BLOG TOPICS INDEX

TITLES BENEATH GRAPHICS LINK TO SOURCES (under construction beginning 070317 and thereafter.)

Link to NewFoundations Bloglocus Topics Indexed Alphabetically

RETURN TO NEWFOUNDATIONS.COM

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hard Practical Questions? Why Not Dodge Them! Here's how. And why.*

If you can't solve a problem, then there is a easier problem that you can solve: find it.¨ -- George Polya, How to Solve It (cited in Kahnemann, p. 98)[1]

Don't go 'roun' flippin' cowpies! -- American Common Sense(?)


An often useful, cost-saving heuristic. Does watching violence on TV make kids more violent? The answers to this question, it appears, could have important practical consequences. But the question itself is problematic: it is highly ambiguous. And it risks generating time-consuming argument and more.

It used to be all-too-common, although somewhat bizarre, to observe even "professionally trained" people spending a lot of time and energy vehemently debating this question without taking the trouble to first determine whether they all understood the terms to mean the same (or similar) things.

Getting practical answers to vague questions can often be addressed by operationalization, that is, the specification of vague terms, e.g., "watching," "violence," by providing replicable, observable procedures for their determination.[2] The down side is that it might require expensive investigation to answer. All we might turn up, in any case, is a lot of dissensus, an impractical impasse!

Our original question about the effects of TV on children's propensities to violence generates even more problematic sub-questions:
1. What do you mean by "watching TV"? Need a child be paying close attention to it, or would just having it on in the background count? How do we determine how much TV a child is watching?

2. What counts as violence? Football? Mighty Mouse? A dramatization of an assault? Documentary footage from a war?"

3. How are we to determine if kids have become more or less violent? From their play-acting? From their actual fighting? From their arguments or threats?
In most situations, people would find this detailing process tedious. It distracts from the entertainment purposes of many a "debate," normally a sort-of quasi-intellectual arm wresting, or a contest in one-upmanship. Easy questions are usually thought to be "more interesting" than hard ones if only because they can be appreciated by a wider, "technically-challenged" audience (i.e. anybody having to weigh in on something beyond the reach of their experience).

So it is that even though the rituals of open discussion seem to satisfy our commitments to "democratic" participation, they muddy the flow of decision-making. Operationalization with its consequent query-reformulation process takes much more patience, with no guarantees of high-consensus outcomes to enable a push to the point of practical application.[2a]

Daniel Kahneman calls the reformulation of a query the Question-Substitution Heuristic. Developing heuristics often, if not always, involves operationalizing vague, general terms into something more specific and apprehendable without intricate processes. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman gives a chart of comparisons between what he calls Target Questions (hard) and Heuristic Questions (easy).[3]

Target Question Heuristic Question
How much would you contribute to save an endangered species? How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?
How popular will the president be six months from now?How popular is the president right now?
This woman is running for the primary. How far will she go in politics? Does this woman look like a political winner?
Chart 1: Abridged from Kahneman (2011) pp. 98-99

Note that working out answers to the target questions, especially when money is involved, is often a laborious undertaking. By contrast, heuristic questions can be pretty much answered off the top of the head: they reduce the information-base for answering to what the questioning persons can easily access in memory. How likely this procedure is to provide good solutions to real problems one might judge by the example of participants of TV talk shows and no small number of our political and social pundits. (The accuracy of expert, much less pundit, futurology tends to randomness. [3a])

But professional scientists, even, have been criticized for providing answers to questions they seem to have reformulated as easy.[4] Congressional response in 1958 to the question, "Why did the United States fail to beat the Russians into space?" was reformulated in the easier "who's-to-blame" mode, and ultimately responded to with the passage of the National Defense Education Act.[5]

The Theory-To-Practice Gap. An example. Public-supported institutions in our democratic society are often under severe pressure to widen participation, little matter whether those to be involved are even minimally informed or not. Consequently, questions that the most practiced and learned professionals might disagree on are usually decided by the least practiced and least knowledgeable of people.

What is mathematics, in its essence? Professional mathematicians can and do disagree. Likewise professional historians, on history. And professional political scientists, on political science. But, for example, educational institutions or systems, have (often elected) local governing boards, who must act to distribute (often, partially) tax-funded budgets. These governors, often with minimal knowledge, if any, about subject matter content, resource-needs and age-appropriate teachability, tend to decide all such questions as matters of budget. Consequently, matters of mathematics and history course contents become fodder for political brewhahas!

The operative heuristic for cost-chary governing boards dealing with broad, general questions is an interrogatory[6] that looks somewhat like this:
a. Are there any foreseeable, imminent and severe repercussions to our ignoring this question? If not, "table" it.

b. Is there any demand for any of these subject matters from Influential Constituencies (ICs) ? If not, "table" it.

c. What costs would different programs, say, of mathematics education, entail, were we to decide to implement one of them in the schools? Get those estimates. (Don’t rush. "Table" it.)

d. Will our ICs likely support us in our decisions? If not, "table" it.

Lets mimic Kahneman’s chart 1. The target question group, in the left column, will contain the kinds of questions encountered, for example in educational governor's meetings (or, even, in casual public discussions). In the right column well put the heuristic questions, the kinds of questions likely to be substituted by governing boards' committees.

Target Question Heuristic Question
What are the aims of our institution's educational programs? How can we use our institution to satisfy the demands of different community and political constituent groups?
Should beginning (pre-college or undergraduate) students be required to take introductory classes of a general nature? Can we make room in the budget for such new courses without threatening the sacred cows of
influential people?
Should all K-12 students be prepared to go to college? Who can we overlook without raising a din that threatens our tenure as governors?
Chart 2
From Chart 2 and the preceding interrogatory we can see why, despite much lip-service to the contrary, academic programs will likely continue to be kept in distant second place by educational decision makers in comparison to their personal or political concerns. With a bit of adjustment the processes shown in Chart 2 can be adjusted to many different kinds of institutions and the problems they are faced with.

Why Is It Wise to Consider Using the Substitution Heuristic? The heuristic can be useful for transforming idealistic, but vague claims into something that can be tested for implementation, but ... Nonetheless, it's use is somewhat of a distraction from the original hard problem. In fact it may lead quite far from the original problem if cleverly transformed by sloganeering supported by enthusiastic promotion. For example, instead of dealing with the difficulties of admitting underprepared students to higher education, we focus on "expanding" opportunities by reducing entrance requirements. This may address the issue of underfilled classrooms, but exacerbates the problem of second- or third-year dropouts.

The drop-out problems might, in turn, be addressed by giving credit for "experience" or watered-down course work so as to satisfy public perceptions of equity in admissions, instead of funding pre-admission courses in remedial training for academic demands.

A decision-maker ought to learn and retain the Substitution-Heuristic for unforeseen necessities. Why is that? It's because honesty is not always the best policy if one wants to keep one's position or reputation in one's institution. Inverse correlations between celebrated "high expections" demanded and resources available are not uncommon. Just as a stupid question is said to merit a like answer, so does a complex and difficult problem, masqueraded as a simple, "common-sense" inquiry merit calling up an intricate process of analysis, starting with the temporizing of the Substitution Heuristic. Why? Ultimately, for the sake of one's rationality and personal mental-emotional health.


Cordially,
----EGR
12/5/17

* The above blog developed from my essay, "A Pathological Heuristic: dodging hard practical questions/ published in New Educational Foundations Volume 2, Spring 2013


ENDNOTES

[1] Kahneman, Daniel Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) New York: Ferrar, Strauss and Giroux.

[2]Rozycki, EG available at Operationalization

[2a] Clabaugh, GK & Rozycki, EG available at "Getting It Together." The nature of consensus.

[3] Depending on circumstances, heuristics often work and are much more economical than alternative processes. See Gigerenzer, G & Todd, P
Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (1999) NewYork: Oxford U Press

[3a] Tetlock, P (2005) Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Princeton University Press ISBN-10: 0-691-12871-5. pp/ 161-162 and throughout.

[4] See Moyer, M "Person of the Year Nomination for Higgs Boson Riddled with Errors" Scientific American Blog 11-29-12 at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/11/29/person-of-the-year-nomination-for-higgs-boson-riddled-with-errors/?WT_mc_id=SA_CAT_BS_20121130

[5]See Rozycki, EG (2008) at Illogic and Dissimulation in School Reform

[6]See Rozycki, EG ,available at Developing Interrogatories to Aid Analysis

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Constricting Social Ideals: breaking the values-action link to ensure "stability."

(re-edited 11/22/17)
"Stability," said the Controller, "stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability."--- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1989)

The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the twentieth century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt, and you will be saved. -- J. Lepore (2014)[1]

Education is not just human cognition. It's about preparing children for their future as well-adjusted global citizens: mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, and personally. -- W. McKenzie (2014)[1a]

Introduction. Although saber-rattling by politicians never seems to disappear entirely, generalized, widespread nation-to-nation warfare is a losing proposition for all sides, given the interlocking economic and social relationships of, especially, the biggest and richest nations. (See Dunnigan, 1983)[2]

The primary thesis of this essay is that, for the sake of "stability," -- survival, even -- large modernly weaponized, culturally and socially diverse nations will press to develop citizens who, if "rational" appeals to them would likely fail, can be managed via distractions or by the promotion of cross-purposes.

 
Thanks, D van der Made
Not only schools[3], but institutions in every facet of life have long worked to such ends.[3a] How is such distractive, pacifying "education" to be done? By severing the rational bonds between what is publicly preached as socially desirable from those actions individuals or subgroups might take in the pursuit of their personal understandings of such public preachments.

Institutional procedures are developed, often inadvertently, which interfere with, or subordinate, the efforts which individuals perceive to be rationally related to their pursuit of espoused social goals. Help, even with good intentions, is often less desired than is individual obedience to procedure. For example, leaders of many kinds would prefer "good citizenship" to be interpreted as "following the law" no matter that many people would hold certain laws to be immoral. Leaders prefer to risk errors of group-think, e.g. lynchings or vigilanteism or social activism, than to yield legitimacy to independent, even if "right," in someone's view, outsider opinion. Orthodoxy-vs-Heresy conflicts are long-recognized examples of such conflict.

Disruption, Innovation or Fundamental Failure? The word, "disrupt," has long had negative connotations, as in such usages as "disrupt a ceremony, a meeting, a speaker, etc." However, in today's United States of America, "Disruptive Innovation" (Christensen & Eyring, 2014)[4] has become used to re-characterize an institution's misfortune more optimistically as a unfortunate, collateral event, but, still, more importantly, as a contribution to organizational progress.

American parents and politicians, too, have long complained that schools, especially public schools, teach things disruptive of community, church and family traditions. For example, physical education, New Math, racial tolerance, sex education, audio-lingual foreign language methods, gender equality, core curricula, critical thinking and the other subject matters have long been condemned as disruptive by influential groups of public, private, political and corporate representatives.

How are the public schools doing? It depends on whom you ask at what point in the political calendar. It also depends on which public schools you are referring to. Even less likely to elicit an open public response is "which students you are focussing on?" The politically safe attitude for would-be office holders over the last century and more has been to claim that public schooling needs reform.(Rozycki, 2004)[5] Indeed, banking, commerce, state government and the courts are often claimed to need reform; but only education, almost uniquely, public education, has long been politically vulnerable enough to allow the often random interventions of "reformers" of all stripes.(Rozycki, 2001)[6]

Which Values Does Public Education Support?[7]
"Education is a weapon whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and who is struck with it."-- Joseph Stalin in Interview with H. G. Wells, (1934)

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time. -- Winston Churchill to House of Commons, 11/11/47

Which values does public education support? There are, it appears, more basic issues hidden as presumptions. One is : "Whose values does public education support?" And consequently, "Why their values and not those of others?" And "In what way are these values 'democratic'?" These are the elephants in room often left disregarded by hasty focus on the topic question.

Determining whose values persistently influence education, then, seems to be a pertinent inquiry, both politically and morally. But such a pursuit is distractive. It typically leads off into well-practiced expatiation of politics and ethics. These areas, being more familiar and entertaining, seldom get us near a practical answer for the question, except perhaps with a sentimental slogan bolstered by a false consensus, e.g. "We all want what's best for all the children!"[8] Or, if we avoid sloganeering -- difficult in most public venues, we drop the question and agree to disagree on … whatever "we feel" it is. (Clabaugh & Rozycki, 1999b)[9]

But let's consider an even more shunned elephant-in-the-room than the values taught . A second even more fundamental issue is this: On what basis do we judge that a person values something? How can you "teach values" if you don't know what indicates that someone has learned them?

This risks a lengthy diversion into esoteric philosophy or psychology. Yet, it does invite some investigation essential to planning wise and effective interventions.[10]

Teaching Values: how should this be done?
School Days, school days, Dear old golden rule days
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
(Music by Gus Edwards; Lyrics by Will D. Cobb, 1907)

American public schools have long been charged to "teach values." But what this means remains after many years controversial and somewhat vague, at best. Tough talk about about holding someone, somewhere — usually teachers — "accountable" even though hickory sticks are long gone. (Anyway, no one ever really checked to see if they were very, if at all, effective.)

The easy response by schools to the value-teaching mandate in times when criticism of them is not too vehement is to have teachers mimic preachers. Teaching is Preaching. At the same time, in order to avoid disappointment, little effort has, in the past been expended by trying to ascertain their effects. This lack has been over-compensated for in the past three decades by increasingly disruptive (in the pessimistic sense) program of school testing. Yet, despite much expenditure, few practical changes for the better have resulted.

Talk is cheap. We live in a cultural of hyperbole where people, especially children, are often induced to talk up what they may not personally value or even know. What is it that can we rely on to show that a person values something? Normally it is that he or she works to acquire it. Or recommends it to others. Or, once acquired, takes care of it. Or tries to defend it against harm or disesteem. Actually, any of these might do. But, how do you test for values acquired in a mass-teaching environment, especially in a culture where, for the sake of cost-cutting, superficialities are conceded to be acceptable as though they were thorough examinations?

Looking for Excuses.
The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx
If we really wanted to verify that someone valued something we would check to see if that person pursues, promotes, sustains or defends what we think he or she values (or purports to value). The quickest and most common way to get at this is to consider what excuses a person makes for himself or herself when they "let themselves down." Whichever excuses we accept as reasonable are indicators of what we believe to be preconditions for connecting a person's values to the behavior that manifests commitments to those values.

This is more complex than it appears: at any given moment a person may be inactive. For example, he or she may be sleeping, or lost in a book. She or he, nonetheless, may be said, still, to value expensive chocolate, or foreign movies, or their friends' admiration, or her or his alma mater's school song, if she or he did so before falling asleep.

Consider our friend, Harry, who is overweight and flabby. Yet, he claims he really values being in top physical condition, which is quite far from his present physical state. Is he deluding himself, or lying? Not necessarily, because he may believe that he faces substantial, or, at present, insuperable, impediments blocking his pursuit of a buff body.

What might these impediments be? Harry's belief that either
a. he lacks the knowledge, at this moment, to get himself into shape. Or

b. he is not physically able to do what is required to get him into shape. Or

c. he is not where he could work on getting into shape. Or

d, he has a deadline he won't meet if he lets it go right now. Or

e. he is not, at the moment, "in the mood" to get to exercising for the buff body he seeks.
The impediments are, in respective order, lack of knowledge, lack of ability, lack of opportunity, lack of priority and lack of mood, (some vague kind of "emotional consonance"?). These are not unusual excuses for inactivity in pursuing, at a given time, what one claims to value.

But, by turning the impediments inside out, as it were, we generate conditions practically necessary for planning and evaluating educational goals. Also, satisfying these conditions may be sufficient to transform values inculcated into active pursuits. That is both their promise and their danger. (See Rozycki, 1979)[11]

All this is somewhat complicated. Little wonder that educators of all sorts, including parents, are still fumbling around with the problem.[12] The closest we seem to solving it is in situations of very high interest or compulsion which are given close attention to action, e.g. in scouting, sports or military training. In other more relaxed or forgiving learning situations training success drops off exponentially.[13]

Active and Passive Valuing: the realities of prioritization. An ancient, though banal distinction is important to continue our undertaking:
a. Instrumental values, sometimes called extrinsic, are those pursued in order to extend the pursuit to something they are necessary for. One earns money, for example, not to eat or wear it, but because it is instrumental to obtaining food and shelter.

b. Intrinsic values are those pursued for their own sake, e.g. pleasure, health.
Note that something may be both intrinsic and extrinsic depending upon one's perspective, e.g. exercise may be done both because it feels good and it leads to better health. Better health may be pursued because it enables a broader experience of pleasures.

Our friend Harry's excuses for his observed lethargy will be the conditions for what we will call "active valuing." These conditions, briefly put, are: knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority and motivation. The lethargic Harry we observe today still "passively values" physical health, but believing he is faced with an impediment, is doing nothing to pursue it: " You didn't get any physical exercise today! I thought you wanted to get into shape." "I do; but I sprained my lower back this morning and need to take it easy for a day!"

That is, Harry will actively pursue a value (here, a healthy physical condition) provided he believes he
1. (Knowledge) has the knowledge of what and how to so pursue it; and

2. (Ability) has the (physical and mental )ability to pursue it; and

3. (Opportunity) has the opportunity to pursue it; and

4. (Priority) has no present object of higher value whose pursuit impedes this one; and

5. (Motivation) has the will, is in the mood, is inspired to, the pursuit.
(Test these conditions out, e.g. "Harry has no knowledge of what to do or how to do it to improve his health." Note that the lack of any one of them would provide him an excuse for his lack of activity.)

We begin to understand how easy it is to beg off being responsible for non-performance for doing what is expected of you. You didn't get your late-return IRS tax-forms done by July? Hope someone "understands." You weren't sure exactly what the deadline date meant. Or, you didn't understand the complicated instructions. Or, you were busy nursing your sick mother. Or, you didn't get back from your European vacation in time, etc., etc.

Seeing how complex the relationship is between valuing something and demonstrating that you do, you can see why it is so difficult to teach people values, especially moral values which often require you to forego something you really want.

Passive values and Akrasia. Passive values are what philosophers refer to as dispositions (psychologists, as habits). Active values are episodes of unimpeded action toward those values. The educator's problem is how to get passive values to become active, i.e. to get a student's professions of esteem, wanting, or liking to become behaviors of promotion, pursuit, maintenance or defense.(Rozycki, 1994) [14]

Note the following: if Harry insisted that he very much valued physical well-being and yet continued in his lethargy despite admitting that he believed he had the knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority and motivation to pursue that value, we might well wonder if he was less than rational or mentally disturbed.

Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics invents a term for such a condition: akrasia. This is basically a covering term for our lack of will to pursue what we know we ought. It is not unimportant, however, since showing too many signs of akrasia, whether of irrationality or mental disturbance, invites intervention in one's life by state authorities concerned with particular abnormalities of this sort.[15] But akrasia is precisely the general disruption of values-action links.

Changing resistence into acquiescence. We suggested above that identifying the conditions for linking disposition to active behavior offered both promise and danger. Let's expand on that point. An individual's values often conflict with those of others. Powerholders have long used the active-passive distinction to convert opposition to their values from resistence into acquiescence. Such are the practical, socially defensive uses to which they have been put in governing organizations throughout history: the conversion of the natural dispositions of individuals to actively pursue what they value into a "socially acceptable" kind of passive valuing. This is how one turns people into soldiers, or soldiers into "peaceable" citizens or "overenthusiastic" students into quiet seat-warmers.[15a]

Since it is active valuing, the pursuit of values, which might cause conflict where values are not shared, certain policy directions can be drawn immediately from the above formulations. If it is a mission of the schools in a multicultural society to forestall conflict between different cultural subgroups, then
a. this mission is served by policies which promote "passive valuing", i.e. some kind of esteeming which does not involve the pursuit of that which is esteemed -- typical of so-called "appreciation" courses or of values clarification classes;

b. this mission is also served by policies which gainsay any of the conditions given above necessary to connecting action with value, i.e. the conditions of rationality, knowledge, ability, opportunity and consistency.
Thus, recalling the conditions for an individual's active valuing, knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority, and motivation, a rational -- not necessarily moral -- school policy serving the social goal of reduced conflict might promote ignorance, incompetence, unequal opportunity, or inconsistency of conduct, or irrationality. Hardly anyone would think such aims educational; our considerations are suggestive, however, as to the persistence of these ills despite continued exhortation to eradicate them.

Must Conflicting Values Lead to Open Conflict?
"To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, (the Romans) call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. " -- Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 56 – after 117)
Condoned, even, esteemed, social practices of yesteryear, e.g. subjugation of people on the bases of gender, race, religion, etc., which are condemned (at least, orally) nowadays as evils in our multicultural democracy, were relatively successful in maintaining a kind of social stability and suppressing open conflict in other contexts: shortly put, ancient social practices more or less produced, in the short run, at least what Tacitus characterizes as Roman practice of "peace-making."[16]

It is only when we open up to questions of morality that the costs of "peace" begin to provoke investigation. But if educational environments are burdened with promoting not only intellectual or skills development, but, also, morality, how then can they, then, meet expectations that they support social stability and reduced conflict? It could happen, if morality becomes confused with group-think.

Pursuing Schooling Aims: Intellectual and Moral. The organizational values which tend to be of highest priority are:
a. to reduce or stultify individual propensities to act out conflicts; that is, to actively pursue values, i.e. by "vigorous" opposition; and
b. to make a plausible attempt to meet goals formulated by outside controllers.

But plausibility is likely inversely related to discernment. Thus, institutions of all kinds relax in trying to produce people with the discernment to evaluate organizational aims in more than a superficial manner. The boss decides what the philosophy means. And his or her bosses decide for him or her, if he or she doesn't know. The question gets passed up and around until it gets lost or forgotten.

About schools, Harry Broudy pointedly notes:
Especially awkward for the public schools are the accounts of the civic and political process. … The school operates on the principle that it must reinforce the ideals the community professes and not the behavior that it tolerates. Yet it is difficult to keep up the pretense that the behavior of officials, elected and appointed, does not violate professed ideals. For one thing, the mass media are exposing the pretense daily; almost hourly. … How much of this can the school teach as part of the social studies or social science curriculum? -- (Broudy 1981. 23.)[17]
American schools are not intended to be merely intellectual training centers. They have been burdened by ancient traditions of inculcating morality, more recently repackaged as "values education."

Staff in American schools, whether public or private, presumably undertake to bring their charges to display behavior that pursues, promotes, sustains or defends things they might not if left alone to their individual pursuit. In this sense, the school a sort of back-up system to the vagaries of family, community and state educational efforts. Schools are to promote both individual and social goals.

Democracy and multiculturalism (diversity) can give rise to sometimes open conflict among educators, family, community and state. Many of these struggles are, in effect, a form of cultural warfare. Long-held communal, ethnic and familial biases, even though traditionally esteemed in their contexts, are often deprecated in some schools -- particularly in public schools -- as prejudice and injustice, for example, annihilation, racism, sexism, and class or religious bias.

Thus, importantly, in a multicultural democracy, the schools are believed to reinforce, and enhance, no small part of what students are preached to about in family, church, community and state. This reinforcing endeavor is especially professed to be prevalent in the public schools. And always foremost in the demands made of public education is that the schools promote the values of domestic peace and stability

What is overlooked -- more likely, disregarded -- is that individual goals and social goals not infrequently conflict. So it is that, for example, issues of racial or sexual segregation, religious and class bias, and the submission to school and general legal authority have given and continue to give rise to controversy and conflict in education.

What to Do? Keep on Truckin'.
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. -- Winston Churchill
"Group versus Individual" is not, per se a problem. It is a fluctuation in the distribution of perceived costs and benefits between and among individuals and groups. This is a dynamic that all organizations, all people have to deal with to survive. (Consider the current, vehement gun-control debate.[19]) Except for hermit-like individuals who eschew relationships with all other human beings, this dynamic functions to address perceived problems that arise living in a community, or in living in a community among other communities.(Coser, 1956)[20]

We can see from the chart below that conflict can benefit a group. But it is important to ask, whom does conflict benefit when it benefits a group? Not everybody in a group may get the same benefits nor pay the same costs. And the kinds of costs and benefits there are may vary considerably among group members. Who does the sweating and who gets the glory? What do they pay and what do they get for it?
In a world of change, in a dynamic society of non-omniscient beings, such questions are not answered once and for all. The dynamic is not merely repetitive orbits, but a helix, a tendril cycling around, searching as it progresses through time. Its responses to perceived difficulties, as Charles Lindblom [21] has put it, are "muddlings-through," which provide those of us who live in relatively free democracies additional cycles for the sake of adjustment for what we seek as improvement.[21a]

Supreme Court Justice Hans Raj Khanna writes of India what may be easily applied to any country with a constitutional government:
If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people. Imbecility of men, history teaches us, always invites the impudence of power.[22]

——----
Cordially, EGR


REFERENCES & FOOTNOTES (re-edited 11/19/17)

[1] Lepore, J (6/23/2014) "The Disruption Machine." The New Yorker. Available as pdf at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine

[1a]McKenzie, W (June 16, 2014) See "No Planned Obsolescence in Education."

[2] Dunnigan. James F How to Make War. New York. Quill. 1983 See Chapter 25 "Victory goes to the Bigger Battalions: The Cost of War."

[3] Rozycki, E. (5/2/11) "The Functions of Schooling"

[3a] Rozycki, E. (5/2/11) "The Quest for Loyalty: Oaths, Promises, Contracts, & Vows"

[4] Christensen, C M.; Eyring, J. (2011), The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education, New York, New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-1-11-806348-4.

[5] Rozycki, E. (2004)"The Need for and Possibilities of Educational Reform."

[6] Rozycki, E. (2001) "The Evils of Public Schools." Educational Horizons, Fall 2001.

[7] Rozycki, E. (3/13/11) "Does Public Education Support American Democracy?"

[8] Rozycki, Edward G. (2010b) "The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision"

[9] Clabaugh, G. & Rozycki, E. (1999b)"Slogans in Education"

[10] Rozycki, E. (3/31/12) "Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change"

[11] Rozycki, E. (1979) "Values, Rationality and Pluralism" Philosophy of Education 79, 195-204. Available online as "Pluralism and Rationality: the limits of tolerance"

[12] Rozycki, E. (2008) "Democracy vs Efficiency in Public Schooling"

[13] Rozycki, E. (2010a) "Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education: school organization as instrument and expression"

[14] Rozycki, E. (1994) "Rationales for Intervention: From Test to Treatment to Policy: a forensic theory of warrants & rebuttals".

[15] Rozycki, E. (3/31/12) "Are Humans Rational? What's at Stake?">)

[15a] Kotter & Schlesinger offer interesting approaches to changing resistors to facilitators. See footnote [10].

[16] See Cameron, C. How Captives Changed the World. Scientific American, December 2017. pp. 78 - 83.

[17] Broudy, H. Truth and Credibility: the citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 23.

[19] Rozycki, E. (6/15/16) "Gun Fun or Safe Citizens? Must We Make Trade-Offs?"

[20] Coser,L (1956) The Functions of Social Conflict New York: Free Press. For discussion with some application of his theory, see http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/FunConflict.html

[21] Lindblom, Charles E. "The Science of 'Muddling Through,"' Public Administration Review 19 (Spring 1959): 79-88.

[21a] Susskind, L & Cruikshank, J, Breaking the Impasse, 1987, p. 63-64. Sloganizing increases ambiguity, and with it, the likelihood of agreement. (However, ambiguity increases the risk of false consensus. -- EGR)

[22] Khanna,H R Making of India's Constitution. Eastern Book Co, Lucknow, 1981. ISBN 978-81-7012-108-4. Cited in Wikipedia, "The Emergency (India)."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pursuing Excellence: cultural rivalry disguised as common market?

Everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven aint goin' there… -- Thomas Arthur Dorsey (1899 - 1993) Walk All Over God's Heaven

"Excellence in All Things!" A friend was hired as the headmaster of a small (70 students, grades 9 - 12) private school, the dominant if not sole admissions criteria of which was the parents' ready ability to pay the tuition. This school touted its ability to transform reluctant or lackadaisical children into "Ivy League" students. In fact, scholastic achievement, as one might soberly expect, was rather variable.

At a school board meeting, several of the governing members proposed that the headmaster post and preach the slogan, "Excellence in All Things!" The headmaster suggested that such action would only provoke derision from their rather sophisticated teenagers and likely, also, a certain disdain for the competence of the staff. He, the headmaster, would personally be happy if each student could show better than mediocre accomplishment in a few areas of endeavor.

A particularly vociferous board member remonstrated that it was the headmaster's and teachers' duty to educate all the students to adopt the slogan and strive to actualize it. But another asked, "Which subjects should be favored if it turns out that time or other resources run short?" Thus began what turned out to be neither a very long nor very comfortable "discussion" among those present at the meeting.

Creating More Hamster Wheels. Many of us can look back over many, many years to see the sacrifice of the adequate, the good, even, to the pursuit of the excellent. Yet we seldom see memories of such pursuits raise much apprehension of yet another treadmill exercise. Is our communal memory so weak, our resources so plentiful or our embarrassments so forgettable? What accounts for this Sysiphean proclivity (in almost every area of organizational life)?
One kind of explanation for cavalier attitudes toward excellence comes readily to mind: disregard of how ideas of "excellence" vary even within the markets pursuing it.

Broadly characterized, a market is a (theorized) group of people looking to acquire what they perceive to be a benefit, some thing or state of affairs perceived to be of positive value. These market members pursue an exchange via some medium, be it money, labor, time, attention, material items, or the like.

These and related notions are quite run-of-the-mill. However, here we mean to include in our considerations "externalities," beneficial or damaging effects affecting persons or organizations which are not themselves involved in the markets creating those effects. The motivations of school directors and staff, paying parents and the students involved may be -- indeed, usually are -- somewhat different, despite school slogans proclaiming, say, "Our school community works together in pursuit of excellence!" (See SLOGANS: junkfood, dead-weight or poison?.)

Weak Markets Markets can be weakened by attrition or disorganization. If groups that are willing to bear the costs of pursuing "excellence" are lacking, of insufficient size or disorganized, "excellence" remains little more than a vacuous shibboleth. This is often seen with the promises so easily bandied about in our political campaigns: hopes for benefits are much more easily raised than are the sacrifices, e.g. taxes, to pay for them.

Sometimes a purported benefit is perceived to "cost" too much. Just as the initial costs and future upkeep may "price" a car "out of the market;" so, also, might the burdens of a social relationship with some persons, "high-maintenance" individuals, leave them unbefriended.
It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. — Baudelaire
Though many people will agree on the face of it that "excellence" is better than "mediocrity," lack of agreement as to what the term, "excellence," delineates may cause an actual market to dissipate.

A potential market may not coalesce because of disputes about which criteria exactly should be used to describe the hoped-for benefit. This is a general problem in every area of life with vaguely described benefits, such as security, responsibility, ownership; and, not least, achievement, education and excellence.

Consensus is often only apparent. Sloganistic terminology abounds. Practical criteria are either missing, or lost in controversy. Leaders of long established institutions, family, schools, churches and governmental entities, may not to be able to find common criteria of excellence that serve each of their particular institutional interests. (See Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?)

So, the pursuit of "excellence" and the quarreling about its "true" meaning are not the high-minded undertakings as they often made out to be. They're just fancy forms of rivalry; nonetheless culture-clashes.

But better rivalry than warfare.

For further examples pursuing these issues, see "Sacrificing Public Education to "Pursue Excellence"?


Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Most Annoying Question: "How Do You Know That?"

He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. -- Thomas Jefferson
"How do you know that?" Unless we are teachers in a classroom, or students in a philosophy seminar, we tend to raise that question only when confronted with a statement we find unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Just posing the annoying question risks being taken as challenging the good sense or honesty of the claimant.

So it is that many us stumble through life sticking with the familiar and comfortable beliefs we've had passed down to us, even though, upon reflection, we know that what people believe, or not, is not a measure of truth or falsity. How many times throughout history have people been called to sacrifice dearly for some Faith in an unexamined "Truth"? (What "truths" have been served by setting off bombs in civilian marketplaces and schools?)

Let's relax and consider. Suppose we wanted to know why the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. As we walk down the street we see coming toward us some familiar faces: three deeply educated men, Lorenz, Maurice and Curlius, believed by many to comprise the Wisdom of the Ages. We stop, greet them and ask, "Why is it that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West?"

They answer as follows:
Laurence, a scholar of ancient religions: 'Tis because Phoebus, the Sun, rises in his golden chariot in the East, drives across the sky to the West and then spends the night traveling underground to get back East to repeat the cycle."


Maurice, Ptolemaic scholar: Who believes that anymore? Actually, it is because the Earth, as center of the Universe, is circled by the Sun. What we call night is our period in shadow. The Sun's visible arc begins for us in the East and travels to our West.

Laurence interjects: Well, Maurice, I disbelieve your story. So there!

Curlius, erstwhile Copernican companion, declares: You may well believe your falsehoods, but the truth is that the Earth travels around the sun, spinning counterclockwise on an axis somewhat perpendicular to its orbit. So there!

Laurence and Maurice, both: Utter nonsense!

This interchange illustrates some principles we come to know at an early age, even though many fail to put them into practice in the direst of circumstances.
That some people believe something does not mean it is knowledge.

That some people disbelieve something does not mean it is not knowledge.

Our continuing controversies over evolution or global warming, illustrate these principles.

(However, were we to put the annoying question to our three sages, they, being deeply educated would likely be able to produce justifications for believing their respective claims to be true, as well as for rejecting counterclaims as untrue. So much for Plato's definition of Truth as justified, true* belief!)

But this goes way beyond the concerns of classrooms and philosophy seminars. What actions might have been forestalled, what decisions reconsidered, what bodies left unbroken, what lives saved, had the annoying question, "How do you know that?" been seriously considered at the appropriate times in the long, sad history of this planet?


For references and to examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making


Cordially
--- EGR

NOTE

*The truth condition is not practically separable from the justification condition. (See The Truth Condition)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Laws and Policies: weak bulwarks against bad character?

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at it destination full of hope. --Maya Angelou

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. -- Thomas Jefferson

The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx

Sadly, what Maya Angelou says about love holds also for hate, if it is strong enough to overcome the natural impulses of self-preservation. The many suicide bombers we hear about daily in the news media attest to this. Organizational efforts to protect its leaders, or even, its lowest-ranking members, can provide no foolproof barriers to those intelligent and ruthless persons willing to sacrifice themselves to overcoming them.

Conversely, leaders, despite their frequent and even vehement lip-service to widely shared organizational interests and ideals, may pursue their own exclusive, private interests even at the risk of severe collateral damage. (Of such, recent events in US politics provide ample evidence.)

Many people in organizations shield themselves from these realizations. Instead they hold on, often unconsciously, to a more peaceful, comfortable model of organizational behavior that misrepresents the nature of much organizational activity.

In his book, Ambiguity and Choice James March (with Johan P. Olsen, Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1976) presents a critique of this Edenic conception that he calls an oversimplified, albeit traditional model of organizational activity:
a. the cognitions and preferences held by individuals affect their behavior;

b. this behavior of individuals affects in turn organizational choices;

c. organizational choices affect environmental acts;

d. environmental acts affect individual cognitions and preferences.

This cycle is assumed closed and connected, e.g. a->b->c->d ->a->b->c….

However, March continues, there may be attitudes and beliefs which do not interact with organizational behavior: for example, rules may prevent racism in hiring. Conversely, organizational obligations may elicit behavior that has no basis in individual preferences, e.g. group-think.

March asserts that this simple model, a->b->c->d, predisposes us to assume that what appeared to happen, did happen; and, that what happened was intended to happen or had to happen.

He continues that nothing happens that can be used by organizations independent of persons who interpret these happenings as relevant events. Organizational functioning, therefore, requires trust in such interpreters. But this trust -- better, credibility (not seldom “credulity”) — in "happening-interpreters" may be extended or withdrawn as individual circumstances require.

Certain problematic happenings may fail to attain status as such within an organization because persons in positions of influence do not want to be bothered with them, whether for lack of interest, courage, resources or competence. So long as the costs can remain hidden, problems need never be acknowledged as existing. (See Hiding the “Elephant in the Room”)

For a restricted case study illustrating such a situation and its collateral damages, see

 THE ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEM: ILLUSION AND REALITY

. (For broader case examples this late Summer 2017, consult your news media outlets.)

- Cordially, EGR

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Authority is Like a Condom

The Condom is a Cuirass against Pleasure and a Spider's Web against Danger.
-- Madame de Staël (1766 - 1817)

The authority we possess often distances us from others, making the pleasures of companionship or of even more ordinary forms of social intercourse strained, if not impossible. Yet, authority does not in and of itself, protect us from brute force, as any battered spouse with a restraining order knows full well.

 
How Does Authority Protect?

All new teachers, like many old-time missionaries, or any person newly thrust into a leadership role, discovers that the reputation of those who bestowed authority upon them may matter very little. Kids, for example, are not impressed with State issued teaching licenses. People raised in one religion, or in older forms of the same religion, are resistant to the new authorizations that have ordained the newcomer.

Authority of any kind is ultimately based on consensus, an agreement to acknowledge the validity of that authority. This consensus may based on traditionally shared beliefs, values and attitudes, or be merely expedient acquiescence or outward conformity.

This is the reality of the moral freedom we enjoy as individuals, if we only think about it. We, each one of us, can choose, if we are willing to live with the consequences, not to acknowledge as pertinent to our lives, any "authority" whatsoever. (The possibility of such disregard is why those in authority try to aggrandize power. See Usurping the Rights of Others)

This is no weird, esoteric practice to be carried out by bald monks on a mountaintop. It is exactly what we do to a great extent when we visit other countries and cultures: we acquiesce in behaving so as to keep ourselves out of jail, or to avoid social opprobrium; even though we disregard whatever other concerns a native of that culture might have. Sight-seeing in a church does not mean you will be a convert.

Not acknowledging as authority what others do may lead to conflicts of many kinds. But accommodating diversity is what makes possible the differences between families, religions, cultures and nations. But diversity, still, is what sometimes makes teaching and preaching an uphill battle. (Especially where coercive power is lacking.)

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus

Cordially --- EGR

Friday, July 21, 2017

CAUSAL CHARADES: organizational rituals of evaluation

"…the only measure of the efficiency of a cooperative system is its capacity to survive."
-- Chester I. Barnard, The Functions of the Executive, p. 44.
Any organization in which it is not clear what is being produced, or how what is produced is to be evaluated, will have someone whose job it is to whip up enthusiasm for the daily grind: e.g. provide “staff development” to obscure the indeterminacy of the goals pursued.
Lack of clear, widely accepted theory as to what causes what, produces play-acting and hugger-mugger: mysteries of "attitudinal adjustment," "leadership," or "conformity with policy." Or, even better, secrecies-acts and "classification" procedures to frustrate easy review of outputs. (See How Not to Develop Staff)

If part of my job responsibility is to sit and listen to some "expert" -- often not a technician, in any scientific sense -- expatiate about peripheralities and, especially, to invite me -- in some "humanistic" way -- to "commit to“ or "open up” and "reveal" how I “feel” about them; then, I, too, will likely sense a need to join in and pretend that that expert, too, is earning his keep.
 
  King Magic
The social dynamics of our "democratic" pluralism not infrequently produces exactly such obfuscatory processes in, for example, American politics and education at all levels. Veneers of consensus obscure uncertainties as to which goals are to be pursued, and how and with what rigor their attainment is to be evaluated. That an institution is considered to be a "tradition" is a strong indicator of uncertain productivity. Long survival invariably rests on muddled vision or sloganeering, e.g. "protecting American interests," "answering Society's needs," or "preparing for the future," which masquerade as descriptions of technical outcomes.

To examine these issues further in specific context, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education


Cordially,
-- EGR

Monday, April 3, 2017

Understanding "Talking Lions" and Other "Black Boxes"


If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.
-- Wittgenstein[1]


Artificial intelligence is everywhere. But before scientists trust it, they first need to understand how machines learn.
-- D Castelvecchi, Can We Open the Black Box of AI? [2]


"With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon."
-- Elon Musk (2014) Reported in CNN Tech , Oct 28th.


 
Faust with Homunculus

Black Boxes Abound. Less so, our understandings of them. The "black boxes" are not only lions, or AI devices, but also humans, and even more. If we generalize, keeping in consideration our perceptual limitations, any source of emissions that appear to us to be more than random, from any object or even an "empty" focus of attention, is, initially, a black box.

Many commentators have remarked that Wittgenstein makes an incautious jump from speaking to understanding in the quote cited above. I will generalize their concerns: how do we know that a (what appears to us to be) non-random emission of, say, sound, is speech? Or, if the transmission is not sonic to humans, language? Animals can learn to mimic human emissions. Even non-English recordings, played backwards, can sound like English speech.

To many a monolingual English speaker, the following phrases sound like pieces of English nursery rhymes colored with a non-English accent:
1. French - Un petit d'un petit s'étonnent aux Halles (Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.)
2. German - Oh wer, oh wer ist Mai Lido doch Gong? (Oh where, oh where is my little dog gone?)
3. Spanish (Caribbean) -- Grima! Sí, comí. Te excusé que rifa. (Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.) [3]
Black Boxes are "Understandings." How does Wittgenstein even judge what the lion is doing? What assumptions is he making? Even if the lion's emissions sound like an English sentence, what is relevant in the context? What is the lion doing? Suppose, for example, our friend, Harry, is standing before a lion's cage in which a cave has been constructed as a den. The lion, staring at Harry, emits the sound sequence, /2aym+ gowing+3 hówm1/ [4]

It sounds like the lion just said, "I'm going home." But did it "say" that? Suppose the lion then lies down and rolls over on its back. It starts to snore. Are we still inclined to think that the lion talked? (If so, did he talk to Harry? Did the lion inform Harry it was "going home?" And, thus, was the lion telling a lie?) Can Harry believe his eyes and ears? Has he jumped to conclusions? (See Artificial Intelligence Weirdness. Need categorizing relate to visual cues?)

The basic problem is how we distinguish illusions, visual, as well as audial or other, from realities. Even AI's have this problem.(See Autonomous Car Collides with Bus: an illusion of abstractions?)

And What Are Understandings? Understandings, when articulated in language, are narratives (or, if highly structured, a program) of collection or connection. We may judge them incorrect, false, or incomplete but they are still understandings -- we might say, "misunderstandings."

People may not be at all articulate as to what they understand so we may have to observe how they proceed from their present conditions toward those outcomes that we judge them to be pursuing. If we observe persistent failure to achieve a goal we might reasonably judge that their understanding of how to achieve that goal is deficient.

There is a large number of likely misunderstandings that persist in any population because they need not or cannot often be put to any test whose outcomes enjoy broad consensus as to their pertinence. (So what if kids believe in the Tooth Fairy!) These questionable understandings are often characterized as (empirically) "non-disconfirmable" beliefs. Examples are:
a. The mind is co-extensive with the body, or:
b. The mind is not coextensive with the body.
c. The universe is a hologram; or
d. The universe is not a hologram.

It would appear that any rationales, or chain of rationales, that contain misunderstandings would thereby be severely weakened. (Many pundits who presume to speak for Science share such misunderstandings with those who presume to speak for Religion. See Pseudo-Science: the reasonable constraints of Empiricism.)

The Fractal(?) Generation of Rationales. Understanding in general is the ability to produce chains of behavior or their narratives which link a confronted situation of interest to a goal to be achieved. But, understandings alone are often narrow and give may give no indication of the interests or abilities of the persons who understand and may be expected to act. Thus, understandings may be just part of what we're looking for.

Rationales can be elaborated from understandings. Rationales often bring up systemic concerns about, say, indicator validity (Cue), actor interests (Concern), and actor abilities (Control) which underly attempts at interventions based on narrower technical understandings.

Understandings can be chained together to produce rationales for action, and rationales themselves chained to produce broader understandings. Thus we may go from merely speculative understanding of how to cross a river, to a rationale for expanding commerce across that river, to an understanding of how political influence can be brought about reiteratively by using market rather than, say, armed forces. Understandings developed this way can be connected together, in chains or trees, etc., to articulate, say, foreign economic development policies. (See The Fractalization of Social Enterprise)


Why Can We Understand Human Black Boxes but find It harder to Understand AI Black Boxes?
It is because many people working in AI feel restricted to technical issues of understanding the how's of economically pertinant AI functioning. Despite the the persistent anthropomorphizing of AI output -- and despite the suspicions that the ultimate goal of AI research is to create some kind of homunculus -- issues of rationale, especially in the contexts of human development and learning are discounted as off target. [5]

Autonomous AI stimulates the same kind of misgivings that one might feel about extra-terrestrials. We are not sure we can predict, much less control what they might do with us. It is a non-sequitur to believe that high computational ability equates to altruism. (See METI. Here We Are! Come Eat Us! Our Children Are Especially Tasty!)

We have built-in, so to speak, Cue-identifying abilities inherited through evolution, both physical, mental and social, that are sensitive to the norms of the environments of our development. We are Concerned to share a world with motile, sometimes dangerous, beings that we can hear, feel, smell, taste as well as see. And we know from personal experience what fear, hunger, danger, hate and social attraction are. [6]

We measure the autonomy we are willing to extend to our ancient non-human friends and enemies because we can guess well what drives them, and how to accommodate them to our society. And, not the least important, we can, with more or less success, Control and defend ourselves against them.

To pursue the issues of understanding and rationale, see Intervention. Helping, interfering or just being useless?

Cordially, EGR

(P.S. Check out this interesting interview with Gary Marcus called Making AI More Human.)

NOTES
[1] L Wittgenstein 1958b. Philosophical Investigations. ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and R.Rhees. tr. G.E.M. Anscombe, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell. page 223. See comments by Simon van Rysewyk at Wittgenstein Light

[2] D Castelvecchi Can We Open the Black Box of AI? Nature magazine, October 5, 2016

[3] Sources for pseudo-English concoctions: French - Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames, The d'Antin Manuscript. Penguin,1980; German - J Hulme Mörder, Guss Reims. The Gustave Leberwurst Manuscript, Clarkson N Potter, 1981; Spanish -- My confabulation, EGR

[4] IPA, digits indicate tone levels. Cf. H A Gleason, An Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1955)

[5] See EG Rozycki Behavior in Measurability and Educational Concerns 

[6] See D Gross, Why Artificial Intelligence Needs Some Emotional Intelligence

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Merchandizing Science (and other things...?)

We cannot act on information alone; the information must first be understood, then interpreted for relevance, and finally command belief and commitment. But what if the citizen cannot assess the truth of the available information or its import for action? --- Harry S. Broudy, Truth and Credibility. The citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 13.

Information: Food or Sewage? The expression "GIGO," Garbage in, garbage out, used to have some meaning even beyond the world of IT enthusiasts. Now, even though it is more widely recognized, it becomes evermore reduced in cogency. Broudy's comment above was, in 1981, still merely a worry; it was dismissed by many who persisted in letting a smile be their umbrella.

However, Broudy's comment rings true as we see long revered, even though lip-serviced, standards of decency, civility and authority publicly, blatantly disregarded; especially, by self-proclaimed "pragmatic" leaders. The distinction between the concepts of "leader" and "usurper" has become increasingly blurred. (See Leadership as Usurpation)

Foresightfulness, consideration, tolerance, fairness, compassion and, especially, memory are — often publicly and with celebration — cast aside, as "activists" of all persuasions rush to exercise their roles as "change agents" or "disrupters" under the banners of "democracy," "liberty," "Amendment-protection," "entrepreneurship," "greatness" and "social justice."
 
Arenas of Competition
There seems to be a bias in our culture that anything characterized as research is akin to Godly Revelation. But it's no news that RESEARCH can be badly planned, badly executed, off-target or trivial. And, increasingly, individuals from scientific, religious and governmental communities either rush to participate,or, more passively, support the scramble with contributions that result from their own self-serving miscreation, e.g. tampering with research, faking news reports, ignoring critical violations of law or producing, often dangerous, sub-standard products. (See Retraction Watch)

Why does this happen? It seems that it is because we treat failure as the greatest of disgraces. Individual persons or (usually small) enterprises are expected to take great risk with their resources to provide social benefits without a compensating safety net should they fail. Yet ridicule awaits them as "losers." This anti-failure taboo is so great that even celebrities would rather be caught publicly in a lie about their attempts, than to own up about their failures. (See Barbara Ehrenreich's (2009) Smile or Die ISBN:9781847081735)

Example: The Mysterious "Impossibility" of Multitasking. President Gerald Ford used to be characterized by some as "unable to walk and chew gum at the same time." However, considered judgment held it that the intelligent and accomplished Mr. Ford had been targeted by animadversion. He was not only able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but, like most of us, do many more complex things by multi-tasking.

But -- according to some highly-degreed pundits, we were wrong! Multi-tasking is impossible! RESEARCH proves it! So it is dangerous to multi-task because we are likely to make many more mistakes because we have to switch attention too much to be accurate while we multi-task.

When do we risk such mistakes? When we multi-task! But then, we CAN NEVER make such mistakes, because as RESEARCH shows, multi-tasking is impossible! We CAN'T DO IT! And since it is, and supposedly has ever been impossible, we COULDN'T HAVE DONE IT! So Gerald Ford's detractors, who were no doubt composing their thoughts as they were typing them up while telling them to listeners and judging their reactions were -- in other words -- multi-tasking. (Is there no longer any sensitivity to self-contradiction?!)

There Are Three Problems within this "debate." The first is that to say that we can't multitask assumes there are clear, generally accepted boundaries that distinguish one task from another. That, when humans who use the word, "task," they are invoking the same criteria of identification that researchers do. This is unconvincing because the latter's conclusions about multitasking are so different from what many intelligent practitioners in various fields think about it and DO with it. Multitasking research offers, apparently, not a correction to our language, but a redefinition. The claim that it is impossible to multitask attracts attention, it seems to be an effective marketing tool. But is essentially a bait-and-switch maneuver. (See Low Cost Interventions for a Better World: Reform by Redefinition?)

The second problem is that multitasking research appears to assume that the human brain is something like a computer with only one processor, so that parallel processing, which many computers employ, doesn't exist for humans. But, even though NPR (Think You're Multitasking? Think Again)
may doff its hat to Multi-tasking Impossibility theories, many others have made similar criticisms to the ones here. (Psychology Today (3/30/11) Myth of MultiTasking)

The third problem is that the debate really deals with paying attention to the implementation of goals. Many tasks we undertake may have become for us, to some extent, automatic. This doesn't mean that they are no longer tasks. And of course breakdown in implementation may occur if we have too many things to pay attention to. This realization, once comprehended, does not promise to have much market impact.

Does a Pluralistic Democracy Require "Sleight-of-Tongue" to Persist? Even if the ambiguities of promotional language have some desired market impacts, this in no way guarantees that we will find more people cooperating on the same page of the same agendas. Nor does it promise eventual reduction of conflict or improved leadership. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?.) It is snake oil for our societal forebodings.

Is there a future for a nation of persons who will not be concerned beyond their own individual (or familial, or tribal) interests? Are we doomed to a perpetual war of every person against each other? Many people seem to think so to judge by their willingness to put some kind of Leviathan in public office.

Nicholas Rescher in Pluralism. Against the Demand for Consensus. (Clarendon Press. 1993, p.180. ) writes
The key consideration for the conduct of interpersonal affairs is that the activities of people can harmonize without their ideas about ends and means being in agreement. (See also, page 7 on coming to terms with realities of individual difference.)
It's easy to say that we have to learn to get along with each other. But will mental analgesics, happy talk, get us to The American Dream? Or can we just work, one day at a time, at living with a lot of fussin', feuding', and fightin' as we stumble toward our Alabaster Cities, toward Making America Great? Let us be patient, think clearly and hope so.

To follow up on these ideas, see It’s Effective? Effective For What? Maintaining working relationships.

Cordially
--- EGR