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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: What Are We NOT Teaching Today’s Youth?

February 27th, 2019 // 8:04 am @

THE MISSING TOPIC IN MODERN EDUCATION

What Was Lost

I thought he was convinced, but then he leaned forward in his chair and shook his head. He wasn’t officially my student, but we’d had a number of mentoring discussions in recent months, and I knew from experience that he was about to say something deep.

“It’s frustrating that so many people in my generation like socialism,” he said. “But I don’t think they really understand it. They just dislike all the political division and fighting, and Bernie Sanders seemed like a third alternative.”

I nodded.

“Besides,” he continued, “I’m not actually a Millennial.”

“You’re not?” I asked…

“I’m Gen Z,” he said before I could finish. “Born after 9/11.”

I pondered that.

“We’re different from Millennials.” He paused. “A lot different.”

I could see this was really important to him. “In what ways?” I asked.

He could tell I wasn’t really buying it, and he grinned. “Well, we’re similar in a lot of ways too, I guess…” He pursed his bottom lip and cocked his head slightly to one side. “But I don’t think that’s our fault. I think the bad traits that are blamed on Millennials and Gen Z aren’t really caused by us.”

I was shaking my head at this point, so he raised his voice a bit.

“No. Seriously. This is real. You guys just don’t get it…”

“Get what?”

He sighed. “Okay, you’re not wrong. But you’re not right, either. It goes deeper than pointing out the weaknesses of Millennials. We’ve bought into some things we shouldn’t, but I blame most of it on Boomers and Gen X, on our parents and the other adults in our lives. Your generation trained us to be this way.”

My skepticism must have showed.

“Look…” he said. He was getting a bit frustrated, but he calmed himself and smiled. I could tell he had given this a lot of thought.

“Here’s the deal,” he looked at me intently. “Your generation cared a lot about raising kids. Maybe too much. They don’t call you ‘Helicopter Parents’ for nothing. But in all your hovering as parents, your generation missed something. Something big.”

I waited, not sure what to expect.

“Your generation of parents taught my generation to be good people. And you taught us to aim for success in our schooling and careers. But you didn’t teach us to be strong.”

He said the last sentence slowly, with emphasis on the words “didn’t” and “strong.” I was surprised by his words. After considering them for a moment, I realized I was hearing something important.

Making Snow

“Huh…. You might be right,” I said slowly.

“In fact, you actually avoided teaching us to be strong—in a lot of ways. If we had a chance to face a problem or struggle on our own, you jumped in and offered help. Or just told us what to do. Or told us not to worry about it, and then you took care of it.” He kept talking, without pausing: “If something seemed hard for us, you told us to drop it or avoid it. If you didn’t think we could handle it, you didn’t even let us try…

“Of course, there are exceptions. Rare parents who did it differently. Unique teachers, coaches or others who pushed us. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. “And for every demanding coach or hard teacher who pushed us there are twenty parents protecting us from those same people, telling us we don’t have listen to them or do what they say. Every time I had a demanding youth leader or coach, almost all the other adults in my life undermined them. Most kids in my generation have a habit of just ignoring anything hard—they know their parents will back them and help them get out of hard things. So they hardly ever push themselves. Why should they—when the adults are always telling them the easy way is better?”

He stopped to take a breath, but I didn’t have anything to say. I was nodding by this point, surprised at his intensity, and also the wisdom of his observations.

“You know how many adults act worried when I tell them I like martial arts, and football? And try to talk me into quitting? Also, I’ve learned never to mention that I might want to serve in the military when I’m older. That gets most adults really angry at me—like serving your country is the stupidest choice anyone could ever make…”

He cocked his head again. “Which is strange, because those same people act super patriotic when the flag is mentioned, or in church meetings around the Fourth of July. I’ve noticed that a lot of them fly flags in front of their yard. It’s weird.”

I sighed, a bit overwhelmed by his onslaught. Important thoughts, these.

“What did you say my generation teaches well, versus poorly?” I asked. I wanted to make sure I remembered it correctly.

“You’ve taught us to be good, and to seek career success. But you don’t teach us to be strong. In fact, most of the time you teach us to be weak.”

“Wow…”

He frowned. “And your generation has the audacity to point out how weak my generation is, and mock us for things like participation trophies. I mean, most of us want real trophies, at least at first. It’s the adults who told us that participation trophies are better. You teach us to be weak, you refuse to let us do hard things that build strength, and you warn us against doing anything really hard or risky in life, then you call us Snowflakes!” His shook his head in disgust.

“Okay,” I responded. “I get it. You’re making a lot of sense.” I laughed: “But calling your generation ‘Phone Zombies’, or ‘Selfie Addicts’, like some people do, is pretty accurate, right?”

He laughed with me. Then he said: “But you guys aren’t the best with phones either. Like, why does your generation answer the phone by saying ‘hello’ and acting like you don’t know who’s calling? You have the name of the caller right on your screen!”

I laughed. I had never noticed that before.

He knit his brow. “It’s basically the same thing, really. It’s pretending. Why do Boomers and Gen X pretend so much? You pretend you don’t know who is calling on the phone, but it gets worse. You pretend to know the answers, and you pretend you know so much better than us. But you don’t, not really. We didn’t elect Clinton, Obama, or Trump or Bush. You guys did that. Why?

Opposite Lessons

I laughed again. “Good question. I don’t know if I have a good answer though. But…you don’t like any of them? I thought a lot of Millennials liked Obama?”

“Not me. But then Gen Z is different politically than most Millennials, and I’m unique even for Gen Z.”

“How are you different?”

“Easy—my parents taught me to be strong, not weak. That makes me different from a lot of people my age.”

“How did they do it?” I asked.

“My parents? Well, they did it with little things, mostly. Like…the time a sixth grader was picking on my little sister, and shoving her, and I told him to stop. He told me no, and kept shoving her. I was only in the third grade, and my sister was a first grader, but when the bigger kid didn’t stop I hit him right in the nose. Hard. He was twice my size, but I couldn’t just stand there and watch him hurt my sister.”

“What happened?”“I got in trouble, and got lectured about how nobody should ever hit anyone no matter what. I asked the principal if that applied to U.S. soldiers fighting Hitler, and he didn’t like it. He called my mom and she promised she’d read me the riot act. When I got home, my mom asked what happened. I told her everything, and when I was done she told me I did the right thing. My dad said he’d never been prouder of me in my whole life.”

“Wow,” I said. “What did the principal think of that?” “Nothing. They told me to tell him I was sorry and wouldn’t do it again. But to stop the big kid anyway if he kept picking on my sister. I asked about the principal’s threat to kick me out of school, and my parents laughed. ‘You don’t need school to learn,’ my mom said. So I kept a close eye on that kid.”

“Did he pick on your little sister again?”

“No. The boy got in big trouble. Not for picking on my sister, but for getting in a fight with me.”

“Oh, he hit you back?”

“No. He just got hit, and fell down. That’s all he did. But his parents called that a fight and grounded him.”

“Maybe the parents didn’t like that he was shoving a little first grader, and that’s why they grounded him.”

He thought about that. “Maybe. That’s not what he said, though. He said it was for fighting with me, even though all he did was fall down and cry. Either way, the boy learned the lesson to never get in a fight cause you’ll get grounded, and I learned the lesson to stand up for what’s right. We learned opposite lessons.”

“You think that made the bigger boy weaker in life?”

“No idea. We moved away a year later. But he was bullying a little kid, so maybe he needed to learn to be smarter and nicer, not stronger. But what I realized from that event is that most adults don’t want us to be strong. Some do, but most don’t. I’ve seen a lot of other examples of this through the years.”

“Like what?”

Rules and Exceptions

“Well, the biggest example is found just by comparing the way people online talk about Millennials with what my generation is taught almost every day in school. Almost every criticism of Millennials comes from following the exact same lessons we’re taught to obey in school. If we act the way our teachers tell us we’re called “good students” when we’re in school, but if we act that same way once we’re out in the workforce we’re called ‘Snowflakes,’ ‘flaky,’ ‘uncommitted,’ and things like that. It’s annoying.”

“Yeah,” I nodded again. “Makes sense. You’re told over and over not to rock the boat, so you learn to be…I’m not sure what the right word is…”

“Mediocre?” he asked, “Passive? Weak? Unfocused.”

“Okay. Is that what you think?”

“We’re the Mediocre Generation,” he nodded. “But hey, how could we be anything else? We’re told over and over that you aren’t a good person if you go after the achievement trophy by beating the other team. We’re supposed to make sure everyone does just as well as we do, even if that means losing or not trying very hard.”

“But in sports…”

“Like I said before,” he interrupted, “there are exceptions, like sports, the military, or…well, I can’t think of anything else. But only a few people get to be in competitive sports. Most of us just play sports in gym class, and it’s never about winning, always about trying less so nobody looks bad. We’re taught to relax and never try hard in anything. Never show up anyone else. Just stay in the middle of the group. Then, when we get in the workforce we’re called slackers, lacking ambition, not leaders. It’s trash. The double standard is trash.”

“Is that why you like martial arts, because you get to really do your best?”

“Yes, and no,” he answered. “In most martial arts classes, it’s the very same. I’ve had lots of martial arts teachers, because we moved a lot, but only one of them really taught us to be strong, to actually fight, to test our moves in real combat. The other classes were a lot of theory, very little actual fighting, or learning to fight. Then I got a teacher who let us get bloody, literally, because he wanted us to actually be good at what we were learning. Lots of parents pulled their kids out of the class after just one or two visits, but that teacher taught me so much more than all the other teachers combined.”

“So, you think parents should let their kids get bloody noses and bruised faces more often?”

He laughed. “That’s the kind of thing adults say when they’re going to the extreme, when they want to feel good about raising weak kids rather than letting their kid do hard things. As if those are the only two options. That’s a straw man argument.”

“But, let’s just be honest,” he continued, “If you want to be good at self defense, you’re going to have to learn to actually defend yourself. And yes, that means getting hit sometimes, enough to become good at the skill. The same thing is true in math, or history. I’m amazed at the wimpy assignments a lot of kids get in their classes. If they don’t really study, they don’t learn very much. If their studies aren’t really hard, their education ends up being pretty weak.”

The Road Less Traveled

I nodded. “Any other ways your parents taught you to be strong?”

“A lot of ways… Example was one of the most important.”

“What example did they give you?”

“Well, they built a business. They both started as employees, but early on they decided to start a business, and that made a huge difference.”

“How so?”

“Building a successful business is about as hard as anything. It’s way harder than being an employee, in most cases. I watched my parents through the lean years, building, building, sacrificing. Always sure the benefits would eventually come, but working so hard for almost no pay, year after year. By the time success really came, I was almost grown up. But I watched them struggle and keep going. Building a business from scratch is an amazing thing. It was incredibly hard, and the family members all participated in making it work. I used to be so amazed at how much extra time other dads had to spend with their kids, and how much extra money they seemed to have.

“My dad’s extra time and money all went right back into the business. And it was amazing. We all learned so much. Watching my parents do really hard things, and eventually succeed, made me realize that I can do it too. I remember teachers in school talking about how hard entrepreneurship is, and how all the students should choose an easier path and be an employee. But those teachers aren’t nearly as impressive or successful as my parents. And they don’t make nearly as much money. So I followed the harder path whenever I could. Easy isn’t the goal. It just makes you weak. Strong is so much better.”

“You’re kind of a philosopher, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Not really. But I was homeschooled during my high school years, so I learned to think about things. Not just cram for tests, or try to look good with my grades, like they wanted me to in public school. I want to really understand the things I study, but that means digging deep. Hard, serious study brings real learning. The rest is trash.”

I laughed. “So if the world homeschooled, we’d all be better off?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. My point is entirely different. If the world did really, really hard education, we’d be way better off. Seriously! But so many of your generation keeps telling people my age to do easy stuff—as if that’s really going to help them. Like I said, if it’s easy education, it’s mostly trash. Regardless of home school, public school, or any other kind of school. Easy is usually trash. If it’s hard, it’s more likely worth doing.”

The Problem We Missed

“You’re in college now; so do you find it harder than before?”

“Well, my classmates nearly all say it’s a lot harder than high school. But I find it easier in one way, and harder in another. The material is easy. I study a couple of hours a day, or less, and I’ve gotten mostly straight A’s all year. It’s so much easier than my teen years in homeschool. But it’s hard in a way that’s really frustrating—there is a lot of busy work that teaches me nothing, but I have to do it and show my work. I can get the right answer within thirty seconds, but I have to take 5 or 10 minutes to show the work. Ridiculous. It’s not learning, it’s rote busywork. I think the purpose is to give students something to do to prove they’re working. But it gets in the way of real learning. Too much of it is a waste of time.”

“Maybe they’re trying to make it hard for you! You said you wanted hard.”

He didn’t smile at my joke. In fact, he frowned. “Rote isn’t the same thing as hard. Rote is a cop-out. It seems hard, but you’re not actually learning much, if anything. Real ‘hard’ is way better, because you actually improve your knowledge, your skills, your ability to think and apply what you learn. Easy is the opposite of hard, but in another way rote is also the opposite of hard.”

“Interesting. Do you think college is making the same mistake you said most Boomers and Gen Xers have been making with their kids—teaching today’s youth to be good people and succeed in a career, but not to be strong? Or is it different at the college level?”

“It’s different, because they are teaching you to focus on your career, and they hardly mention being good people. That part is basically gone at the college level. But they still aren’t teaching us to be strong. It’s just as weak as in elementary and high school.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he doubled down. “The focus on career is so strong that nothing else seems to matter. They just don’t have time for being good, or becoming strong. They teach classes on ethics and legal responsibilities, but these are about the career, not actually about being good people.”

“Why do you think being strong is so important? Do you actually believe we need to teach it to all young people?”

He looked at me like I had three heads.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll bite. If you’re not strong, you’re not actually going to be all that good in life. Not really. Not when it counts. Being truly good takes serious strength. And if you’re not strong you’re also not going to be really successful—in your career, or in your family and relationships, or in reaching your own personal goals. All of these things are hard. Those who make these things work have to struggle and overcome challenges. They face problems and roadblocks and sometimes enemies or opponents. If they aren’t strong, they don’t succeed.

“And they’ll never improve the world much. If fixing the world’s problems were easy, they’d have been solved a long time ago. My generation needs to be strong. Weakness is our biggest weakness, and being strong is our biggest need.”

Getting Started

I nodded, impressed. “You’re a unique young man,” I mused.

He took this as an affront. “Not really. There are a lot more of us than you might think. But we don’t just have to learn to become strong, like all young people did in history, we also have to unlearn all the weakness and trash the older generations have fed us…”

He sighed. “Like I said, it’s not simple. We’re kids. We want to believe what adults tell us. When we figure out that a lot of it is wrong…that makes it frustrating. It’s disappointing. And it isn’t simple to know which things to believe and which are just making us weak.”

“Which things are trash,” I said.

He smiled.

So did I. Then I said: “Next time you call I’m going to answer my phone by saying your name, not pretending I don’t know who is on the line.”

He laughed. “Good choice.”

“I don’t know why we do that…habit I guess.” I shook my head slowly. “In my day, we really didn’t know who was on the line when the phone rang.” I paused. Then: “My generation wants things to be easy, too,” I told him. “We wish we could skip everything hard. It’s not just you guys.”

“But youth have to be taught to be strong while we’re young,” he responded. “I’ve noticed that the older you get before you learn to be strong, the harder it is, and the more people try to avoid it. Parents don’t help their kids when they make things easy.”

“Really?” I pushed back. “Two year olds? Four year olds? We should have them all running marathons?”

“There you go again, making your point with an extreme example.”

I grinned. “Okay, at what age should it be hard?”

He pondered. “Well…at the age that the hard thing makes the kid strong. Some things won’t make a two-year-old strong, but will make a ten-year-old strong. There are things at all ages that will help, or hurt. But most importantly we need a different way of doing things with teens. That’s where most of the damage is done right now.”

I looked at him with quizzical eyes. “What do you need to do right now in your life that is really hard and will make you stronger, that you’re not doing yet?”

“Ah…” he relaxed and leaned back in his chair. “Now you’re mentoring me. That’s great. Thank you. Let me think about that question…”

Part II

What does each young person you mentor or parent right now need this week, or month, in his or her life, to become stronger in the right ways?

*For more on this topic and ways to educate young people for strength, get the book Hero Education, by Oliver DeMille. Available here >>

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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 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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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: Are Today’s Education and Politics Entering the Age of Star Trek?

May 12th, 2018 // 9:02 am @

“A shoe, too, is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps with disposable covers, sandals that morph as you walk, treads that shift, or floors that act as shoes.” —Kevin Kelly 

“We have long argued that as the Web extends in usage…increased access to factual information would improve the quality of public discourse. However, the opposite seems to be occurring.” —Don and Alex Tapscott

Given how much technology has changed the world in the past twenty years, and how differently we now live, it’s easy to assume that the Internet Revolution has brought the big change—and this era of massive shifts will slowly relax back into some kind of normality. But the truth is that we are just at the very beginning stages of the Information Age. The changes have just begun.

Following are a few of the major developments still ahead, as described by the experts on current technologies. As you think about each of these, consider the ramifications of these trends as they relate to the future of education, career, the economy, and the type of education needed for the emerging economy:

1. Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars are a reality.[i] How long they will co-exist with human drivers before the laws require all cars to be driven electronically remains to be seen.[ii] Self-driving planes, boats, and trucks will also change our lives drastically. Flying vehicles are next. As drone technology improves, taking people as passengers may not be too far away.

2. 3D Printing (additive manufacturing).[iii] This will revolutionize transportation, shipping, and manufacturing. Things that can be printed out in our own homes don’t need to be built in factories, or shipped by truck, airplane, or even drone. 3D printing will also have significant impact in medicine by printing certain medical implants.[iv] In fact, 3D printers now print food, including candy—and some people think it even tastes good.[v] One taste tester wrote: “It tastes like an after-dinner mint mixed with a sugar cube.”[vi]

3. 4D Printing. The printers will print smartobjects that are self-learning, and self-altering in response to their environment.[vii]

4. New Smart Materials. As Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, put it: Some are “self-healing, self-cleaning, metals with memory that revert to their original shapes, chemicals and crystals that turn pressure into energy, and so on…. Take advanced nanomaterials [nano means smaller than the human eye can see] such as graphene, which is about 200-times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair, and an efficient conductor of heat and electricity. When graphene becomes price competitive…it could significantly disrupt the manufacturing and infrastructure industries.”[viii]

5. iMoneyCenter. As Forbes put it: “Your cellphone will become a global bank. Mobile money accounts already outnumber traditional bank accounts in parts of the developing world, and new technology will turbocharge that trend, allowing payments to anyone, anywhere, in local currencies.”[ix]

6. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Tiny tags can be put on pretty much anything, or anyone, and track where it is at any time, all over the world.[x] This technology is cheap and easy to use. The tags can even contain sensors that keep track of how well the item is doing, and what it is doing.[xi]

New Normal

Kevin Kelly said of the various kinds of small digital devices that are being created: “A few are shrinking to the size of the period following this sentence. These macroscopic measurers can be inserted into watches, clothes, spectacles, or phones, or inexpensively dispersed in rooms, cars, offices, and public spaces.[xii] Sensors can be built to watch and listen.” He also wrote: “Massive tracking and total surveillance are here to stay.”[xiii]

The machines are becoming ubiquitous.[xiv] Moreover, a lot of people like it this way. One report summarized the trend as “Our Love-Hate Affair With AI.”[xv]

The ramifications of the new era of machines for freedom and relationships of all kinds are immense.[xvi]

7. Gene Mapping and Synthetic Biology. This is popularly called the creation of “Designer Babies.” “It will provide us with the ability to customize organisms by writing DNA.”[xvii] “Today, a genome can be sequenced in a few hours for less than a thousand dollars.”[xviii] And at some point scientists foresee artificial memory implanting into peoples’ brains.[xix] Just download what you want to know—facts, dates, formulas, etc. Gene Mapping will impact agriculture and the energy sector (by producing biofuels) as well as medicine and education.[xx]

8. Personalized Medications. Medicine, from those used to treat advanced diseases to simple aspirin, will be personalized for each individual—“tailored to your DNA.”[xxi] These will likely be very expensive at first, further widening the gap between the upper and other classes.

9. Non-Communicative Relationships. A number of popular magazines each month present articles that tell men and women they need to turn off their electronic gadgets and talk to their spouse or significant other. The articles are detailed and specific, with advice like “look your spouse in the eye while you talk to her,” and “actually listen to the words he says and try to connect with his logic and feelings,” etc.

The volume of such articles suggests that this is a serious problem. Relationships are often victims of addiction to electronic devices, texts, messages, and other incoming communication that is more highly valued than interaction with the live person in the same room.

Relationships and Roboticships

Moreover, emerging technology will very likely throw a serious monkey-wrench into many relationships. VR (Virtual Reality[xxii]) is incredibly advanced now, and will soon be on the market in extensive ways. A person can slip on a VR helmet or glasses and be transported mentally to a whole new world. Some VR research and development is focused on porn, although the tech world prefers the term “alternative relationships.” How will this impact marriage, family, education, and stable relationships?

Robotics have reached the point that lifelike “partner dolls,” sometimes called “sex dolls”, that talk and interact are already available.[xxiii] Soon, experts say, they’ll be easily accessible online and sold in our corner neighborhood stores.[xxiv] It’s a potential revolution in lifestyles, and the impact on relationships will certainly be real.[xxv] It is unclear how this will influence marriage and family, but the prospects seem quite negative.

A number of apps try to fulfill the same need—for relationships in an electronic format.[xxvi] If we find it difficult now to put down our phones or take off our headphones to engage in meaningful conversation and relationships, imagine how difficult it will be to turn off the robots, apps, and VR glasses.[xxvii] VR, and lifelike personal relationship robots, can be programmed (or told by the user) to never argue, nag, disagree, shout, or storm away.[xxviii] Again, such devices won’t take the place of quality, mature relationships, but they could very well hurt or make such relationships more difficult.[xxix]

10. The Rise of the Algorithms. Online technology now employs numerous advanced algorithms and AI technologies that are learning to do everything from sensing where our eyes are gazing (in order to know our interests and sell to us)[xxx] to what our politics are (as mentioned above, this could be to allow providers like Facebook and Google, or others, to determine what news feeds to send us—to promote their own political goals), to how empty the milk carton in our fridge is (in order to order a fresh one).

Schwab said: “Amazon and Netflix already possess algorithms that predict which films and books we may wish to watch and read. Dating and job placement sites suggest partners and jobs—in our neighborhood or anywhere in the world—that their systems [algorithms] figure might suit us best.

The Man AI in Charge

“What do we do? Trust the advice provided by an algorithm or that offered by family, friends, or colleagues? Would we consult an AI-driven robot doctor with a near perfect diagnosis success rate—or stick with the human physician with the assuring bedside manner we have known for years?”[xxxi]

AI is tasked with watching us and learning from us, and as AIs become smarter, some of them will be incredibly effective forecasters. Companies may even be valued based on their AI. For example, Kelly wrote: “Amazon’s greatest asset is not its Prime delivery service but the many millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over the decades.”[xxxii] These reviews, and the AI that runs them, learns from them, and uses them to help predict what books each user is likely to enjoy, is a huge asset.

The concept of establishing corporate boards of directors made up entirely of Artificial Intelligence is discussed openly and seriously.[xxxiii] Do we want algorithms in charge of everything?

In education, the possibilities are seemingly endless—and just as alarming. Kelly wrote: “The tiny camera eyes that now stare back at us from any screen can be trained with additional skills…researchers at MIT have taught the eyes in our machines to detect human emotions. As we watch the screen, the screen is watching us, where we look, and how we react.

“Since this perception is in real time, the smart software [algorithms] can adapt what I’m viewing. Say I am reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition.”[xxxiv]

This means that the text of the book is changing before you read it, based on what you have read so far and how you reacted. In other words, the computer is in effect censoring what you read before you even read it.

What about the author’s intent? Well, that depends. The AI, or the people who commission and oversee the AI, may decide to carefully protect the original text, or they may not. They may edit, censor, distract, etc.—whatever they think best achieves their goals.

Remember that thing called Thinking?

They may even have different ways of dealing with different people—like Google gaming the search system so that people who look up a certain Republican candidate get the most negative articles about him on the first page, while those who search for his Democratic opponent get the most flattering articles (or vice versa).

Or they might simply guide your searches to the companies who paid them the most to do so. If these guides are personalized and targeted to each individual user (like in the movie Minority Report), different readers will literally be getting a very different education. One student will read very different things than a second student, while the third reads yet another thing—all determined by AI and/or those who program and control the AI.

Kelly continued: “Or, if it realizes I am reading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action.”[xxxv] If we choose such functions on a menu, that’s one thing. But what happens if the big businesses or the cyber-governmental-industrial-complex just decides that this kind of censorship is best for the people? Or for a certain group or type of people, such as those from a certain religion or political party?

On purely educational grounds, having the computer supply definitions, commentaries and links is bad for thinking. It teaches rote dependence on experts, even if the expert is an AI. If we don’t have to question, ponder, or debate the books we read, we’ll be thinking a lot less. The words censorship and brainwashing aren’t farfetched in this context.

What about politics? The media and party-media machines already spread a lot of false information. What will happen when algorithms take over the media spin? It will personalize to each reader, each person using the Internet (or whatever kind of Supernet or Skynet takes its place). As such, the AI will learn how to confuse each person the most effectively. Again, this isn’t far from the personalized billboards and ads in the movie Minority Report.

(Un)Locked Doors

On an even larger scale, if an algorithm claims to predict which of various candidates would make the best president, prime minister, judge or senator, do we just give up voting altogether? After all, the voters seldom put in leaders who truly deliver what they promised. Or will the experts try to convince us that an algorithm-based AI should be our president and Congress and Court and make our top government decisions—getting rid of human error altogether?

And in all this, let’s not forget that someone can access the algorithms. All computers can be hacked—so far. As author Marc Goodman put it: “There’s never been a computer system that’s proven unhackable.”[xxxvi] Bigger technologies mean bigger hacks, with more drastic impact on people.

And won’t the growth of the Internet just funnel more and more power to a few elites who control the algorithms? The answer is “Yes. Emphatically yes!”

In fact, is there any way to stop this from happening?

11. “Reshoring.” This means that when high tech processes like 3D printing, gene mapping, and RFID tagging become mainstream around the world, many industrial jobs will be lost—but a lot of high-tech jobs will move back to the most advanced nations in search of highly-trained workers with expertise in areas conducive to high tech.[xxxvii] Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. It may not happen at all. “…many workers [may]…end up permanently unemployed, like horses unable to adjust to the invention of the tractors.”[xxxviii]

12. Portfolio Careers. These occur where a person’s career includes doing several different jobs for different employers in the same day.[xxxix] For example, one person might be a teacher during the school day, a restaurant manager during the evenings, and an eBay seller in his spare time—all to make ends meet. Portfolio careers may become very widespread in the new economy. A lot of people probably won’t like such a development, leading to increased class divisions and conflicts.[xl]

13. Even Greater Class Divide. As Schwab wrote: “…half of all assets around the world are now controlled by the richest 1% of the global population, while the lower half” of the population control less than 1% of world assets.[xli] Or as the Tapscotts put it: “…the global 1 percent owns half of the world’s wealth while 3.5 billion people earn fewer than 2 dollars a day.”[xlii]

To be continued next week …

NOTES

[i] Schwab, 15, 147-148; see also Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, 2016, 50-51; Brynjolfsson, 14-20; See Sam Smith, “The Truth About the Future of Cars,” Esquire, April 2016, 69-74; Erin Griffith, “Disconnected,” Fortune, August 1, 2016, 44.

[ii] See Smith, 69-74.

[iii] Scwhab, 15; see also Brynjolfsson, 36-37; Kelly, 53.

[iv] Schwab, 15, 22, 161-167.

[v] Andrea Smith, “Print Your Candy and Eat it Too,” Popular Science, January 2015, 24.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Schwab, 16.

[viii] Ibid., 17.

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“Attack Business, as Usual”

November 2nd, 2016 // 6:58 am @

Washington’s Current Slump
(And the Solution)

Growing or Shrinking?

decline_graphTo pay for the national debt, including the unfunded mandates and entitlements ahead, “Uncle Sam needs more than $429,108.73 per person.”[i] To figure out how this directly impacts you, just write down how much you make a year—and multiply it by the number of years you plan to keep working. (Not a perfectly precise approach, but it will get us in the ballpark.) Then multiply $429,108 by the number of people in your family. Find the difference between the two numbers, and that’s how taxes will impact you in the years ahead.

For many Americans, the taxes in this reality are higher than the total amount of money they’ll make. Which is why politicians want to take most of it from the rich. But when they do, the wealthy find ways to move their businesses and savings abroad or into other financial vehicles—hurting jobs, investment, and making the economic struggles of average Americans even more difficult.

However we slice this, it’s a massive problem. It is already hurting almost all Americans (as seen in the Great Recession beginning in 2008, and growing ever since). Government stimulus, printing of inflationary money, and low gas prices have dampened how deeply we feel this problem right now—but these aren’t going to last forever. At some point the bubble will burst, and the economy is in for a tough time. All of us will be directly impacted.

But Washington hardly seems to notice. During elections most candidates promise real change, but it seldom materializes, at least not in positive ways. In fact, since 2008 we’ve seen a stubbornly sluggish economy. Washington puts out positive statistics each month, but most people aren’t feeling any kind of economic boom. And 90 days later Washington revises its past statistics—they are routinely much worse than originally announced.

Yet for some reason, the initial positive announcements make big headlines, while the revisions are usually buried in fine print. It’s almost as if the mainstream media is trying very hard to make the current Administration look as good as possible, and sway the election in their favor as well.

Safe and Secure

It may also be that Washington actually doesn’t notice how hard this economy is for most Americans. As “Phillip Longman recently noted in the Washington Monthly, the per capita income of Washington, D.C. in 1980 was 29 percent above the average for Americans as a whole; in 2013 that figure was 68 percent.”[ii] That’s 68 percent more! To put this in concrete terms, a person making $15 per hour would be compared to a person making $25 per hour. Or compare a person making $4000 per month to the 68% increase: $6720. Is it any wonder that Washington doesn’t feel the pinch quite so much as Joe American?

Compared to average Americans, Washington is doing a lot better. So why would they worry? For many in the nation’s capital, it must feel like time to fiddle, not worry that Rome is burning. Imagine how you’d be doing with 68 percent more money each month. (68% more of any amount seems fantastic. I’d be fiddling, too.)

Along with the struggling economy—largely a result of Washington’s increasing mountain of red tape that is choking American businesses—the U.S. is continuing to spend a lot of money on national security programs that aren’t working. “Since 9/11,” an investigation in The Atlantic reported, “the United States has spent $1 trillion to protect the homeland. The new security state is vast—and growing.” But “are we any safer?”[iii]

The experts answer that yes, we are a bit safer in some ways.[iv] But not even close to $1 trillion worth—and besides, we are less safe in a number of other ways.[v] Less safe, in fact, than we were when Bush won his second term or Obama was elected the first and second times. Specifically, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still around, Iraq is a mess, ISIS is growing, our privacy is dwindling (along with our spending power), and the threats from places like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have actually increased, along with the growing dangers of cyber and other non-traditional attacks (chemical, biological, lone wolf, dirty bomb, etc.).

It seems the more we spend, the more vulnerable we are. Our lack of a coherent and widely-supported national grand strategy has made things significantly worse over the past decade.

As if this weren’t enough, we are also now facing a growing threat of serious economic conflict with China, which is buying up contracts and supply chains for natural resources around the world. Unlike U.S. firms that work largely on their own capital or that borrowed from banks or investors, all governed by boards and shareholders, Chinese firms are managed by a central government approach—even more controlling than British mercantilism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Circling Closer

We’re right not to follow the Chinese model, since central controls undermine freedom. But the differences between our system and theirs skew the way economic statistics are reported, meaning that few Americans realize how bad our economic outlook really is. For example, in the latest Fortune 100 rankings of the biggest businesses in the world, the U.S. has 38 companies on the list, all of which are private.[vi] In contrast, China has 18 companies on the list; 16 of these are owned by the government.[vii] Combine the totals of these 16 businesses, and the Chinese government owns by far the biggest business in the world.[viii] Nobody else is even close.

Here’s another way to look at this: of the biggest 5 businesses in the world, one (Walmart) is a U.S. company and the next three are Chinese—all owned by the government in Beijing.[ix] The combined revenues of these three Chinese businesses are double that of Walmart, and over three times the revenue of the fifth biggest company in the world, Royal Dutch Shell oil.[x]

In comparison, Europe is home to 29 of the biggest 100 businesses in the world, 28 of which are private, while 1 is owned by the government of France.[xi] Furthermore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are home to a total of 11 of the 100, and all are privately owned.[xii] Together Russia, Brazil and Mexico are home to 4 of the world’s largest 100 businesses; 1 (in Russia) is private and the other 3 are government owned (one from each of these nations on the last list).[xiii]

In short, of the world’s biggest 100 businesses and largest producers of global wealth and prosperity, 20 are owned by a government, 16 of them by one single government: China. Yet Washington keeps hobbling American entrepreneurs and investors with increasing regulations that stifle our ability to compete. Yes, China’s economy has slowed a bit this year, but their growth is still way ahead of the United States—and their slowdown will likely mean they’re less willing to keep carrying our debt load (very bad news for our economy).

It’s time for Washington to take note of our gloomy economic outlook, addiction to government overspending and growing debt, and a very expensive and bureaucratic national security apparatus that is more hat than cattle—as the saying goes in Texas. For this vitally important change to happen, we’ve got to stop expecting so much from the White House and demand a lot more from Congress. Until this occurs, we will keep declining in an “attack business, as usual” approach to the economy.

Forward or Back

All this that I have described here is a recipe for major American decline. And it is our current path.

With all that said, I’m an optimist. I believe the best years for America and the world are still ahead. But how soon we initiate those “better years” largely depends on the Congressional elections in 2016. We need a Congress that will finally stand up for the American people (against the executive and judicial branches) and get serious about creating a truly free, booming economy.

We haven’t had such a Congress for decades—and we’ve been in decline ever since that trend started. Such forces of decline are now snowballing, meaning that the actions of the next Congress will largely determine America’s trajectory for the 21st century.

[i] Harry S. Dent, Boom & Bust, July 2016

[ii] Cited in The Atlantic, September 2016, p. 102

[iii] Steven Brill, “Are We Any Safer?” The Atlantic, September 2016

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See ibid.

[vi] See Fortune, August 1, 2016, 110-119

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

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