Education is Necessarily Religious

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:

  1. In western civilization, rule of law and the scientific method developed to the point of themselves becoming dogmas or the culture.
  2. Cultural dogmas arise from human behavior.
  3. Human behavior arises from foundational myths which survive by natural selection.
  4. 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:

  1. Religious
  2. Philosophical
  3. Social
  4. Economic
  5. Psychological
  6. Personal

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.

Why I don’t resent the Walmart crowd

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.

 

Quick-Sand Memory: Lecture to the Wall and Beyond

 “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:[1]

  1. Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”[2] 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.[3]

Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R.  It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:[4]

 

  1. Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
  2. Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
  3. Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

 

[1] Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.

[2] 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

[3] K. J. Topping, “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature,” Higher Education 32, no. 3 (October 1, 1996): 321–45

[4] Richard Restak’s Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance, (Riverhead Books, 2009), 109.

Philosophy, Psychology, and Parenting

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.

Sunday School: Career vs Calling

Christianese:

  • I’m not sure what I’m called to do.
  • I’m pretty sure God is calling me to become a chef.
  • God told me to change majors.
  • God called me to date so-and-so.
  • I’m feeling called to the [insert cause that allows for very little personal accountability here].

3 Aspects of Calling (in and out of the Bible)

  1. Being Addressed by God[1]
    This is God’s commissioning of a specific individual or group of people for a specific task. Such as when the Lord calls the prophets of the Old Testament or gives somebody a task through a prophet. This would also include the baptism of Jesus, the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples, as well as to Paul. In such circumstances, the idea is that the individual in question was addressed by name and given a specific task by God. Or, the group was addressed by God through such an individuals or group and given an identity and task by God, “Hear O Israel…”
  2. Being a Christian[2]
    In the Bible, calling is also used to refer to converting to follow Jesus Christ. The idea is that the gospel message is a summons from God himself. To become a Christian it to be called. Bible passages like Ephesians 4:1 show that every Christian, by virtue of being a Christian, has a calling. This is the calling of every single Christian: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a community of Jesus’ people.
  3. Finally, in modern life, “calling” often refers your unique purpose in life.
    This is where the confusion sets in: When you ask, “what is the task to which I should devote my life that is unique to me and my circumstances?” The Bible does not say how to find a calling or that you “have to do it.” The idea that you must leave a unique mark on the world with your life is recent in history. The nature of your calling is tied up with your career, your family, the civilization in which you live, and your life circumstances. But many people assume, without much thought, that this particular aspect of calling is something that God will tell you to do if you only listen carefully. Therefore, many Christians never use wisdom, advice, or forethought in choosing their career or their calling because they confuse God’s calling of prophets in the Bible and his calling of all Christians to follow Jesus with the notion of discovering a life goal or life mission.

Gary North‘s Concepts for Discovering Careers and Callings:

  • Capacities– This is what you’re really good at, what you’re willing to spend thousands of hours upon, and what other people tell you you’re good at when they’re not being flattering. See Ecc 10:10 If the ax is blunt—the edge isn’t sharpened—then more strength will be needed. Putting wisdom to work will bring success.
  • Job Importance– This is what you can do that makes money for your family, the causes you’re interested in, for missions, for charity, etc. Not only that, but it is what you do that leaves a legacy, that changes people’s lives with what you build, what allows you to raise your children to lead godly lives, to spend time with your spouse, and to influence others for the gospel. See 1Ti 5:8 If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
    Also see 1Co 12:18-23 But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. (19) Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? (20) So there are many parts, but one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, (23) and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive.
  • Replaceability – This is the concept of being replaced in your context. Are you doing a job wherein anybody with no training can replace you? Get out of it. Do something that you’re willing to be good enough to be irreplaceable in the region you live for the field of work you’re in. Pro_22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

Conclusion Questions for Finding Your Career and Calling

Questions for Career:

  1. What are my capacities?
  2. What is the most important job I can perform with my capacities?
  3. What is the most important job you can perform in which few men can replace you?
  4. What career will let me give to charity, pursue my calling, and leave wealth behind me?

Questions for Calling:

  1. What do I like to do?
  2. What kind of legacy can I leave behind for my children, my church, and the well-being of the world?
  3. What can I do that helps others to know God, find happiness, and become successful?

Footnotes

[1] This is the most common notion in Scripture. It can be seen in with individuals in Isaiah 6:1-5 and Ezekiel 1. It can be seen with the people Israel in Deuteronomy 28:10 where the Lord makes it known that the Israelites were called by him and for his purposes. In Romans 1:6-7 we see that Paul considers the church, as the community who faithfully obeys Jesus, to be called by God to be holy people.

[2] The second is like unto the first, as was noted. Here is some Biblical support for the idea: 1 Corinthians 1:26 and all through chapter 7 Paul refers to the Corinthians of their calling as the state in which they lived when they were converted to Christ. The idea is that their state of poverty, obscurity, and foolishness when the gospel came to them should always be a humility inducing matter in the face of their pride. But, a take away ancillary to Paul’s main argument is that Paul wants them to, on the basis of this calling, live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus, their calling, is not only their circumstances (which Paul wants them not to change unless it would improve their lot in life), but their entrance into a community whose main task is to “do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” and to “imitate me (Paul) as I imitate Christ.”

Rhetoric and Dialectic: The Difference and Why It Matters

Sometimes a tool becomes so important to us, it’s impossible to imagine not having it. I tend to think of shoes, my pocket knife, and my car that way. For others it might be their phone or laptop. But all of us know of a tool that becomes quintessential to who we are because of how it increases our capacity to be human. The longer I’ve taught public speaking, the more integral the rhetoric/dialectic distinction has become to me. 

Rhetoric and dialectic are distinct forms and even methods of communication, and as such should be distinguished. Here is a summary definition of each:

  1. Dialectic is the art of utilizing logic and facts well for the discovering, explaining, and demonstration of truth and probabilities. This is a conversational and/or internal skill. It essentially a question and answer process.
  2. Rhetoric is the art of discovering what is persuasive, why it is persuasive, and for what it is persuading. It is also the use of persuasion. It deals with demonstration and probabilities, especially when persuading others to act. 

Here is a link to a great break down of the two: Aristotle’s Rhetoric at Stanford Philosophocal Encyclopedia

Clearly, the two are related. For instance, logic, which is part of dialectic, helps one to be more rhetorically capable in the case of debate. But knowing logic without knowing what actually persuades or interests others can make a speaker or writer boring and unhelpful. This is especially important if Aristotle was correct when he observed that:

Further, in dealing with certain persons, even if we possessed the most accurate scientific knowledge, we should not find it easy to persuade them by the employment of such knowledge. For scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of such persons instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles, as we said in the Topics, when speaking of converse with the multitude.

Some people, because they lack logical training or have a short attention span, cannot be convinced of the truth by careful argument. Therefore, instead of careful argumentation, inference from commonly accepted principles must be used. These commonly accepted principles do not strictly have to be true. While I think that Aristotle is right when he says that rhetoric with some basis in truth is more persuasive, the problem is that many who know the truth are not good at putting it rhetorically. The fact of the matter is that in practice, the more vaguely positive something sounds, the persuasive it can be to large crowds because people will fill such terms in with their own meanings. Rhetorical principles typically just have to be emotionally engaging, easily memorized, and easily convertible with reference to their meanings. In American political rhetoric, some of the commonly used and emotionally engaging principles are things like:

  1. Terrorists are scary.
  2. Misogyny is bad.
  3. The wrong side of history is bad.
  4. We are a specific kind of people and that idea is not who we are.
  5. The constitution is good.

On the other hand, the most persuasive argument about mathematics to a room of mathematicians would be an argument of pure logic, clearly defined principles, and detailed enumeration of the steps utilized to discover a conclusion.

A man skilled in rhetoric would know the difference between an audience of bored college students and a room of mathematical experts.

Dialectic and Rhetoric in Speech and Writing

Using dialectic is for doing research and constructing an argument based on the best evidence available. A sign you are reading dialectic might be an outline of the argument in the text so that people can follow the syllogisms carefully. Of course, a rhetorician knows how to use a syllogism is a way that seems like dialectic but is really just persuasion.

But, if a paper were to be presented to an audience that wasn’t a peer-review board, then one would determine which of types of evidence are likely to be the most convincing to that audience and present accordingly. Typically articles sent for peer-review are meant to advance knowledge and while they can use engaging language, typically should show evidence, state assumptions, explain biases, report counter examples, show a careful argument outline, and provide clearly stated conclusions. Of course, results in the world of peer-review will vary. But nevertheless, the peer-review system provides the illusion of the genre of dialectic.

On the rhetorical level, if you wished to present your scientific findings about exercise to athletes, you wouldn’t necessarily present the evidence that made the conclusion seem most probable. Instead you would explain the results and give specific examples which would make the information seem the most useful for achieving results.

Questions to ask when writing a paper or speech:

  1. Are my premises true?
  2. Did I cite compelling evidence?
  3. Is my argument valid?
  4. Is the argument to complicated to briefly explain to a group?
  5. Am a stating the argument in a way that will be compelling to my audience?
  6. If I am leaving anything unstated or overstating a case for rhetorical verve, am I capable of qualifying and defending the truth in a more fact oriented context?

Dialectic and Rhetoric in Listening and Reading

When reading and listening, the distinction is still important. For instance, you’ll want to know what the author is trying to convince to do, believe, or support. Once you know that you can more easily discover which facts might be intentionally left out and whether or not those facts contradict the key points of the speech or paper. Similarly, you’ll be able determine if the call to action is related to the facts presented.

Knowing whether somebody is using rhetoric to win a crowd or to create distance between the speaker and somebody else is also important. It can keep us from vilifying somebody who is simply “playing the game.” It can also help us to recognize when something is simply stated for rhetorical flourish rather than meant to be accepted as a fact.

In political rhetoric, the blur between persuasion and fact is taken advantage of, often to the detriment of voters.

Questions to ask when listening or reading:

  1. What is the author trying to say?
  2. What is the author/speaker trying to get me to do (buy something, do something, believe something, examine the claims and logic, etc)?
  3. Is the author likely to be accurate?
  4. Are the arguments valid?
  5. Are the facts true?
  6. Are the premises left out of the argument actually true?

The Distinction From Aristotle Himself

Now, as it is the function of Dialectic as a whole, or of one of its parts, to consider every kind of syllogism in a similar manner, it is clear that he who is most capable of examining the matter and forms of a syllogism will be in the highest degree a master of rhetorical argument, if to this he adds a knowledge of the subjects with which enthymemes deal and the differences between them and logical syllogisms. For, in fact, the true and that which resembles it come under the purview of the same faculty, and at the same time men have a sufficient natural capacity for the truth and indeed in most cases attain to it; wherefore one who divines well in regard to the truth will also be able to divine well in regard to probabilities.[1]

Nevertheless, Rhetoric is useful, because the true and the just are naturally superior to their opposites, so that, if decisions are improperly made, they must owe their defeat to their own advocates; which is reprehensible. Further, in dealing with certain persons, even if we possessed the most accurate scientific knowledge, we should not find it easy to persuade them by the employment of such knowledge. For scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of such persons instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles, as we said in the Topics, when speaking of converse with the multitude. Further, the orator should be able to prove opposites, as in logical arguments; not that we should do both (for one ought not to persuade people to do what is wrong), but that the real state of the case may not escape us, and that we ourselves may be able to counteract false arguments, if another makes an unfair use of them. Rhetoric and Dialectic alone of all the arts prove opposites; for both are equally concerned with them. However, it is not the same with the subject matter, but, generally speaking, that which is true and better is naturally always easier to prove and more likely to persuade. Besides, it would be absurd if it were considered disgraceful not to be able to defend oneself with the help of the body, but not disgraceful as far as speech is concerned, whose use is more characteristic of man than that of the body. If it is argued that one who makes an unfair use of such faculty of speech may do a great deal of harm, this objection applies equally to all good things except virtue, and above all to those things which are most useful, such as strength, health, wealth, generalship; for as these, rightly used, may be of the greatest benefit, so, wrongly used, they may do an equal amount of harm  .[2]

References

[1] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by J. H. Freese., ed. J. H. Freese, vol. 22 (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd., 1926), 1355a.

[2] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by J. H. Freese., ed. J. H. Freese, vol. 22 (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd., 1926), 1355a–1355b.

 

Philosophy’s Meaning and Utility

What is Philosophy?

When you hear the word philosophy your eyes may glaze over while you immediately start thinking about pizza or video games. One of the chief criticisms of liberal arts degrees (especially philosophy) today is that they are pointless and cannot help you to make money (source). But this causes many people to think that they are exempt from philosophical questions such as:

  1. What is real?
  2. What/who is a good person?
  3. How can I become such a person?
  4. What can I know?
  5. How can I know it?

Keynes once made this valuable observation about those who don’t care about ideas:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”(General Theory of Employment and Interest, 383)

What perhaps causes people to shy away from philosophy is that many philosophers after Plato were boring. Also, many philosophy professors are unpleasant and impractical people. But I suggest thinking about philosophy by breaking the word down. Philosophy is fundamentally about loving wisdom. The early Christians often called Christianity “the true philosophy,” and saw Christianity as a complete approach to life because it was a philosophy. Taken this way, philosophy is a wisdom-loving approach to all of life.

How is it useful then?

If we conceive of philosophy this way, then we can say that it trains us to:

  1. reason from principles and such reasoning applies to almost everything.
  2. abstract principles from phenomena.
  3. apply reason to our feelings and circumstances so that we can have self-control. In other words, philosophy is mindset training.
  4. recognize the difference between intuition, vague impressions, and reasonable beliefs.
  5. compare our ideas and narratives with reality.
  6. approach life practically. I just read a Tweet (a post on a social media site known as “The Twitter”) which asked “What are you going to do today to A) improve yourself B) make someone else’s life better? And if you don’t have plans for both, why not?” Philosophy is the art and science of asking, answering, and perfecting the answers to these questions.
  7. examine ourselves to see if we are on the trajectory of becoming the best version of ourselves. For Christians this is a rather lofty goal, so any tool to help us is important and the Bible is clear that we should “get wisdom.” Wisdom in the Old Testament is probably very similar in meaning (though different in direction and content) to Philosophy in Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

The Danger of Philosophy

  1. Reading too much philosophy is a serious time waster so read good stuff. I suggest starting with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the wisdom of Solomon, the book of Sirach, Fourth Maccabees, the dialogues of Plato, the letters of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Aristotle.
  2. Putting philosophy into practice, if the philosophy is bad, can prove your ideas wrong very quickly or worse, ruin your life!
  3. Learning to reason well without learning to manage your emotional reactions to the world is frequently frustrating, see Ecclesiastes 1:17-18.

 

A Problem in the Modern University

In an interview for C2C Journal, Dr. Jordan Peterson mused that:

“I mean, I think huge swaths of the university are irrevocably corrupted: sociology, gone; anthropology, gone; history, big chunks of it are gone, the classics, literature, social work, political science in many places, and that doesn’t cover women’s studies, ethnic studies. They probably started lost, and it’s gotten far worse. I believe now, with the exception of the science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) branch, that universities do more harm than good. I think they produce indentured servants in the United States because tuition fees have gone up so much and you can’t declare bankruptcy on your student loans. We’re teaching university students lies, and pandering to them, and I see that as counterproductive.”

I think that, over all, this assessment is likely to be true. The humanities and liberal arts have traditionally included logic and rhetoric education as staples of a good education. But most humanities degrees in the modern university require no logic courses. I’m not against a liberal arts education. In fact, there is a sense in which such an education is priceless, but with the diminished state of the humanities, many of the available degrees hardly qualify as liberal arts educations. And going into debt to achieve an education with no economic payoff is a bad decision. Education is necessarily vocational and while financial markets aren’t the sole determiners of value, the ability to eat, care for your children, and plan for the future are necessary considerations. When academics counsel people to be unconcerned about these areas of life, they are setting people up for emotional and economic ruin.

I’ve been accused of STEM idolatry before, but it was by a theologian who didn’t seem to understand things like ‘wisdom,’ ‘planning,’ or mathematics. The purpose of an education is human happiness and classical anthropology indicates that virtue is one of the key elements of happiness. The average college education seems to do little to supply virtue or the skills necessary to pursue virtue without being an ‘indentured servant.’

The current system is one in which universities end up existing, not to promote human happiness, but to maintain existence. Professors encourage students to obtain expensive doctoral degrees despite there being no jobs waiting on the other end of the dissertation defense. If you have more students, you can keep your job. If you have more students with terminal degrees, you have less jobs available for those people. And while happiness consists in more than having a paying job and owning property, it does not exclude them.

Anyway, I really think that a classical style education in the liberal arts for even very young children is a powerful solution to these problems. Especially if there is a way to do it that allows children to gain skills which they could use to afford college should they choose to attend. Graduating from high school with the ability to use logic, do research, discern dialectic from rhetoric, teach yourself math, and run a small business making a product or providing a service would do well to set people up for happiness and success.

Power: Does it corrupt or ennoble us?

Power: An Evil Desire?

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Is this true? Does seeking power make us evil[1]?

No. Absolutely not. You morally authorized to seek power. In fact, you are obligated to do so if you wish to be happy and a good person.

The Ability to Produce an Effect

The dictionary definition of power is this: the ability to produce an effect.

A definition concerning human action would be: what is necessary to bring about what one desires.

Such a thing is amoral. It is no different from a hammer, a shaving razor, or knowledge.

Moral power would be this: what is necessary to bring about the good.

Immoral power would be what is necessary to bring about my desires without thought to the good.

Here’s the difference:

  1. Moral Power
    Charisma, know-how, and resources for pursuing the good by means of virtue. Think of somebody who uses their prudence to gain large sums of wealth in order to quietly fund rationally altruistic charities.
  2. Immoral Power
    Charisma, know-how, and resources for pursuing goods by evil means or in a disordered fashion (pursuing fame above health, honor above wisdom, etc). Think of somebody who pursues a political agenda (like socialism) in the name of the poor despite the body count of that ideology being in the hundreds of millions.

Many people associate power solely with the second example and they miss the importance having power and feeling powerful for a life of meaning and happiness.

As a result many throw both forms of power out the window and then resent their lot. There are lots of social reasons for this in the lives of men and young boys.[2] I’m not sure about the rest of our culture. But it appears on social media, amongst the young, and in the political world that claiming to be a victim is a badge of honor. Consequently, bragging about weakness, illness, and ineffectuality is a form of social credibility.[3] Regardless of that, the fact is that living without a sense of power leads to depression, inactivity, and destructive behavior like drug addiction and intimate partner abuse.[4]

Nice Guy Syndrome

A name has been given this unfortunate state of feeling helpless and powerless as a result of doing what you’re “supposed to do.”

Robert Glover calls it “nice-guy syndrome.”[5] Nice-guy syndrome is the state of perpetually refusing to do what you want and pretending to be gracious while secretly resenting the world and yourself. According Dr. Glover “nice guys” have a tendency to be incapable of breaking bad habits, unwilling to allow their flaws to become public (though he didn’t deal with victom culture when he wrote), and they also have a tendency to blow up friendships, lose their temper, and to sabotage their success in ways that they can easily blame on circumstances.[6] Such people have no power. With this in mind, the prescription is not to follow stupid platitudes like “power corrupts.” The correct response is to assess oneself and start making decisions that tend toward the power necessary to achieve happiness. To fail to pursue power when living in such a state clearly causes unhappiness is immoral.

Based on my definition of virtue (a good habit), the pursuit and maintenance of personal power is itself virtuous. Like all virtues, there are vices on either side (even Eden had a serpent!). In this case, obsession with power beyond one’s reach or laziness with respect to reaching it fit the bill.

A typology of power

Here are types of power, as far as I can tell, and how they’re related to virtue:

  1. Physical power –

    The ability to accomplish and endure what is necessary for one’s circumstances with the grace and resilience possible for their specific body. Obviously, keeping one’s body in proper shape can help one to be generous, courageous, or self-controlled.

  2. Cognitive Power –

    The approach of the height of one’s cognitive abilities with respect to their circumstances. Cognitive power, of course overlaps almost perfectly with the intellectual virtues. The difference being that two people could have equally good habits of mind with respect to their individual differences, but one of them might have more “cognitive power” with respect to their IQ or their calling.

  3. Social Power –

    Social power could be either magnetic charisma or hierarchical power-over. Both matter, both can be good, and both can be abused. Men and women with dark-triad traits are typically better at seducing the opposite sex. Bosses can destroy or make the careers of their subordinates. But the pursuit of social power is connected to virtue in that one can be just, generous, and loving much more effectively from a position of authority or charismatic influence.

  4. Economic Power –

    Economic power is power to bring about change due to access to resources. It doesn’t have to be money and it doesn’t have to be from accumulation of resources, although that is the primary way to get it. Somebody who has a tremendous amount of charisma may also have economic resources. Many great ethical thinkers warn about the danger to virtue in those who have economic resources because they can lead to pride, a life style with no struggle, or access to immoral pleasures. I think those warnings are wise, but they do not change the fact that the management of resources that leads to wealth is a result of virtue (self-control, prudence, courage, loyalty, etc).

  5. Spiritual Power –

    Spiritual power is simply result of acquiring the moral virtues as well as the intellectual virtues. Some good habits are had by evil men. But some good habits (courage, justice, prudence, and self-control) do not exist in them. Spiritual power, in this sense, is simply living in a state wherein doing what is right comes naturally. Incidentally, even the most virtuous of men claim to never really reach such a perfect state in this life. In my mind the human race is incapable of complete spiritual power.

Conclusion

It is not immoral to acquire power, instead, it is immoral to ignore your need for power. There are many types of power and understanding what they are and why it’s good to have them will help give you permission to seek them so that you can get what is truly good for you out of life.

References

[1] Interestingly, the Latin word from which virtue is derived could originally mean strength or power. Collins Latin Dictionary Plus Grammar (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1997 Check out the full range of meaning from this dictionary: “manhood, full powers, strength, courage, ability, worth; (MIL) valour, prowess, heroism; (moral) virtue; (things) excellence, worth.”

[2]  Christina Hoff. Sommers, The War against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

[3] There is a powerful sense in which this can be true. See 2 Corinthians 10-13 in the New Testament for an example.

[4] Albert Bandura, “Regulation of Cognitive Processes through Perceived Self-Efficacy,” Developmental Psychology 25, no. 5 (1989): 729–735, Carlo C. DiClemente, Scott K. Fairhurst, and Nancy A. Piotrowski, “Self-Efficacy and Addictive Behaviors,” in Self-Efficacy, Adaptation, and Adjustment, ed. James E. Maddux, The Plenum Series in Social/Clinical Psychology (Springer US, 1995), 109–141, accessed July 5, 2016, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4419-6868-5_4, Albert Bandura et al., “Self-Efficacy Pathways to Childhood Depression,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76, no. 2 (1999): 258–269. Steve M. Jex et al., “The Impact of Self-Efficiency on Stressor-Strain Relations: Coping Style as an Explanatory Mechanism,” Journal of Applied Psychology 86, no. 3 (June 2001): 401–409. Farhad Shaghaghy et al., “The Relationship of Early Maladaptive Schemas, Attributional Styles and Learned Helplessness among Addicted and Non-Addicted Men,” Addiction and Health 3, no. 1–2 (November 10, 2011), accessed July 5, 2016, http://www.ahj.kmu.ac.ir/index.php/ahj/article/view/55, Victor J. Strecher et al., “The Role of Self-Efficacy in Achieving Health Behavior Change,” Health Education & Behavior 13, no. 1 (March 1, 1986): 73–92.

[5] Robert A Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy!: A Proven Plan for Getting What You Want in Love, Sex, and Life (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003).

[6] They might be similar to what Vox Day calls a “gamma male” in Helen Smith’s excellent book Men on Strike.

Grammar: The First Art of the Trivium

Introduction

The first of the liberal arts is grammar.

Brief Digression

Trivium is shorthand for three skills:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Together with arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music they make up the liberal arts. In the current year, a liberal arts degree is simply a degree in reading texts and critical theory.

Grammar

Grammar is the study understandable language. While you may find it boring, here are four reasons you should study it:

  1. Grammar is the art of clear construction in language, therefore it helps us to explain our thoughts with precision.
  2. Grammar forces us to study language at a very exact level so we can accomplish more with it.
  3. Understanding grammar and usage allows us to deviate from it for rhetorical effect (more on rhetoric later).
  4. Grammar, learned after the language itself it acquired, reminds us that minute learning is almost always the key to advancing our knowledge.

Tips for Improving/Teaching Grammar

  1. Use actual grammar exercises like those available here or here.
  2. Do not drill grammar into children who do not have a love for language. This serves to make them dislike reading and writing, which means that the mechanics of grammar will be useless to them.
  3. Think of grammar as an aspect of pedagogy, every subject has constituent parts (like grammar rules) that cannot be understood until the subject is understood. Yet, these same elementary principles must be masters for the heights of the subject to be reached. For more on this, read Dorothy Sayers’ essay: The Lost Tools of Learning.