Over at Captain Capitalism, Aaron Clarey made a point I don’t find fully convincing.
It’s a brief and hidden point in a post I otherwise agree with entirely. He mentions Jordan Peterson’s desire to offer a liberal arts education online and calls the degree Peterson would offer worthless.
Now, in context, Clarey has affirmed that which I affirm: that the modern university’s liberal arts program is worthless. He describes it here:
Yes, liberal arts degrees, especially the social justice warrior slop Coursera is serving up, are worthless, pointless, even damaging to the students naive enough to take them. Yes, these courses/degrees will ruin their lives, at minimum sending them down the career path of poverty and e-begging, at worst replacing family, love, freedom, and excellence with a fervent ideological addiction to socialism. And yes, you can learn this slop for free, with the exact same employment prospects, as going to the library and reading ALL the liberal arts/Marxist books you want.
But I think that the vision Peterson has for a liberal arts degree is of the sort that made those degrees worth having in the past. Clarey has a “Clarey test” for whether or not a person might have good advice. One of them is whether or not they have a worthless degree and he gives history and other humanities degrees a pass if they’re before the Marxist/Postmodern shift in the universities. If Peterson’s vision is like this, and people learn to think logically, creatively, precisely, and deeply through his program then I think it would teach people to be extremely happy in an economic and spiritual sense.
One of the most uncomfortable forms of weakness intellectual weakness.
There are many ways to overcome this problem, but the first is to read.
The abysmal truth is that few read before or during college:
“The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works that are presumed to appeal to “book virgins” who will flee actual college-level reading. Since common reading programs are generally either voluntary or mandatory without an enforcement mechanism, such “book virgins” have to be wooed with simple, unchallenging works. This was our conclusion two years ago: the lay of the land is still much the same.”
If you want to get ahead in life, at least ahead of yourself, read. If you read you can:
Get inside the head of somebody smarter than you. (Have you written a whole book?)
 For the Christian, weakness can be a form of power, insofar as that weakness is one that the Christian has tried to overcome. In that sense, Paul the apostle can speak of his preference for weakness. This preference is not, even in context, an excuse for low-effort, shoddy thinking, or laziness in general.
People are always telling me, “Geoff, you’re such a smart guy.”
Lot’s of people think I’m a smart guy. It’s an empty compliment, but I enjoy it. Sherlock Holmes was the same way:
“I shall never do that,” I [Watson] answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.” My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.
But the main reason to be smart, of course, is that it makes it easier to help people because they trust you. If you’re actually competent, then you’re smart persona is a net benefit to society.
How to do it:
I use these six steps to trick people into thinking I’m smart:
First, pick a constellation of useful skills you can use to make money by helping others: lock smithing, cooking, computer programming, small engine repair, etc.
Pick a few subjects interesting to you that seem important for understanding the world. A list might look like this: American History, Logic, Evolutionary Psychology, Exercise Science, and Economics.
Read the most important books you can find about them and consult living experts to test your knowledge. Twitter, blogs, and email make this possible.
Then, start bringing up the most important facts in conversation and discussing the ideas and difficulties in those fields with interested people.
Use the most powerful ideas to improve your life, craft your destiny, and assist those around you.
Finally, learn another language. I made the mistake of learning ancient languages. Learn modern ones first.
Once you do this, people will think you’re brilliant. Smile. You’ve got them fooled. All you did was read a bunch of books.
I came across an archived usenet post linked on social media:
How come the heros of our movies are no longer Micky Rooney or Spencer Tracy playing Thomas Edison, or Paul Muni playing Erlich or Pasteur, instead Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison and Woody Harrelson playing Larry Flint? And movies whose heros are lawyers.
Paperwork and lawyering. Fixing and improving and advancing society by talk-talk, not building. A lawyer president and his lawyer wife. Crises of power that don’t involve spy planes and sputniks, but incredibly complicated and desceptive word defintions and complicated tax frauds. You think we’re not preparing to go to Mars because SF is too optimistic? Sure. But it was optimistic about whether or not the can-do engineering of the 40’s and 50’s, done by the kids who’d grown up playing with radios and mechanics in the 20’s, was going to continue. Needless to say, it didn’t. I’ve seen a late 1950’s book of science fair projects for teenagers that include things like building your own X-ray machine and cyclotron (no, I’m not kidding– it can be done). There are rockets in there, and cloud chambers, and all kinds of wonderful electronics stuff. But we didn’t go that way. Instead, we turned our children into little Clintons, and our society into a bunch of people sitting at PCs, entering data about social engineering, not mechanical engineering. So instead of going to Mars, we went instead to beaurocratic Hell. Enjoy, everybody. It really could have been different. Nature didn’t stop us– WE stopped us.
I’m not opposed to lawyers, we need them. I even that a few of them read this blog. But the idea that the aspirations of American culture were transformed by entertainment focusing on paperwork fields and the actual content of education are obvious. My wife and I intend to home school our children. And I suspect that we’ll be buying some of those old science books.
I think our young simply feel that the world handed to them is either good enough or impossible to bend toward their own success. So their aspirations end at “make enough money to chill.”
Jordan Peterson on religion as knowledge of “shouldness.”
Jordan Peterson below explains how he, as a scientist, reconciles science and religion from a Darwinian point of view. Whether you accept Darwinism or not, his claims are important for how we define, pursue, and reflect on education.
He says that science is trying to explain what things are and religious claims, when they are true, are true things about how we should live:
“You should act…so that things are good for you, like they would be for someone you’re taking care of. But they have to be good for you in a way that’s also good for your family. And they have to be good for you and your family in a way that’s also good for society, and maybe even also good for the broader environment, if you can manage that. So it’s balanced at all those level. That has to be good for you and your family, and society, and the world right now and next week and next month and a year from now and ten years from now…Christ is a meta-hero and that sits at the bottom of western civilization. His archetypal mode of being is true speech. That’s the fundamental idea of western civilization. And it’s right.”
Peterson’s explanation of what religion is/does above is what education in the United States attempts to do. Therefore, it is religious. But alas dear reader, I’m never so brief.
Christ as the archetypal foundation of Western Civilization
I think Peterson is absolutely right about what he says about Jesus and his relationship to Western Civilization at its best. The argument to demonstrate it is labyrinthine, but I’ll summarize it:
In western civilization, rule of law and the scientific method developed to the point of themselves becoming dogmas or the culture.
Cultural dogmas arise from human behavior.
Human behavior arises from foundational myths which survive by natural selection.
The foundational myth of western civilization is Jesus Christ, crucified for truth-telling and resurrected to function as the Truth about humanity.
What is education?
Now, education is mirrors propaganda in that it propagates ideas, institutions, practices, temperaments, and goals. But it is distinct from propaganda in western civilization because everybody is called to speak the truth at any cost by virtue of the founding myth (though many are ignorant of this). But not only does the transitioning process contain the archetype of truth-telling, it also includes the archetype of question asking, thanks to our lionizing of the first social media troll, Socrates.
What this means is that the educational process, insofar as it seeks to inculcate a deep concern to speak the truth as the individual sees it so that what he speaks might be understood, criticized, reformulated, and actualized by the will is religious. Why? Very little is appealing about Aristotle’s understanding of speech as a faculty best suited to telling the truth. Why? Because people know that they can use words to get what they want all the time, truth be damned!
But the idea that truth-speaking, though it cause chaos, is an act of rebellion against chaos for its own sake and oppressive levels of order is a powerful motivating force. And not only so, but the idea that Christ himself did it so that you would do it too and so that you might have contact with ultimate reality when you engage in the same is even more motivating, because it happened in history!
And so, education that self-consciously encourages truth-speaking for the purpose of caring for the elements Peterson mentioned above (self, family, society, the world) is not only religious but distinctly Christian, even without explicit Christian content. The big question is this: when education has other aims, what sort of religion lay underneath?
Concluding Educational Necessities
Education is actually necessarily:
It is religious for the reasons above, it is philosophical because religion always entails metaphysics, it is social because religion is about being a part of society in a way that is a win/win for everybody, economic, because society is a resource allocation game, psychological because existence is traumatic and being a self is difficult, and personal insofar as there is no ‘one size fits all,’ which is implied by the previous layers or strata of education.
I’ve always had an eye for the bizarre or sensational. I love conspiracy theories, cold cases, and paranormal hoaxes. I even love reading about strange scientific theories, weird math quandaries, retrowave music, and decrepit programming languages.
Anyway, in all of that strangeness, I never could have imagined living in a timeline in which a famous film director makes an advertisement for Planned ParentSpinsterhood which is promoted with this tagline (archived to avoid giving them traffic):
Watch. Share. Slay.
Now, it isn’t difficult to imagine that a group which uses notions of women’s rights in order to help women slaughter their children and end up lonely with cats and regret would be shameless. But what is interesting is that Joss Whedon, the alleged master of optics who made the video also Tweeted this gem:
Now, it’s obvious that Joss isn’t actually confessing to the murder of his mother with the hope of plausible deniability due to the nature of Twitter as a medium, but to not catch the obvious implication is a sign he may be losing his touch. The only other interpretation is that he is so obsessed with politics that he literally cannot fondly remember his mother without immediately referring to political frustrations, which is a sign of a weak and sad mind.
But to create an advert for an organization that recently came under fire for selling baby parts, using your credibility as the director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the following quote on the webpage boggles my mind:
“it’s our responsibility to use our super powers to slay”
What is the implication? Are unborn children the vampires in the analogy? I don’t normally toss words like degenerate around, but seriously, what a bunch of degenerates.
One of the most startling elements of modern evangelical academia is how disdainful many of them are of the average parishioner. I sensed this happening to me in seminary and once I realized it, I started to see it in books. Then Twitter was invented and I started following more of these scholars to whom I looked for advice about Biblical interpretation and the like, and I discovered the outright disgust with undergraduate students displayed by those with doctorates, the foul modes of speech they used to talk about those they disagreed with, and the way they made fun of what I would call normal people. I have a social science hypothesis:
Christian academics become socially disassociated from the Christian church (and often their families) and instead become concerned with approval seeking from the academy. Social media exacerbates this by allowing approval seeking behavior in real time.
The recent election made things much worse. I began to see people whose jobs are almost entirely funded by endowments from private universities funded by normal Christians making fun of them with abandon. The level of mockery, dismissal, and hatred was outrageous. I’m trying to avoid naming names or giving too information, but I saw calls from Christian academics to move out of states which voted republican, to personally mock anybody who voted for Trump, mock members of congregations which they used to pastor, associations of Christian conservatives with the “fat slobs and losers at Walmart”, a Methodist academic on Twitter routinely started posting about genitalia almost daily when it came to Trump, etc. I’ve been in the home of a Christian academic when people started talking, seriously, about the possibility a person present (not an academic) destroying the property of suspected Trump supporters when he made house calls, etc. I’ll hear people criticized for beliefs I know they don’t have or read people insist that Christians who lean right hate the poor. It’s so funny to read Christian academics make fun of anybody who believes that the Bible is inerrant while insisting on concern for the poor. But anytime I meet a Christian at a homeless shelter or a recovering addict housed by a Christian, those Christians tend to all believe in inerrancy. It’s almost like the resentment is pure projection.
The list goes on.
I’ll go ahead and air a sense of moral superiority. If you hate the church so much and people in it who disagree with you that you refuse to discuss with them (or mock them despite not even attending church), just leave. Most academics don’t believe in God anyhow. If you want the atheists of academe to approve of you, just hang out with them.
“The Overnight Student” by Michael Jones which can be found here. The book is wonderful. Read it, it only takes about an hour. Jones recommends doing things this way:
Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
Use Your Tongue – Explain what you’ve just read out loud to an imaginary audience without looking at the book or at any notes. Take note of everything that you cannot explain. You do not understand those things.
Reread – Read your source material again asking yourself consciously, “what does this mean, how can I explain this to an audience, to what does it relate?”
Repeat steps two and three until you have mastered the material.
Lecturing to the wall makes you embarrassingly aware of your gaps in knowledge, but with a plus! You’re embarrassed at home with nobody around to hear it but you (or a roommate). This is far better than being embarrassed by not knowing the material on a test, at a job interview, when giving a speech, while defusing a bomb, during a hostage situation, while fighting Godzilla, or during a group project.
Update: In a 2014 study, John F. Nestojko found that “participants who expected to teach learned more from a passage than did participants who expected to take a test.” In the experiments, subjects did not actually teach, but were told to study material as preparation for teaching. So, the expectation of teaching primes learners to learn more, probably because they expect to have to explain things. This goes nicely with the fact that we learn while we teach. So lecture to the wall is not only anecdotally effective, but it has more scientific support than I had initially supposed.
Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R. It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:
Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
Reflect – Think about what you’ve read and how to apply it as well as its relationship to the subject at hand and its relationship to other subjects.
Recite – Repeat the material from memory after you’ve learned it. Do this with the text book closed, and only open it to check your accuracy. Put it in the exact language of the text as well as in your own words.
Review – Try to recall and summarize the same points.
Restak’s system is helpful, but it is slightly disorganized. For instance, how can you know what questions to ask about the material until you’ve read it more carefully? I think that Preview, Read, and Formulate Questions should be somehow in the same step. It’s also too many steps to remember. You’d have to study the method to utilize it.
 Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.
 John F. Nestojko et al., “Expecting to Teach Enhances Learning and Organization of Knowledge in Free Recall of Text Passages,” Memory & Cognition 42, no. 7 (October 2014): 1045
I love ideas, data, speculation, experiments, and plans.
I also love arguments, refutations, and attempts at persuasion.
And I think what I love the most about the United States is the general legal consensus that outside of inciting people to acts of terrorism, one is aloud to say what they wish without government censure. In this sense, I am and have always been a free-speech absolutist. If somebody wants to make the case that a grave sin is actually sane and good, I’ll hear it. If somebody wants to claim that mega civilizations can control galaxies for energy and call it science, I’ll listen to Michio Kaku:
But, how free speechy (I think I made that up) are we?
Paul Graham suggests a test for your own free speech absolutism by positing a test for moral fashions:
What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.
If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you’d have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I’ve already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it—that the earth moves. 
It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.
Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.
It’s tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.
This particular test is useful. Are my ethical standards determined by the cultural fads or careful reasoning? Christians have a tendency to feel that the Holy Spirit and deep study have prompted them toward some new ethical insight that really is just a way for them to stop being at odds with the dominant culture (sad). But my version is this:
Could you listen to the views of somebody from any time period or culture, insofar as they are not inciting terroristic or mob violence, and not want them silence, jailed, or executed?
Obviously, this is context specific. Church services aren’t the place for giving heretics a voice, children’s classrooms aren’t the place for letting philosophical cases for sexual deviance be made, and so-on. But I think this test for free-speech absolutism is key. Am I, then, a free-speech absolutist?
To anybody who approaches parenting reflectively, the knowledge of personal imperfection should be obvious.
That being said, on ye olde Internet, many people become very offended by the parenting efforts, advice, or suggestions of others. I think I understand why.
We all know that we fall short as parents, but we desperately want to believe that we’re doing the best than can be done. Indeed, while it may or may not be true that our parenting is the best we can do, we certainly want to project as a fact (even to ourselves) that we’re doing the best that anybody could do. In other words, our own parenting is the ideal. Thus, we feign offense at any suggestion that we are not, as destrablizing our ideal implies that our very method of parenting and therefore our children are being attacked. It’s weird. I’ll try not to do it. My wife and I talked about the upcoming advice barrage. We’ll aim to learn what we can and ignore the rest. Being angry and resentful all the time is no way to live, parent, or enjoy yourself.