Monthly Archives: May 2016

Daniel Willingham on the importance of tribal learning

Daniel Willingham:

If behavior is mostly a matter of smart individuals adapting to the local ecology, then tribes inhabiting similar terrain should behave similarly. But if learning is mostly social, then tribes that are physically and/or culturally close should be more likely to behave similarly.

The results showed that cultural history and ecology both affect everything…but cultural history generally has the stronger effect. Within cultural history, phylogeny mattered more than spatial distance…

Socrates on how writing destroys our memory

Given all the concern about how computers may be making people dumber, I thought this quote from Socrates dug up by Abby Smith Rumsey was good to keep in mind:

Abby Smith Rumsey:

Socrates, the ur-techno-curmudgeon, warned that the invention of writing would lead to ignorance and ultimately the death of memory itself:

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Socrates got it wrong. It was the societies that entrusted their memories to papyrus, paper, and now computer chips that have immensely expanded the scope of human knowledge…

Michael R. Bloomberg on college safe spaces and microaggressions

Michael R. Bloomberg:

The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through “safe spaces,” “code words” and “trigger warnings” is, in my view, a terrible mistake.

The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them. A microaggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.

We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try — not in politics or in the workplace. In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess…

Andrew Sullivan on the rise of tyranny

Andrew Sullivan:

Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that?… the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat…

In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.”…

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment…

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities…

Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob, they constructed large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power…

Over the centuries, however, many of these undemocratic rules have been weakened or abolished…

What the 21st century added to this picture, it’s now blindingly obvious, was media democracy…

precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin…