brain

Mikado
Remember this picture? From "
Mikado," December 14, 2019. Pick-up sticks randomnly dropped to form a loose pile. Players take turns trying to remove a stick at a time without disturbing the others. (Source)  3

Circumstances change, priorities change. Ten months have gone by since I posted "Mikado." Covid-19, at that time, thad not yet upset the apple cart. We haven't the foggiest about if and when this pandemic will end, or whether some other pandemic will already be waiting in the wings. "There is no getting back to normal," we are told. "The sooner we accept that, the better." Quoting further, "The danger comes from hankering for normalcy again, rather than getting on with working out how to deal with whatever is ahead." Would it not be wise, therefore, to have the best qualified among us work on a number of plans to suit various outcomes?  4

I used to suggest that a meritorious Senate should take charge of arranging that by including among their members people with scientific bents of mind. Some six years ago—yes, I keep on repeating myself—some six years ago, I proposed that our Senate expand its "investigative role" into an "investigative, anticipating, and critical problem-solving role."* This never came to pass. Our Canadian Senate has failed us, I think. Badly and sadly. All I can do now is to explore myself how we might proceed to prevent a sinking ship from going under altogther. Am I up to it? I doubt it. Of course, I do.  5

Politicians these days, it is my impression, are focussing more on the economy as they have known it than on the spreading of Covid-19. They dream rather than hammer away at plans that cover both realities and variations thereof. That is what led me to suggest, in "Rhapsody in blue," creating a coupon-based economy alongside the existing money-based economy.* That should allow us to go either way.  6

For now, only coupons would serve to purchase food. Distributed by the government they would, unlike money, make food equitably available and inflation proof. Sure, this idea is subject to all kinds of ifs and buts, but those are details that, I hope, can be worked out. It is a basic idea that can be quickly refined by putting some heads together. It is an idea, also, that needs to be acceptable by folk at large, same as goes for measures for taming the spread of Covid-19. What we now have instead are massive, tumultuous demonstrations that themselves hasten the spread even more. Which brings me to my current topic.  7

"Seriously, is it not an astonishing fact," Spencer wrote, "that though on the treatment of offspring depend their lives or deaths, and their moral welfare or ruin; yet not one word of instruction on the treatment of offspring is ever given to those who will hereafter be parents? Is it not monstrous that the fate of a new generation should be left to the chances of unreasoning custom, impulse, fancy?"

      "For shoe-making or house-building, for the management of a ship or a locomotive engine, a long aprenticeship is needful. Is it, then, that the unfolding of a human being in body and mind, is so comparatively simple a process, that any one may superintend and regulate it with no preparation whatever?"  
9

These remarks called to mind an old rejoinder, "You need a licence to raise pigs ..."  10

Quoting a few lines from my Senate essay:

      "An effective educational experience ought to begin with parents having been properly prepared for parenting. What is the use of having compulsory formal education without a child's most important educators (parents) not being capable of providing it?"

      "For homes to provide a supportive environment for the young, we need la supportive environment for parents, to enable them to live up to their task. Supportive with, to be sure, a persuasive edge for the simple reason that probably not all parents are open to learning the skills of good parenting. A home environment needs to be harmonious and economically sufficient and stable. At this point, I am not even going to try to find an adequate answer to how we may achieve those conditions. But there is a thing that can be done: create a body capable and enabled to address the problem full-force, a body that requires expertise and connections in education, psychology, the world of finance and economics, and other areas of expertise in both the social and physical sciences. To be sure, living in a multicultural society, what many perceive as proper parenting skills, may not be so perceived by others. That is one reason for having senators cognizant and sympathetic to the plight of so many minorities. It takes a wise Senate indeed to write an appropriate white paper on that subject. Hence the need for senators from native quarters."
*

Many a capable senator notwithstanding, our Senate as a body has never cottoned on to undertake this duty to those who come after us.  10

Back to Herbert Spencer, in the context of the formal education of children:

      "From the parental functions let us now pass to the functions of the citizen."

      "Society is made up of individuals; all that is done in society is done by the combined action of individuals; and therefore, the combined actions of individuals only can be found in the solutions of social phenomena. But the actions of individuals depend on the laws of their natures; and their actions cannot be understood until these laws are understood. These laws, however, when reduced to their simplest expression, are found to depend on the laws of body and mind in general. Hence it necessarily follows, that biology and psychology are indispensable as interpreters of society. Or, to state the conclusions still more simply:—all social phenomena are phenomena of life—are the most complex manifestations of life—are ultimately dependent on the laws of life—and can be understood only when laws of life are understood."  
11

Spencer:

      "Of the knowledge commonly imparted in educational courses, very little is of any service in guiding a man in his conduct as a citizen. Only a small part of the history he reads is of practical value; and of this small part he is not prepared to make proper use."

      "Supposing even that you had diligently read, not only 'The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,' but accounts of all other battles that history mentions; how much more judicious would your vote be in te next election?"

      "That what it really concerns us is to know, is the natural history of society. We want all facts which help us to understand how a nation has grown and organized itself. Among these, let us of course have an account of its government; with as little as may be of gossip about the men who officered it, and as much as possible about te structure, principles, methods, prejudices, corruptions, &c., which it exhibited: and let this account not only include the nature and actions of the central government, but also those of local governments, down to their minutest ramifications. Let us of course also have a parallel description of the ecclesiastical government—its organization, its conduct, its power, its relations to the State: and accompanying this, the ceremonial, creed, and religious ideas—not only those nominally believed, but those really believed and acted upon. Let us at the same time be informed of the control exercised by class over class, as displayed in all social observances—in titles, salutations, and forms of address. Let us know, too, what were all the other customs which regulated the popular life out of doors and in-doors: including those which concern the relations of the sexes, and the relations of parents to children."

The above paragraph goes into great detail, especially about the division of labor and the workings of industry, but here's hoping you get the picture. It concludes:

      "And the highest office which the historian can discharge, is that of so narrating the lives of nations, as to furnish materials for a Comparative Sociology; and for the subsequent determination of the ultimate laws to which social phenomena conform."  
13

Indulge me for referring to something I wrote about 30 years ago from my personal experience: "Lesson from Leo: About History in our Schools"  14

Fast forward to the year 2020. Events are overtaken by events at an accelerating clip which makes it obvious that education is or should be a lifelong affair. It seems to me that media should pick up where formal schooling leaves off by keeping us up-to-scratch—unbiased media, that is, free from commercial pressures and constraints. Whether our media are supported by advertising or more directly by the taxpayer makes no difference to our wallets. Commerce recovers its media outlays in how much it charges us for goods and services.  15

At the time I am writing this, Covid-19 infections and deaths are sharply on the rise again, yet trongs of people are protesting against government measures to enforce the wearing of masks, social distancing, and avoiding large social gatherings. The lack of adequate inculcation of what knowledge is worth most, such as what makes for proper citizenship and for a due appreciation of how science serves people everywhere (regardless of the boners of individual scientists), is taking a heavy toll. And I haven't even touched here the greatest threat of all: global warming.  16

* * *

The devil, as they say, is in the detail. Spencer, getting into the details as he perceived them back in 1884, began by divvying activities for which learners needed to prepare themselves. Ranking them from top priority down, those:

      • 1. which directly minister to self-preservation;
      • 2. which, by securing the necessities of life, indirectly minister to self-preservation;
      • 3. which have for their end the rearing and discipline of offspring;
      • 4. which are involved in te maintenance of proper social and political relations;
      • 5. which make up the leasure part of life, devoted to the gratifiation of tastes and feelings.

He then went on to identifying subject matter to prepare learners for each of those activities. In the process of doing so he went on to what parts of certain subjects underly other subjects, finally ending up with scientific subjects underlying those. Conclusion: science is worth knowing most. Off hand, it looked all very rational to this old fogey. But ...  
17

Science is a work in progress, with many a revision of what appears true today turning not to be so tomorrow. Misleading even. I'll quote from an email by an internet correspondent, James Fisher:

      "Experts are often blinded by what Henry correctly notes are biases. Experts thought you could study the cranium size and determine intelligence (Samuel Morton), that intelligence was related to social class (Francis Galton), that IQ was a Bell Curve (Richard Herrnstein and James Murray) in which blacks were not favorably represented.

      "Then Stanford and Binet came along and gave us their 'IQ test' and stupidly as it turned out, forgetting it was only a test, and culturally biased at that, only to find it reified to the mistaken assumption that once a person’s IQ is determined that person is stuck with that score and concomitant opportunity for life.

      "Then Nobel Laureate for Physics (1956) William Shockley came along with no training in genetics, claiming his research indicated that blacks suffered from 'dysgenesis' (i.e. regressive intelligence). More recently, James Watson, of DNA Nobel Prize fame, claimed in 2007 that we should not expect much from Africa and Africans 'as they simply are not as intelligent as whites.' All of this of course is bullshit!

      "Experts have often fudged their research (Shockley was accused of this) to established outcomes expected. What is worse, people come to believe them 'because they are experts'."  
19

Conformation bias at work big time! "We tend to be attracted to experts with whom we can identify." To the advantage of majorities and to the detriment of minorities.  20

I tend to go along that at least some knowledge of science and in particular the "scientific method" (the continual critical evaluation of scientific practice and thought) is, or nearly is, of most worth. But as the above paragraphs by James Fisher show, as a foundation for some tree of knowledge it is rather wanting.  21

* * *

Contemplating the world as it is today, Spencer's classification is far too simplistic. To begin with, the notion of self-preservation being the most important activity, the one on which all others depend, does not stand up because self-preservation is bound up with society. In other words, no preservation of the individual without the preservation of society, or better put, humanity at large. Society from its very beginning: And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. A society of two.  22

Today, we need global cooperation to address what is worth dealing with most: global warming. This still leaves us with nuclear warfare, species extinction, pollution killing of our foodchain, total reliance on digital technology. And so on, and so forth. Mikado: a game of life and death. Played by politicians and demonstrators rampaging through the streets.  23


Footnotes

"On guard in a global environment."  *   fn1


I covered this topic in a regional newspaper as well, here.  *   fn2


The entire article.  *   fn3


"On guard in a global environment."  *   fn4

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