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Jefferson-Madison Debates: A Week of Socialism

August 21st, 2018 // 2:21 pm @

The Media of Our Time

This week I read five books, and one of them was an easy, enjoyable novel—a western entitled Flint that I’ve read and reread several times. Surprisingly, it was the western that first got me thinking about socialism. It contains a classic East Coast vs. Wild West milieu, where the main character experiences and ultimately chooses the fiercely independent lifestyle of the West over the more “socialized” culture of New York and New England. When I read the other four books they kept challenging my mind with similar themes—the kind that woke me up in the night numerous times with “new” thoughts that somehow refused to wait for morning. Fortunately, I keep a notebook on the nightstand for just such events.

Watching and reading the news added to this mental battle, since socialism is making a serious comeback right now in some corners of American politics. But mostly my thoughts centered on the books themselves. The first one after the western got the ball rolling because it openly promotes socialism, the cooperative type that focuses more on economics and culture than politics. It really made me think, because it skipped theory and emphasized current actions. Sobering.

Then I kept reading, and all the books were deep—nothing to skim. Every word was important; every sentence and paragraph deserved consideration.

By the time I finished the last book, I had a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head. As mentioned, the first book was about cooperatives as a replacement for corporate greed—putting “democracy” back in the business world, as the author put it, and a second offered a detailed history of the Supreme Court’s impact on American public education (and its governmental/legal influence on non-public education as well). There are a lot of socialist ties in education, sadly.

The third book amounted to a warning. China is growing—in power, wealth, and global ambition. We seldom hear much in the media about the major China threat, even though it is increasing at a staggering pace. Xi Jinping has centralized power within the People’s Republic of China to a level unprecedented since Mao (some would say with more power than Mao, given China’s huge economy and global reach). China’s plans for the decade ahead are remaking the globe. Yet, again, this is a topic hardly discussed in current America. Both communism and socialism refuse to die or go away; in some ways they are powerfully ascendant right now.

Finally, the last book, really just excerpts from a book that hasn’t yet been fully released, shares Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s thoughts about his famous 1978 speech at Harvard. If you’ve ever read A World Split Apart (the Harvard speech), you know it is important, and incredibly powerful. Every idea is profound, and unexpected. The excerpts from his new collection, to be published in late 2018, are equally compelling. In 1978 his words seemed a lot more anti-capitalist than anti-communist or even anti-socialist, but today I kept noticing the way his commentaries on America’s mainstream media crisply poke holes in an industry that has arguably become the world’s leading apologist for socialism. Deep. And this historical trend from 1978 has now become a tidal wave.

Following are my notes and main conclusions on these four books. I think they’re worth considering. There is a lot of important information packed into this article. If you give these ideas a chance, I think they’ll help you think even more deeply—and I hope more wisely as well—about our current events and challenges. It seems increasingly true that in our age of rampantly-partisan media, books frequently tell us more about events than the nightly news. It may be that a return to books (even more than the growth of the Internet) is the actual “new media” of our time. So much of what calls itself media today isn’t journalism at all, but just entertainment for the two major political parties, or worse, strident muckraking. Here goes…

Book One

Everything for Everyone (by Nathan Schneider)

  • 5 Stars for Importance

  • 2 Stars for Promoting Freedom

  • 4 Stars for Fun

Theme: Like it or Not, Socialism by Any Other Name is Still Socialism (But Capitalism is Either Really Bad or Really Good, Depending…)

The Problem, as described in Everything for Everyone, is that modern capitalism has become an enemy to democracy and culture. The book refers to the American economy as “A new feudalism on the rise” where “monopolistic corporations feed their spoils to the rich [while] more and more of us are expected to live gig to gig.” It traces the history of the idea that the best societies exist where the people share “all things in common”, from medieval monasteries and guilds to modern urban taxi cooperatives taking on Uber, from “freespace” supporters in San Francisco to online platforms, and numerous other examples.

The Solution, according to this book, is the spread cooperatives, groups democratically run by cooperating people—not dominating corporations controlled by a hierarchy of the elite few. Based on the marketing copy, the book appeared to promote an extremist utopia for utopians, which coincides nicely with the increasing popularity of socialism in the Democratic Party. The subtitle (“The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy”) predicts that this Solution is the clear way forward, our best path to a better future. And the author’s most recent book before this one, entitled Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, seems to reinforce this impression. But Everything for Everyone is a lot deeper than it seemed to me at first glance.

Indeed, as I read, I found myself marking numerous sentences, paragraphs, and quotes for future reference. The book is a treasure-trove of thinking on modern problems—clearly coming from a place Left of Center, but not patently anti-capitalist. Again, given the marketing copy, this surprised me. For example, while promoting the virtues of cooperation in very progressive-sounding language, the author also wrote: “Does cooperation count as capitalism, or something else?… If capitalism means freely associating in the economy, or ingenuity and innovation, or the rough-and-tumble of setting up a business, or price-based reasoning—then yes, cooperation overlaps with it. But if capitalism means a system in which the pursuit of profit for investors is the overriding concern, cooperation is an intrusion.”

To be clear, the term “capitalism” is often used in different ways by different people, and has evolved over time. Free Enterprise Capitalism (which promotes “freely associating in the economy… ingenuity and innovation… the rough-and-tumble of setting up a business…”) is not the same thing as Crony Capitalism or what is sometimes termed “Corporate Capitalism”—where institutions with capital are treated differently by government, law, and the commercial code. In Free Enterprise Capitalism, all people and institutions are treated equally by the law; in Corporate/Crony Capitalism the rich are given special legal and financial benefits. In my view, the real negative isn’t what Schneider calls “the pursuit of profit as the overriding concern”, but rather these special legal benefits that are both undemocratic and elitist, and also undermine Free Enterprise.

Overall, I consider this book a great read about our modern world. On the one hand, I heartily agree with its warning against the increasing dangers of government-by-corporate-powers, the Military-Industrial-Complex in it newest form, sometimes called The Black Box Society (another excellent book) or Government by Corporate Algorithm, Crony/Corporate Capitalism, or simply Elitism. The idea that economic progress must be a top-down process controlled by elites—while most people struggle paycheck to paycheck—is the source of many of our modern problems. More people on the Right need to understand and accept this challenge, because it’s real.

At the same time, I have mixed feelings about many of the proposed solutions in Everything for Everyone. Just like capitalism can adopt the empowering Free Enterprise approach or succumb to the controlling Crony/Corporate/Elitist model of capitalism, cooperative organizations and co-ops can be either freedom-supporting grassroots enterprises (which require a free economy if they want to flourish) or force-based. Where the author encourages the first, I like it. When the book promotes the second, not so much.

From the book: “What would it take so that a can-do group of pioneers—people with a need to meet or an idea to share with the world—might conclude that the best, easiest way to build their business is by practicing democracy?” Again, these words seem to lean toward freedom, and certainly the idea of more entrepreneurs and owners in our business structures is appealing. Even necessary, I think. But how easily does this approach turn into force-based controls? Is this joint-ownership system built on contract and market forces, or does it depend upon or even promote government forced “cooperation”? Both iterations will likely be applied.

The reality is that democracy is hard. The reason we use it in government is that government itself is force, and without a healthy dose of official voting power vested in the regular citizens, government will always be dominated by some group of elites—who seldom give the people any real equality (despite promises) or treat the people with respect, or allow any true freedom. And, secondly, the best governments, the free ones, check and balance democratic parts of government with branches that are aristocratic (e.g. Senate), appointed (e.g. Executive), and even appointed by the appointers (e.g. Judiciary).

This has been a long-established reality, even before Aristotle openly pointed it out. In the American arrangement of this model, the Framers made sure democracy had the final say (mostly through the power of the purse held by the democratically-elected House of Representatives), but not the entire say. Such a democratic republic is democratic, yes, but it’s not a pure democracy.

Thus, if most good democratic republics, where democracy has the final say through the purse strings, end up losing their freedoms to aristos and elites (and they do, as Madison pointed out in The Federalist), how much more quickly will this decline occur in democratic cooperatives? On a side note, as I read Everything for Everyone, I kept thinking of another book, similar in some very important ways, entitled Beyond Capitalism and Socialism, edited by Tobias J. Lanz. These two books are worth reading together, comparing and contrasting. Also throw into this conversation the book Give People Money, by Annie Lowry, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Finally, in addition to the important ways Everything for Everyone contributes to the discussion of where we want our economy to go, it is also a valuable book on current politics. For those on the Left, it shares a number of ways people are trying to seek a better economic model for the future—real people, doing real projects. Not just theory, which is often the Achilles heel of proposals from the Left. This provides the most value in the book, in my opinion. For those on the Right, this book strips away many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about the modern Left (the mainstream media version), and will help conservatives and independents understand more deeply what many on the Left are really about. Understanding this is important for everyone.

Book Two

The Schoolhouse Gate (by Justin Driver)

  • 5 Stars for Importance

  • 3 Stars for Freedom

  • 3 Stars for Fun

Theme #1: The Court Gets a Lot of Things Wrong (And It’s Okay to Say So Out Loud…)

Theme #2: The Court is Far Too Involved in Education (The Constitution Mostly Left this to the States, But Try Telling That to the Court…Or Congress, the White House, or Anyone Else in Washington)

First of all, I like that this book seems to take a 3-branch view of the Constitution (that the Supreme Court can be wrong, and often is, and that the Legislative and Executive branches are co-equal with the Judiciary) rather than the erroneous 1-branch view that the Court is the final and highest power in the nation. The 1-branch view is much more common in today’s world, especially in the mainstream media. Putting the topic of education aside for a moment, the 3-branch approach makes this book a rarity, one that is a must-read work for anyone interested in the modern Court. (Another book that effectively speaks from the 3-branch approach, with more specifics, is Constitutional Law by Nowak and Rotunda, Seventh Edition.)

As mentioned, The Schoolhouse Gate is laced with the idea that the Court is sometimes wrong. For example, the author says: “The Supreme Court has also stumbled…” and calls one landmark case “a Constitutionally questionable decision…” The federal Courts in general are said to make “many wrongheaded decisions…” The book is filled with such language, a refreshing approach in our time. Also, one of the best things about this book is that is written for the regular reader, not limited to a few legal scholars.

The focus of The Schoolhouse Gate—Court decisions and trends dealing with American education over time, including recent cases—is must-know information for all informed Americans. In historical scope, it reminds me of Constitutional histories by Forrest McDonald, but with more detail. Most people today don’t know the information outlined in The Schoolhouse Gate; making Driver’s book all the more important. I didn’t agree with all the book’s conclusions, but I did agree with many—and either way the book consistently caused me to think about things I had never really considered.

In my view, the Court has made a few very important decisions about education that are really good for our nation, and a number of bad decisions that aren’t. In most cases, it would be better to leave educational decisions to the states, as per the Constitution. A question that kept recurring in my mind as I read: “Is the Court approach to education rooted more in individual liberty or collectivist socialism?” The answer is far too often, though not always, the latter.

Largely as a result of this, today’s modern schools are in many cases de facto incubators of socialism—from mild to more extreme. This applies not only to elementary and high schools, but to most of higher education as well. The drive is to make schools as similar as possible, often under the guise of “equality” and a professorate made up not just largely, but almost entirely of progressives. Conservatives are a rarity in nearly all the top American institutions of higher learning. In far too many cases, conservative students are penalized for their political views—and a lot of them hide or even change their politics during their time on campus.

What happens to a society where many of the children are raised in conservative or conservative-leaning homes, educated in elementary/secondary schools that lean strongly Left, and then trained in “higher” institutions with a fundamental and passionate allegiance to the Left? In many cases the conservatism of parents and grandparents is mocked as childish, and Leftism is ultimately considered truly “higher” (meaning “better, more advanced, more correct”) learning. The “adults” and “grown ups” in such a model must, by definition, come from the Left (or, if Republican, of the progressive type). This is the fruit of thirty years of infiltration in lower schools and on campus, frequently supported and even encouraged by Court decisions.

Book Three

The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State

(by Elizabeth C. Economy)

  • 5 Stars for Importance
  • 4 Stars for Freedom
  • 3 Stars for Fun

Theme: While the Media is Overwhelmingly Obsessed with Russia, the Threat from China is Growing at an Alarming Rate

The next ten decades belong to China, if ownership and contractual access to the world’s natural resources are any indication. Historically, these are always the best indication of what’s ahead. Yet, astoundingly, few in current America are giving this the attention it demands. The United States literally may face an existential threat from China in the decades ahead.

Elizabeth C. Economy’s book The Third Revolution makes the case that there have been three great eras in modern China: (1) the Maoist Revolution that brought communism to China, (2) the “Second Revolution” led by Deng and those who came after him, which emphasized more openness—both in China’s domestic economy and in relations with the outside world, and (3) the current “Third Revolution” which focuses on increasing the power of one leader within the nation, Xi Xinping, and boosting China to the pinnacle of power and leadership on the global stage.

Consider the following quotes from Economy’s book:

“The ultimate objective of Xi’s revolution is his Chinese Dream—the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation…. Xi’s predecessors shared this goal as well. What makes Xi’s revolution distinctive is the strategy he has pursued: [1] the dramatic centralization of authority under his personal leadership; [2] the intensified penetration of society by the state; [3] the creation of a virtual wall of regulations and restrictions that more tightly controls the flow of ideas, culture, and capital into and out of the country; and [4] the significant projection of Chinese power.”

“It represents a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more ambitious and expansive role for China abroad.”

“Unlike his immediate predecessors, he has assumed control of all the most important leading committees and commissions that oversee government policy; demanded pledges of personal loyalty from military and party leaders; eliminated political rivals through a sweeping anticorruption campaign…. [A]dvocates for change or those who seek a greater voice in political life, such as women, labor, or legal rights activists, increasingly risk detention or prison.”

This new approach goes well beyond international economic expansion. For example, as Economy shows, since 2014 Xi’s government has driven “massive land reclamation and militarization of the islands in the South China Sea…. He has established China’s first overseas military logistics base; taken significant [steps to increase]…strategic ports in Europe and Asia; championed China as a leader in addressing global challenges, such as climate change [with China’s largest competitor, the United States, largely footing the bill]; and proposed a number of new trade and security institutions [and a PRC-dominated world reserve currency to replace the U.S. dollar]. Xi seeks to project power in dramatic new ways and reassert the centrality of China on the global stage.”

Note that all of these initiatives and changes began during the Obama era, while the United States struggled in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The economic rebound of the United States, beginning in 2017 and corresponding with a more aggressive foreign policy under the Trump Administration, has changed the dynamic of Chinese-American relations, but China hasn’t changed its trajectory.

Economy points out the drastic significance of the situation:

  1. “[A]ll the major economies of the world, save China, are democracies.”
  2. “China is an illiberal state seeking leadership in a liberal world order.”

I consider this one of the most important books of our time. As I’ve said about the other books reviewed here, it is a must-read for anyone who cares about America. And the future of the world, for that matter. It’s that significant.

Economy’s proposed policies and solutions are particularly interesting. Whether you agree with them, or part of them, or disagree, they bring up topics that demand a lot more consideration and discussion by regular Americans. If we don’t engage such conversations, we leave public policy and national direction to a few experts in academia, think tanks, media, and government. This is hardly the American way, though it has dangerously become the norm in many policy debates during recent decades.

An example of Economy’s suggestions is the need to recognize the influence that China now has on American campuses, and how important it is for Americans to learn what is occurring. She wrote: “China under Xi Jinping also seeks to influence the domestic politics of other countries as those politics relate to China. The Chinese government mobilizes students and other citizens living abroad to represent the interests of the Chinese government by, for example, spying on other Chinese students, denouncing professors who offer contrarian opinions [isn’t the purpose of universities in a free society to allow open discussion of differing ideas?], and protesting against invited speakers who criticize China.”

In reality, the media obsession with Russian influence on American elections is ironic given the sheer scope and scale of China’s much bigger presence and influence—not just in the U.S. but also in Europe and around the world. This mirrors the general silence about China (again: the world’s second largest economy, which now rivals the U.S. economy) and daily onslaught of commentary on Russia meddling (the same Russia whose economy is only about half the size of the economy of California). American citizens need more perspective on what’s really happening.

As Economy recommends to the Trump Administration: “… the United States can gain leverage in negotiations with China by understanding domestic dynamics within the country around particular issues.” The interest of Chinese citizens in the English language and American culture, politics, business and society dwarfs the level of American interest or focus on anything Chinese. Our lack of seriousness in this respect is dangerous.

Whether the future will actually be dominated by China remains to be seen. But it is certainly a real possibility, and we are right now on track to see this outcome. If it occurs, it could very well spell disaster for freedom.

Book Four

Between Two Millstones, Book I (by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Peter Constantine)

  • 5 Stars for Importance

  • 5 Stars for Promoting Freedom

  • 5 Stars for Fun

Theme: Just Read It—It’s Awesome

When Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard in 1978, he caused a firestorm of media criticism. Many expected him to describe the weaknesses and evils of communism, and show the many ways America and the West are better—as he had done in earlier speeches. But at Harvard he targeted a different problem: the systemic flaws and mistakes of Western Civilization, especially in the United States. He attacked the way we do business, our legal system, our colleges and universities, our culture (or more accurately, the ways we lack culture), and above all our modern media.

Decades later, in Between Two Millstones, we get to read and think about his critique of how his speech was received, and why it matters. This provides one of the most poignant descriptions of modern media available. If you haven’t read his speech, published as A World Split Apart, it’s worth studying before you read Two Millstones. Together they provide a powerful commentary, one we should all engage and consider.

Specifically, concerning what we today call the mainstream media, Solzhenitsyn points out that our roots are muddled: “Western society is based on a legal level that is far lower than the true moral yardstick…” Because of this, he argues, we tend to consider something good as long as it is legal, and we usually apply this to all parts of society, including business, family, education, media, etc. Thus media can say whatever it wants, as long as it is legal. Indeed, media doesn’t have to stand for truth, or accuracy, as long as what it says is legal by the letter of the law.

The result is a major power grab, albeit a somewhat subtle one. Solzhenitsyn wrote: “And above all, the press, not elected by anyone, acts high-mindedly and has amassed more power than the legislative, executive, or judicial power.”

This should make very American stop and think deeply. It didn’t quite reach everyone in 1978, but it is still relevant.

He continued: “And in this free press itself, it is not true freedom of opinion that dominates, but the dictates of the political fashion of the moment, which leads to a surprising uniformity of opinion.” He points out that this is the thing that “irritated” the mainstream media the most about his speech. Claiming to be champions of diversity and open thinking, the media is often the enemy of both.

Here are some of the bad habits and underhanded tactics of the mainstream media, as suggested by Solzhenitsyn:

  • They “completely” missed the things Solzhenitsyn thought were important about the speech, the very things the speech was actually about, and focused on their own agenda—misrepresenting and tangentially citing his message in order to make it fit their narrative so they could attack it. He called this “a remarkable skill of the media”.
  • “They…invented things that simply did not exist in my speech”.
  • They “prepared their responses in advance”, and focused their commentary not on what he actually said but on their plans to discount what they anticipated he would say—ready to pounce and then twisting phrases and words to make connections with their pre-designed rebuttals.
  • They didn’t just misreport the facts, but in addition “the press spouted scalding invective…” They did this without telling the populace that these were just the opinions of the reporters; instead they acted as if their “invective” and anger were objective and wise. Even true. In reality it was only their opinion, and frequently differed from the facts and what he actually said in the speech.
  • Overall the media tends to reject and attack those who criticize them, and reward only those who “flatter” them.

Of course, he expected the mainstream media to disagree with him. After all, he frequently and openly accused the media of many mistakes, including “stuffing” the people’s “souls…with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.” They naturally pushed back.

What did surprise him is what happened in another part of America, away from the centers of power. Solzhenitsyn wrote:

“…one could also begin to read many responses that were markedly distinguished from the arrogant stance of the America of New York and Washington… Gradually another America began unfolding before my eyes, one that was small-town and robust, the heartland, the America I had envisioned…. I now felt a glimmer of hope…”

From the local and non-mainstream media he heard such responses as:

  • “We know in our hearts he is right…”
  • “His speech ought to be burned into America’s heart. But instead of being read, it was killed” by the mainstream media.
  • “Can the press maintain diversity when ultimate control [of the media] rests in the hands of a small group of corporate executives?”

The two Americas were already a reality in 1978. But, like always, the mainstream media paid little heed to the media of “the heartland” or the views of non-elite Americans. To get the real story on things, people will apparently have to see past the mainstream media and find more truthful and more, well… journalistic… sources—and concerning his speeches and books, nothing is better than the original words of Solzhenitsyn himself.

From what I can tell from the early excerpts that are available to read, Between Two Millstones will be a great book, an important read, and one that will make every reader think and rethink. To be published in late 2018, forty years after the Harvard speech, it should be read by everyone who cares about our society and its future.

Conclusion

My stroll through these four books this week (five, if you count the western), with their recurring theme of socialism, from various angles, has prompted me to move even further past the old view that liberalism and conservatism are the dominant political forces of our time. I am increasingly convinced that socialism is powerfully on the rise right now (both in the U.S. and around the world), and that it presents a clear and present danger to freedom.

Above all, I am more convinced than ever of just how important it is for those who care about freedom to read more and raise the awareness of what is at stake in the months and years just ahead. I think books are the true “new media”, while most mainstream news outlets and platforms are mired in non-journalistic battles to promote false narratives. This demands that we, the regular people, take action to dig a lot deeper in our own study of what’s really happening.

A few final questions:

  • What important things are you reading this week and month?

  • What are the “theme units” you’re finding in what you read?

  • Are you writing down your thoughts?

  • With whom are you sharing what you are learning?

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The Madison-Jefferson Debates: What Isn’t True

August 7th, 2018 // 1:22 pm @

Reality or… Not?

Some things just aren’t true, even if we think they are. Even if we are assured that “everyone” says they’re true; and even if the experts—almost always unnamed—have formed a consensus on the matter. Actually, the more you get know the experts, the more you realize they aren’t in consensus on almost anything.

Now, let’s be clear. A lot of what we’re told is true. But not everything. And that’s why sometimes it’s important to take a step back and really dig into things. Research. Find out. There are whole websites dedicated to setting the record straight about urban myths, generally accepted “truths”, quotes that are attributed to someone who never said those words, etc. We give “Pinocchios” to politicians who fib, and “Fact Checker” is a growing career field in the Information Age. (Is it really? Or does it just seem like it? Ask the question on Google and you can spend hours studying the various listings. Or ask the same question on social media and wade through hundreds, or even thousands, of opinions.)

Falling for Everything

Here are few items that most people consider truth. Unassailable. Set in stone. Incontrovertible.

  • Lie Detector Tests
  • DNA Evidence
  • Election Polls
  • Carbon Dating

Which are sure? Which are certain? Not all. Do you know which of these are fully accepted by the experts in the field—no exceptions? Answer: none. All of the above are rejected by at least some experts, even where a majority of experts agree. Have you studied the arguments, evidence, tests and conclusions on each? Or any? Note that even where the science is firm, like with DNA evidence for example, the way experts present such science is at times incomplete or misleading. Or, another example, even if the statistics used in a pre-election survey are accurate, the wording of a specific survey question can skew the entire result; and what if survey respondents are afraid or ashamed to tell the truth, like in the 2016 U.S. presidential election when many voters didn’t want people to know they planned to vote for Donald Trump? In such cases, the math and the science can be technically correct, but the way experts use them turn out “wrong”, because all the variables aren’t controlled.

In short, on many things we simply know less than we need to. And yet most people are comfortable making decisions based on things they know very little about—just taking someone’s word for it. It’s a habit for most people.

But things are not always what they seem. Truth isn’t always what the experts claim. This doesn’t mean that every crackpot theory questioning the experts is correct. But it does suggest that we should be independent thinkers who read the original data or studies where possible and scrutinize things for ourselves. Independent thinking is required to maintain independence. This is obvious, isn’t it? But most people don’t follow this approach.

Time to Think

For our Madison-Jefferson conversation this week, I’m recommending the attached article. It is a great read, and an important one. It demands that we look at things more deeply, and think more wisely. It calls us to research more, question more, dig deeper, and not just accept conclusions at face value. It is one of those articles everyone should read and deeply consider. Agree or disagree, this article will make you think!

Enjoy…

How Social Science Might Be Misunderstanding Conservatives >>

 

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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: The Third Layer

July 17th, 2018 // 7:08 am @

“When technology advances too quickly for education to keep up,
inequality generally rises.”
—Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee

“Your true greatness comes when you focus not
on building a career but on finding your quest.”
—Vishen Lakhiani

“Engaged students are 16 times more likely to report being academically motivated than students who are not engaged. Finding ways to engage the 40% of students who are not engaged would have a significant impact on their academic motivation.”
—Quaglia Institute

Foundations

Education is like a map. Or, more precisely, it mirrors the entire field of maps and map-making.

Understanding the massive change now occurring in how we make and learn from maps is in many ways directly applicable to the coming changes in education. And like in education, many people in the older generations (born before 1980, or even 2001), don’t understand that a major revolution is ahead—one so big that what we call a “map” today won’t even qualify as a map in twenty years. (And much of what we call an “education” today won’t even count as education two or three decades from now.)

The pre-modern map (Layer One) emphasized the physical traits of the earth: continents, oceans, seas, rivers, mountain ranges, islands, etc. More advanced pre-modern maps included things like ocean currents, the altitudes of mountain peaks, and the trade routes most effectively used by overland and shipping merchants.

During the modern era, we added governments to our maps (Layer Two): national borders, towns, cities, capital cities, provinces, states, counties, etc. This was part of the great shift from pre-modern to modern. Governments and their jurisdictions became as prominent in world affairs as the natural physical features of the earth. People using maps needed to know what government they’d be dealing with in a given spot as much as where the ocean currents would take them and what mountains or rivers they’d need to traverse.

Further Up and Further In

The current shift from modernism to post-modernism is equally momentous. Our maps now require another set of symbols, colors, and words—to tell us what we need to know about our world. The physical features on the maps (continents, oceans, rivers, mountains, lakes, etc.) are still there, as are the political borders that tell us what government controls each area on the illustration.

But now a third layer of understanding is superimposed on top of the physical and political levels of each map. Most people haven’t even seen such maps yet, so they think of a “map” as something made up of Layer One (mountains, rivers, oceans, etc.) and Layer Two (borders, cities, etc.). They barely fathom what else could be needed.

The post-modern Layer Three is based on what Parag Khanna calls “Connectography.” For example, look at a traditional map of Africa. The Nile is there, and the Cape. The Horn of Africa is obvious, along with the Sahara. There are regions of jungle, and large swaths of savannah. Then there are the many nations and their borders—most of them originally established by European plantation owners. Capital cities are listed in bold letters, the names of nations in larger type.

But where is Layer Three? At its most basic, Layer Three shows highways, airports, and hospitals. In a more detailed Layer Three map, you might find illustrations showing the route of pipelines, Internet cables, or even power lines. These were the simple beginnings of Layer Three maps. A little more advanced Layer Three maps don’t just tell you what road to take, they tell you how long it will take to arrive in current traffic—or redirect you if an accident occurs and is now blocking traffic. They are cast in real-time and they are always changing—truly interactive. Layer Three is a major upgrade.

But more is coming. For example, narrow the map of Africa to Kenya or Ghana. Where are the hotspots of Internet usage? Where are the Internet deserts? What about smartphone usage rates? What food is shipped to a place, and can you get the kind of banana and cereal you want while you are visiting? If you want salmon for dinner, will what you are served be farm raised or wild? – Come from the Atlantic or the Pacific? What nation’s laws governed the fishermen who caught your dinner? Such information tells you a great deal about the probable quality and freshness of what you’ll be eating, and whether or not to even order it.

Put these on the map, and you’ll begin to see how Kenya, Ghana, or any other nation in Africa, or anywhere else in the world, is actually connected. Not understanding such connectivity—or its absence in a certain area—is akin to not knowing what the political lines denoting borders signify on the map. Such ignorance basically renders the user of the map illiterate.

Consider an almost-absurd example, to illustrate:

“Are these lines just very straight rivers?” a total map novice might ask. The laughter that follows is kindly, but surprised. “How can anyone not know about government borders on a map?”

In the future, however, this will apply to much more than national borders.

A Missing Piece

Another Layer Three example is very important: For example, on the map of Kenya, what natural resources are owned by or contractually promised to Chinese companies or the Chinese government? Versus what resources are owned by or contracted to U.S. firms? Or Canadian?, Dutch?, Japanese?, Italian?, British?, French?, German?, Korean?, Indian?, etc. What multi-national companies have their own security forces at work in these place—governing, citing, controlling? Where have they blocked mobile phone and Internet service—and why? If you know the Layer Three map of Africa this way, you’ll understand the world in ways other people simply cannot grasp. As Khanna put it: “China’s relentless pursuit of [natural resource contracts around the world] has elevated…to the status of a global good on par with America’s provision of security.”[i]

In other words, if anything happens militarily in the world, the U.S. is sure to get involved (or at least consider getting involved); and if anything happens concerning natural resources—oil, minerals, food, wood, precious metals and gems, water, etc.—China is sure to jump in. It likely already has contracts signed and sealed. In fact, put alliances and treaty requirements on the map, and something stands out: China owns numerous economic resources around the globe that the U.S. does not. Moreover, as of 2015 the United was bound by treaty to defend 67 nations in the world; China was only bound to protect 1.[ii]

In short, a lot of global resources and money are slated to flow to China in the decades ahead (it has already begun), while huge assets and cash are scheduled to flow away from the United States. One has an economy that is programmed to head up, the other down. If you don’t consult a Layer Three map, this information is unknown.

Look at the map with the Layer Three approach, however, and the future becomes immediately clear: It belongs to China. The U.S. and Europe[iii] are falling further and further behind. This is obvious on a Layer Three superimposition.

But remove Layer Three and all you have are the continents, oceans, lakes, mountains, political borders, cities and towns. Nothing about Levels One or Two tell you that China is on the rise—with contracts across the globe, and a growth rate in ownership of natural resources and supply chains for these resources that all but assure them monopoly status in the decades ahead. And this example, China, is only one of the many hugely important things missing from Layer Two maps—which are the only ones most of us ever engage.

To reiterate: the pre-modern and modern maps fail us. They don’t even tell us what we need maps to communicate (rather than merely travel) in order to help us make the best local decisions. As a result, the old maps are almost worthless. They are historical relics, but not the most effective tools of decision-making or strategy.

For that, we need Level Three maps superimposed on the older models. As Joshua Cooper Ramo put it: “Ball up your right hand into a fist. Take your left hand and open the fingers wide. Hold the hands a few inches apart. You can think of your left hand as the vibrating, living network of connection and your balled-up fist as concentrated power. Right hand, Google Maps; left hand, millions of Android phones. This is the picture of our age.”[iv] But it is only an early picture. By the time you read this, will Google Maps and Android phones be replaced by something more advanced? Not unlikely.

What is Not Seen

Again, most people today have no idea this is happening. At least not at this scope, or pace. Many feel a general sense of a rising challenge, even a threat, from China, for example. But they don’t know what it means, why it is real, or how it is developing. They have no clue how to prepare for or address it.

The same is true of education. To wit: geography is still taught in two layers—much like it was in the 1960s. Technology makes it easier to teach and learn, but Layer Three tools and Layer Three thinking are absent in all but a very few out-of-the-box classrooms or learning environments. As Toffler put it, too many of today’s young are being raised to show up on time, do repetitive tasks without complaining, follow instructions, and memorize a great deal of knowledge without deeply understanding it. This is the focus of most schools.

These three lessons—punctuality, repetitive work, and rote memorization—routinely pass for what we call “education.” They are, in fact, the key lessons of schools in modernism. The pre-modern era emphasized “the 3 R’s: readin’, ’ritin’, and ’rithmetic,” and these prepared the young for success in the agrarian economy. Likewise, the three lessons above were often effective training for landing and keeping a job during the industrial age.

But today’s emerging information economy demands something different. Success now demands the Third Layer of education. It includes the kind of knowledge learned from the 3 R’s and also post-World War II schooling in history, literature, math, science, and social studies, but it also superimposes a Third Layer of education as well, which is more attitudinal and skills based: initiative, innovation, creativity, resilience, ingenuity, tenacity, recognizing opportunities, go-getter-ness, and entrepreneurial risk-taking.

The Third Layer is as different from most modern public and private schooling as the typical 1960s, 1980s, or 2000s high school or elementary was from the one-room schoolhouse. If the pre-modern age gave us Mary and Laura in the Little House series, studying at home or the local school (which was also the town hall, town theater, and community church), the modern age gave us the high school of Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, High School Musical, Dead Poet’s Society, One Tree Hill, 90210, or even 22 Jump Street.

All are outdated now. All fail to prepare our nation’s youth for the actual economy of the 21st century. We are still training the young to succeed in a world they can only study about in history books. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to note that the more time they spend in the modern school system, including the increasingly outdated university campus, the less prepared they’ll likely be to compete effectively in the rough-and-tumble emerging global marketplace with it worldwide competition and demands.

For example, a university degree isn’t what it used to be: The average graduate from the class of 2016 had $37,000 in student debt and couldn’t get a decent job in his or her field—or in any other equivalent field. There are of course exceptions, but the numbers of those leveraging college degrees into effective careers significantly decreases each decade (Note: in North America, Europe, and Latin America, but not in China). In short, today’s young adults are too often receiving a Layer Two education in a world that demands Layer Three knowledge, choices, and skills.

Past, Present, and Future

Few current students are being taught the skills of success that are needed in the new economy. The real economy. Layer Two schools simply do not teach initiative, ingenuity, or innovation. They don’t purposely teach chutzpah, audacity, grit, wise risk-taking, entrepreneurialism, or nerve.

Note that these are precisely the character traits that made America the world’s superpower. And Britain before her, and earlier, Spain and Portugal. These are the very traits that put Egypt at the top, then the Greek city states, and later Rome. These are the characteristics that gave the Gauls, Franks, Anglos and Saxons their edge.

They didn’t have Layer Three maps, to be sure, but they engaged in their era’s “Layer Three” education of the youth, teaching them the skills of resourcefulness, inventiveness, and daring in the face of difficulties. Some of these societies emphasized good purposes (such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, etc.), while others embraced less noble goals (aristocratic rule of an elite class over the rest of the people, dominance over neighboring nations, a pursuit of wealth through violence, etc.).

But whatever their dreams—good or bad—it was Layer Three skills (initiative, boldness, pluck, enterprise) that lifted every great-power nation in history to the top. As the society that now holds this spot, we (North America, and to a lesser extent Europe) are stunningly lax about teaching these traits. We increasingly downplay them as unimportant and even unattractive. Even “against the rules”. As a result, we have lost our edge. We have largely lost our drive. Too many modern Americans have lost our shared vision and purpose. Unity is a thing of the past.

Indeed, Americans were once unified in the goal to spread freedom, opportunity, and prosperity to the world. Now, the best we seem to be able to muster is a hope to afford college for our kids, and that they’ll get a safe, secure career with good benefits—and as little fuss or struggle as possible. Most colleges themselves seem committed to shielding our young adults from challenges, difficulties, thinking, and any diverse or challenging ideas. This is not the behavior of a nation on the rise. It is the opposite. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are castrating the stallions of the younger generations, then hoping they’ll be fruitful.

But apply Layer Three to the map. Where in the world do we find whole populations burning passionately with drive, initiative, innovation, nerve, entrepreneurial risk-taking, resilience, a hunger to achieve, audacity, ingenuity, resolve, and tenacity? Where do we find the largest concentrations of people who thrive in the face of uncertainty and embrace whatever is hard, and flourish even in an environment of impermanence and difficulty?

When you find a lot of people who have these traits, note where they live. Not in North American or Europe (at least not in large concentrations). In our modern American schooling/career system, for example, our major focus seems to be avoiding uncertainty, impermanence, and difficulty—yet these are the unavoidable realities of the global economy.

Through the Magnifying Glass

Look even closer. Enter this data electronically on a map and you’ll find these traits in China. Indeed, the heartbeat of China is a new “eye of the tiger.” A similar fire burns in India, and a less populated but angrier flame blazes across the Middle East. Layer Three also shows us the rise of such passion in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Russia. These are trigger-points of the decades just ahead.

Where such passion does show up in North America—from California to British Columbia, from Texas to New Hampshire to Newfoundland to Florida, it is usually personal, career-oriented, and commercial. A better job. A marketable education. A promotion.

These hardly match the resolve or intensity of China and its new economic allies across the developing world. They want to lead the world, change the world, and do great things. They want victory, and they see their lives as part of a battle.

In Europe the irony is even more pronounced. The Layer Three map shows numerous pockets of extreme passion in the nations of the E.U.—but zoom in, and you’ll note that most of the people with this kind of fire in the belly are usually recent immigrants from the Southern half of the globe.

The one great exception in North America and Europe is the entrepreneurial class, those who Steve Jobs called the dreamers, the rebels, and the risk-takers. They graduate from college and reject job offers from the Fortune 500 to pursue risky start-ups or launch non-profit charities. Or, increasingly, they skip college altogether, or drop out, and get started on their business or charitable ventures even younger, with an edgier, more idealistic and relevant education.

Their Layer Two parents and grandparents try to talk them out of such endeavors, but these young people have a hunger that typical education and careers won’t fill. They are a Remnant, throwbacks to the earlier Americans who got on the Mayflower, worked and died in Jamestown, went West by horseback or wagon to explore, start, create, and change things. They are the New American Founders, enlightened and ennobled by hindsight of the mistakes of the past, and impassioned by their view of the future – and we desperately need them.

We need a generation of them.

Now.

In the Now

If you are one of their parents or grandparents—worried that your youth are making such choices, decisions that make no sense to you—you can relax. Yes, the kind of risky leadership they are engaging is scary to the older generations who were raised to seek security. But the Third Layer maps clearly show that we no longer live in an era of security.

Even young people who follow the traditional path of college and career suggested by their elders will find that for most people it doesn’t endure in the new economy. We are in an era of tumult, change, and uncertainty—and this is only going to increase for the next few decades.

Those who try to live by Second Layer rules will fall further behind. College degrees won’t bring most of them secure jobs, and seemingly secure careers will suddenly be lost to recessions, new technologies, outsourcing, mergers, regulatory changes, companies sold to foreign investors, and competition, along with a host of other unforeseen realities.

Indeed, those who will do the best in the new economy—whose contributions and livelihoods will end up being the most secure—will be the new entrepreneurial class. The innovators. The roll-with-the-punches change agents. Those who can think, lead, initiate, and wisely assess risk. We are indeed entering the Age of Risk, and this massive shift in the world economy is here to stay. Business has already caught on and is changing things to meet the new reality. But education is still in denial, along with most in government.

Sadly for those who allow themselves to be swayed by the current denial of many in the educational sector and Washington, people caught in Second Layer thinking will be the losers of the next thirty years. The winners will be Third Layer risk takers who tenaciously create ways to succeed in the new environment. Who make a way.

Many of them are already looking at the world through the lenses of Third Layer maps and mindsets, and they understand something very real: The future is theirs. Moreover, our future is in their hands.

The more we can do to help and support them, the better things will turn out for all of us. The successes and failures of our entrepreneurs will determine the future. Just as it has determined the past.

Fall or Rise

This reality causes serious concerns. Anyone who takes a good look at the current university campus model of learning finds a number of problems. Not the kind of challenges that demand reform, mind you, but rather a systemic, structural network of problems that will require a true educational revolution. The need for change is, to put it lightly, drastic.

Just consider the following commentaries by some of today’s top thinkers on the topic of the emerging economy and its ties to the type of education we now need. For example, MIT’s Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee wrote, in a section of their book labeled “Failing College”:

“Richard Arum and Josipa Roska…and their colleagues tracked more than 2,300 students enrolled full-time in four-year degree programs at a range of American colleges and universities. Their findings are alarming: 45 percent of students demonstrate no significant improvement on the CLA [Collegiate Learning Assessment, which tests ‘critical thinking, written communication, problem solving, and analytic reasoning’] after two years of college, and 36 percent did not improve at all even after four years.

“The average improvement on the test after four years was quite small…. What accounts for these disappointing results? Arum, Roska, and their colleagues document that college students today spend only 9 percent of their time studying (compared to 51 percent on ‘socializing, recreating, and other’), much less than in previous decades, and that only 42 percent reported having taken a class the previous semester that required them to read at least forty pages a week and write at least twenty pages total.

“They write that, ‘The portrayal of higher education emerging from [this research] is one of an institution focused more on social than academic experiences. Students spend very little time studying, and professors rarely demand much from them in terms of reading and writing.’

“They also find, however, that at every college studied some students show great improvement on the CLA. In general, these are students who spent more time studying (especially studying alone)…”[v]

The authors also wrote: “The good news, though, is that technology is now providing more…opportunities than ever before. Motivated students and modern technology are a formidable combination. The best educational resources online allow users to create self-organized and self-paced learning environments—ones that allow them to spend as much time as they need with the material, and also to take tests that tell them if they mastered it.”[vi]

Futures Past

The quality of learning in such online venues is very often extremely high. For example, when a graduate level AI course at Stanford was opened to participants on the Internet for free, over “160,000 students singed up for the course. Tens of thousands of them completed all exercises, exams, and other requirements, and some of them did quite well. The top performer in the course at Stanford, in fact, was only 411th best among all the online students. As Thrun [the instructor] put it, ‘We just found over 400 people in the world who outperformed the top Stanford student.’”[vii]

Likewise, “…Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, notes that college degrees aren’t as important as they once were. Bock states that ‘When you look at people that didn’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.’ He noted in a 2013 New York Times article that the ‘proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time’—on certain teams comprising as much as 14 percent.”[viii]

Mindvalley founder and CEO Vishen Lakhiani wrote: “I’ve personally interviewed and hired more than 1,000 people for my companies over the years, and I’ve simply stopped looking at college grades or even the college an applicant graduated from. I’ve simply found them to have no correlation with an employee’s success.”[ix] Sadly, too many people still hold on to old educational models that no longer deliver what they once did, or what they now promise.

Lakhiani put it this way: “But here’s the problem. Most of us are using systems that have long [since] become obsolete. As Bill Jensen said in his book Future Strong: ‘Even as we enter one of the most disruptive eras in human history, one of the biggest challenges we face is that today’s systems and structures still live on, past their expiration dates. We are locked into twentieth-century approaches that are holding back the next big fundamental shifts in human capacity.’”[x]

Bestselling author Neil Pasricha told the following story: “A senior partner at a prestigious global consulting firm once said to me after a boozy dinner: ‘We find Type A superachievers from Ivy League schools who need lots of reward and praise…and then dangle carrots just over the next deadline, project, and promotion, so they keep pushing themselves. Over every hill is an even bigger reward…and an even bigger hill.’”[xi] This is enlightening. It’s not the actual education the big corporations are looking for as much as a sense of over-achievement and needing lots of rewards and praise.

Look at this same scenario from the student’s viewpoint. Is this really the career environment we want our young people to pursue? Is this the life we want for them, or the use of their talents that will best benefit the world—or bring them the most fulfillment and happiness? Sometimes, the answer may be yes. But very often, it isn’t.

Billionaire Paypal co-founder and educational innovator Peter Thiel said it even more bluntly: “Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turning into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”[xii] After happily reminiscing that he eventually took the entrepreneurial path of founding tech companies instead of following his major in graduate school, Thiel said[xiii],

“All Rhodes Scholars had a great future in their past.”

The Next Normal

The modern college/career system, which is increasingly Level Two education in the new economy, is more and more outdated. In the book Platform Revolution, technology experts Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, and Sangeet Paul Choudary argue that the old-style university model is surviving largely because government regulations keep true innovators from competing on anything close to a level playing field.[xiv] If this were to change, no doubt online educational platforms would do for education what Amazon has done for bookstores (and other retailers), Uber has done for taxi services, Wikipedia has done to the encyclopedia publishing industry, and online news sources have done to many newspapers.[xv] Again, over 400 online students tested better than the top Stanford student in the exact same class.

Parker, Alstyne, and Choudary wrote: “The long-term implications of the coming explosion in educational experimentation are difficult to predict with certainty. But it wouldn’t be surprising if many of the 3,000 colleges and universities that currently dominate the U.S. higher education market were to fail, their economic rationale fatally undercut by the vastly better economics of platforms.”[xvi]

Just imagine much cheaper and higher quality higher educational offerings for all. Consider the work by Khan Academy,[xvii] Minerva,[xviii] Peter Thiel, and other educational innovators. If the government ever ends the current educational monopoly supporting the old-style conveyor-belt approach to higher education, the results will likely dwarf the kind of change we witnessed with the advent of cable television programs, or when Ma Bell was deregulated and replaced by an entirely different kind of telecommunications.

Parker and his colleagues also noted:

“In the years to come, the spread and increasing popularity of teaching and learning ecosystems will have an enormous impact on public school systems, private schools, and traditional universities. Barriers to entry that have long made a first-class education an exclusive, expensive and highly prestigious luxury good are already beginning to fall.

“Platform technologies are making it possible for hundreds of thousands of students to simultaneously attend lectures by the world’s most skilled instructors, at minimal cost, and available anywhere in the world that the Internet is accessible. It seems to be only a matter of time before the equivalent of a degree from MIT in chemical engineering will be available at minimal cost in a village in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The migration of teaching to the world of platforms is likely to change education in ways that go beyond expanded access—important and powerful as that is. One change that is already beginning to happen is the separation of various goods and services formerly sold as a unit by colleges and universities. Millions of potential students have no interest in or need for the traditional college campus complete with an impressive library, a gleaming science lab, raucous fraternity houses, and a football stadium.”[xix]

They’d rather pay a lot less and get a better learning experience.

Focusing In

“Education platforms are also beginning to unbundle the process of learning from the paper credentials traditionally associated with it.”[xx] The authors note that many students now “…appear to be more interested in the real-world abilities they are honing than in such traditional symbols of achievement as class transcripts or a diploma.”[xxi] They want to learn knowledge and skills that help them achieve their life and financial goals, not traditional symbols that no longer really work in the 21st century economy.[xxii] Results-Based Learning is increasingly in demand.

For example, “A high ranking on TopCoder, a platform that hosts programming contests, will earn a developer a job at Facebook or Google just as fast as a computer science degree from Carnegie Mellon, Caltech, or MIT. Platform-based students for whom a traditional credential is important can often make special arrangements to receive one—for example, at Coursera, college credit is a ‘premium service’ you pay extra for.”[xxiii] Another example is Duolingo, a crowdsourcing foreign language platform that is teaching more people a foreign language than all the students studying foreign language “in high school in the U.S. combined.”[xxiv]

“Once there is an alternative certification [to college degrees] that employers are willing to accept,” Parker and his colleagues affirm, “universities will find it increasingly difficult…. Unsurprisingly, developing such an alternative certification is among the primary goals of platform education firms such as Coursera.”[xxv] Other organizations are trying to build such educational platforms as well, including Udacity, Skillshare, edX, and others.[xxvi] Even top specialty schools, like MIT and Julliard, are offering open enrollment online courses. (Their selling point is often focused on “Learn from the MIT faculty,” or “Learn from the Julliard faculty,” a nod to the new reality that mentoring is becoming even more important than institutionalism.)

No doubt more innovative higher educational options will thrive (and at the high school level as well), until some of them restructure modern education like eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, the Internet, or Google have done for other fields. As far as student learning is concerned, numerous self-produced online tutorials, on platforms like YouTube and others, provide excellent educational opportunities—both to learn and teach.

All of these developments and trends are part of Third Layer education, and they are almost universally moving away from outdated traditions, methods, and beliefs of conveyor-belt-style education and schools. A new economic era is already here, and for those who know what to look for, new educational models are rising to support what is now needed. Third Layer, Results-Based learning is the future of effective education. The focus is on individualized learning, thinking, and applying rather than conveyor-belt schooling.

The new maps are here, if we’re willing to look.

(This topic is addressed in more detail in Oliver DeMille, Hero Education, available here>>)

 

NOTES

[i] Parag Khanna, 2016, Connectography, xvii.

[ii] Harper’s Index, Harper’s Magazine, September 2015.

[iii] The Brexit and election of Donald Trump didn’t seem to make much difference in this trend. See, for example, Geoffrey Smith, “The Brexit Crisis That Wasn’t,” Fortune, October 1, 2016; See also, Jeff Immelt, “After Brexit, Global is Local,” Fortune, August 1, 2016, 71-72.

[iv] Joshua Cooper Ramo, 2016, The Seventh Sense, 122.

[v] Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014, The Second Machine Age, 197-198.

[vi] Ibid., 199.

[vii] Ibid., 200.

[viii] Cited in Vishen Lakhiani, 2016, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, 24.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid., 93.

[xi] Neil Pasricha, 2016, The Happiness Equation, 150.

[xii] Peter Thiel, 2014, Zero to One, 36.

[xiii] Ibid., 37.

[xiv] See Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Sangeet Paul Choudary, 2016, Platform Revolution, 263-268.

[xv] See ibid.

[xvi] Ibid., 268.

[xvii] For example, see commentary in Brynjolfsson, 199.

[xviii] For example, see commentary in Parker, 268.

[xix] Ibid., 266.

[xx] Ibid., 266-267.

[xxi] Ibid., 267.

[xxii] Ibid., 265-268.

[xxiii] Ibid., 265.

[xxiv] Cited in ibid.

[xxv] Ibid., 8.

[xxvi] See, for example, ibid., 265.

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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: The Next Civil War?

May 13th, 2018 // 4:25 pm @

True or False…or False?

It’s getting worse. Just watch the news. This phrase, the “Next Civil War”, was recently used by economic forecaster Harry Dent to describe the growing divide between Red and Blue state cultures. These two sides now disagree with each other to the point that in many cases people experience real hatred for those on “the other side”.

Former president Barack Obama noted that people who largely get their news from the mainstream media and those who get their news mostly from Fox are basically living “on different planets.” They not only disagree on principles and solutions, he pointed out, but they fundamentally disagree on “facts”. What the Blue culture sees as incontrovertible truths, the Red culture frequently sees as lies. Fake. False. And the opposite is just as true: what the Red culture sees as fact is often considered false by Blue culture.

No wonder the two sides are so angry at each other. When you disagree on what the facts are, the solutions promoted by the other side frequently appear ludicrous. Even dangerous. Both sides, each rooted in its own understanding of reality, watch the other side say and do things that are clearly and painfully hurtful—according to the set of obvious but differing “facts” they each believe.

Roadblocks

This divide is widening. We’ve reached the point that one of the worst things parents can learn about their child’s “significant other” or new fiancé is that he/she is a Republican, or Democrat—depending on the family. Religion, career, ethnicity, education, financial status, and even a criminal history, are largely negotiable in most modern families. But the other political party? Many parents turn Tevye: “If I try and bend this far, I’ll break.”

Lynn Vavreck wrote in The New York Times (January 31, 2017): “In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat, and 25 percent of Republicans wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. But by 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way.” And for many, the feelings run very deep. While in 1994 21 percent of Republicans viewed Democrats in the “Very Unfavorable” category, by 2016 the number was 58 percent. (Pew Research Center) In 1994 17 percent of Democrats saw Republicans as “Very Unfavorable”, but the number in 2016 had skyrocketed to 55 percent. (Ibid.)

Aaron Blake summarized this concern in The Washington Post: “If 58 percent of Republicans hate Democrats and 55 percent of Democrats hate Republicans, that would mean about 35 percent of registered voters hate the opposite political party.” (June 19, 2017) “But that’s not quite hate…. 45% of Republicans see the Democratic Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being…. [and] 41% of Democrats see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being”. (Ibid.) When you add independents, the “hate” one of the parties (those who see the other party as a threat to the nation) makes up 39 percent of registered voters or “About 1 in 4” Americans. (Ibid.)

There are a lot of others who see the other side in an unfavorable light, around 33 percent of additional Republicans (for a total of 91% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable”) and 30 percent of additional Democrats (86% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views). (Ibid.) Note that all of this occurred before the Trump presidency. Again, this divide is real, and deep. In the Trump era the intensity has only increased.

But does any of this justify the phrase “Next Civil War”? Not yet. Not unless we’re going to surrender to hyperbole. Yet this conflict is escalating in many sectors—it’s moved beyond the traditional battlegrounds of politics and news media to additional culture and power centers including education, television, movies, entertainment awards shows, daily and nightly talk shows (both radio and television), sports, and multiple venues on social media. Even social media and Internet platforms are getting involved by adjusting algorithms to promote certain political leanings—or dampen the voice of those they dislike—often without informing their customers.

Platforms and Soapboxes

For many Americans, the sight of some NFL players purposely kneeling during the National Anthem is the ultimate symbol of this divide. One side sees young role models and leaders using their public platform to bravely protest government abuse—especially what they consider racially charged police violence. The other side feels hurt and confused by millionaire beneficiaries of the American Dream figuratively spitting on the American Flag and the sacrifice of dead and maimed military heroes.

It’s difficult to even discuss this situation rationally in many venues due to the raw and heartfelt emotions of people on both sides of the Red-Blue cultural divide.

Sadly, many schools have also become places of great conflict. For example, a national uproar occurred when a middle school teacher assigned her students to write letters to political officials urging them to pass stronger gun control laws. Should teachers tell middle school children what sides to take on political issues? And assign them to engage in activism for one specific side? At what point does teaching become brainwashing? A father of one of the students, a policeman, refused to allow his child to do the assignment. The father deeply disagreed with the politics of the teacher, and many of the other parents disagreed with the politicization of middle school in general. In response to backlash, the teacher allowed students to skip the assignment without penalty, but didn’t suggest writing against stronger gun control if this more accurately aligned with the student’s views. The same week, an elementary student was expelled from school for drawing himself hunting during a “free art” assignment, and a high school teacher was fired for a lengthy history-class soliloquy describing current members of the military as “the lowest of the low” in our society. Red and Blue cultures passionately disagreed on how these events should be handled. Both sides largely see the other’s view as ridiculous and extreme.

Another moment that epitomizes this division occurred on Broadway when the cast of Hamilton stopped the musical midstream to lecture the new Vice President elect, Mike Pence. Hamilton itself is an artistic icon—an American Les Miserables that underscores how the struggles of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their families and peers unleashed freedom in a way that has now spread to people of all backgrounds. The lecture itself was seen by one side as a welcome comeuppance to a dangerous new administration, and by the other as yet another gauche elitist attack against the will of the voters and the American system.

Networks, Numbers, and New Divides

Thankfully this war is largely cultural—it has not devolved into massive physical violence between the two sides of a nation (like the French Revolution, U.S. Civil War, or Russian Revolution, etc.). Hopefully it will always remain peaceful. But in the fight for hearts, there is no doubt that a major civil war for the future of our republic is already under way.

Worse, it is doubtful that any real solution is imminent. When one part of the nation generally believes most of what airs on CNN, ABC, NBC and MSNBC, while another part tends to place more trust in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Trump tweets, the two aren’t going see eye-to-eye on much of anything. And when these two groups are the largest political blocs in our republic, we’re going to have genuine and repeated disagreements.

Perhaps the epicenter of this battle for “the hearts and minds of the people” is found in the media. And this poses a major challenge. Why? Because most of modern media—from both the Left and Right—has three serious problems:

1-It is largely agenda driven (“Forget the facts, full speed ahead!”)

2-It is shallow.

3-It is electronic.

Most people realize the problems with item #1. As a result, they stop listening to media outlets that are clearly against their views—and seem hostile to anyone with a different perspective. This has created another significant problem with modern media:

4-It is isolated. The Right listens to the Right, while the Left listens to the Left. Few listen to both. Few listen to the other side. Over time, media outlets increasingly cater to their narrow audiences, so the extremism increases.

Result: the divisions in our nation are getting wider, deeper, and more susceptible to anger and, too often, extremism and unhealthy thinking and actions.

The Missing Depth

The  2nd and 3rd problems listed just above are equally dangerous. Many people are very busy—work, family, more work, community, more family. Little time is left over for meaningful civic involvement, much less for taking the time to really dig into each day’s news, truly understand what is happening, and go way beyond the 30 second sound bites or even 3 minute segments on any given story. An hour of the news is more than most can spare—and most hour newscasts only provide a very shallow overview of a few of the day’s news topics. In short, shallow. No time for depth.

The result is that nearly all shows repeat a few top stories, with only a bit of detail. Even if a person watched television all day, he or she would usually only hear about the same top stories, addressed shallowly over and over—with different opinions but nothing really weighty or reflective. Depth is almost unheard of in most of today’s media.

This is especially true of the electronic media. Besides, television, radio, and online media typically interact with human brains more like entertainment than like something really, truly important. When we watch or listen or surf our news, in most cases, we are in the mode of moving quickly from one thought to the next. Even if we try to focus, ads, pop-ups and crawlers invade our screen with multiple headlines and distractions all at once. Our devices were purposely designed this way, in fact.

Reading the news, in contrast, naturally moves the focus into our intellect. A good start. “But nobody wants to read anything longer than a page…” today’s editors assure everyone. Many editors put the limit at “two paragraphs.” If we don’t read more deeply, we’ll truly and literally become a nation of sheep. Deep thinking is needed to deal with the reality of today’s complex and globally-interconnected world—for any citizen. And deep thinking about the news is basically impossible unless we’re reading (or listening/watching to a source that takes) much more than 5 minutes to really address an issue in some depth.

The Jefferson-Madison Debates

The term “fake news” means the following to most people: news that pushes a false agenda, distracts from truth, lies. But “shallow news” is just as bad for the nation. Even “accurate news” that is shallow is a major blow to our society. And this accounts for most of what media consumers experience. When it is both fake and shallow, we’re in real trouble.

The Left and Right argue about which news reports are “fake,” but few even claim to offer real depth in their news. And even fewer consumers seem to be actively searching for and embracing deeper news.

To reiterate: the Red-Blue divisions are growing, and intensifying, and this means that major problems are ahead unless we do something about it. My plan is to write a weekly (or, sometimes, every two week) article that treats real topics in enough depth to help readers take a step back from the constant screaming of electronic news, and really understand a topic (one at a time) enough to see behind the scenes of modern media spin and fake/shallow posturing.

More will, of course, be needed to stop our seeming national sprint toward more civil conflict. But I know this weekly column will make a difference—for those who read it.

It was the reading and thinking about articles and pamphlets during the American Founding generation that helped America gain freedom, and deep thinking is vitally needed today. I’m calling this new series of weekly articles The Jefferson-Madison Debates, and I hope you’ll join us.

It’s going to be fun.

— Oliver DeMille

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How to Get the Real News

April 27th, 2017 // 8:39 am @

“Wait!” she said. “Where did you hear that? That’s the opposite of what the news is telling people.”

“Of course it is. I didn’t get this from the news. Or social media.”

Long pause…

“Where did you get it?”

Part I: Conclusion

For many years I’ve recommended that people get their news in a special way: read 2-3 liberal publications, and also 2-3 conservative ones. Pay close attention, and note how both sides spin things. Watch for their assumptions and media agendas. Think about what you read, and draw your own conclusions.

But in the Trump era, it’s no longer this simple. The media has become so biased, so angrily bent on waging war against the current Administration, that even the conservative press frequently joins the mainstream media in its attacks—or in fighting them.

Objectivity in media reports is almost extinct. Manipulative spin is now the one constant in our national–and much of the local–media.

So, where should today’s concerned citizen get the news? The answer to this question is enlightening. In the new era of media—what could arguably be called the post-journalistic era—it’s not just about where you get the news. It’s more about how you read the news. Those who read it the right way will learn what’s really going on. Those who don’t, won’t….

Part II: Example

I open the magazine and read the first article. It’s a liberal magazine, and, like always, I’m enjoying it. Reading what people who disagree with me have to say about the current state of the world is invigorating.

When I was younger, it sometimes made me angry. A decade later it made me want to argue. Nowadays, I find myself laughing a lot. Or, once in a while, surprised by a new idea that deserves serious consideration.

For example, the first magazine I read begins with a long editorial about how the economy is “on the rise.” Markets are getting more good news than they have since 2008, and not the “media-spin economic upturn news” that Washington loved during the Obama years, but that always turned out to be false. This time it’s about a real upturn it seems.

Still, the editorial warns, the danger is that people are going to think that things like Brexit and actions of the Trump Administration are responsible for the good economic news. These are all coincidences, apparently, according to the article. Any intelligent person, the magazine seems to be communicating, will clearly realize that there is little or no correlation between Obama/European Union policies and the economic malaise that accompanied them, and the a significant economic upsurge following Brexit/Trump.

My grin turns to laughter. Are they serious? No correlation? Funny. Ironic, but humorous. The same magazine issue has the following question on the front cover: “Is the pope Catholic?” Note that the word “pope” isn’t capitalized. The article takes this question seriously—analyzing the ways the current Pope is rehashing many ideas long considered sacrosanct at the Vatican. This part isn’t funny. Interesting, and important. But I’m pondering, not laughing.

Another article proclaims: “From deprivation to daffodils… All around the world, the economy is picking up.” The cause of this, we are assured once again, has nothing to do with Brexit or conservative policies. In fact, we’re told, these things caused “jitters” and kept the economy from improving sooner.

In the same magazine, we are warned about populist uprisings from the Netherlands, Mexico, and Scotland—all part of a “dangerous” trend. (In fairness, if you favor the elite classes and a system that benefits elites above all others, it actually is a dangerous trend.)

I finish this magazine and pick up the next one. Its purpose, apparently, is to find clever and original ways to criticize Donald Trump and anyone who didn’t happily vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. A very popular hobby these days.

But this publication does it in such cerebral language that it’s really fun to read—as if reading it, just soaking it all in, must mean you are one of the smart people, the enlightened, the few, the wise. I do enjoy the creative, engaging writing, even as I find myself disagreeing with much of the content.

I start laughing again. After all, the articles work so hard to sound impartial, journalistic, even erudite. But their frustration and anger with the last election, and the current Administration, shows through on nearly every page.

For example, I read paragraph after paragraph of seemingly objective, unbiased prose (“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”), then I run into words like “vengeful,” “binge,” “vindictive.” The reader is being swayed by largely journalistic writing peppered with emotional triggers. I like it. I mean, it’s interesting, and funny. Besides, the American people are smart enough to see right through this kind of bias, whatever elites think of them. Still, this kind of spin is an art, and the articles I’m reading are skillfully crafted to sway their reader—just like most of the television media.

Pundits on the Right try to do this as well as those on the Left, but the Left has more true artists—masters of this process. Good for them.  Seriously. I’m genuinely impressed. Conservatives really do need more effective artists, and more appreciation for well-crafted symbolism.

The End of the Expert

On the less artistic, more direct side of things, one article calls President Trump: “an untruthful, vain, vindictive, alarmingly erratic President.” My first thought is that this is mean-spirited. But wait. I re-read the list of criticisms more carefully. Actually, I tell myself, most of this is fairly accurate, with one exception: What liberals call “untruthful” in Trump is often more a case of inarticulate.

President Trump frequently uses imprecise language, to the point of confusing. It’s a wonderful blessing for his opponents. But I don’t think he knowingly lies as much as the media claims (not in the way career politicians so frequently lie: “If you like your health care provider, you can keep your health care provider” or “insurance premiums will go down,” or “the Benghazi attack was caused by a video made in California,” or “I did not have sex with that woman.”)

But the other things on the list are fair game. Vain. Vindictive. Erratic. The President has exhibited all of these traits at times. I’m laughing again as I ponder this twist—because the real joke is on elites. Seriously: Why did the American people elect someone who is so openly vain and vindictive at times?

This is pretty funny, when you think about it. Liberals want these things to convince Americans that he shouldn’t be president. But those who elected him don’t really care about these things.

In short, liberals seem to want a president they can look up to, hold up as a role model, even canonize (e.g. FDR, Obama). Like medieval courtiers at the palace, they want to put their king on a pedestal. “He’s such a good and great man. She’s such a good and great woman.” They want Josiah Bartlett back in the White House. Or at least Michael Douglass. Or, better still, Kevin Klein’s “Dave”.

Conservatives aren’t thinking of anything so lofty. They don’t need a prophet or a saint in the Oval Office. They just want a president who will reboot the economy and make us safer in the world. Even if he acts like a jerk sometimes.

Liberals don’t seem to get the joke. It’s funny. Think about it: the voters in a majority of states preferred someone who is sometimes vain and vindictive over the elite’s favorite choice—a lifetime politician who checked off all the boxes and did everything the Establishment considers necessary to be in the Oval Office. The voters wanted the exact opposite. The irony is rich.

I finish the second magazine and take a long, deep breath before picking up the next one. But something I just saw keeps nagging me, so I go back to the magazine and look for a certain ad.

Ah…there it is. A promotion for online courses from Julliard. Open to all. “Learn from the Julliard faculty,” the ad proclaims, “classes include…Music Theory 101, Sharpen Your Piano Artistry…. No audition required.” I can hardly believe it. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the elite prime directive: “Rule By Experts—In All Things”? Do we really live in an age where MIT, Harvard and Julliard offer open enrollment classes to everyone? What happened to rule “of the experts, by the experts, and for the experts”? Elites are using technology to promote the appearance of democracy while still focusing on elite rule in every sector.

I open the third periodical in the pile. The lead article picks up right where the other magazine left off: “How Americans Turned Against Experts.” I study this article closely, taking notes in the margins, and then I read a half-dozen others. Apparently, the people just aren’t all that impressed with rule by the experts anymore. (“What have all those experts done for us?” millions are asking. “And why can’t they fix our national problems? What’s taking so long? In fact, why do things keep getting worse in so many ways? If these Ivy-trained experts with all their lofty titles and salaries are so good for America, why don’t they fix things?”)

Cause and Effect?

Finally, I pick up the last magazine in today’s stack. Several of the articles are intriguing. For example, I read: “Poverty has profound effects on the size, shape and functioning of a young child’s brain. Would a cash payment to parents prevent harm from the experience of being poor?” At first blush, it is sad that economic struggles have negative effects on early childhood. It is also not surprising that progressives think passing out money would fix this problem—easily and effectively.

But there’s more to this than initially meets the eye. I’m reminded of the economic idea of “helicoptering”: if the economy is struggling, dump cash from helicopters to poor families. They’ll spend it, and this will provide increased demand, supply, more jobs, and an improved economy. Of course, economists don’t suggest literally throwing cash out of helicopters (like turkeys on WKRP in Cincinnati), but rather depositing money directly into the accounts of people below a certain income level.

Conservatives tend to reflexively balk at such proposals, because they believe in the law of unintended consequences. In other words, paying people without asking them to work for it makes more people want to do nothing, and more citizens become increasingly dependent on government handouts—leaving the productive people to fund it all. Not good for society.

On the flip side, I like to point out to conservative friends that one of the early proponents of such financial “helicoptering” was Milton Friedman. Why? In truth, the direct cost of giving money to poor parents is far less than the amount currently spent by governments to provide all the services they and their children receive.

If we’re going to offer a lot of socialist programs, let’s at least be efficient.

The real answer is to get rid of socialism altogether. Besides, in the long term, there’s a deeper problem. The idea of giving cash to poor parents in order to help their kids either assumes that the parents will spend it in ways that actually address the problem, or assumes that the government will monitor such spending and force parents to use it “effectively” (an escalation from helicopter parenting to “helicopter government”).

Reading the article even more closely, it becomes clear that there “are dramatic differences from person to person.” Meaning: Some people raised in poverty have normal or even above-average brains, but on average they are smaller, less developed. I’m not laughing anymore. This is deep, and important. The biggest challenge seems to occur where single parents are forced to work so much to pay the bills that there is little time for interaction with young children. The negative consequences last for generations.

Surely our society can find ways to deal with this. Sadly, in our modern world, any talk of real problems seems to turn into demands for more government programs–as if government is the only way to fix anything.

We’re all at fault here: liberals tend to want government to solve everything, and conservatives often fail to provide non-governmental solutions to real challenges that should be addressed by the private sector. Both sides just end up pointing fingers and criticizing, while the problems remain (or grow).

The article provides a lot of interesting details and proposals. I don’t agree with everything I read, but it makes me think outside the box. I finish the magazine and lean back in my chair.

The New News

We have a major problem today with media, but it’s not what most people think. The biggest issue is the fact that few of us are reading enough news. Forget the electronic news. And forget newspapers. Both are too trapped in today’s 24-hour news cycle—and the race for ratings. We need to read bigger ideas, and from a variety of sources.

Readers of quality news magazines and journals are less easily manipulated than those who get their news from TV or social media. Such readers can more adroitly identify spin or media agendas and see right through them—then grin, or laugh, or decide to study more about a certain topic.

If you’re getting most of your news from TV, newspapers, online headlines, or social media—consider moving on. Start reading longer articles, in publications or posts that treat things more deeply, like Foreign Affairs, The Economist, The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vital Speeches of the Day, and issue-oriented online sites and articles.

Read things that make you think, really ponder and analyze. And read a mix of conservative, independent, and mainstream sources.

If you do decide that you prefer to get your news from TV or online news sites, go to the business news. Where the regular news tends to focus on network political agendas, thereby frequently skewing the day’s news stories, the business news will tell you how the economy is actually doing and how today’s events impact it; this is nearly always a more accurate indication of whether to be worried or optimistic about the news of the day. The business news usually tells the story more directly, with less partisan slant.

Whatever your political views, knowing how to get the real news, to see through the media and understand what’s really happening in world events, is part of being an informed and good citizen. All of us benefit from people who do media right.

These two simple changes (1-Reading deeper issue-oriented articles rather than watching or reading the daily event-focused articles, and 2-Going to the business media rather than the political media for a clearer understanding of the news) will drastically increase how well each person understands the news and knows what’s actually happening in the world.

If you stick with the daily TV news or newspaper (or online equivalents), you are always in danger of being another one of those people who actually believe what they hear on the nightly news. In other words…grossly misinformed.

*****

(For further helps on where and how to get the real news, check out my Current Events Course at The Leadership Education Store.  This will help you significantly upgrade your ability to see through media spin and know what’s really happening in the world.)

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