Thursday, March 10, 2005

Replacing Failed Ideals with Realistic Strategies

"you younger libertarians would be well advised to focus your intellectual energies on the problem of uneven outcomes. What gave socialism much appeal to educated people was its promise that no one would be left desperately poor and neglected."

The "problem of uneven outcomes" is distinct from the "promise that no one would be left desparately poor and neglected."

Thomas Jefferson was beloved by the great 20th century liberal intellectuals because he affected democratic manners; John Adams was despised because he longed for the trappings of royalty. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are beloved billionaires because they forced Wall Street to conduct a more democratic IPO. Larry Ellison of Oracle is despised because he flies his private jets into San Jose in the middle of the night, laughing at the $10,000 fines as if they were parking tickets.

As long as people are respectful of other people (which they often are not), inequality of wealth and status is much less of a problem than when they are high-handed about their wealth and status. I do think that it is important that FLOW entrepreneurs practice respect towards all.

And in the voluntaristic communities to which I would belong, I would enthusiastically support minimal welfare vouchers that would ensure that poor citizens (who followed behavioral guidelines) had adequate food and lodging.

But neither of those responses are likely to address the more visceral craving for ideals that sustained communism through 70 years and 100 million murders.

I would invest the aspiration to transcend existing social flaws in the entrepreneurial creation of new and better cultures, starting with new schools. I share most of the moral frustrations of the Left: It is offensive to me that those born from some families are less likely to succeed, that many men treat women badly, and that lying and deception are so often rewarded. There are many, many morally offensive aspects of society as it stands today.

And I don't think that government action can do very much to improve those aspects of society that are morally offensive.

Each of us can, of course, work on ourselves first; always a good rule of thumb. But I will also encourage idealistic young people to work as educators and thereby work on the young. Do you think that the poor are not given adequate opportunities? Create a school to solve that problem. Do you think that women are not treated well enough? Create a school to solve that problem. Do you despise the lying and deception that are prevalent? Create a school to solve that problem.

I have spent fifteen years working on these and other problems, and I am deeply familiar with the concrete difficulties involved in creating a better classroom culture (and subsequently a better school culture).

The communists aspired to change human nature to eradicate selfishness. I have tried to change classroom culture to increase niceness. Their task was a horrible failure. With a great deal of effort, educators such as myself have been able to make some progress: It is possible to create school cultures in which students treat each other more decently than they do at mainstream public schools. But it is very slow going at present, three steps forward and two steps back.

Marxists believed that their theory and their passion could change society. They were deluded. I believe that my classroom practice and school structure can change the micro-societies of the schools that I create. And students and parents have chosen these schools because I was able to deliver, however partially, on these ambitions.

Changing classroom or school cultures is a very, very difficult problem; and yet it is possible to make progress even now by means of entrepreneurial educational projects. At present these tasks are inordinately difficult to solve, but when we have educational freedom and are allowed to create larger corporations, with large research and development budgets with which to approach these problems we will make more substantial progress.

While it may be a lot more fun to be an "activist" and feel good about oneself while partying, I hope to inspire young entrepreneurs to commit themselves to the long, hard, gratifying work of creating great institutions. Some of those institutions will be businesses such as Google and Whole Foods at which the work culture is considerably more positive and less hierarchical than is the work culture at old style corporations. Some of those institutions will be schools or health networks, in which fundamental social norms need to be changed.

But unlike the idealism of activists and the idealism of government action, the idealism of entrepreneurs can result in very specific, definite progress. And, when the venture fails, one is held directly responsible for the failure. I consider this type of idealism to be a great deal more satisfying than was the old idealism.

There will also be an element of storming the barricades, especially in encouraging the destruction of the existing educational and credentialling system. It is perfectly clear to me that the existing system of education, that rewards a particular set of social norms and a particular species of cognitive competence, was designed by the upper-middle class to favor the upper-middle class. It will be relatively easy to show how "public schools" and professional licensing requirements harm the poor. With practice, one can learn to see an expansive world of opportunity ready for the creating. Once young people understand that they can be the creators of a more humane, just, and beautiful society, if only the teacher's guild and their academic cheerleaders get out of the way, then we will see a real rage against the machine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perceptual Control Theory is the very first rigorous scientific theory of the behavior of living things. While scientific language and thinking may sometimes seem stilted, I do think that this theory is worth understanding for anyone with the kinds of laudible
goals described in this blog. The next step in the process is figuring out how to connect and promote efforts at change which seem to be pointing in the same direction and getting the word out. Go to for more information on this theory. Fred Good

4:28 AM  
Blogger Mohawk Man said...

What kind of @#$% is this?



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