a, b, c, d, e, f, g ……

Some information needs to be memorized: words, basic mathematic principals, etc. Many other forms forms of memorization are rapidly becoming unnecessary. When was the battle of little big horn? What day did Lewis & Clark make it to the Pacific? Questions a five second Google search could answer, yet too often menial factoids are used as the basis for identifying a persons intelligence. Standardized tests rely on memorization; for students to be successful in the current system they must memorize and regurgitate. Can the act of learning itself suffice for the student and the system? Or must the student show competency through a standardized methodology? If a standardized methodology must be used, can it be tailored to the multiple identified learning styles students use? To what end does wrote memorization accomplish?

Right now humanity has unprecedented access to knowledge on a global scale — beyond anything it has known before. If students can leverage ideas, understand concepts, and critically think; are these skills not more important than the myopic memorization of common knowledge? As it stands, memorizable knowledge is readily accessible from a few taps on a smartphone keyboard. Soon typing will even seem archaic; in the near future knowledge will become more integrated and accessible to humans though voice and bionic circuits; it isn’t beyond imagination that within the next decade humans will be able to search and learn from a device embedded within their mind. While it’s arguable if computers can think better than humans, they can provably perform simple calculations; store, access, and retrieve information; and a myriad of programmable tasks better than humans.

Humans exceed at critical thinking.  Why, then, do we as a society train humans to do menial tasks computers can do infinitely better?

You go to school, you get a good job and raise a family, you retire, you die. Abbreviated, this is the lifestyle prescribed to the baby boomer generation. It worked for them. Little box houses sprouted around cities and towns each declaring the lifestyle success of its occupant. Two point five children were born per house, one point seven televisions watched, and the inflation adjusted median wage of the house sat around fifty-thousand dollars. And when the two point five children grew up, they were expected to go to college. Why? Because it worked for the previous generation.

I can tell you though, it most certainly isn’t working for the current generation. The restaurant across from where I work has mediocre food. I shouldn’t be suprised, though. My meal was prepared by a history major and delivered by a girl who claims the major “Film Studies”. Neither have been to cooking school beyond their mothers kitchen; both were grossly mislead on the value and necessity of their degree as evidenced by their current job. My meal was disappointing, but its failure pales in comparison to the failure of modern education.

There are many instances of teachers, classes, etc. who break the mold. Almost everyone has “that one life changing teacher.” This discussion isn’t meant to demean their work, rather the system they must break free from. Par in education, with education arguably being the most important aspect of a civilization, is an abysmally low standard when compared to what our students could be.

Over the next few weeks I hope to highlight specific issues within the education system. These posts should not be taken as pot-shots at teachers, nor should they be dismissed out of deferrence to an emotionally protected industry. The hope is to spur healthy discussion on where our education system stands, and what it could be, as preparing our future population is arguably the most important task our society faces today.

“Checking Your Premise” is the concept that contradictions are not possible in rational discourse. To unpack this idea a little, if I believe a thing is both true and its opposite is also true then I need to rethink these ideas because I’m in a contradiction. Contradictions do not exist.

“Checking your privilege” is the idea that social rules can benefit or disadvantage a group I belong to and those benefits and/or disadvantages color my perspective. The implication is that if I believe something is true (in part) it is because of the social rules and the groups that I belong to. Therefore I ought to realign my priorities and/or truth values along the lines of my privilege.

Side note: checking your privilege has become a meme. An invention with some roots in women’s studies departments but tends to be used colloquially in a diverse ways. To some, it literally seems to mean racial or class guilt and oppressor status. To others, it is introspection and a sensitivity to the context of other people. I am deeply opposed to the former use because it confuses the concept of justice. I am very supportive of the latter because it is an illustration of righteous humility. I think the position of the supposed coiner of the term, Peggy MacIntosh, is someplace in-between those two positions. It is both that our culture is systematically racist, sexist, homophobic and that I ought to come to this conclusion by internal reflection about my privilege or lack thereof. In this post I’m attempting to formulate the way I see the meme used to shut down debate and while it touches on MacIntosh’s points; I’m not interested in directly confronting them here.

Back to contrasting these two approaches, I hope you are still with me. Checking a premise is the process by which you and I investigate the underlying components that get me to my conclusion. Checking my privilege is to say that my status of class, race, gender, affects my perception of that truth or falseness of a premise. It informs my priorities. Hence why black feminists are telling white feminists to check their privilege because black feminists see mainstream feminism as dealing mostly with the problems of whites.

The very nature of this blog as an anonymous medium is illustrative of the dilemma of checking privilege. If I say that the evidence suggests childhood vaccination is a net benefit to society, is this conclusion true to me, or is it simply true or false? Not knowing if I’m as privileged, white and well-educated as Greg Strandberg or if I am even more overly educated and melanin deprived. Would it matter? Shouldn’t opinion arise from sound premises and valid reasoning rather than my status?

What I don’t like about the concept of checking privilege (in this formulation) is what it does to truth and as a consequence, what it does to discourse. By checking privilege we are saying our norms can’t be challenged without reference to our persons. If we are arguing about truth, then we can get somewhere. I can make a claim, and then give you my rational for that conclusion. We can investigate the truth of these rationalities, and how they chain together in a logically valid argument.

On the other hand if you assert X to be true, and I can say, well that’s because you belong to Y group. We are at a non-starter, with no meaning to discourse except that we belong to systems which set us apart. If I have to start off a point like this I belong to X race, Y sexuality, and… then we have lost something fundamental. It says our experience is who we are, not our rationality and the interpretation of that experience.

Yes experience matters, yes my world is shaded by my color, sex and sexual preference. But it is not the whole of me, to say so is the best definition of bigot I’ve ever seen. And to say it acutally changes the truth-value of a given premise is what nerds call Polylogism. Scientific racism and eugenics had the same conclusion, that genetic race determined behavior. Marxism similarly believed that class determined the logic of economics, social order and morality. We rejected these ideas not just because of the systems they produced but because they are contradictory to the nature of truth seeking.

Again, when used to stir self-reflection and when there are tangible cultural bias to point to, I understand and appreciate at least part of the “Check your Privilege” point of view. But those components should not be used to shut down debate the way it is used so often in today’s climate. A great example here. Starts off great, self- reflection check, humility, and getting over yourself— check I like it. Then jumps to conclusions like “racism is impossible if you are dis-privileged” (albeit a post-modern bait and switch redefinition) and “political correctness is only offensive to privileged people”.

Now I want you to note, this whole article has been done in compliance with my first political identity article. Where identity and politics have been separated. I have not once addressed the question that, even if systems of white, male, hetro, cis, able and age privilege exist, what are we going to do about it?

I’m not a big fan of identity politics. To me, it is often a fight endemic with areas that make assumptions about social ordering that I find cloud areas where reasonable people ought to agree. For example, the relative performance of X group in an outcome as expressed in data is, in my view, a problem that is unlikely to be solved by governments but that’s debatable. It is rare to see both the argument about outcomes and the argument about government’s role discussed as separate matters. My overall point is that we should differentiate what is a social phenomenon from what a government can do about it. I am fine with either debate, when it is framed in a way that does not include unsaid and presumed principles.

A great example is the gender pay gap. Here I will grant that the gap results from the sexism of employers even though I think this is likely a dubious claim. Even if it were though, I would ask, what is the solution and/or what is government’s role in that solution?

One, there is already a law against pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and later the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009) forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring, promotion, pay and other conditions of employment. And yet it has had no measurable effect in changing the outcomes for women. Why? Well there are lots of reasons but the increase in the supply of women to the workforce is likely a more powerful dictator of prices than a government edict. Also, the choices of most women are not designed for an ideal aggregate outcome but rather individual outcomes along lines of preferences that are subjective.

“But!” claim leftist activists, “That law depends on a woman to file a lawsuit with a standard of evidence for gender discrimination.” Implied in this objection is that there are some folks who don’t want to have to prove if the employer is a sexist with evidence and a trial. They just want to be able to have an outcome that looks right in the data, which is why the Paycheck Fairness Act requires government to collect information on works pay by race and sex. Then an agency can actively police the outcomes to get the results we want. This I find to be a very patriarchal argument but we are getting off track.

Point two, a pay equality law would not do what it intends to do. For every sexist who is reined in, you will have a well-meaning employer forced to pay a poor performer more, or a hard worker less, than they otherwise would. Regardless of the sex of these various people in the hypothetical, we ought to look at both the law and the costs of implementation. This would remove the meritocracy from wage employment. It would send a signal to all wage employees that what they do does not matter for how much they are paid. Laws ought to be judged by the potential result they produce not the intentions of the lawmaker.

Lastly, no one argues that the law will change the inner evil at play. If a person is forced to hide their sexism because of a law, he or she is no less a sexist. Hypothetically some women will get paid more because of the law, but they then have no way to differentiate the bigot employer from the egalitarian. Either they are paid a market wage as subjectively understood from the negotiations of wages or they do not. Some will object that this places the burden on women to call out sexism when they see it. Some will argue that the federal government needs to come save women from this burden. I think these arguments assume both a premise of weakness in women to stand up for themselves and the power of government to fix all evils in the world.

On every front this law fails to solve the problem and yet leftist-activists will continue to argue that “we need to do something.” Often seen in anti-gun activists, the social justice folks tend to the same habit, to this argument action matters more then what costs those actions create. The underlying premise to this argument is that government can solve all problems. There is a world of difference between claiming government can, in some cases, be a mechanism for justice and claiming that government is capable of providing justice in all circumstances. 

This does not suggest that the aggregate outcome in question is not a real problem. That it is not an injustice or that it demands interested action from third parties. It only means that maybe a law might not be the solution.  Underneath this discussion about the role of government is the debate about social norms. Where do they come from? How do they affect individual behavior? For example, I do not think equal pay advocates would condemn a woman for choosing a poorer paying career path because she enjoys the job more than a potentially higher paying one. But approximately 20% of the pay gap, according to some studies, is explained by that sort of decision making.

The difference in worldview highlighted here is the difference between believing that individual behaviors spontaneously create social norms and believing government can guide or create those norms. Ironically, this is one of the areas in which radical leftists and big government conservatives tend to unite in disagreement. Rick Santorum wants to prohibit gay marriage in order to centrally plan morality. So did Hillary, but she’s “evolved” past that. Nice to have you on board, Hill. But today she wants to centrally plan freedom of association and religious expression norms. As long as it bans what they find to be yucky and as long as you can’t use that freedom in a way they disagree with, Hill and Rick are cool with your liberty.

To be generous to these two, it is an easy trap to fall into. It’s a gut reaction. I don’t like X; therefore, lets have the guys with all the guns ban it. One can be at any place in the political spectrum and forget to see the bottom up knowledge created by the spontaneous ordering of norms that in individual action create culture. This view of the world that splits the voluntary mass civil society from the coercive elite society is seen all over. Everything from drug laws (glad to see Glen Beck seeing the light) and gun laws (progressives) illustrates this point. Despite massive spending to end drug use or to ban guns people continue to use drugs and find guns to own. And before you engage in, “well government has to do something,” note that the US banned sanctioned murder decades before dueling disappeared. Culture, spontaneous ordering for norms and values are upstream of politics and legislation. They are the Laws of social order, you #mtleg folks are the legislators; the difference is subtle but crucial.

My advice for you, dear reader, is to check your premise. That’s the subject of my next Identity Politics post.