of the political spectrum went so far as to make ‘you didn’t build that’ a sort of mantra and litmus test. The very idea of achievement is seen as a bad thing. As people of low or no achievement, they hate and fear precisely the independence their opponents admire and hold up as an ideal.

This process of rewarding compliance while defeating any sense of real achievement is an implementation of Fichte’s goal of reassigning a child’s natural loyalties to the state, based on his claim that what a child wants more than anything is the approval of his father. Fichte stated this desire can easily be redirected into seeking the approval of a (state certified) teacher. The goal, according to Fichte, is to destroy family and paternal loyalty and replace it with loyalty to the state (for the child’s own good, of course).

B. These two items over at Rotten Chestnuts are worth a read: The Man of the Hour and Haidt’s “Righteous Mind”. The first opens:

Academics, of course, are all in on “social” explanations of historical phenomena.  Being weak, ineffective people themselves, with no experience of life, the very idea of a Caesar frightens and repels them… so they construct theories of History in which it is impossible for a Caesar to exist.  On this view, “social forces” (what they used to call “the relations of the means of production”) tore the Roman Republic apart; the Empire was its inevitable next stage.  Assign whatever name you like to the Imperator — whether Caesar, Marius, Sulla, or Miles Gloriosus, he’s just the temporary face of the vast, impersonal social forces that control our fate.  None of this “History is just the biographies of great men” for them!

Academics as the type specimens of the “Kool Kids Klub membership is the only achievement” crowd. In connection with Great Men, Severian observes something that should be obvious: any culture recognizable as a culture over many generations produces people who are motivated and equipped to

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg
Rome produced him on purpose.

continue that culture. This should be a night follows day level truism. He gives Julius Caesar as an example, who as a 15 year old kid was sent on family diplomatic missions, given command of family guards, and took it upon himself to hunt down and execute some pirates who had kidnapped him and held him for ransom. While Julius was likely more talented than the run of the mill scion of a Roman patriarch, his training was typical. A teenage boy is hankering for some responsibility. The Romans, even if they may seem to us to have gone a bit far, gave such responsibility to their sons as befitted the keepers of a Republic (or an Empire, as needs may be).

Image result for pride parade
Our schools produce these folks on purpose as well.

The second, regarding Jonathan Haidt’s book asserting politics is a function of morality, where he talks about classifying liberal and conservative, left and right, whatever, using 5 categories – care, fairness, authority, loyalty, and purity. (Note: that’s stretching the idea of morality past the breaking point, at least, as understood in the West for the last 1,000 years, but whatever.) Severian points out how Haidt’s analysis is exactly opposite of reality:

Start from the top.  Care?  Liberals very ostentatiously don’t give a shit if their policies actually help or not.  How’s gay marriage going, for instance?  Anyone bother to follow up on that?  Did that loving gay couple ever get those hospital visitation rights that we were told, in story after heart-wrenching story, was the whole reason for gay marriage in the first place?  As I’ve pointed out before, you’d think the Left would at least be doing some victory laps at this point — “haha silly wingnutz, you said the sky would fall if the gays got married, and look!”  But…. nope.  Obergefell might as well have happened in the 17th century, for all the Left cares about it now.  Ditto the Great Society, the War on Poverty, Head Start, and all the other great Liberal crusades of the past 50 years.  They very obviously did the opposite of what they were supposed to, but if Liberals bother to think about them at all — which they only do if you hold their feet to the fire — they just mutter “needs more funding” and change the subject.

Again, we have the dichotomy whereby, on the one hand, people who value achievement (and, therefore, more likely than not, have achieved stuff) tend to strongly care about if and how a proposal is supposed to work, meaning, among other things, they’ve had to wrestle with what ‘work’ means. On the other hand, there are the people I’m always going on about, for whom membership is the only achievement. They care only about signaling they are in the club, and seem truly baffled when people like me keep asking how a proposal is supposed to work, and, indeed, what work means.

My favorite example: when Obamacare was first on the table, I kept hearing wildly ridiculous claims, such as the profits of the drug and healthcare companies would cover the additional costs, and the implicit idea that ‘health care’ is like pork bellies or soy futures – completely fungible, so that the cost of healthcare in, say, Brazil, whatever that means, is somehow relevant to what we call healthcare here in America.

So I did a little research and crunched some numbers. Um, no. It was painfully clear that Obamacare supporters cared only about supporting Obamacare, as in no way was better, cheaper healthcare going to result from it, as events have since demonstrated. But to even go in the direction of considering likely results is a no-no, you hater, you.

  1. It should not need to be said that individual success and the healthy independence it engenders do not exclude appreciation the contributions of others nor make one antisocial. On the contrary, it seems more common for one to both achieve nothing and fail to be grateful. It’s difficult for ingrates to be sociable.
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The Epistemic Closure of the Left pt 2: Method, Goals

Continued from part 1, Definitions, Origins.

Method

Just as the compulsory, state-run, graded classroom model, with the weight of government funding and enforcement behind it, eventually crushed all competing models, the research university crushed or assimilated all those classic liberal arts colleges. The complete conquest of k-12 took until the 1960s; post secondary education didn’t completely fall until the 1990s, it seems. True liberal arts colleges, and those few primary schools that don’t use the graded classroom model, are like those isolated Japanese soldiers who, holed up on their islands, refuse to admit the war is over. The goal – the creation of a docile and obedient population loyal only to the state through the destruction of the home, family, village and church – are the same as those of Fichte’s primary and secondary schooling.

How did this happen? Pournelle’s Iron Law states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Dr. Pournelle, who worked for and with any number of bureaucracies in his lifetime, concludes:

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

A moment’s reflection should convince anyone who has any experience with bureaucracies, or even with people in general, of the truth of the Iron Law. In colleges, professors dedicated to their field will gladly let others take care of what at first looks like routine administrative matters. These routine administrative matters include, or will soon come to include, screening applicants for teaching positions. Say three professors in the English Department volunteer to work with the administration’s hiring department to do the initial screening of all applicants. The professors who want nothing more than a chance to share their love of Milton or Melville and beat a little grammar into thick undergrad skulls will gladly let them do it. At first, the three profs may get to hire their guy once in a while, or screen out somebody who they find objectionable – the guy who laughed at deconstructionism, or thought that, no, really, Shakespeare is the greatest writer in English. Over time, and by winning all the close decisions, only professors who are kindred spirits will get hired. Eventually, the department will speak with one voice – the voice of those eager to advance their power in the organization.

By patient application of subtle or not so subtle bias and pressure over a long enough time, the professors in any university will eventually include only those the bureaucracy finds amenable. This is not an accident, nor something that might or might not happen. Given a large enough bureaucracy, take over by the career bureaucrats is inevitable. They will then “make the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

Given that those dedicated to the bureaucracy are now in control, how did we end up with this particular Marxist epistemic closure, where our young are taught to think moronically stupid, self-refuting ideas like ‘everything is a social construct’ are the apex of intellectual achievement? As discussed at length on this blog, modern compulsory graded classroom schooling is a mechanism for producing docile, conforming people incapable, as Fichte put it, of thinking anything their teachers don’t want them to think. I concluded part 1 by observing that this mechanism can be used by whoever controls its application – by whoever controls the organization’s bureaucracy. In other words, while Fichte may have wanted the products of his schools to think one way and conform to one norm, there’s nothing in the system itself that prevents it from being used by others to enforce another set of thoughts or cause conformity to some other norm.

Here’s where a distinction needs to be made. We’ll start with something Goebbels said: Give me a Red (a communist) and I can turn him into a Brown (a Nazi) in 10 days. I have no doubt that an evil genius Marxist, parallel to Goebbels, could make the same claim in reverse. The mindset is the important thing, a sort of container that determines the shape of acceptable thoughts and actions while being able to hold different content, depending on the desires of those in control. (1)

The mechanism here works independently of any particular ideology. Fichte had in mind creating a Greater Germany of sorts, purified of foreign influences, that could take its place as leader of the world (nothing scary about that, right?). Mann, who along with Barnard became the early American champions of compulsory state schooling after having visited Prussia and seen it at work, seemed at first to want to get those stubborn New England farmers to be more reasonable (they didn’t seem to like working long hours at the new factories owned by him and his friends – go figure). Later, he seemed more inspired by the goal of making good Protestant Americans out of the unwashed Irish Papist immigrants. (He got a lot more support from the farmers for this second goal than for the first). That goal – Americanizing (Catholic & Jewish) immigrants (into good solid Protestants, after the manner of the Prussian Lutherans under Fichte and von Humboldt) – sustained the movement through the end of the 19th century.

In the 1890s, William Torrey Harris reimagined the goal to be good solid Hegelians, which is not so different on one level, as Hegel always considered himself a devout Lutheran. The critical distinction: Hegelians reject logic in favor of enlightenment, a direct infusion of knowledge into the soul. The Spirit is unfolding itself through History, after all, and cannot be limited by human reason. I suspect the distinction between Hegelianism and more traditional Lutheranism (and, by effortless extension, Protestantism in general) would have been lost on most all of Harris’s audiences, aided greatly by Hegel’s impenetrable prose, especially as deployed by a third-rate Hegelian like Harris.(2)

And so on – we’ll get to the details in a moment. Here, I merely want to call attention to how the goals of compulsory state schooling changed more or less dramatically over time, yet caused hardly a ripple of discontent among advocates. What really mattered was that the good, smart, forward-looking people get to control the unwashed masses. Mann, anticipating C. S. Lewis with a sort of Protestant Mere Christianity, thought all would be well if the many could set aside their differences and accept the sort of non-sectarian Protestantism shared by him and his upper class buddies.(3) I contend that the general desire of the well off and their courtiers was to control the masses; the details were not all that important, so long as those smelly poorer people were under control.

Goals

After the Great War and the Russian Revolution, and exacerbated mightily by the Great Depression a dozen years later, the idea that society and specifically the economy needed to be managed by the smart people came to be taken for granted by virtually all educated people, who, of course, assumed they were the smart people who would be doing the management. In such an atmosphere, Marxism and Fascism were seen as forward-looking models of state control, for the presumed benefit of the working classes.

On a more practical level, as recounted by Bella Dodd in her autobiography The School of Darkness, Soviet agents and their useful idiots began to recruit from and then infiltrate the schools. They did this by becoming, whenever possible, the bureaucracy of various teachers unions. Dodd, herself a teacher and then college professor, rose to the head of the New York City Teachers’ Union, where she then furthered the careers of like-minded individuals – that whole “write the rules, and control promotions” thing the Iron Law talks about.

Dodd states that 1940 -1942, when the State of New York got around to investigating Communist influence in their schools (the Rapp-Coudert Committee), the Communists were able to use misdirection to confuse the public, labelling the state’s efforts to root out Communist teachers as an attack on public schools in general. They also launched attacks on the politicians behind the investigation, using their well-organized activists to campaign against them. Sound familiar?

Communist teachers were coached on how to avoid being found out; those with too public track records of being Communists were sacrificed. Dodd estimated that 40-50 Communist teachers and professors were found out, leaving about 1,000 in place, to continue the work of remaking the New York schools in their image. Similar situations prevailed in numerous other state teachers unions.

Another thread: In 1923, the Frankfurt School, associated with Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, was founded with the purpose of promoting Marxist social analysis in academia, commonly known as Critical Theory. In 1933, the Nazis shut it down; it moved to America and found a home at Columbia University.

In the fashion ubiquitous to Marxists, critical theorists practice a sort of philosophical pettifoggery, drafting all sorts of extraneous and peripheral ideas in supposed support of what are, essentially, a couple Marxist dogmas. It is not at all important that you learn what Hegel, Husserl or Heidegger said, merely that you can identify them as the Three Hs of Critical Theory. Marx, Lenin and Gramsci, in addition to not sharing a first letter, might make what you’re up to too transparent. All three of the Hs are legendarily obtuse (“It just is nothing foreign to consciousness at all that could present itself to consciousness through the mediation of phenomena different from the liking itself; to like is intrinsically to be conscious.” – 1st Husserl quote that came up on Google) and are the models and apex of that academic approach/pathology whereby mere obscurantism is presented both as the height of erudition and an impenetrable barbican against all criticism. How can one criticize what one doesn’t understand? For these reasons, incomprehensibility becomes a prime goal of Marxist academics.

In Sinclair’s notes to the Inferno, he comments on a scene in hell Dante draws from life – the preening of the condottieri, I think, but I’m not looking it up – by quoting a contemporary commentator: “Everyone has seen it.” I’m going the same route here: dip a toe into college life anytime in the last 30 years, and what you’ll meet, predominantly, are professors and their sycophants, some true believers and many useful idiots, the thinnest skinned, least happy people you’ll ever find, smirkingly sure of their superiority and hair-trigger brutal in their reactions to any challenge to it. They are the desired fruit of Critical Theory, incapable of thinking anything their teachers don’t want them to think. All that bluster and rage are there to ensure no evil thoughts get through. Epistemic closure has been achieved.

Marxist social analysis consists, for all practical purposes, of applying to all situations the dogma: all evil in the world is caused by oppression. Since this is manifestly contradicted at every turn (4), Marxists further promulgate the dogma that everything is a social construct. This latter dogma is a more pretentious rephrasing of the classic propaganda line “the individual is nothing, the collective is everything.” In turn, this rephrasing is itself a rephrasing of Marx’s famous, if poorly articulated (hey, the dude admired Hegel) claim that class determines consciousness.

How this works is trivial: merely by offering evidence and using logic, I reveal my class consciousness, and have identified myself as not a member of the tribe. As such, my claims, ideas and arguments are summarily dismissed and I am conclusively presumed to be unenlightened at best and an evil racist Nazi Fascist at worst. If I offer evidence and reasons why I’m not an evil racist Nazi Fascist – oops! I’ve simply reconfirmed the original judgement.

On a more general level, for example, a black man who murders a policeman is not only not a murderer, he’s not even violent, by definition. He is a member of an oppressed group, therefore the violence is being done *to* him, so that his actions are not themselves violent, but are the violence of the oppressing group expressing itself downstream, as it were. And so on, for all actions everywhere. All evil is the result of oppression. The oppressed as such cannot do violence. Anything that appears to contradict this is a social construct of the oppressors.

The final dogma, Gramsci’s contribution to the cause: All social structures are tools of the oppressors created and enforced to maintain their hegemony. Family, marriage, chuch, village, “gender,” corporations – etc. are not activities or characteristics of individuals but rather tools of oppression. Therefore, the only thing that can be done to improve the world is to promote the destruction of all social structures. Trying to encourage people to be better, let alone trying to improve yourself, is delusional. The individual is nothing.

The pretzel logic that results from any attempt to apply these dogmas, known as intersectional theory, means pretty much everyone is both an oppressor and a victim of oppression. A black man is oppressed by whites by virtue of being black but oppresses women because he’s a man. A well-off Asian lesbian oppresses the poor but is herself oppressed by men and non-Asians, and is a bigot if she refuses to have sex with a transgender man who claims he’s a lesbian. And so on, to whatever degree of spaghetti reasoning you care to take it. This results in such amusing sights as people simultaneously performing ritual self-shaming while claiming exalted victim status. With a glorious tear in their eye, of course.

All this activity is cloaked in spectacularly Orwellian euphemisms, of course. Since all simple direct speech, like all simple direct experience, puts these idiotic dogmas to the lie, we end up calling mindless conformity “critical thinking”; totalitarian power grabs by tiny minorities “democratic action”; fascist brutality “antifa”; using people’s misery to manipulate them “fighting for social justice.” Slavery is freedom, ignorance is knowledge, and war is peace. All brutality, misery, abuse and manipulation can be described in preformulated happy language that allows the speaker to avoid coming to grips with what he is doing. Allows them to keep at bay the cognitive dissonance which this epistemic closure generates on contact with reality, in other words.

Final historical note: as related by Menand in The Metaphysical Club, another key piece was put in place in the 1930s: the concept of academic freedom was elevated to the level of essential truth. The problem academic freedom was meant to address was that the people paying the bills, the poor rubes, imagined they might have a say over who got to be a professor and what the colleges taught. Professors who caused public scandal, such as Charles Sanders Peirce, were unemployable due to the pressure brought by parents and benefactors and the administrations that had to answer to them. The then-modern approach to psychology, with its dogmas of sexual repression and the sexualization of childhood, got some push-back in the same way.

Solution? Assert as a dogma that only those expert in a field are fit to criticize those who share their field. No non-expert understands enough of what is going on to offer valid criticisms. A corollary, unspoken as far as I am aware, is that the behaviours of such enlightened folks were also off-limits. Thus, somebody like me, for example, who is simply well read and intelligent, is disqualified from pointing out the Emperor’s nakedness (5).

Combine the two main points here, and you get: those who work for the bureaucracy make the rules and govern promotions AND everyone outside their little club is presumptively disqualified from offering any criticism. The faculty is homogenized; non-faculty disallowed from all discussion. The appearance of educated consensus is presented, cowing the ignorant children we send to college and helping the miseducated slavish conformists selected by the bureaucracy as ‘scholars’ to preen in their stolen glory.

The goal of the Frankfurt School and the Soviet agents and their teams of useful idiots was to commandeer the educational system in America and redirect it toward creating Marxist epistemic closure (getting ‘woke’) in all children and young adults. This goal has been all but achieved – what remains are efforts to eliminate all private schools. Google “ban private schools” to see how that’s going. Check out who backs such efforts.

All this takeover of the schools is a step in the ultimate goal of destroying all current social structures, so that the End Times will arrive, bringing with them a new heaven and a new earth, people by new Soviet men, living in a Worker’s Paradise. The best part is that this results from proper consciousness, so that the individual – who is nothing, remember – needn’t actually build the new superstructures. They just happen. All the individual need do is cooperate with other woke people in the destruction of the current society.

Notes to part II

  1. It’s also true that the feud between Marxists and Fascists is blood feud, a sibling rivalry, so moving from one to the other isn’t all that much of a move. Both are obsessed with purity, blame everything on a largely fictionalized set of oppressors, don’t believe in God (and, boy, do they hate Him!). The people in the oppressor class are largely the same individuals, it’s only a question of what order one puts the nouns: e.g., do you hate the Jews because they’re capitalists, or hate the capitalists because they’re Jews? Then, you pick a goal: class or nation? In practice, they’re almost the same thing: the Internationale was Russia in all but rhetoric.
  2. I can well imagine a future teacher or solid citizen, after hearing one of Harris’s lectures, innocently asking: “So, your plan is to make children into good solid Protestants, right?” and Harris answering with equal innocence: “Sure!”
  3. This, coming on the heels of the first few decades of the 19th century, a period where, for example, Methodists were sure Presbyterians were damned to Hell, and visa versa. (Spoiler: they got over it.)
  4. Freire says that a worker who beats his wife is not, himself, guilty of oppression or even violence, since he only beats his wife because he is oppressed – the real violence is being done by the Capitalists and their stooges. This presents a dilemma Freire doesn’t address: if Worker Juan beats his wife because he’s oppressed, what causes his equally oppressed neighbor Worker Pao not to beat his, but to bring her flowers? A non-Marxist might conclude there’s some personal culpability or virtue involved in this difference, the possibility of which is categorically denied by Marxists. The individual is nothing, the collective everything, after all.
  5. In the words of Katharine Hepburn: so few people look good naked.

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure IV

Continuing this review. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here, Lecture III here. Going into more detail than usually is possible, including just pasting the the entire lecture below, because of Harris’s importance in advancing compulsory state schooling, and the lectures are short enough to admit of it.

One more after this one. Another lecture written as one run-on paragraph. This one, more than the previous, appears to be just an outline or notes. I’d assume there was a lively discussion period afterwards?

LECTURE IV. January 25th, 1893. ROUSSEAU AND THE RETURN TO NATURE. REVOLUTIONARY PROTEST. (found here.)

The time of Louis XIV: the nobles attracted to Court and to a life of gayety, neglecting their estates and wasting the fruits of toil in riotous living ; the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result. Rousseau its prophet ; he proclaims a return to nature. “Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself. Rousseau appealed to nature in everything. What we call civilization was to him a mere artificial form. His plea was to be natural, come back to the point where nature leaves you. Rousseau came from Switzerland to France, and at an opportune time for him ; for there was a great ferment of ideas at this epoch. He was struggling along in Paris, barely securing a livelihood, when there came the offer from the Academy of Dijon of a prize for an essay on the progress of the arts and sciences, whether it has tended towards the purification of morals and manners. The negative side suggested itself more forcibly to him, as he was better fitted for it by his mode of living and morals, and by his literary style, and he found himself at once a “censor of civilization.” This essay was soon followed (1752) by one on the origin of the inequality among men. The great tension produced by the artificiality of the civilization of the Court life of the time had caused men to become anxious to get back to a simplicity of living, and Chateau briand painted the charms of the forest life of the Indians. In this reaction the meaning of civilization is ignored. Man emancipates himself from drudgery and compels nature by the forces of his intellect to feed and clothe him. The “Social Contract” followed (1762) this with an attack on the authority of the State; and in the same year his Emile undermined the School and the Church : and so he attacked all the social institutions one after another the family, civil society, the Church and State. He proposed to sweep all away by summoning them before the bar of his individual judgment and condemning all. In the opening paragraph of his Emile he declares that everything which comes from nature is good, while everything degenerates in the hands of man. The antithesis of civilization is savagery, and Voltaire wittily exposed the fallacy of Rousseau’s teaching in his letter accepting the book. He said “never has anyone employed so much genius to make us into beasts. When one reads your book he is seized at once with a desire to go down on all fours.” External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words. In mere nature we have matter and force. Everything inorganic is made by some external influence. But organic nature is the opposite of inorganic. The plant has the power of assimilation, and the animal the further powers of locomotion and feeling, or ability to select or choose its surroundings. In man this is still further increased by recollection and memory, by which the mind makes over its impressions. To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.

Harris is an Hegelian:

With Brockmeyer and other of the St. Louis Hegelians, he founded and edited the first philosophical periodical in America, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy (1867), editing it until 1893. It promoted the view that the entire unfolding was part of a universal plan, a working out of an eternal historical dialectic, as theorized by Hegel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Torrey_Harris

It is said that Harris, as the United States Commissioner of Education, tried to make Hegelianism the official philosophy of American compulsory schooling. He only succeeded in making it, as dumbed down(!) by his incorrigible idiot child Marx, the *unofficial* philosophy of American schooling.

Now, the primary and defining belief of Hegelians is that they’re smarter and, most importantly, more enlightened than everybody else. They worship the power they lack but feel they deserve. Therefore, in their world, ignorant masses need (and deserve) to be lead into the glorious future by better people: “…the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result.” Catch that? One might suspect that Harris is not entirely on board with America’s idealized egalitarianism. Also, I’m thinking there might be a few more tiny steps between indolent French counts and marquis neglecting to guide the farm hands and the Committee for Public Safety decapitating nuns. But hey, I’m not an Hegelian.

Following right on the heels of this vigorous & evidently double-jointed self back-patting (1) and not so subtle petulance about not being in charge is the idea of Progress: there’s this universal plan, see, under which the Spirit (2) reveals itself to itself inevitably through History. Through, of course, the ministration of enlightened Hegelians such as Harris, whose belief in the inevitability of Progress doesn’t seem to extend far enough to stay the hell out of imposing it on others.

Rousseau is a manifest idiot. Figures he’d be the prophet of the murderous idiocy of the French Revolution.

Now we get to the hardcore Hegelianism:

“Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself.

Digression: Generally, the world, or ‘Nature,’ can be understood according to two general steps. The base level is either/or, as succinctly stated in the Law of Noncontradiction. The next level is both/and, and is perhaps best expressed in the Schoolmen’s advice: “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.” Using these two steps, one first establishes what is logically necessary and what is common experience, and moves from there to what might be (conditionally) true about the world. The Church, for example, has for centuries issued anathemas and proclaimed dogmas as a first step, then seemingly splits hairs when considering the application of those dogmas and anathemas. Science works the same way: the definitions and assumptions are necessarily dogmatic; data collection is always thoroughly hedged in by the assumptions and definitions; conclusions are always conditional. In both cases, we may yearn for more forceful and unconditioned conclusions, but the careful thinker is not likely to give us them.

Hegel strove for a third way: he wanted a dialectic within which everything is conditional – nothing ‘is, everything is ‘becoming’ – where violations of the Law of Noncontradiction were never resolved but rather suspended in the synthesis, where the currently unknowable workings of the Spirit create a new reality in its unfolding through time.

If this sounds like bafflegab, that’s because it is. It’s meant to fend off – summarily dismiss, really – the sort of careful dissection of questions which is the hallmark both of the Aristotelian/Thomist schools and science insofar as science works. (3) Hegel, and Marx much more so, are simply nonsensical. They contradict themselves in word and deed at every step. But since they know they’re right – what superior individual does not? – these contradictions must not be valid. Therefore, etc.

Here’s where Harris gets evil: “…human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual.” Under the both/and approach, one would distinguish as follows: it is the inalienable dignity of men as individuals that gives any meaning to the institutions within which man finds himself; yet it is true that men are formed and most fully realized within these institutions: marriage, family, village, state and church. Under Harris’s formulation, one would focus all efforts on changing institutions (sound familiar?): change the institution – school, in Harris’s case – and thus change the individuals.

One of the things naive supporters of more centralized control over people – progressives, socialists, Marxists (but I repeat myself) – seem unable to imagine is that this control, once established, will not long remain in the hand of the avuncular and well-intentioned as they imagine the Bern to be, but will in short order end up in the hands of Pol Pot. That’s the lesson of small ‘h’ history; that’s why capital ‘H’ History seeks to ignore and rewrite it.

Another historical aside: throughout the history of philosophy, there have been camps promoting multiple truths that need not gibe, and those after the beloved Emerson Cod: “The truth ain’t like puppies, a bunch of them running around, you pick your favorite. One truth… and it has come a knockin’.”

Here, Harris is proposing that there’s a material world of complete determination, and a spiritual world where, once idealized human nature is realized, everyone will be perfect little saints. Not one world of matter and form, but two worlds where different truths prevail. Subtle, but important: rather than a man striving to be personally better as a creature comprising an inseparable and essential body and soul, Gnosticism has crept back from the dead: the body is evil, only the soul is good. Gnosticism has proven many times over the centuries to ba an idea tending inexorably toward misery.

We have thus arrived at a situation that should sound very current and familiar: we are to focus our attention on changing institutions, which, once conformed to the enlightened ideas of the elect, will produce perfect, happy little people. Remember, enlightenment means never having to listen, let alone explain yourself, to the unenlightened – they just won’t understand! (This also conveniently absolves the enlightened from having to personally behave themselves, since their personal behaviour has no effect by definition: Weinstein can rape away and Gore and AOC can jet around like rock stars, just so long as they mouth the right platitudes in favor of *institutional* change.)

After thankfully disposing of Rousseau – hey! Stopped clock got one right! – Harris turns back to his own naive mysticism:

External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words.

That he considers man immature is almost a tautology; that he considers appeals to human nature ‘jugglery’ is an appeal to more Hegelian and especially Marxist nonsense: while Hegel merely denies any permanence to our understanding of human nature – it’s unfolding along with the Spirit, and is always becoming, never being – Marx just flat out denies the existence of human nature: it’s a social construct, man.

He and his will be happy to provide the external authority needed by us immature people until the point at which we are mature: by definition, when we agree with Harris. Not quite fair: when we agree with Harris, we will be counted among the enlightened and allowed to indulge our tyrannical jones over the less enlightened and sit at the Kool Kids Table until the Spirit is done unfolding itself. Not kidding: Harris worked his whole adult life to make the schools the instrument of the Enlightened.

He succeeded.

To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.

Ethical ideas are spiritual. Natural instincts are controlled by morality. Going with feels is to remain an animal. So far so good. “But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility,” This sounds sensible, out of context “… and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture. OK, so we yearn to fulfill our divine destiny, which can be realized through – school? We’ll school kids so that they will change the culture? To bring about the Hegelian Valhalla?

What could possibly go wrong?

One more lecture to go.

  1. How do they not pull a muscle?
  2. Hegel may not have invented the practice of renaming old ideas in order to sound smart and hip, but he certainly advanced the art: here, anybody else would say ‘God’, but that turf had already been worked over pretty good by the Salvation History folks, most prominently Augustine. In contrast to Hegel’s Spirit unfolding and coming to know itself History, Salvation History posits, on the one hand, a God Who reveals Himself to us over time and on the other a lamentably realistic view of secular history as one long tragic train of failure punctuated every now and then by a passing victory, until, in the end, we all lose – and then Jesus comes! Hegel wanted God embedded, as it were, with the forward troops in a long march to Victory! Marx’s eschatology, all but indistinguishable in outline from traditional Christian eschatology
    excepting that that God person has been renamed History, reflects this persistence.
  3. The irony here: Hegel, writing in the early 19th century, assumes Progress is so completely obvious that his task is to explain the origins and workings of that Progress. In doing so, he dismisses scientists, mathematicians, and technologists as the little people, those who need to use logic and reason as traditionally understood – not *real* philosophers like Hegel, who have transcended all such crutches. Problem: the only really obvious progress has been made by precisely those scientists, mathematicians and technologist Hegel dismisses. Everything else we might want to call progress is highly debatable, to say the least. He saws off the branch he’s sitting on.

Great Books: A Paean and Cautionary Tale

As mentioned previously here, and as spelled out in more, and more current, detail at Rotten Chestnuts, college education has been made into a cesspool of idiocy, bad ideas and evil intent. I do not exaggerate: Just as I would have gladly let my children wander the street all day unsupervised than send them to the public schools of Fichte, William Torrey Harris, Dewey and Freire, I would rather they work as ditch diggers and sleep in hovels than attend any of our fine institutes of “higher education” except, maybe, to get job training in a technical RAD field.

Image result for old books

There are a few minor exceptions, of course: St. John’s College, where my beloved and I went to school, which, despite its name, is vehemently secular (and, as such, under tremendous pressure to conform, which pressure they are likely to yield to as they lack any dogmatic reason to resist). SJC graduate under 200 students a year; the UC system awards degrees to over 40,000.

Then there are the religious schools. Thomas Aquinas College, which two of our sons have attended, has about 400 students total, graduates maybe 75 a year. The Cal State system has just under half a million students and awards nearly 100,000 degrees a year.

And on and on. For every little college trying to get kids to look at real, substantive and lasting ideas and hone their minds trying to understand and discuss them, there is some giant university doing the opposite, cranking out 10, 100, or 1,000 times the graduates in Conformity Studies, who get their participation trophy for vomiting back whatever the professor wanted to hear. It ain’t pretty out there.

All good cults provide, first of all, a hermeneutic under which all opponents can be summarily dismissed. ‘They’ just don’t understand! They are unenlightened! They are eeeeeevil! They are trying to ruin it for you! They are on the wrong side of History! Thus, the non-RAD fields inculcate into their victims the absolutely essential idea of diagnosis: you don’t listen to what opponents say, you merely diagnose the disorder that would cause them to disagree with you. The diagnosis then supplies what ‘they’ really mean, removing from the enlightened the onerous task of actually trying to understand what an opponent is actually saying.

Once the them versus us dichotomy is firmly in place, the student is introduced into the gnostic mysteries that explain all things, without the bother of any actual thought. Thought, after all, might – barely – lead the student to have certain reservations or quibbles, and with such glorious goals – the goals of mindless fanatics are always so, so, glorious – almost within reach, such quibbles and reservations must be quashed with extreme prejudice.

The success of this project is awe-inspiring. To see how such success is not only possible but all but inevitable, contemplate the ramifications of Pournelle’s Iron Law. If I want to, for example, share my love of Dante with a bunch of ignorant, foolish 18 year olds, I will gladly leave as much of the admin portion of my job as possible to those who seem to want to do that sort of stuff. Over time, those people are sorting the resumes, manning the hiring committees, sitting on the tenure committees, constructing the school’s long-term goals and plans – in other words, my love of my subject and of teaching results in people who love running things having ultimate control of the institution. Soon, and very soon, nobody gets hired except those who pass the purity test of those people on the hiring committee; nobody get tenure except those who are with the program; new departments get set up to employ the otherwise unemployable products of this bureaucracy, with the goal of producing more like-minded (using ‘mind’ loosely) product. Eventually, You Are Here. We got ‘here’ about 30 years ago by my reckoning. Now, the holdovers from the previous regimes and those few who slipped through the cracks are aging out. It’s Studies Nazis all the way down. Your average chemistry professor, say, is cowed into silence if he hasn’t already taken an industry job.

The solution is two-fold, and it ain’t pretty: somehow, the colleges and universities must – must – be burnt to the ground, and the earth where they stood salted. There is no reform at this point. Funding must be withdrawn; all classes must be videotaped and posted where everyone can see them; all Studies fields must be challenged, mocked, belittled, scorned at every opportunity. And that’s not enough. Things may get – unpleasant. The option of standing by and watching has passed.

Then, we – you – must raise your children outside the K-12 system, which also must be burned to the ground. The education schools that produce the automata that staff K-12 schools are so, so Woke. You can educate your kids better than any certified teacher. Hell, your pet rock could. Yes, yes, you don’t know calculus too good – get over it. Samwise Gamgee is your goal. If your child is in that tiny percentage called to be real scholars, there are those little schools out there. If that’s what he wants and you have raised him well, he can do it. Same goes for job training, even the high-end stuff like medicine and engineering. If he really wants it, he can do it.

What about the Great Books? I love them and have even read them, some of them many times, some of them very poorly, but I’ve given them a shot. That experience, ongoing, creates in me a sort of humble pride or prideful humility: having measured myself against truly great minds, I am painfully aware that I am a second-rate intellect. There’s so much more work for me to do, and I won’t live long enough to do it. On the other hand, I am an intellectual, however second rate I may be. I do know how to think, how to read a book, how to reason and use logic, how to write a coherent sentence (not that I always do, but you get it). I have context.

That’s why when I hear a moronic marketing slogan like ‘everything’s a social construct, man’ I see a not very subtle transmogrification of a bad idea that’s at least 3,000 years old, and was already an old idea when Aristotle mocked it. The basic idea stated in a more intelligible form: there is no such thing as objective reality. All any of us have is subjective experiences. For each of us, reality is a creation of our own minds. The marketing spin is to introduce the idea of ‘collective’ or ‘society’ as the creator of the subjective universe. Having read all those books, and an inadequate but not insubstantial selection of history, I can see that this appeal to ‘the masses’ or ‘society’ is a painful ruse: ‘advanced’ societies, ones which are ‘woke’ as the kids say these days, are lead by Vanguards, whose consciousness is the society doing the constructing. But wait, there’s more! The Vanguards themselves are created and managed by leaders, world-historic individuals who are even more woke! Actual history (not the god that is not a god capital ‘H’ History) shows us those guys are not avuncular and kindly men like people imagine the Bern to be, but have always been guys like Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Che – you know, sociopathic mass murderers. That the most blood-thirty and brutal ‘leaders’ rise to the top under Marxism is not an accident, but is required by the logic of the Marxist system itself – but you’d need to have honed your mind on some real thought to understand why that is so. The woke of today have been very successfully immunized against that!

Thus, the ‘society’ doing the ‘constructing’ is going to be one sociopath and his sycophants. The rest of you jokers? Useful idiots.

Well, this ramble got out of hand. So much for the Great Books, which are a good idea but not a panacea. If you children were raised to be Samwise Gamgee, a rooted, level-headed person well aware of his own limitations and intimately familiar with the lore and traditions of his people, which people, lore and traditions he loves with whole heart – well, THEN the Great Books would be an immense value to them. But all one needs to do is look at the Enlightment, many of the scholars of which knew the Great Books quite well, to see how such knowledge can be misused, perverted and ignored. For someone unconcerned with being modern, someone who hasn’t accepted the contrary-to-fact dogma of Progress, Locke and Rousseau, for example, are often quite idiotic. In Dr. Johnson’s famous assessment, they are both good and original. Where they are good, they are not original, and where they are original, they are not good. But if you have absorbed the chronological snobbery ubiquitous in today’s schools, you just know those two jokers are 2,000 years smarter than Aristotle!

But, alas! It would be a minor miracle if the products of our current K-12 system, especially if they had the misfortune of being good at it, could get anything out of the Great Books except a knowing, dismissive sneer.

Miracles do happen. And reading hard books is still far better than the predigested vomit served in schools today.

The State of Education

Yea, yea, beating a dead horse. Here I collect, organize and expand upon a number of themes that converge to get us to the sorry state we now find ourselves in. Expanding on a Twitter thread I wrote this morning:

When William Torrey Harris said “substantial education” (greatly facilitated by the graded classroom model being imposed everywhere back in the 1890s, and universal now) turned people into “automata, careful to follow prescribed paths” he meant that as a GOOD thing. He wanted everyone to absorb a culture, in his case, an Hegelian culture, whatever that might mean.

But there is a next step: after you’ve trained people to just follow orders, get in line, regurgitate on command & collect the participation trophy, THEN – (translating from Hegelian jargon to Modern English) – you need to get them Woke. For Harris, this meant a culture where everyone is open to being enlightened, allowing Progress to happen by approaching all problems via Hegelian dialectic. This the substantially educated would just do, no questions asked. There is no option, as Harris sees the the world, to working for Progress through the unfolding of the Spirit through History, etc. All is Becoming, nothing really IS. The usual Hegelian bullsh*t.

Reminder: Harris was not just some loopy poser (although he was that) – he was the US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.

By the 1890s. Hegel had been set upright by Marx. I am oddly sympathetic to this traditional claim, as the God of Hegel is no god at all, but rather a mutable force finding its ultimate expression in History. Seems more tidy, even if equally dazzlingly incoherent, to just assign to History whatever god-like traits Hegel had hung on Spirit. Cut out the middleman, as it were, and lose whatever tenuous relationship Hegel’s Spirit had to any traditional understanding of the Supreme Being.

Marxists have no use for God, but the schooling Harris helped establish suited them just fine. School of Darkness describes, peripherally, how this change from the barmy and superficially benevolent totalitarianism of Harris to the much more bloodthirsty totalitarianism of Marx came about.

Jump ahead 50 years. Ambitious people had long recognized college as a meal ticket. (They failed to see that it’s only a meal ticket when it’s selective and hard – it doesn’t create jobs, just filters out the riff-raff, so to speak). So college became a universal goal, an unmitigated good. As such, the government got heavily into subsidizing it. For totally benevolent reasons, I’m sure.

Remember: follow the money. We pretend we’re subsidizing students but we’re not – students get debt, colleges get the real money. More and more flush with cash as the 60s rolled into the 70s and 80s, with more on the table for the taking from students loans, our fine colleges and universities practically wet themselves in the search for more students, any students! But faced with the dumbed-down products of Harris’s schooling, colleges were and are highly motivated to create classes & degrees for the unprepared and stupid. Today, even freshmen at elite colleges need to take remedial classes to attempt even the radically dumbed down curricula, so that, for example, 50% of incoming freshmen at Cal must take remedial math & English. These are kids who got into Cal based on all those AP credits and high SAT scores.

Today, anyone drawing breath can get into college and get ridiculous loans to pay highly inflated tuition prices so that they can get a college degree on the patently false theory that a better job will magically come with it.

The colleges get the money.

Luckily for the colleges, they already had a field-tested model of content-free education that could be passed by relative morons: Education schools, which have handed out degrees to the bottom 10% of students for over a century now. All they had to do was apply the rigor-free regurgitation approach perfected in education, where Harris’s philosophy, as modified and refined by such luminaries as the Communist apologist Dewey, is taught to the idealistic, if less intelligent and more gullible, fraction of students.

RAD(1) (Right Answers Disciplines) classes, like math, or even accounting, are deemphasized and removed from requirements while those demanding simple regurgitation of the prof’s pet theories multiply like rabbits. Old subjects that used to at least pretend toward some rigor, such as history and philosophy, are castrated to become as manageable as education.

Colleges became participation trophy diploma mills. Businesses can no longer use a degree as an indicator of minimal intellectual competence. Employers want to know you studied something, you know, hard-ish, before they give you that coveted slot in the cube farm. (2) Grads who never should have attended college in the first place weep that they have a lovely Studies degree but no one will hire them!

EXCEPT for the lucky few who get hired BY THE COLLEGES to teach yet more Studies classes to yet more heavily-indebted, unprepared students. Even the remaining RAD classes are under intense pressure to be made easier.

At some point, I’m guessing around 15 or 20 years ago, the Studies faculty began to outnumber the RAD faculty. This means that the hiring & tenure committees as well as internal governance and discipline boards came to be dominated by Studies professors.

This has had negative consequences.

Go back to Harris & being Woke. The Studies people have one thing in common: Critical Theory. Critical Theory has one answer to all questions: oppression. The only acceptable exercise is exposing the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that explains all misery everywhere.

Critical Theory which is merely Marxism configured for academic consumption, is, like Marxism in general, fundamentally an adolescent idea. It’s stupid, and contradicted by all experience. Any adult-level interaction with reality would disabuse one from it – but the products of our schools are inoculated as far as possible from any such interactions. Get ’em while they’re young! Because once it’s set in, it often takes a nuclear-level red pill to break the spell.

Back to colleges. We’ve reached the point where now, if any RAD professor were so crazy as to suggest that biology, history, (non-Marxist, i.e., real) economics, etc. contradict the crazies, the Studies people can deny him tenure or get him fired – if he somehow made it past the hiring committee in the first place. Then the loving, enlightened students will harrass him, dox him, threaten his children, threaten any venue that publishes his work and slander anyone who interacts with him.

Good times. Just imagine how bad it would be if our Woke children weren’t so loving and kind.

Thus, when the serious-looking talking head says idiotic things like Science supports Gender Theory, the biologists, physiologists, evolutionary biologists etc., who know this is idiotic nonsense stay silent – if they want to keep their grants and jobs.

The well-educated, who spent 12+ years ‘succeeding’ by sitting in their desks, standing in their lines, regurgitating the acceptable answers, and in general doing exactly as they were told feel a thrill of victory when the bad man who said mean things is punished. This is called being enlightened.

Even more convenient, being Woke means you already know the answer. Being Woke is inoculation against ever having to think. You know you are just the best, finest, most moral people EVER, in a way that simply cannot be explained to the unwoke. To even attempt such an explanation would be ridiculous. You either get it or you don’t.

The schooling we have today, promoted by Harris (and many others), taken over by Critical Theorists, is the chief tool of today’s totalitarian, anti-science nihilism. Comply or Die!

Conclusion: we are so screwed. The schools must be burned to the ground. True, the useful idiots will be the first to go if the revolution they are enabling ever comes to pass. A successful backlash would save their lives. Amusing if you like bitter irony, but small comfort.

Probably going to move out of my home state of California, always the leader in social trends. I’m taking suggestions for states that are accepting political refugees like me and mine, preferably ones where a finance/business guy can find a job. Any ideas?

  1. Heard RAD from Severian, not sure if it’s original with him, it was too cool not to use.
  2. The bottom rung in business, smarts-wise, is Human Resources. If a Woman’s Studies grad were ever to get hired, that’s where she’d end up – where they can act as gatekeepers to future job applicants. What could go wrong?

March 2019 Reading Update

Having finally finished off Polanyi’s escrable The Great Transformation and a few smaller works (will wrap up reviews of William Torrey Harris’s 7-page long “book” of his lectures on the nature of education in the next day or two) I’m on to a couple other things, two general and one education-specific:

Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read this. About 20% through. Echos of the Party’s turns of phrase and habits of thought are evident in the way the Bern and AOC and other adolescent Marxists (but I repeat myself) talk today. The imperviousness to information, the dismissal of all objections, the crusading zeal, the willingness to criminalize all dissent – yep, that’s what we find in Solzhenitsyn’s account of the people who murdered 25+ million people and tortured and imprisoned without trial many millions more. The bug-eyed smirking is perhaps reserved for our particular hell, maybe not.

Rousseau, Emile. There’d better be time off in Purgatory for reading this so you don’t have to. About 10% in, and, oh! my eyes! Emile is a profoundly influential work, mentioned and cited everywhere I look – Torrey Harris, for example – and, upon a few pages reading, a profoundly stupid book. And verbose and poorly written to boot. The post-revolution French are said to have set up their schools according to this book, but since the very idea of a school is denounced within a few pages, not sure what that could mean. Noble savage, civilization corrupts, blank slate – all that crap.

Billington, The Protestant Crusade. Another book that gets mentioned in older books – it was first published in 1936, seems to have enjoyed a few decades of relative prominence, then went down the memory hole. Billington chronicles the anti-Catholic fervor in America, and how it reached a sustained high level from 1800 to 1860. About the only thing that has united our Protestant brothers and sisters over the years has been their hatred of Rome; not clear if the general Protestant dissolution we’re seeing now is a cause or effect of a reduction in anti-Catholic fervor on the part of mainline Protestant sects? (I could quip that what’s for a Protestant to hate in the new Catholic Church we’ve been singing into being over the last 50 years – but that would be mean.)

Anyway, time to get on it.

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure III

LECTURE III. January 21st, 1893. OPPOSITION BETWEEN PESTALOZZI AND HERBART AS EDUCATIONAL LEADERS. (found here. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here.)

This lecture is one run-on paragraph. I will break it up for convenience of discussion:

Pestalozzi laid great stress on sense-perception as the foundation of all school education. Herbart lays stress on the elaboration of sense-perception or rather upon the mental reaction against the impressions made on our senses. Thought goes back of the object to understand and explain its origin, how it became to be what it is, what purpose it is to serve. Thought sees objects in the perspective of their history. It studies causes and purposes.

The Herbart Harris refers to here is one Johann Friedrich Herbart,
(1776 – 1841) a German philosopher, psychologist and founder of the academic field of pedagogy. His principles of education are roughly Platonic, as he sees the fulfillment of the individual as only possible as a member of a civilization. Man is a political animal, after all, so no argument there on a general level. The trick here is implied in the phrase ‘productive citizen’ which Wikipedia uses to describe Herbart’s meaningful relationship between a man and his civilization. Does man derive his meaning and value from being a productive citizen? Or does the whole idea of a productive citizen depend on people having value and meaning prior to any production? In the first case, it might be logical and even merciful to cull any people – can’t really call them members of society in this context – who are not productive, since they cannot have meaningful lives without such production. Not that such an idea would occur to any Germans of that time…

Herbart is also said to be a follower of Pestalozzi, which supports my suspicion that Pestalozzi is more a Rorschach test than an actual teacher. My forays into Pestalozzi’s writings left me thinking he is nearly completely incoherent; when Fichte, a proto-Nazi, and Einstein, who was a student at a Pestalozzian school, both praise his methods, one has got to wonder if they are talking about the same thing. Herbart is said to differ from Pestalozzi in that Pestalozzi believed everything is built on sense perceptions, while Herbart believes cogitation on sense perceptions is the source of understanding and knowledge.

If that sounds a bit gobbly-goopy, it may be because it is. You get these men who want desperately to control how children learn – Fichte, Mann, Dewey, heck, Plato and on and on – and they start fighting over stuff that normal people, eve normal philosophers, would roll their eyes at. Watch a kid, especially a really small kid, and you’ll see someone obsessed with sense perception to the point where they’ll stick crap they pick up off the ground into their mouths (this is a big learning experience, btw. We don’t stop doing this because we’re told to, but because we insisted on doing it). AND one will see little minds working overtime to figure out how stuff works. It’s not that sense perception or cogitation is more or less important, but rather that it’s absurd upon inspection to imagine that adults need to do anything to promote either. Adults just need to refrain from screwing it up, which seems beyond the reach of these gentlemen.

I’m not going any deeper into Herbart, who I first heard of from these lectures, for now – this is all from a skim of Wikipedia, for which I promise to feel bad about later. Onward:

Thus thought is not as the disciples of Pestalozzi hold, a continued and elevated sort of sense-perception, but rather a reaction against it. It is a discovery of the subordinate place held by objects in the world ; they are seen to be mere steps in a process of manifestation, the manifestation of causal energies. A new perception is received into the mind by adjusting it to our previous knowledge ; we explain it in terms of the old ; we classify it, identify it ; reconcile what is strange and unfamiliar in it with previous experience; we interpret the object and comprehend it ; we translate the unknown into the known.

People learn by experiencing the world, thinking about what they experienced and trying as best they can to fit it in with everything else they know. Got it.

Does Harris suppose we can do anything about it? Does Harris imagine the process he (following Kant, more or less) describes ought to be somehow promoted or encouraged, let alone managed? That would be hubris-ridden nonsense, like believing the sun will not rise unless the shaman performs the correct rituals. You might as well try to teach kids hearts how to beat. But maybe that’s not where he’s going.

This process of adjusting, explaining, classifying, identifying, reconciling, interpreting and translating, is called apperception.

Yep, Kant. Apperception is one of those terms of art in Philosophy, pretty much meaning what Harris described above.

We must not only perceive, but we must apperceive ; not only see and hear, but digest or assimilate what we hear and see. Herbart’s “apperception ” is far more important for education than Pestalozzi’s “perception.” At first the memory was the chief faculty cultivated in education; then Pestalozzi reformed it by making the culture of sense- perception the chief aim; now with Herbart the chief aim would be apperception or the mental digestion of what is received by perception or memory.

Hmmm. How far back is the phrase “at first” meant to go? Certainly not all the way back to the Greeks, who before Socrates’s time had come to understand education as a function of friendship. They didn’t even write about how kids learned reading, writing and basic math, any more than they wrote about how you went to the market or walked down the street. Instead, the wrote about ephebia – schools for young men entering adulthood, where they spent 2 or 3 years training to be fit soldiers and learning how to be good citizens – why they should love their city-state and Greek culture in general. Then, the most promising and noble youths were taken under the wings of men of achievement, who acted as mentors, as described peripherally in Plato’s Symposium. (The occasional sexual aspects of these relationships, while real, are generally overstated and misunderstood.) An educated Greek would memorize Homer, but even that feat had the primary goal of immersion into Greek culture, especially understanding arete, the excellence toward which every Greek aspired and the measure by which they would be judged.

Or there’s St. Jerome’s 5th century advice to the noblewoman Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. This is not memorization training, at least not essentially. The essential part is the sharpening of Paula’s wit.

More Enlightenment (sic) nonsense: Harris and his crowd thought they were the smart people, first people to understand these things, and had a right and duty to guide lesser individuals. They started with memorization, therefore, the whole project starts with memorization. That people have successfully educated their children for as long as there have been people if acknowledged at all is pooh-poohed: maybe, but not educating them correctly!

Illustrations of the power of apperception to strengthen perception: Cuvier could reconstruct the entire skeleton from a single bone ; Agassiz the entire fish from one of its scales ; Winckelman the entire statue from a fragment of the face; Lyell could see its history in a pebble; Asa Gray the history of a tree by a glance.

OK, I suppose, although I’d want a serious look at those reconstructions of Cuvier, Agassiz and Winckelman before conceding the point to quite that level. Be that as it may, I’m not sure such levels of expertise are the product of a particular kind of schooling. Not to give him too much credit, but Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink describes a similar if not identical result, except that the process by which an expert reaches his conclusion is mostly not conscious or even strictly rational. That level of expertise seems to be learned, but not taught, and to require some innate talent. Herbart, at least, is a blank slater – he doesn’t believe in innate talents. It the turtles of nurture all the way down.

Apperception adds to the perceived object its process of becoming. Noire has illustrated apperception by showing the two series of ideas called up by the perception of a piece of bread. First the regressive series dough, flour, rye ; and the processes baking, kneading, grinding, threshing, harvesting, planting, &c. Each one of these has collateral series, as for example, planting has plowing, plow, oxen, yoke, furrow, harrowing, sowing seeds, covering it, etc. The second series is progressive bread suggests its uses and functions; food, eating, digesting, organic tissue, life, nourishing strength, supply of heat, bodily labor, &c.

Ok, again. Yes, understanding something does mean putting it into a larger, more coherent, context.

The course of study in schools must be arranged so as to prepare the mind for quick apperception of what is studied. The Pestalozzian makes form, number, and language the elements of all knowledge. He unfortunately omits causal ideas, which are the chief factors of apperception ; we build our series on causally. Accidental association satisfies only the simpleminded and empty-headed.

Sure. Perhaps the course of study could be comparatively brief encounters with a mentor, who guides and reviews, and comparatively large amounts of time to experience and process the world?

I suspect that’s not where Harris is going with this.

Next up: Lecture IV.