Influencing the Right, Part IV

There will be a little more. rdj

In re: the Science & Objectivity debate — has it never occurred to you that the whole of Marx could be reduced to the statement (not his) that, “The self-interest of the working class is the best hope of humanity?”

And if that’s fair — when did Marx ever speak in behalf of either “reason” or altruism? — why should you say that I “sound” like a YAFer? (Actually, I sound like a Texan, that being my accent.)

I suppose I could cite you various writings on Waco, but the principal one is “The Ashes of Waco,” Simon & Schuster 1995, Syracuse U. Press, circa 1998.

Dick J. Reavis

The main problem I see with the evolution versus inteligent design debate is that it’s all based on an “either-or” premise, when what’s really going on is an “and” situation. Evolution happens. Kammerer’s study of the midwife toad clearly shows the adaptability of a species to environment and mutations in various species can become part of that species’ DNA. But the question then arises, “Why evolution”? My answer is that it’s part of some plan created on a level we humans don’t grasp yet. I think that we’re experiencing the presence of the divine and the effects of evolution simultaneously. I also think that experiencing the divine is not confined to the limits of organized religion.

So now we come to the conflict within the parameters of Public Education about what constitutes religion and how the policy of separation of church and state factor into the mix and how do children learn, anyway, and how are they being taught? I see it as having a lot to do with fear. Fear that some more powerful entity will cut public school funding and cost principals and teachers their jobs. Fear that a child being kept back a year so he can really learn some basic, necessary tools for life (like reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) will be permanently damaged and forever friendless by being stuck with some sort of negative label. Fear of job loss on the part of teachers if their classes don’t make the right scores on TASS and the other standardized tests that purport to measure learning. (How does one measure learning anyway? People learn different things in different ways. If I’d been taking an Algebra I class under today’s system, I’d have failed and been labelled “dumb in math” forever after). Fear adds yet another reason to dumb down the curriculum and get all in a knot over the ID v. Evolution debate. Fear should play no part in education. When students fear their teachers, they won’t ask questions, and if they don’t ask, they won’t learn. When teachers fear their principals, they become a force of negativity within the system. When parents bow to the “higher knowledge” of teachers and principals, they opt-out of being an alternative influence on their children and teach their children to accept whatever the established authority pronounces. As far as I’m concerned, if the subject is taught well, scoring well on the wretched test should be a piece of cake. (I had an innovative Algebra I teacher and after getting a D on the first report card went on to earn A’s thereafter).

So now it’s the loudest voice that carries the greatest weight, urging schools to take the appeasement route, purchase factually-incorrect textbooks loaded with misinformation, and allow teachers and principals to be god, rather than partners in the enterprise of learniing. Public schools are still using a “one-size fits all” approach to education and tend to dumb down the curriculum so that no child (or parent) feels discriminated against. Then there is all the resultant hoo-hah, because not only can Johnny not read, write, spell, punctuate, or know enough math to balance his checkbook, but he’s being done out of a college scholarship because all the Asian kids busted their butts in high school and made better grades! Teachers “teach the test” because the scores matter more than the information. It’s sick and loathsome!!!

When I was in public school in the days of yore, there was such a thing as an “excused absence.” Mom wrote a note to the teacher saying her child had the chicken pox or a strep throat or a broken leg or whatever, and there was no penalty. No such thing anymore. Have a cold? Too bad. Better come to class anyway because you’re allowed only five days’ absence per semester or your grade automatically drops. I bet this rule doesn’t apply to high school football players! This rule forces sick kids into the classroom, where they can infect the whole class. This rule turns kids into automotons who will carry over the lesson into the workplace and infect lots more folks with ever-more-resistant flu germs (they mutate/evolve, too). Our children are learning some Really Bad lessons from their public school experiences.

Not everyone can have a Greenbriar or some other alternative education experience. The next-best thing is for parents to get involved with their children’s education. Check the homework. Visit with the teachers and principals. Listen to what your kids have to say about school, teachers, homework, etc. Let the education demi-gods know that you care and that you’re watching. Give your kids books and access to more books. Make Rules And Enforce Them. And don’t automatically take the teacher’s word over your kid’s. There are bad teachers who have tenure/seniority and aren’t going to be fired no matter what. There are stupid teachers who take the easiest route until they’re entitled to retire with a miniscule pension. Parents have to be willing to fight for their kids’ rights to a good education. This path isn’t always the easiest path, but it’s a good path.

I spent the most intense 15 years of my life working with and for Greenbriar School. It’s the most political thing I’ve ever done. I served on every committee except the finance committee; I taught; I was one of the transportation gang; I vetted potential teachers, helped create publicity, was the in-town phone number for years. I saw kids develop a love of learning and the self-disciplinary tools to help them keep on learning for a lifetime. I saw kids develop respect for their teachers, not fear or derision. I saw kids grow into self-assured (not uppity)people who could work comfortably with those who had power over them. They’re out in the world right now, working, earning, making a difference because they see the world differently.

This is, sadly, not the case in public schools nowadays. Students (and their parents) expect to be promoted from grade to grade whether they merit it or not. Because of the directive to teach the test, school becomes all about what I call “regurgitation education,” where he who parrots best gets the best grade. What are these poorly-trained kids going to do if they do get into college and run into someone like Dr. Malof, who taught the American Literature class I took at UT a lifetime or so ago? Dr. Malof would come into class each day and scrawl a word on the chalkboard and that word was the focus of discussion. And he was looking for original thoughts. The rule was to not repeat anything anyone had said in class. Not Dr. Malof, not yourself, not any class member. Not from any discussion in class or from anything written in a paper or on a test. New ideas. New thoughts. Every class meeting and every test. I found it a fun challenge; today’s public school high-schoolers coming into such an environment probably will not. I feel sorry for them.

There is an outcry about the Asian influnce. It seems to take the position that by being successful in the public school reality, Asian students are denying non-Asian students their god-given right to promotion, honors, college scholarships, etc. What a delusion. It’s all about commitment to excellence, insistance on regular study-time, parental involvement, expectations, and leadership.

I’m really glad I don’t have children in the public school system. I’m worn out from meetings and the challenges inherent in making sure my kids grew up to be good people. If time rolled back, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, however.

And now I’ve nattered on enough. For those of you who have heard me say “don’t get me started on education”, this is what I meant.

Kate Braun

Most, but not all, of the research on complex adaptive systems has focused on ecological systems and, yes, it’s been an orgy of mathematical modelers spawning stuff that’s not real helpful to community organizers. But there are some gradually-emerging and fascinating parallels that do provide insights into the workings of human systems (social, economic, political.) What are the characteristics in those systems that promote adaptability to changing circumstances, resilience, a critical level of stability, creativity, etc.?

The folks associated with Santa Fe Institute are often ground zero for a lot of this thinking, but if you’re looking for clues about its possible political applications — and if you’re a non-technical, generalist schmuck, such as myself — I’d recommend reading “Panarchy,” edited by Lance Gunderson and Buzz Holling. It’s a pretty accessible read and makes some cool points. And I think the emerging hypotheses about what seems to work best are pretty consistent with the values that most of us hold.

Dennis Fitzgerald

No, Marx would not have said that “the self-interest of the working class is the best hope of humanity.” He might have said “the interest of the working class is the best hope of humanity,” but this is different. Group interest and self-interest are not equivalent.

Whether Marx ever spoke on behalf of reason is irrelevant, as he certainly used reason. I don’t see what altruism has to do with any of this. I’m not arguing for altruism.

OK, you REASON like a YAFfer, then. I was speaking loosely. But, if you are laboring under the illusion that self-interest and group interest are the same thing, I take it back. In that case, you are just confused.

I will look for your book. BTW, do you have access to the transcripts of negotiations between Koresh and the FBI?

Gavan Duffy

Where do you live? I gave my transcripts to the Texas Writers Collection at Texas State University, San Marcos (the former Southwest Texas State.) You can look at them there. I think audio tapes are floating around, maybe available on the net.

Some people hear things in them that the transcribers–and my ears–don’t discern. I think I’m the only journalist who ever read the transcripts, and none that I know of listened to the tapes.

Now, tell me: where does Marx distinguish between self-interest and group interest? It seems to me that even as early as the German Ideology, he says that the driving force of history is that we have to eat to live.

It’s individuals who have to eat. Groups can’t eat for them.

Dick J. Reavis

In a remarkable display of brevity others might emulate, Dick summarizes his position with the quote, “The self-interest of the working class is the best hope of humanity?” Please explain how that constitutes a “throwback to PLP?”

Incidentally, Dick wrote a cool book about Mexican political culture called “Conversations with Moctezuma,” which I recommend.

David Hamilton

Who said anything about a “throwback to PL?” I admit that PL threw me out, but there aren’t enough soldiers in any army to throw me back.

Dick J. Reavis

Geez, don’t y’all remember anything from the old days? Reality is those illusions which stay put!
On a more serious note, I am intrigued by Dennis’s statements:

“In the overall scheme of things, what’s best for us is best for me (or, at least, for the collective me’s, if not necessarily and always me personally) and, by implication, vice versa.”

“… it is a failure of reason not to recognize that the decimation of Africa’s population (to cite just one example) is not in my long-term, flourishing self-interest. And it is a failure of reason not to recognize that an inequitable distribution of power (i.e., the potential for exercising force) is not in my long-term self-interest.”

It would be very pleasant to believe these things. On what basis, Dennis, do you assert them? What’s your reasoning?

Bill Meacham

Here’s one quote from another of Dick’s postings: “I insist that what I want is, ipso facto, what’s best for humanity, and further, that if everybody respected himself or herself in the same way, the world would not be run by Halliburton.” The first clause is PLP tactically, if not philosophically. The rest of the quote is idealistic at best.

Beyond that, Dick’s earlier discussion of “brute force” is exactly where I draw the line. Maybe I am misreading, but it sounded like pre-emptive war to me, and it certainly sounded — again — like PLP tactics. The end does not justify the means. A means is an end in itself, whatever the later results. A means must be engaged only if it is consistent with (our) reasonable principles. Self-defense is the only allowable violence. Otherwise, we have met the enemy, and it is us.
As to the particular quote in your message above, you know that I agree with that. Want to talk about the details?

Paul Spencer

I live in New York, upstate and down.

A few years ago, I found someone who claimed to have tapes, but my messages to him went unanswered. I may not be able to resurrect the old mail, as I think it’s on a long-dead computer.
I don’t know that Marx ever explicitly distinguished self-interest and group interest, but I doubt he was ever sufficiently careless to conflate them.

I recognize (without citation to chapter and verse) that Marx wanted workers to develop class consciousness, or to take as their own the interest of their class. True enough. That he recognized the existence of “false consciousness,” seems to me, indicates that he recognized the distinction between self-interest and group interest. In the intervening century and a half, at any rate, we’ve learned a lot more about identification than was available to Marx. We know, for instance, that people are capable of identifying with multiple groups simultaneously. At one and the same time, one can identify oneself with one’s class, one’s religion, one’s ethnicity, one’s alma mater, one’s favorite baseball team, etc. You yourself have identified yourself as a journalist, a member of the working class, a Texan, etc.

So you have a personal identity that differs from these various group identities and thus a personal interest that differs (at least sometimes, like when they clash) from the interests of these groups. Anyway, because so very few can so completely identify themselves with a group that they cannot distinguish between the group’s interest and their own, I’m unwilling to give up the distinction.

Bill, you forgot these…
Reality is a mescaline deficiency.
Reality is a policy phased out in the Eisenhower administration.

Gavan Duffy

I thought somebody might challenge that. Right on, Bill!

To save everyone else the hassle of scrolling to the bottom of this, I previously wrote “… it is a failure of reason not to recognize that the decimation of Africa’s population (to cite just one example) is not in my long-term, flourishing self-interest. And it is a failure of reason not to recognize that an inequitable distribution of power (i.e., the potential for exercising force) is not in my long-term self-interest.”

Then Bill replied, “It would be very pleasant to believe these things. On what basis, Dennis, do you assert them? What’s your reasoning?” So, okay, what’s the reasoning behind such grandiose expansions of my self-interest? Brace yourselves! BUT, before we start, understand that I and even that selfish Dick guy are far too selfless and enlightened to be moved by any of this.

These are simply arguments you can use with Republican yahoos. As I said, I think the rapid and likely unstoppable expansion of globalization is a critical factor in the expanded reach of my self-interest. The net results of globalization may thus far have served mainly to bolster my privileged economic position, but can I reasonably expect that I and my children and my grandchildren (assuming my two picky daughters eventually find mates) will continue to be immune to the catastrophic difficulties “over there?”

Epidemics such as AIDS are now global issues. The pace of international travel means that massive epidemics in one place constitute a threat in every place. And don’t count on a magic vaccine to save us. Those millions of HIV-positive Africans are generating mutated strains of the virus faster than medical science can run.

Combating such epidemics not only makes good sense from a defensive self-interest standpoint, it can also yield some surprising benefits. For example, I saw a news report recently about the discovery of two long-time African sex workers (Sudanese, I think) who not only did not have AIDS but who, alone among all their co-workers, were shown not to be HIV-positive – despite having had unprotected sex with probably hundreds of infected men. Researchers were very excitedly trying to find out whether there was an antibody or something else in the women’s chemistry that was giving them immunity.

This is potentially the human variation of the benefits we have historically derived from ethno-botanists’ research into the medicinal uses of various plants in far-away places. Bottom line: that’s not just a bunch of poor black people over there, that’s a storehouse of ancient genetic diversity that could benefit all of us in ways we can’t even imagine. Saving them is in my self-interest.

Then there are the issues of poverty, starvation and government corruption. Not my problem? Those conditions create ideal breeding grounds for drug, crime and terrorist syndicates. Anyone can recognize that it would be dangerous if a neighboring state were taken over in some way by organized or disorganized crime, but it ought to be clear even to Republican reasoning that today all the world is, potentially at least, our neighbor.

Is it reasonable to assume that only Muslim Africans might be inclined to terrorism? Can we reasonably assume that none of the rest are ever going to violently object to the fact that the US appears willing to bomb people but not to feed them? Poverty is the ultimate systemic threat facing humanity. Even the former head of the IMF, Michael Camdessus, has been quoted as saying that the widening gaps between rich and poor nations are potentially socially explosive. If the poor are left hopeless, he said, poverty will undermine societies through confrontation, violence and civil disorder. People will not fade away quietly, and in one way or another we will all be sucked into their despair.

Finally, there is the economic aspect. The self-interest case may be a bit weaker here, but it’s legitimate and likely to become more significant in the near future. Even excluding South Africa, U.S. agricultural exports to sub-Saharan Africa reached almost $600 million between 1990 and 1996 – well above the total to all of Central and Eastern Europe. More significantly, Africa is also an important source of strategic minerals and other natural resources, and an important supplier of oil to the U.S. (projected to increase to 25% by 2015). It would be no simple job maintaining access to those resources in the midst of civil chaos and terrorist strikes.

Africa’s real economic potential, however, lies in its human resources – as producers and consumers. With some other countries, notably China, emerging as economic powerhouses, US exports are going to be facing increasingly stiff competition. The US already is grappling with a growing and unsustainable trade deficit. The prospects for larger African markets may look pretty weak today, but growing rather than diminishing prosperity there defintely would be in our future economic self-interest.

Ah… it’s past midnight, I’m running out of steam here, and I haven’t even got to the second part – the inequitable distribution of power thing. It seems logical to me that a broad and equitable distribution of power tends to create a far more stable and resilient system than does a concentration of power. (The bigger they are, the harder they fall.) And it logically would seem to be in my self-interest that the institutions I rely on be stable and resilient. I would also reason that that this is true whether you’re talking about political, economic or military power – or at least I would try to reason that out if I weren’t so tired. How about if we let one of our comrades tackle the reasoning on this one? And if nobody agrees with me, I’m going to take steps to revoke every one of your Wobbly memberships.

Dennis Fitzgerald

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