Saturday, January 24, 2015

Falling from Small Heights

"Man is, and was always, a block-head and dullard; much readier to feel and digest, than to think and consider." -- Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus
As part of an "assessment instrument," I've been reading sample essays from Oh-ficially scored sources. See, our students read four very short arguments responding to a common prompt and then write their own argument about which is the best case. We free ourselves of subjectivity by using nationally certified sources. Our old essays are now too well known by the students, and we need new ones for the exit assessments anyway, so that means reading this year's samples. The old set responded to "As people rely more and more on technology, their capacity for problem solving and creativity will surely diminish." The responses were quite different from one another in approach, and the best was different from the middle one in thought as well as expression.

This year, all the prompts are business related. The best one, for our purposes, was, "For the leadership of the future, it is imperative that children be trained in the values of cooperation rather than competition." The responses, graded by the Official services from six to one, all agree with the prompt, and the differences between them are differences of compliance with written English. The "six" has complex sentences, and the "one" has sentence fragments.

They are all dumb. In fact, the "six" would have gotten only a B from me, because even it had the "Leaders will need to be encouraged in their school" object/subject number confusion (unless all "leaders" go to the same school). Not one of the responses was analytical. Not one questioned the dichotomy of the prompt. Heck, the "five" essay began with one of those, "The dictionary defines competition as..." gambits that is only supposed to be used if a person intends to redefine a term.

Consider this my answer, and my protest to the stupids that this Official voice wanted to offer people going to its test prep site.
"Skepticism (is) the virtuous mean between two vices: absolute knowledge and absolute ignorance." -- Odo Marquard, "Skeptics: A Speech of Thanks," in In Defense of the Accidental

"Competition" and "cooperation" are actions incomplete in their own. They both require objects, company, friends and enemies. One competes or cooperates with. These are neither values that can be taught in the abstract, nor are they transactions that can be consistently enforced without teaching a social setting that mandates the activity.

The submerged assumption in the writing prompt is that "MBA culture" has harmed America. Well, that's hard to argue, but it's also important to follow. "CEO America" looks at quarterly profits, does not know or care what the core business is, and is pleased to fire all of the labor force and eliminate all the goods being made by the company, because those are debts. The resulting "profit" will increase the stock price, which will increase the CEO compensation, and the trading of the stock will increase the company value, which will increase its price on being bought, which will ensure the board a good package on the merger. Thus, all of those making decisions will make enormous profits. The things being made will cease, but. . . that's not the business of the CEO. The CEO and board's duty is to shareholders, not to "consumers" or "labor."

Obviously, the effects of stock traded corporations are evil. Obviously, CEO's are bad for business and bad for the larger economy. Obviously, market funds are bad for the nation. Even their positive effect on stimulating start-ups is cancelled by their decapitation of those same businesses when they begin to produce, and especially when they manufacture. The specific evil is a system we have developed of captial pitted against commodities. When capital moves and "innovates" and "is made" without any relationship commodities, then there is a separate industry of "wealth workers" who set themselves in opposition to those who work in everything else, because their fundamental task is to shake capital free from any attachment to any person. (If you don't think we are post-capitalist in this manner, I'll see you in comments.)

By nature, humans are cooperative. By nature, humans are competitive. By nature, humans compete against themselves preferentially over other people, and we do not need studies to establish this.

Look around you at lunch. How many people are playing Candy Crush or played Tetris? How many people are playing video games solo? When they play in networks, do they play against one another, or do they play with each other in teams? In general, people play against fixed goals and against their own performances, seeking to be perfect at things. It is why they go to the gym and shoot hoops or lift weights.

At work, how often are you asked for help? How often do you ask for help? The point is that people are competitive, but not hostile, and they are cooperative, but not sycophantic. Indeed, we do need to battle the damage done by the naive assumption that "capitalism" is Darwinism and the even deeper lie that Darwin's "survival of the fittest" meant survival of the biggest, toughest, or strongest -- "fitness" means toward the environment, and strong, mean, nasty critters are not very adaptable. We have to fight the fascist theme that "America" is about individuals fighting it out without any help against one another for a triumph.

More, though, we need to understand that we are under assault by a post-capitalist economic theory that is disloyal, immoral, and corrosive of all values and value.

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