Good point about how people aren’t routinely taught how things work. This is as true for important principles of business and finance as it is for plumbing. If more people had basic knowledge about this stuff it would be difficult for politicians and media to scapegoat markets, or valuable market tools such as derivatives, for problems caused by institutional management failures and corruption.
6 thoughts on ““Keeping the Machinery of Civilization Going””
I nod and agree with the sentiment posted (and linked), however…
If I remember correctly – no mean assumption that – one of the signs of a “modern” society is the specialization of skills. I also seem to remember that ~60% of the population, any population, more or less, has little if any interest in things beyond that needed to survive and have a little fun on the weekend.
I’m implying that it doesn’t matter what is taught. It will fall on deaf ears. The people who understand plumbing (well) will not understand derivatives – and vice versa. Politicians know this intuitively if not explicitly.
… man, re-reading this, what a downer… sorry.
An interesting example being recent comments by Nancy Pelosi implying that she was unaware that natural gas is a fossil fuel.
This is particularly bad given that she has responsibilities for national energy policy (and, as an individual, is a nat gas investor)…but even setting these points aside, it is strange to me that someone could use nat gas for years to warm their house / heat their food and never have enough intellectual curiousity to wonder where this substance comes from.
JDM – I disagree. Many people are hungry to learn. Not most, just many.
And there comes a time in a civilization’s life when so few understand how the machine works that the luddites gain control. We need to educate as many as want to learn in order to stave off that day.
The failure of the educational system is not simply that it doesn’t teach enough facts, but that it doesn’t teach students how to acquire and evaluate facts, how to construct and evaluate complex arguments and intellectual positions, and how to analyze complex intellectual and physical systems.
The schools, in fact, deaden and stultify children’s natural curiosity and enthusiam for learning by making the search for knowledge boring, and by not requiring any mastery of, or even competence in, complex subjects.
Read the Federalist Papers, or the various writings and speeches of the founders of the republic, or Lincoln, or Churchill. This level of intellectual complexity and argumentation was common, and even ordinary voters and members of the general public were expected to follow and understand the points being made.
Read the pathetic, disjointed writing in newspapers and magazines about the current election or financial problems, or, even worse, listen to the meaningless drivel that passes for political speech in the era of the “sound bite”, and it becomes apparent very quickly that a serious diminution of the general capability to deal with cognitive issues has occurred, even while we spend more and more billions for education of all sorts.
Our educational system is a fraud, as is so much else in the “post-modern” era. Similar to so many of the alleged artistic paintings that clutter up our museums, merely colors splattered on a canvas, so too education has become meaningless facts without context, valueless bits and pieces shovelled into disinterested minds without any coordintaing principle or value structure.
It is not unfathomable technology that threatens us, but minds unchallenged, unstretched, and, finally, uninterested in the complex questions that confront us.
One of my all time favorites, which I find myself bringing up many times in my profession as a software engineer. I have constantly found that I don’t really fit in with mant of the other engineers precisely because I have too many varied interests and had a very different life before becoming one. Perhaps I like this quote so much because I feel like it validates what is otherwise kind of a hinderance in my profession….
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects”
-Robert A. Heinlein
We are supposed to be living in an age in which information is at our fingertips.
With an internet-enabled pc many are learning facts, foreign languages, trades, concepts and exchanging new ideas.
Billions of people are now connected to the Internet around the world.
But no sooner we were able to grasp centuries-long coveted information, disinformation made its gracious appearance in incredible creative forms, and relativism is our new way of life, turning our information age into an almost chaotic palimpsest, with every one erasing it to write their own so-called-truth.
And now we need classes on discriminating, dissecting real and much needed knowledge.
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