Subtle Poison

Yes, we’re talking about schooling.

The late John Taylor Gatto said that the greatest achievement of modern schooling is that people can’t even imagine doing it any other way. That state controlled age-segregated graded compulsory schooling is poison is a major point of this blog. But it’s not enough to make sure your kids never see the inside of a state school classroom by homeschooling them or otherwise keeping them out of the clutches of state education machine. We – including myself, here – must comes to grips with the damage, the subtle ways being immersed in a state-schooled culture has poisoned us. That this damage often shows itself particularly in those who actively reject state schooling, and even those who have themselves been spared from the age-segregated classroom. shows how deep the poison runs.

Consider:

To recap: Pestalozzi, back at the end of the 18th century, set up the first in a series of his experimental schools in Switzerland. He came up with the idea that the proper way to educate a child was to have experts (e.g., Pestalozzi) predigest subjects, reduce them to well-defined tactile steps, and to insist the child master step 1 before being allowed to attempt step 2. He had this fear that a child left to learn anything on his own or in some way not shaped by a teacher would be end up morally and intellectually crippled, prematurely proud of his achievements and dismissive of things he could not learn readily on his own, and, in general, unmanageable.

His method required a detailed curriculum with very specific goals. But most importantly, Pestalozzian education requires frequent and intimate guidance of the student by his teacher. (1) Fichte, when he delivered himself of a series of lectures on how the German Nation could resume its manifest destiny to become the ruler of planet (for our own unenlightened good, of course), latched on to the Pestalozzian method as THE key step. (no, really.) Not because it was particularly suited to teaching the child math or reading or other such trivia, but because by it the loyalty of the child could be removed from family, village and church and be fixed entirely on the teacher – a teacher trained and certified by the state!

See how that works? A child is only praised, only succeeds in school, when he does exactly what the teacher demands. The teacher is a certified product of a state education bureaucracy, expected to follow carefully prescribed paths and deliver kids ‘performing to grade level’. What the teacher then necessarily demands of the student is compliance with a detailed curriculum, with an arbitrary set of goals and timelines. A ‘good student’ – and what parent doesn’t want his child identified as a good student? – is thus one who does exactly what the teacher says. Nothing the kid does outside the classroom matters; success is defined as pleasing the teacher by passing tests and not making a fuss.(2)

A family might want its children to be nice to grandma, help out around the house, feed the chickens, learn the viola, make dinner, help dad plow the south 40, sing in the Sunday choir or a million other things. A kid in such an environment, as Fichte well knew, might not put the state’s interests first! School is meant to remedy that situation.

Yet you hear even homeschoolers talk about grade level, as if it is some sort of objective standard. What’s really happening: all those years of training in school, during which the parents learned that complying was the only measure of success, has lead them to seek the approval of the state even when rejecting state schooling! See? Our kids are performing to grade level! We are good parents! Just say no.

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Nice standardized kids in nice neat rows.
  • Age segregation is an unnatural horror. At no other time or place in our lives are we limited to interaction with only people of our own age, not a work, not in our families, not in church, not when just hanging out in public. At home, we share a life with people older and often younger than ourselves. The real, fundamental relationships we do not choose give meaning to our lives. Enforced arbitrary relationships do not.

Extra curricular activities – and notice how we call normal activities healthy people do ‘extra curricular’ – such as kiddie sports leagues and even musical and dance activities are almost always arranged by grade or age. Why? If you’re worried the older kids will make life harder on the little kids, remember that athletic and musical talents, just like academic talents, are not distributed fairly by age. Example: When I was in 8th grade, I was a mediocre basketball player; my two little brothers, in 6th and 4th grade, were comparative athletic freaks. When we played on the playground before or after school, all three Moore brothers played with the other 8th graders, because that was roughly their competence levels. During school, however, and on formal teams, they generally played with kids their own ages, and, from a competitive standpoint, dominated them. Point: in our free time, we did something fair, so that games were competitive and fun; in school, we competed with kids our age, which worked out fine for me, but not so good with the kids playing with my little brothers.

The same dynamics go on in the classroom, except the more precocious kids (and this classification changes from subject to subject and grade to grade!) get shipped out or ignored, or learn to make trouble to get some attention.

Yet, even outside school, parents tend to invest actual energy in getting their kids together with others their age, not recognizing that kids LEARN to play only with kids their own ages, both in informal and more formal settings. The stickball and touch football games in the street outside the house did not follow those rules. Great lessons in socializing are learned when older kids tone it down and little kids step it up in order to play together. Anybody with a big (happy) family sees this all the time.

  • You are not incompetent to teach your children. As Socrates said, anyone who charges money to teach children what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. Yet, somehow, we imagine some magic happens in educations schools, whereby the bottom 10% (generally) of college students get some superpower needed to teach our 6 year old that the ‘A’ in ‘ate’ says its name, or 3 times 7 is 21, or that June is abbreviated ‘Jun’.

Or do you think you need special training to understand what’s going on in Huckleberry Fin, oops, can’t read that racist stuff, um, Anne of Green Gables, no, too sexist, um, Chronicles of Narnia, nope, that whole God thing, um – well, what do you think they’re reading? Do you think they’re learning to think by regurgitating the one right answer found at the back of the teacher’s edition of whatever passes for reading materials these days?

Does the magic of state certification make a teacher better? How? It’s all part of the mythology of grade level: your kid, my kid, everybody’s kid needs to be in a group of 6 year olds when they’re 6 years old, and needs to have a state certified teacher to make sure they understand that only state certified teachers can teach them, to make sure that they perform at grade level like all the other 6 year olds. Because….

  • The management tricks of the classroom are not how we learn. OK, class, who can tell me what we discussed last week? How does the word micromanagement make you feel? OK, anybody else? I’m looking for another word. Don’t forget to raise your hand! Don’t speak out of turn. Wait to be called on. There will be a test.

Does it occur to you that nobody outside a classroom ever acts like this? If somebody were to come up to me and ask me what we talked about last week, and expected me to guess until I said what they wanted to hear – I’d put up with that?

Here’s another St. John’s College story: right off the bat, day one, we went to our first class, and found out that 20 people can sit around a table and talk about something without raising hands, with interruptions as long as they’re polite about it (you can be polite about interruptions, just check out the dinner table conversations in any happy family), that people will generally listen and take turns without any policing by the teacher.

Speaking for myself, I was not a particularly mature 18 year old, far from it, and neither were most of the other kids in my classes – and it took about 90 seconds to get the hang of it. You get better at it as you go along, but just wanting to hear what others think about something you’ve all studied, wanting to get your say said, and not wanting to be seen as a bore or a fool – these things go a long way toward cultivating civil discussion. Every Johnny I’ve ever talked about this with agrees that these civil, engaged conversations were what we all missed most about St. John’s.

Every time I go to a talk or participate in some sort of educational endeavor, I see people falling back into what are, essentially, crowd control techniques masquerading as teaching. Other lame schooling tricks no self-respecting adult should put up with include small group discussions on specified questions, on the assumption we can’t all just talk it over and need guidance to know what to think about; constant shifts from one thing to another, like changing topics or speaker or medium, on the assumption no one can pay attention for more than 5 minutes; attempts to take whole topics and predigest them down to itty bitty bits or just generally dumbing topics down in the dread fear that somebody might not get it, or, worse, get it in some non-approved way.

Without years of classroom training, no adult would put up with this treatment. Many, if not most, of us have been completely crippled by the whole participation trophy approach, where the class serves to create a group to which attendance is the only real achievement. But anyone who can actually do anything real will more or less consciously tune out these management tricks, just as they tuned them out for however much school they did.

These four things – there are others – are the poisonous residue of graded classroom education. They are tools of control, not tools of learning or teaching. If no competent adult would put up with it, no child should have to put up with it either. Yet, we really can’t imagine doing it any other way.

  1. Pestalozzi’s approach was seen by many – Einstein, for example, who attended a Pestalozzian school for part of his education – as a vast improvement over the rigidity, intimidation and physical discipline common in other schools. And who knows? Maybe young Albert lucked into great teachers. The point I’m making is, failing an outstanding and profoundly sympathetic teacher, this micromanagement of the child’s life will quickly become a bureaucratic nightmare – and such it has become.
  2. Fichte wanted all children physically removed from their families as soon as practical for the duration of their educations. Since this power grab by the state was too much even for obedient Prussians and Americans, or maybe too expensive, we’ve since settled on merely tying up virtually all of a child’s life with school, school activities, and homework, and reducing parents to mere enforcers of the school’s goals – you do help your kid with his homework every single night for as many hours as it takes, right?
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Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 3: Modern Education, etc.

Modern Scientific Education is not modern – the basic ideas trace back at least to the late 18th century – has no basis in science, and is most certainly not education. Old-school ideological indoctrination would be a better name for it. As readers of this blog know, good old Fichte kicked off the current compulsory state schooling craze back in 1811. He took ideas from Pestalozzi, most importantly that the child needs to be lead step by step through a pre-digested curriculum by a trained teacher, never allowed to proceed to the next step unless and until his teacher approves, never allowed to study what he found interesting. He blended those ideas with what would be startling notions of the superiority of the German race – startling, that is, if we’d never heard of the Third Reich. But as mentioned here often, the particular goal, whether it’s a Puritan utopia, rule by the Master Race, training up useful idiots for the glorious people’s revolution or some other End Time fantasy, is something that can be changed with relative ease, once the mechanism of control is in place.

Thus, you get graded classroom run by state-certified teachers with state-approved curricula. Kids are thrust into grades based on age, not on what they know or are interested in – what could be less important, or, indeed more harmful than allowing the kid any say? Then, you make sure only state-certified teachers can teach them, very specifically keeping the parents out (1) of the picture, except as enforcers (homework, anyone?) of what they, the teachers, teach. What the teachers teach, what education schools filter for, is doing what you’re told. Ever notice that among the most common complaints teachers make is that they have to spend so much time on discipline that they have little time to teach anything else? The poor dears! They haven’t figured out that the discipline IS the lesson. Conforming, just as the teachers themselves did to get certified, IS the goal.

Curriculum warrants its own section of euphemisms:

No Child Left Behind: All children forced to the same low level of mediocrity.

Common Core: Elite fringe. Seriously, in what sense is Bill Gates, whose foundation funded this mess, shooting for ‘common’? In what sense are painful explications of one way among many to solve basic math problems ‘core’? (2)

Side note: once you start getting into the history of public education in America, one pattern stands out: how much of the public education project is carried out out of sight by unelected people. Just as Common Core was foisted off on people who had never heard of it until it was enacted, the war against parental control as manifested in one-room schools tended to be waged by nameless bureaucrats enacting regulations far from the public eye. Throughout the second half of the 19th century up through the early 20th, state level education departments were set up with minimal public involvement. Only people who’d gotten degrees from Prussian universities, or, later, only grads from the education schools those Prussian (Fichte-style) educators had set up, got appointed or hired. A homogeneity of thought completely at odds with the then-current American educational practices dominated. For example. This played well into a time-tested propaganda technique: make a change, or merely assert a change has been made, and answer all objections with the equivalent of stare decisis: this is settled policy! The time for discussion has passed!

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“What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.”
  1. I’ve spoken to parents who volunteered to help in the classroom, and even some who did – I’ve not yet heard of an experience that wasn’t frustrating and trivializing to the parent, and uncomfortable for the teacher. This gets tried because simply baldly stated the truth – hand over your kids and get out of our way – is, as yet, a tough sell to a lot of parents. Progress on this front is being made.
  2. I get it that she’s explaining a method, but that’s one of a bunch of methods people with some feel for math might use, each rather idiosyncratic. Once you get the hang of math, you’ll come up with ways to solve the simple problems like this one in your head – but probably not that one. The mechanical version is straightforward – why not start there? What, if anything, is gained doing it this way?

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 2: Critical Thinking

Not too long ago, perhaps when some god stirred in his sleep, the idea that America is usefully divided into front row and back row people seemed to have a brief moment of currency. Haven’t heard much of that noise lately, but then again I haven’t been listening for it. Or maybe the god fell back into deep sleep, who knows? At the time, it struck me as typical classist nonsense, looking for a way to separate the good, virtuous, and therefore justifiably successful from the bad, vicious, and therefore unsuccessful in a way most flattering to the presumed good people. I most likely reacted this way because I always sat in the back, and was always among the smarter and more ‘successful’ kids in my classes, so the distinction, such as it is, rang false.

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Those kids in the front there are obviously more intelligent and ambitious than those in the back, right?

Let’s back up: poking around, this idea seems to trace back to the work of one Chris Arnade. He’s an amatuer journalist/photographer who is a sort of secular saint by virtue of his leaving his job of 20 years as a Wall Street quant in order to hang with and photograph poor people. He was unhappy with the Wall Street culture; they also closed his area due to post Great Recession regulatory burdens, and he got a buyout and retired. (1) Starting around 2012, he began to publish his writings and photos, where he coined or at least popularized the idea of front and back row kids. He just recently published a book (disclosure: I have not read it).

The idea seems to be that the kids who sit in the front row of classrooms are the ambitious leaders who rise above such trivia as race, sex, religion and any brand of localism from nationalism on down, while the kids who sit in the back have no ambitions and are fettered by their failure to rise above race and sex, and cling to their Bibles and their loyalty to place. Kids who are ambitious and smart want to sit up front so that they don’t miss anything and get noticed; kids in the back just want to be left alone, and see no value in school. More or less.

The bastion of the first group is of course the Democratic party; the second group voted for Trump. This is evidently interpreted as a failure by Democrats to understand the less enlightened, and of Trump (diabolically?) capitalizing on that very lack of enlightenment. In other words, the smart, good people failed to understand the stupid, bad people, who then voted for Trump as one of their own – or something. It doesn’t quite make sense. In what sense are people who can’t understand people outside their tribe ‘smart’? In what sense are people who value home and God ‘stupid’? Makes a fellah wonder…

Today, however, I’m not here to criticize this particular flavor of bigotry. Rather, it just happens to illustrate today’s Orwellian euphemism: Critical Thinking. To be fully Orwellian, the euphemism must not only avoid saying what it really means, but must say the opposite of what it means. Thus, critical thinking as used today means mindless conformity, the kind of mindless conformity displayed by the kids who sit in the front rows and kiss teacher hindquarters for a decade and a half.

Just as our last Orwellian euphemism, Academic Freedom, might be expected to result in a wide variety of views being expressed without fear of repercussions, but instead results in a viciously-enforced uniformity of thought, Critical Thinking might be imagined as equipping the critical thinker with the tools to criticize, oh, schooling, say. Or his teacher’s political or social assumptions. Or the conclusions of his social class.

Nope. Critical thinkers don’t ever seem to get around to dredging up, let alone criticizing, their own deeply held assumptions, except when those assumptions – say, loyalty to God, family and village – contradict what their teachers think. Then, in the unlikely event the student were to push back (no chance those front row kids are pushing back – they have future careers and success to think of!) those core beliefs are not so much criticized as laughed off stage. The point of critical thinking, in practice, is to prevent any thoughts critical of the assumptions that underlie the attitudes and goals of the front row kids, while making rejection of those held (maybe – the case has not been made) by the back row kids a requirement for membership in the Kool Kids Klub.

If you were to ask any of Arnade’s current or former peers if they have good critical thinking skills, they would pronounce them excellent. And remain unable to understand those poor back seat kids, except through an analysis such as Arnade’s that runs no real risk of upsetting their own feelings of moral and intellectual superiority.

  1. According to Wikipedia, he’s also a socialist, of the ‘retire young from a mid-6-figure Wall Street job to pursue my hobbies’ style socialists. Wonder what those back row kids would think of that?

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 1 Academic Freedom

Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.

Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought…

George Orwell, 1984, Appendix 1949

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another…

…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification… 

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. 

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

Academic Freedom. This lovely phrase is supposed to mean that academics are free to pursue whatever line of thinking they want without having to worry about being attacked. Only their peers are qualified to criticize them, as everyone else is assumed to lack the necessary expertise to understand them. Think of it this way: you hire a plumber or an auto mechanic, but are forbidden to judge their work. Instead, only other plumbers and auto mechanics can say if the drain drains or car runs well. Even though you paid for the work, you are in fact prohibited from raising any issues, lest you infringe on the sacred freedom of the plumbers and mechanics, whose arts and mysteries are outside your ken, you commoner, you.

That’s academic freedom. (1) What could possibly go wrong?

In the mean old days, before we had academic freedom enshrined as a foundational principle of our universities, without which certain unspecified evils were sure to beset us, people like provosts and parents and financial backers assumed they had a say in who taught and what they taught. They could get professors fired for being immoral or teaching treasonous or merely insane things.

In addition to the merely pedestrian libertines among the professorial class, Marxists, Freudians, and other frauds didn’t like this state of affairs. So, by the 1930s, anytime anyone attacked academics for being frauds or traitors or simply lunatics, all the good people would circle the wagons and declare: academic freedom! All criticisms, no matter how reasonable, are summarily dismissed as lacking standing. All sorts of idiocy and evil are thus immunized from attack.

This use of “academic freedom“ has proven indispensable to Marxists and their useful idiots as they took over the schools. Insiders were subject to political power plays; outsiders were excluded from the discussion.

Thus, 18 year olds are subject to a homogenous intellectual environment, where they’ll never hear any professor say, for example, that the idea that everything is a social construct is self refuting and moronically stupid. Nope, all they’ll see are heads nodding in agreement. This complete homogeneity of thought, this utter enslavement of academics to a single school of ‘thought,’ in fact, enslavement to a single political idea, is the necessary and intended result of academic freedom.

  1. Yes, college professors are glorified plumbers and mechanics, only much less useful. I went there.

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.

The Epistemic Closure of the Left pt 1: Definitions, Origins

Below I start to work through some ideas. I’ll try to finish this up soon in part 2: Method, Goal. Work in progress. When working things through, I tend to write in a stiff, quasi-academic style which even I don’t like to read. Sorry about that.

Here I will be using a simplified, practical definition of epistemic closure, similar to the way I define metaphysics as ‘what must be true if anything is true.’ Epistemic closure is that state in which all allowable questions and answers are defined to the complete and summary exclusion of any other questions and answers. Just as in the case of metaphysics, there’s a ton of stuff easily available on the web to give you a perhaps deeper but certainly more complicated (and less useful) understanding. But here we’ll stick to the practical.

Epistemic closure

Simple hypothetical example: Say I believe the tribal gods are responsible for all good and bad fortune. These gods dole out their blessings and curses based on how pious an individual or tribe is. Piousness is a measure of how strictly prescribed rituals and sacrifices are executed. The sole authority on issues of piousness – on ritual and sacrifice – is the medicine man.

Something bad happens, say the watering hole dries up. Under epistemic closure, the tribesman will only consider questions around how the tribe or he himself have failed to be pius, and consider only answers that involve some sort of ritual or sacrifice, as determined by the medicine man.

Questions that have to do with lack of rain, overuse, events that may have transpired upstream – these will only be considered, in the unlikely event they ever arise, in the context of impiety. Answers other than performing some ritual or sacrifice or other pious acts as determined by the medicine man will be ruled out, if by some odd chance they ever are allowed to arise in the first place.

The key point here: other questions to ask or solutions to consider will never arise in the normal course of things. The epistemological world of our hypothetical tribesman is closed. (1)

Further, there is a risk to reaching outside the closure. For anyone to ask such questions or seek such alternatives is to declare himself not of the tribe, since not only our tribesman, but everyone he knows agrees with his understanding and all the unspoken limits that understanding requires.

Competing epistemologies: what is and can be known

We don’t live in a simple world of a single tribe. People are tribal (or pack, or herd) animals whose survival, naturally speaking, depends on tribal membership. Therefore, even though tribal membership in the evolutionary sense is no longer needed for basic physical survival in an industrial society, defining your tribe, which necessarily entails defining out other tribes, remains an automatic instinctual behavior. (2)

Some people, aware of the downside of tribalism, consciously work against it, asserting that we’re all people, all in this together, and need to look at what we have in common in order to get through life with as little unnecessary conflict and bloodshed as possible. Such people – and I count myself among them – cannot be understood by members of epistemically closed tribes as anything other than the member of some competing and hostile tribe, about which all valid questions and answers are already known.

My thesis here is that today, in America, the Left is an epistemically closed tribe with dogmas about what can be known, about what questions are allowed and what answers can be considered, and this closure is not an accident emerging from our innate tribalism. Rather, our instinctual need to belong to a tribe has been consciously commandeered to reinforce a certain tribalism and lay out conditions for membership.

A ‘scientific’ epistemology

The most open epistemology ever developed I’m here calling ‘scientific,’ although science is more a product than a source of this theory of knowledge. It runs as follows, as readers of this blog know:

  1. There is an objective universe, independent of any subjective understanding or feelings anyone may have about it.
  2. The human mind can know things about this objective universe, however imperfectly.
  3. Such knowledge is obtained when information about the universe is provided to our minds by our senses and rationally processed by our minds. The more, and more carefully, we look at the world, the more and more clearly we think about it, the more and better our ideas about it will tend to be.
  4. Given the above, it is understood that any of our beliefs about the world may be overturned by further information and thought. The objective universe may prove us wrong, in other words.

There are of course all sorts of distinctions, details and even mysteries involved in this epistemology, which I’ve sketched at a very high level.
(3) Be that as it may, it is this way of looking at the world that has given us all technological and scientific progress. I’m typing this on a computer and sending it to be posted on the internet – actions only possible in a world that is truly reflected in the principles listed above. Whether on not scientists recognize that they require and have embraced this aspect of Aristotelian epistemology – and they usually don’t – they could make no progress if they had not.

I call this an open epistemology because, at it roots, it acknowledges that it does not know all the questions and certainly doesn’t know all the answers. In practice, even the possibility that no answer will ever be available to certain questions is accepted. While any individual operating under this theory of knowledge is as likely as not to fail in implementing it in particular cases, at least in principle they know they could be wrong, the real world can prove them wrong, and they don’t know all the answers or even all the good questions. (4)

This scientific epistemology also provides a framework within which honest people can disagree and argue without the risk of being expelled from the tribe. Two people can look at the objective universe, think about it, and simply reach different conclusions, since what can be experienced by any one person at any one time may differ, as can the particular logical path followed. The appeal in such cases can only be to logic and objective reality; in the best case, experience and logic can be harmonized and tentative agreement reached; but it is also perfectly possible that appeals to logic and experience harbor too many unknowns for a question to be settled. Such disagreements are not fatal to this theory of knowledge.

The closed epistemology of the Left

The current reigning epistemology of the colleges, and therefore of the the fields fed by recent college graduates, as well as the social circles peopled by such folks, is completely closed. (5) Its epistemology is as follows:

  1. Everything is a social construct. There is no such thing as an objective universe, at least not in any way we could know it. Key corollary: any world we like can be created simply by creating the proper society needed to construct it.
  2. The only source of unhappiness in the world is oppression.
  3. The only answer to unhappiness is to change society so that it can construct a new reality that ends oppression.
  4. The only valid intellectual exercise consists of identifying an oppressed group, identifying how they are oppressed and by whom, and agitating for the overthrow of the oppressors and the society that constructed them.
  5. Feelings trump knowledge. Since the idea of an objective reality accessible to all, as well as logic itself, are social constructs, knowledge is replaced by feelings, only available through insight, enlightenment, raised consciousness – being woke, in other words. One is either woke, a member of the tribe and among the good people, or unwoke, an outsider and a reactionary to be reeducated or otherwise disposed of. Corollary: No claim of wokeness can be attacked with evidence or logic: the simple act of trying to use logic and evidence conclusively labels one as unenlightened, lacking insight, laboring under false consciousness – unwoke, in other words.

Origins

Readers here all know about Johann Gottlieb Fichte and his seminal role in establishing compulsory graded classroom schooling to create an obedient, compliant population more easily and successfully managed by the better people. Here is, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story:

After delivering his Addresses to the German Nation as a series of lectures in French occupied Berlin in 1808 and 1809, Fichte was appointed rector to the newly-established Berlin University. Von Humboldt – Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt, not his kid brother Alexander the naturalist – was a huge fan, and, once the king had von Humboldt appointed to the directorate of education under the Minister of the Interior, he put Fichte in a position wherein he could best further his aims.

The context here is everything: educational reform was all the rage at the time. The better class of Germans, the kind of people who would, while under French occupation, pay to hear a 2nd rate philosopher give lectures on how wonderful and obviously superior Germans are, needed answers: how had the loathsome French managed to route their crack Prussian troops? How was it that clearly inferior French ruled them?

Because those troops were not as disciplined and obedient as they should be, Fichte assured them. Our troops were thinking for themselves, thinking of their homes and families and villages when they should have been thinking only of the glory of the fatherland! If only we could establish schools to remove all our children from the obviously baleful influences of village, home and family, and train them up to think only what we tell them to think and do what we tell them to do, why, then we could have the troops we deserve! We could resume our rightful place as the rulers of Europe and the world.

Thus, compulsory state-run schools which, by design, contradict and defeat family, church and village in favor of the state (or the Revolution, a meaningless distinction in practice). The success of Fichte and his acolytes – e.g., Mann, Barnard, Harris, Dewey, Freire, all those who see the schools as a means of using children to achieve the state’s goal (however thinly disguised) – is obvious upon inspection.

Berlin University was merely the prototype of phase II. K-12 will create the good soldiers and shopkeepers, mothers and cube dwellers, but we’re going to need a bunch of mid-level managers to keep it all humming. Thus, the research, or Prussian Model, university. Here was schooling for the brighter 6% or so of the population, already prepared by their primary and secondary educations to think what we want them to think, to prepare them to be “leaders.” We will pat them on the head, tell them how smart they are, give them degrees, then send them out to execute our plans: the plans of the that fraction of a percent who get to run things. (The von Humboldt brothers were homeschooled. Friedrich never got a college degree.) Many become teachers and professors, others managers and professionals, others bureaucrats. All, if successfully ‘educated,’ believe they are the most intelligent, open-minded, and moral people ever to walk the face of the earth. How could it be otherwise?

The epistemic closure of the Left traces back to this attempt by the self-appointed elites and the powerful to whom they are almost always courtesans to enforce uniformity of thought upon the little people. The mechanism is the schools. K-12 razes the family, village and church, to replace them with the state. Teachers, certified, employed and managed by the state, act in persona parenti, indeed, but more to the point, they act in the person of the state. This replacement of parent and preacher by teacher was specifically the method Fichte described. College has been remade into the mechanism by which a management class is created, to manage the process of homogenization and control. They are given to believe they are the leaders; in reality, they are merely tools.

One problem, perhaps not anticipated by Fichte or Mann, was that this mechanism, once in place, can be used by whoever controls its bureaucracy, for whatever end they desire. We’ll look into this aspect in part II.

Notes, pt 1

  1. For a related real world example, the ever-popular Yanomami tribesmen – and I’m sure they are not alone in this – measure how human one is by how closely one’s language matches theirs: the same equals human; understandable but not the same equals somewhat human; unintelligible equals animal. Therefore, only some sort of trauma, such as explorers with guns, will ever threaten their epistemology (whatever it may be) – they have preemptively assigned anyone different enough to pose a challenge into a category from which no challenge is brooked.
  2. Over the last 5,000 years, a few people, here and there, have worked to expand the definition of tribe, up to the point where some people refer to a brotherhood of man, or imagine themselves global citizens or other such inclusive-sounding phrases. Christianity took this as far as it can go by declaring all people children of God, which has the advantage of making tribal membership hereditary, prior to conformity to tribal rules. In theory, there is no out tribe of animals that may be killed – people who don’t speak Yanomami, reactionaries, Jews, people who could read. This ideal sits atop our hardwired instincts; general success is not to be expected. Most often, very tribal people functionally expand the definition of their tribe to include “everyone who does now or can be made to agree with me.” This is called “promoting diversity.”
  3. I think this simple formulation captures the gist, but Moderate Realism is not quite that simple. Moderate Realism holds that things like species do exist, not as immortal, immutable ideas a la Plato, but as that which characterizes all individuals in the species. Thus, the idea of horse results from having seen what is common to all horses, based, of course, on the individual horses we have experienced. Like most of Aristotle, Moderate Realism turns out to be common sense, once understood: what else, really, could we mean by species?
  4. Note that this practical, scientific epistemology does not exclude visions or miracles, nor any other way, known or unknown, one might experience the world. It simply makes no claims about such experiences, except noting that such knowledge, insofar as it exists, is personal, and can make no very strong claims on those who have not had that experience.
  5. I am not claiming that everybody from every department in every college falls into this trap, but merely that, in colleges and all social circles dominated by college grads, this will by far be the dominant ideology. To fail to comply gets you excluded from the Kool Kids Klub.

Next up: Younger Daughter’s Graduation TMCLA

Posting this from a reception at the President’s House of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in NH. It’s nice:

Each soon to be grad presented a 5 minute summary of their thesis, to the cheers of the assembled thronglet, and then the wine and hors d’oeuvres were rolled out. Our daughter did well and is beautiful. No, I’m not biased. No way.

Next up is the parents dinner on campus; then tomorrow Mass and commencement.

Further bulletins as events warrant.