Schools. Culture. Science.

Speaking of stating the obvious: we rely more and more on schools and science the more our culture dies. This is a mistake, as explained below.

What’s slightly less obvious: the success of schools and science (however that success is defined) is a result of a successful culture. What obscures this truth is the sometimes silent, sometimes shouted from the rooftops claim that, somehow, successful schooling *results* in good culture and good science.

To quote Shrek: Yea, likes that’s gonna happen.

If you find the above assertions incoherent or even blasphemous, recall that there’s a huge array of interests and individuals who’s livelihood depends on schools holding a sacred spot in our society – these people have pretty much pushed the rational opponents of schooling (e.g., Orestes Brownson) off the public stage entirely. and we can’t entirely discount the presence of a Stockholm Syndrome – having been prisoners of schools for well over a decade, we cut deals to save our psyches.  The upshot: posing the perfectly reasonable question of what, exactly, school is good for is far more emotional for most people than can be explained by the question itself.

Let’s say you start with culture instead. For an extreme Catholic example, look at St. John Bosco – he worked with abandoned and orphaned boys. The very first thing he did was create a culture – he knew that there was no point in trying to start a school until the boys belonged to something, felt affection and obligation to something. So, he and his brother teachers first and foremost treated the boys with respect – no bullying, no making them receive the Sacraments for their own good, no harsh discipline. Next, Bosco and Co provided a vivid, constant example of what a meaningful adult life was like – they were happy, hard-working, intimately involved in the lives of others, caring for the weak.  It is within this context that ‘schooling’ took place. The primary material  goal of Bosco’s  education was to get the boys a job – again, a job is just one important way we have a meaningful roll in our culture. Only as a secondary goal were academics pursued.

To recap: Bosco, a great lover of children and famous for his ability to connect with them,  knew that the major lack in the lives of these boys was family – the smallest unit of culture – and that that lacuna must first be filled before any other progress can be made. Because the boys lacked families, they also lacked any means for joining adult culture – namely, they couldn’t get a job, which meant they couldn’t get married and raise a family (couldn’t, as it were, attain FNG status! See, it’s all connected!).  So Bosco worked to reconnect the circle that was broken for these boys – by becoming family for them, by helping them get a job, he enabled them to join that great interlocking chain of family circles we call a culture.

Science, in the context of culture, is just another useful craft. The mythology tries to convince us that great scientists are some sort of James Dean style outcasts, operating on the fringes of culture and fighting off culture’s ignorance in order to lead us, kicking and screaming, into the future. This is historically utter nonsense, but hey, who learns history any more?

QED: School and Science succeed because of culture.


Formerly Normal Guys – 1st Pass

Here’s the game: once upon a time, guys tended to get married, stay married, raise a bunch of kids with their loving wife, and work in order to support their familial Jones. That’s just what Normal Guys did.

Now, a preponderance of guys seem to be trying to get rich, get girls, practice serial polygamy, opt out of the whole ‘Dad’ gig and otherwise defy everything that used to define a Normal Guy.

So, as a guy who would have tidily fit into the old Normal Guy category, I’m going to take it upon myself to identify and wax rhapsodic about any men I come across who would have formerly been considered pretty normal – Formerly Normal Guys, in other TLA-friendly words.

Things that are right out:

– Lots of wives;

– Obvious trophy wife;

– No kids, or one or two ‘perfect’ kids. FNGs actually liked kids – loved them, even – and instead of viewing them as little human Certificates of Achievement, instead viewed them as actual human beings Normal Guys were blessed to have a chance to live with. Exceptions can be made to this rule for either circumstances beyond control (think GKC) and for voluntary celibacy, such as Catholic priests (JPII seemed like a FNG, but it seems a little sacrilegious to call him a FNG. Issues remain to be ironed out, here);

– Wedded to career – willing to sacrifice human relationships to get ahead, whatever that means.

What else?

For Example…

Rahm Emanuel, in the true Machiavellian* tradition, noted that aspiring princes cannot let a good crisis go unexploited – or words to that effect. So, what’s up with this BP mess? How would a savvy politician have handled it? How about:

Press conference immediately upon discovering the true magnitude of the disaster, certainly within the first week;

A speech hitting the following points:

– This is a disaster of epic proportions (on the theory that, once in a while, it’s good to acknowledge the obvious – helps maintain the impression you live in the same universe as everybody else);

– Mitigating this disaster is our top priority;

– Only BP has the expertise to cap the well – we will provide whatever assistance we can, but, for better or worse, the US government is not the expert in capping deep sea oil wells;

– A high-level cabinet member (Sec of Interior?) will be on-site for the duration, making sure BP does everything in its power to resolve this disaster, and giving me daily progress reports;

– I’m authorizing the Coast Guard and Navy to work with local agencies and experts to do whatever can be done to mitigate the damage to the coast;

– Once we’ve addressed the immediate problems, we’ll launch a full-scale investigation. Heads will roll;

– Oh, yea – I’m canceling my fund raising and golfing junkets to deal with this problem.

Then, you get your media people to spin the living heck out of this, painting you as a hero. Look concerned at daily photo ops and say sympathetic and angry things. Hang out with some shrimp fishermen. Kiss some babies in New Orleans. Because a lot of people suspect you are an out-of-touch hubris-ridden narcissist who road affirmative action, white liberal guilt and the ability to read a teleprompter to a cush job in the White House – here’s your chance to prove them wrong.

Somehow, this didn’t happen. Anyone think Rove would have performed this badly?

*though Machiavelli really loved Italy. I’m not sure if anyone knows what Rahm loves.

Seal, Olusegun Division

Seal is somebody whose music I’m a little shocked I like. The only way to explain it: The musicianship is outstanding. Anyway, wondering: can we grant him honorary FNG status, because he’s married, has kids whom he takes along with his wife every year for a family celebration of his and his wife’s  anniversary? Or do we need more than that?  Or does he have Tiger problems we don’t know about?

Wrestling out loud here with the definition of FNG – it should be generous, in the warm guy way that you see at neighborhood  picnics and Knights of Columbus barbecues, willing to overlook lots of little foibles, but not meaningless. In Seal’s case, ‘little foibles’ might include: “Married a supermodel” and “owns beach property in Mexico”.

OK, so Seal’s a stretch.

Consistent Skepticism: the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker of Popular Thought

Contemplating today, again, the nature of Materialism in its many-faceted glory. It all boils down to one essential little tidbit of logic, namely: if you want evidence, the list of things you’re going to have to throw out include, not just the usual suspects of religion and superstition, but the more comforting illusions of free will and person hood, and all their logical children: autonomy, argument, persuasion,  heroism. To start.

But logical consistency has rarely burdened the proponents of Materialism.

Have you noticed how the world looks flat? All evidence and experience readily available to us testifies that the world is a motionless plane. Only by means of a series of rather special and esoteric observations and reasonings are we convinced that the earth is round and whirling through space. Nonetheless, we use this one piece of knowledge as a sure shibboleth of intelligence and right thinking: only an ignorant fool thinks the world is flat.

Similarly, have you noticed how it appears that we are regularly exercising free will? All evidence and experience readily available to us testifies that we are free to make choices, from chocolate or vanilla all the way up to if and whom to marry and whether to risk our lives for others. Yet once we look as hard at free will as we look at the flat earth, we realize that it is impossible for us to be free in any meaningful sense. We can be chaotic, or random, but not free – it is unnecessary and meaningless to posit a power outside of billiard-ball level materialistic cause and effect for our own actions when we readily accept such causality for all other things that take place in the world. Free Will is as much mystical nonsense as the Trinity.

So, if we really want to play the materialistic game, we’ve got to chuck free will, which means, among other things creativity, heroism, morality, honor and so on – what could these things mean, if they are simply the result of inevitable mechanistic causality flavored with a little chance and chaos?