Half Hour of Heterodoxy
A discussion of The Coddling of the American Mind, just published this month, with the authors Greg Lukianoff and Jon Haidt. Greg Lukianoff is director of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Jon Haidt is a founder of Heterodox Academy and professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern school.
The history behind the Coddling article 1:59
Greg’s battle with depression 6:15
Nietzsche or Stoic views of pain 9:00
The untruth of good and evil people 12:20
Is no one truly evil? 18:16
Is Jon hopeful? 24:20
Books and Article Mentioned In This Episode:
The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jon Haidt
The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert Leahy
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb
The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck
Does Our Cultural Obsession With Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy? by Thomas Chatterton Williams
This is a transcript of this episode.
The post Greg Lukianoff and Jon Haidt on The Coddling of the American Mind: Half Hour of Heterodoxy #34 appeared first on Heterodox Academy.
Zen was eye opening and life changing, each time I read it. Lila felt like a work of obligation. While Lila had moments where the third person was used more powerfully than I had ever encountered it before, on the whole I found to book maddening. The quickest way to describe it is the difference between Socrates and Plato. In fact I would Liken Zen to the Apology and Lila to the Republic in regard to their approach to establishing ideas. I was over 10% younger than I am now when I read it and think I might take a gentler view should I read it again.
He was the first person to introduce me to the non-rational foundations of our value systems, every single one. I am grateful for this.
I hope he found the Quality he was looking for.
Rest In Peace Mr. Pirsig.
Eric Shelton (AKA The Shelton) recently shared a post, Heinlein was wrong. The post appears to be an excerpt from Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. The excerpt refers to the following from Robert Heinlein:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
I don’t want to re-quote Eric’s post here but the excerpt makes the following points:
- Heinlein is telling us that truly capable human beings, should be able to do almost anything
- The quote is a noble sentiment, it celebrates human adaptability and resilience, but it’s wrong.
- A homesteader making his own house and the materials to assemble it was inefficient and produced only “rudimentary housing.”
- No one expects metallurgy, architecture, and glazing in a skyscraper to be executed by the same person.
- The workers in a skyscraper possess some overlapping knowledge but respect the professional abilities of many others and concentrate on doing what he or she knows best.
- We cannot function without admitting the limits of our knowledge and trusting in the expertise of others
The Life Judo slogan is taken from this quote so it is not surprising I think the above is well meant nonsense. Heinlein wrote a “human being” should be able to do his list, not a remarkable person. It is not a noble sentiment but a specific point. Rudimentary housing is far better than freezing your ass off, and if you can’t make rudimentary shelter you are relying on our modern support system to function flawlessly and relying on yourself to have flawless judgement and knowledge of the future. The last three points made by Mr. Nichols can be addressed completely by Heinlein’s requirement to take orders, give orders, cooperate, and act alone.
Making the claim that specialization is for insects is not a call for isolation and rugged individualism. It is a call to be useful and of value to the people around you. Are people in need? Can you be of assistance? What if you are separated from the group? Do they need to mobilize resources and take on new risks to save you or can they count on you to find your way back more or less on your own?
Heinlein is placing a list of skills in your mind and letting you have a response. Are you energized at the prospect of becoming better rounded or do you shrink away from exposing yourself to the inevitable failure of learning?
We don’t need to achieve unparalleled levels of excellence in all facets of our life. It has been well said that perfect is the enemy of good enough. Rather than be excellent, can you do these and other things at all? My observation in the world and my own experience indicates the expanding of one’s skill set expands one’s freedom. It’s also a lot of fun.
But Mr. Nichols was applying his point more to society than to the individual! My point still stands. Have you ever noticed that biology involves chemistry and that chemistry involves physics and that physics involves math and that communicating mathematical concepts in relation to real world issues involves good writing skills? Do you recall that the information about the 9/11 attacks was known to the government but the compartmentalization of the information prevented the whole picture emerging?
When we specialize we are putting our understanding in silos. Are you in the foreign policy silo or steel worker silo or the management silo? This does not serve our society, our industry, nor our science. Nowhere in Heinlein’s quote are we admonished against achieving excellence. In fact his reference to giving and receiving orders and acting cooperatively implies strongly that there are to be people expert enough to clearly be in charge.
If I need brain surgery or an engine block blueprinted I want the operator to be an expert and truly fantastic at the task. However, it does not follow that I want or need the surgeon or machinist to be ignorant of how to cook a meal, write a sonnet, or build a wall.
Mr Nichols may well have a valid point to make but he has chosen the wrong context to make it. I cannot think of a better thing for any society of humans than that they should all strive to live the terms Heinlein lays out for us.
Apparently the folks at Zinc only upload videos to FB. It’s a short video (1:13).
Let’s lead with the fact that banning people because of their religion is quintessentially unAmerican.
Just like Trump, but to a different direction, this video misses the point. The Muslims killing Muslims e.g. ISIS, would claim those being killed are not Muslims.
While 106,000 is a small percentage, it is a large number. It looks nice to say 0.006% of Muslims are terrorists and makes a useful point but it is missing the larger point.
Having seen how badly people misinterpret Christianity from the outside, I am reluctant to make any statements about what a religion is or is not. With that understood, it is my understanding that the actions of ISIS are justifiable under the Quran and Sharia law. This not to say it is the only perspective one can take but that it is a perspective ISIS and their supporters can support from text and tradition.
This leads us to the larger point, What is Islam?
What is happening right now is a battle for the meaning of the faith. So when 1.6 billion Muslims are mentioned, what does that mean?
The video also treats Islamism as a spontaneous movement devoid of context. The West (US, UK, et al), Russia, and others have acted to the detriment of people living in areas with high concentrations of Muslims. That is not the sole reason we have our current troubles but it is part of it.
I was driving into my internship when I started thinking about Jiu Jitsu. Specifically I was thinking about the belt system and the way that my school awards them.
Typically you will see five colors awarded: white, blue, purple, brown, and black. Each of these belts receive stripes as the student progresses. In my school they add three belts between white and blue so that the progression is white, yellow, orange, green, and then blue. Stripes on the white belt are each awarded after 10 reasonably consistent days of attendance. Yellow and orange are also awarded based on attendance. It is not until awarding the green belt (the equivalent of a four stripe white belt in many other schools) that my school promotes on skill/understanding.
This is controversial. Some folks would say that promotion based on anything but Jiu Jitsu skill is not legitimate, that this practice is just trying to egg people along and make them feel good. Frankly, I had some misgivings about it as well. I have no misgivings now.
The reason I do not have any misgivings now is I see how much more there is to Jiu Jitsu than Jiu Jitsu. To be successful in this art, one must have personal resources e.g. diligence, humility, and resilience. If a player must possess the skill to execute a technique (e.g. an arm bar) to practice the art, and possessing diligence or humility is also necessary, then why would diligence not be specifically encouraged? If you don’t show up, you can’t learn. Rewarding the new student with promotion based on executing the most important skill, i.e. showing up, is absolutely logical. Once that skill has been largely acquired and demonstrated then the next thing to test is the student’s proficiency in the gentle art.
This is what I was thinking about on my drive in.
One cannot be successful in life if one does not show up. I know for me, I often see only the failed attempt rather than also seeing the fact I was there attempting. No, just trying is not enough but trying is ESSENTIAL. I have found significant objective achievement in the areas where I measure success by how much and how consistently I have engaged the process.
If you are kicking ass focusing on nothing but the goal then keep kicking ass! If that’s not working for you you might want to try committing to diligently showing up and engaging the process. It has done wonders for me.
The next day one of the black belts earned his first stripe. Three years of Jiu Jitsu since his belt. My professor spoke at length about how the black belt had earned this stripe. The way we start is the way we end, showing up.
Gospel -> Good News
Powerlessness -> Lacking the authority or capacity to act.
I have great news for you! You have no power!! I have even better news! No one else has power either!!
If you find yourself speaking to our current president, President Obama, and you are talking to him about The Issue (The Issue is a topic that has impact on people and that only President Obama has power over the outcome) that is a big deal. Let’s say you have the “correct” perspective on The Issue but the president does not. Since you are speaking with THE president you have the opportunity to actually change something. If the president will just not listen to reason it will be frustrating. This has real consequences and the president is not being reasonable!! The Issue is within the president’s circle of control and, for the moment, the president is within your circle of influence. There is a lot riding on that interaction.
Contrast that with a discussion between you and an acquaintance on The Issue. While your acquaintance is within your circle of influence, neither of you have any influence or control over The Issue.
This is good news!! The outcome of that interaction has no importance and will not change what happens with The Issue. Therefore, there is nothing to lose! You have then only an opportunity to share an experience, see if you can learn from the other person, and see if you can communicate your ideas. It is an opportunity to explore The Issue and exercise your brain. And because no one has power, nothing bad will happen if the other person’s perspective remains unchanged.
A word about communication. Communication means that the concept in your head is constructed in the other person’s head. It does not mean that the other person agrees with that concept once it is there.
Good News!! You have no power! The pressure is off!
It is the morning after and we already know everything we need to assert the following: this tragedy will be used to justify more restrictive gun laws and this tragedy will also be used to demonize Islam. Both of these perspectives have already come to a conclusion and are looking for evidence to confirm it. This approach to thought has a name. It is called “confirmation bias”
Now, it is silly to think that we should wait for all the evidence to come in before we start thinking about it. It is entirely reasonable to see things happening and to get an idea. In some circles this is called forming a hypothesis. You then look to see whether there is further information that supports or undermines that idea.
That is not what we see happening with this. We have people devoted to ideas rather than devoted to the truth. The way things are is the way things are. If we want to change the way things are we need to engage reality as honestly as possible.
The “anti-gun” folks, by and large, want a good thing i.e. let’s not kill each other so much. While the “anti-Islam” folks too want a good thing i.e. let’s not be killed as much.
The problem is that good intentions will not accomplish either of these goals. These problems exist in a system and without changing that system the problems will remain. What folks don’t like about systemic change is that it is often uncomfortable and sometimes takes a while for the change to be visible. Add to this that there are people, bad people in my opinion, who profit from calling for simple linear solutions to these systemic problems (and so look like they are working for improvement but are actually interfering with it and so preserve their jobs while “claiming a halo for their dishonesty”) and people get distracted from meaningful work that will make things better.
There is no easy solution. One thing we can do is ask ourselves when presented with these problems, Are we protecting ourselves from uncomfortable ideas? Are we placing our biases ahead of problem solving? Our ideals inform our objectives but if our beliefs are not subject to change by reality they become dogma and actively interfere with changing our situation for the better.