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Monday, October 20, 2008


In a comment from a previous post I was asked to start a new line dealing with the idea of right/wrong/moral, etc. So here is my attempt at it.

I grew up in a very conservative denomination of Christianity where spirituality is defined morally. If one wants to please God then one must act in a predefined moral way. Of course the outcome of such thinking is legalism (as a side note, legalism is death to spiritual maturity). Legalism is a strict moral code with God as the final authority. But as I began to explore my own faith and spirituality I found that morality is not based in legalism, but rather righteousness.

Righteousness is striving to act in the right way in the right time. There are no set and hard rules, for each situation will be different requiring a different right action. Which brings us to the point of this post: How do we know how to act? How do we determine the right action in the right time? I believe it comes down to character development.

I am not sure if we are all good or bad from birth. I think much of it is learned over time. I think it comes down to finding that balance between good for the individual and good for the community. Finding that balance is no easy task. As I reflect upon writing this post, my mind keeps moving towards specific, but I am trying to keep it abstract. So how do we teach character development and moral balance without falling into the legalism of endless does/don'ts lists?

I will end this post here and wait for a few comments to help find a direction for further posts on this subject.


Unknown said...

Development and education…how do we prepare the youth of today for the world of tomorrow?
One of the classic parables of the bible relays the concept “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for life”. This concept is one of many examples that illustrates why the best short term solution is rarely the best for the individual over time. The reason for this is because the individual is not alone, but instead is a small part of a large whole. There have been countless philosophical arguments made for these principles and many have become accepted in most educated societies. However, these concepts are normally relegated to the highly educated few and the majority is increasingly less aware and susceptible to flawed arguments by gifted speakers that could lead to their society’s fall. As educated societies become more and more secularized in action (independent of the stated beliefs of the society) less opportunities for philosophical introspection and evaluation is available. It therefore becomes necessary to explore how complex thought can be taught and compete with overly simplified unrealistic concepts. In other words “Tell a man the answer to the question, solve one problem; teach a man to think and he will understand”
With all members of any one given society having different abilities and level of understanding how do we best provide a “one size fits all” program to teach how to think? For simplification let us use the United States o f America as a case study. The government acknowledges that education is of paramount importance to all of its citizens and that education is invaluable in bettering the country as a whole. But, even with this heightened level of importance placed on education for the progression of society the only focus is put on knowledge. In fact, with the current political atmosphere intelligence is not only not promoted but is often removed and/or hidden in an attempt to prevent hurt feelings from lack of intelligence. Intelligence is rarely measured or understood in common everyday life. How many times has someone been described as smart because they know a lot? That is not to make the argument that knowledge is not valuable, instead it is just a statement that the most important component to progression of society is the ability to make a decision and to determine right and wrong (i.e. intelligence). We must then teach how to think or how to determine the solution instead of simply just teaching the solution.
A perfect illustration between intelligence and knowledge is man vs. computer. Computers are dumb! Sure they can perform millions of calculations millions of times faster than a man can but they are incapable of determining what the calculation means. It is the meaning we all need to strive for in order to obtain understanding. Unfortunately, education of the youngest and most open minds is increasingly being performed by those with the least understanding, even if they have the greatest knowledge. This is because education is a result of itself which creates a downward spiral of understanding. Teaching is more and more like programming a computer (if this, do that) resulting in an entitlement based society that it is quick to dismiss accountability by saying “no one told me” much like a computer not being expected to react to a non-programmed input.
How do we then teach to think and to solve problems? The syllabus or what we teach (i.e. science, math, reading, writing…etc.) does not need to change. Instead, what we must change is how we present the information and what/how we reward (e.g. grades) the students during their education process. This is not to imply that those that have eroded the American education system did so with anything less than noble motives. An example is the drive from mainly subjective evaluations of thought to mainly pure objective ones. The thought behind this was to make it fair, however the result was as far as one could get from fair because subjective theories (however supported) are no longer stated as theories and become fact. Thus, something that was meant to prevent a few from being discriminated against (receiving a lower grade) because someone disagreed with them actually causes a greater amount to be objectively wrong with no ability for the teacher or student to defend him/herself. A student should be evaluated on the why, not the what, and the reward should be based on the justification of the decision, not the decision.
The lack of understanding and knowing why is the reason that students are generally not able to be “combat effective” on day one of their job, thus requiring on the job training. This also greatly limits our ability to freely move around to serve in different functions of society because people confuse experience doing the exact same thing over ability to excel and making decision regardless of the circumstances. As our society becomes more and more specialized and the technology curve becomes more vertical, this is especially disconcerting because we have less and less ability to have people perform “on the job training” or apprenticeships because the next generation isn’t doing what the previous generation did and there is less room for trial and error.

Daav Corbet said...

Amen, preach it brother!! We do need change in the education system in America. But I think it is more than that. In America we have a cult of youth that is very powerful. But the true halmark of youth is not beauty, but inmaturity or naivete. What we need to develop is an appreciation for wisdom and wisdom only comes with age. When we champion the young and thier virtues over elders and thier wisdom then we will always have a society that lacks a certain amount of moral groundedness.

Daav Corbet said...

How would you specifically formulate the educational system in the USA to address this issue?

Unknown said...

I can’t be so bold as to suggest that I know what must be done tactically to correct the current American education problems but I feel that I could suggest a strategy shift.

You referred to the over celebration of youth and I can see examples of that abound in popular culture, but I think that is more of the symptom than the illness. In my view of the world, we have a fundamental lack of accountability. The goal of society should be the pursuit of complete and total individual accountability. I think the “celebration of youth” is a direct result of our aversion to allowing youth to fail, or more accurately to admit that the youth failed. In my own personal experiences it has been my failures that put me in the best position to compete against my peers in the “real world”. It is really easy to test our aversion to the word failure. If you say, sorry I failed at that, you will immediately invoke the person you are talking to, to justify your actions and tell you that it is ok. Of course it is ok!, failure is part of life. The real question becomes, how do we teach youth (and therefore all) to believe in their fallibility and how to advance forward from negative feedback?

This has to be done by re-invoking the study of metaphysics (the original meaning, not the perverted occultist current version). I believe this study would give everyone the chance to explore the meaning of the world and our place in it. That will have to bring inherent humility that will encourage all of us to have a better understanding of our individual weaknesses and accept them. When I say accept weaknesses I don’t mean to imply a defeatist attitude, in fact it is quite the opposite because it will allow us to see and celebrate the strengths of others without jealousy and envy.

When I say study metaphysics, I am calling for the study of the philosophical laws of the universe much in the same way science studies the physical ones. I realize that lacks description, (speaking of weaknesses, writing is one of my greatest!) but what I am trying to convey is that we study failure and rhetoric in a truly objective manner. That objectivity can only come through true intellectual honesty and intellectual honesty can only be derived from total accountability. I believe that there are fundamental truths and inherent right and wrong regardless of our personal or societal beliefs. We must therefore do all that we can to understand what “they” are to aid us in our pursuit of happiness. If we could teach the metaphysical equivalent to F=mA we could all derive the right decision for each circumstance from that fundamental truth, just as we know how to build a bridge. And not to carry the analogy too far, but perhaps with further study we would find that the truths of this plane of existence are just a part of much bigger truths, just as we have discovered non-Newtonian physics without disproving Newtonian physics.

Daav Corbet said...

Metaphysics is a large area, if you dont leave room to explore all of it, even the occultist version, then you may be missing out on fundamental portions of the equation that make the whole thing work. It may be the F=mA without the m.

How do you study a subject in an objective way that is prone to subjectivism? Metaphysics isn't really like physics because there are no set laws, or even postulates to build from. It is really open to interpretation and individualism.

Another point is personal accountability. To whom are we accountable? To the voice in our head, to our neighbors, to the government. Yes I think we need to be accountable, but the trick is holding people accountable without interfering in their lifes. That is why I go back to the pursuit of wisdom and character development. I know that I will make the right choice and hold myself to doing the right think to the best of my ability. But can I trust you to do the same thing? And what about those who refuse because they put their own needs, wants, desires above the wellfair of the group. All tricky points.

I think we need to educated with application not just knowledge. At some point we need to put school kids into experiences where they need to apply what they learn and not just testing. Apprenticeships should be reinstituted.

I know this is a wandering comment response. I will try to be more succinct in another post.

Unknown said...

I don’t think you understood what I was saying. I am trying to convey the central point that regardless of the susceptibility to subjectivism, the fundamental truths exist. If you will indulge a recent physical example that happened to me during work, I will try to illustrate my point better. We have developed an automated Epoxy mixing system for pipeline rehabilitation. During a recent trip, when I was in the field with the workers using the system, one of the pumps “dead-headed” and was shutting down. The reason for this was an excess line pressure drop caused by a more viscous fluid than expected. To solve the problem in the field I told them that we needed to change from a ¾” discharge hose to a 1” hose. This did not make any sense to everyone else in the field, in other words, they did not believe this would fix the problem. When we switched the hose the system performed without issue. The laws of physics (or fundamental truths) WERE, regardless of beliefs! That is my point, there are fundamental laws of philosophy and society that are independent of our beliefs. We see this to be true throughout history, when a society drove itself into the proverbial cliff by following ill conceived beliefs that did not match with the fundamental philosophical truths.

I realize it is hard to see how we get from here to there on the pursuit of the study of metaphysics, but remember we were once at the same place in our understanding of the physical world. How many societies were built around a small few who understood physics and controlled the population by their sorcery!

This is very likely to happen if we are not all accountable. Who are we accountable to? Society. Society has to be used as the independent verification of right and wrong. However, it is important to not confuse the people of the society with society itself. In other words, just because 95% of the people in the society think an action is best for the society does not mean it is! The litmus test has to be whether or not society benefits and not what society thinks is in its best interest. The founding fathers of our country made this point very clear during their deliberations on forming this country when they realized that mob rule is one of the biggest foes that we could face. In that vein, they formed a Republic instead of a true Democracy. My contention is this is fundamentally required because we have to have accountability and a mob has no accountability whereas a representative is held accountable for his/her actions. That is also why I believe our government is having so many issues as of late because with the increase technology of communication giving them the ability to instantly gauge public opinion via polls and we are now being governed by those polls. Exactly what Jefferson warned us against, the politicians can hide behind a guise of “who am I to deny the American will?”. When that is exactly their job to represent the people, make decision the people cannot make (the people are lacking of the information required to make the decision) and being held solely accountable for their decision. To refer back to the example above I could not listen to the workers, not because they are not smart and capable, but because they have no accountability and insufficient knowledge to make the decision.

So to close the loop a little on my line of thought, I believe that one of the fundamental truths of this world is that a decision without accountability is no decision at all. Also, I believe that from that fundamental truth we can derive many more “truths” of the philosophical world (metaphysics). Does the pursuit of understanding in metaphysics mean everyone will agree on the fundamental truths? Of course not, much in the same way that we at one time could not agree that the world is round. Not to put too fine a point, but obviously I am not that clear, agreement or consensus have absolutely nothing to do with truth or fact! So, susceptibility to subjectivism, individualism, or interpretation does not equal lack of laws or truths. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal….” and yet that was immediately interpreted as “white men” (so much for “self-evident”) instead of all human beings which is the true global/fundamental truth or as the Declaration refers to it Natural Laws.

Daav Corbet said...

Thanks for the clarification and the real life example. I agree with your general premise. A republic is better than a democracy and yet "the people" get to decide who runs the country and how the people decide is not based on quality but rather on perceived appearance. I am likely to say that the best form of government is a republic with the senators taken from a specially trained group of techno-philosophers educated for the purpose of leading. But then comes the issue of what direction is "best" for them to lead us. In creaps subjectivism.

Does metaphysics have a set of absolutes such as physics or is it more like quantum physics with high dosages of relativity?

Daav Corbet said...

If we are accountable to society but not the people then who says what is good? What is necessary is not always good. What is good for some may be bad for others. It was bad to spend any money rebuilding a city that exists below sea level. But then I do not live there and would have a completely different opinion if New Orleans was my home. Who gets to sit in judgement over the direction and course of society, what make them qualified?