File: Daring – Nov. 28,2022
A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION FOR EVERYONE
Chapter 1 Down-to-earth Real Philosophy for Everyone? p. 2
Chapter 2 Why these two “Ancient Imperatives”? p. 11
Chapter 3 Why Not Something Modern & Cross-cultural? p. 24
Chapter 4 We Begin as Blank Slates, Right? Wrong! p. 35
Chapter 5 Male Violence against Women – WHY? p. 42
Chapter 6 Bullies and Bullying p. 51
Chapter 7 Selfishness: At School and at Scale p. 62
Chapter 8 Many sorts of Play and of Work. Success p. 77
Chapter 9 Looking Ahead with Realistic Optimism p. 99
The recurring bold, italicized, and underlined emphases have no connection with any hyperlinks or the like. Their purpose is to convey to readers what I would have emphasized if I were narrating the text. I hope they’re not distracting.
Link about author
My Republican Party lost its way
CHAPTER 1 DOWN-TO-EARTH REAL PHILOSOPHY FOR EVERYONE?
This retired Philosophy professor (whose study and teaching of Philosophy included Philosophy of Education) is reaching outambitiously – with a proposal in plain, non-technical English, to everyone – not only his fellow Americans — for everyone’s education, including those devoted to peace as well as folks confident that violent political initiatives are needed in our time.
What I am presenting is a normative Philosophy of Education: In the first place, I’m recommending, (that is, I’m presenting as worthy of acceptance and trial), a general aim – a broad purpose or goal, to guide — in an ongoing, week-by-week, way — the teaching of people of allage-groups.
This over-arching aim, or all-embracing aim – is certainly not intended to replacesuch important aims as teaching how to read and to calculate, how to prepare food, how to design, build, or repair a dwelling or a vehicle, or how to furnish or to beautify a home, or organize a business, or to convey a body of well-confirmed, well-established subject matter! But it may wellhelp reshape how folks pursue such important educational aims.
The overarching, all-embracing aim I’m recommending reflects and extends important Hebrew-Christian cultural roots. Regrettably, in recent centuries, these ancient roots – which take the form of general imperatives and – earlier — Divine Commands — seem to have been widely forgotten and overlooked in both the Western and the Eastern hemispheres.
These Ancient Imperatives bear on many of our choices, and not only when we are acting as individuals. They also apply, for example, to actions by a government, when it considers trading with – or invading — a neighboring country, or prepares to defend itself against an invasion. And they apply to a business, when it considers how – or whether — to market an effective and highly profitable but addictive pain-killer.
These Ancient Imperatives provide important guidance to individuals and to all sorts of organizations and groupings that make decisions, make choices.
This pair of Ancient Imperatives calls upon us, as human beings, to love – that is, to seek to benefit . . . to care about, and not to harm — our fellow human beings — as we love – that is, seek to benefit, and not to harm — ourselves.
So these ancient imperatives reflect what has been scientifically confirmed in quite recent times: We are born with the “instinctual roots” of both self–love and care about others. See chapter 4.
Anyone who values intelligent – informed — self-care, as well as active empathy — being kind, and acting toward others with accurately informed good will — should find this philosophy of education attractive. I’m encouraged that Fareed Zakaria in his CNN special The Divided States of America (1/31/2021 – about the 56th minute) subscribes to a “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated” orientation.
And News anchor Lester Holt’s request five nights a week on the NBC Nightly News “Please take care of yourself, and each other” reflects the content of those ancient imperatives.
Highly-regarded modern ethics philosopher, John Stuart Mill – not himself a religious person – praised these ancient imperatives in the highest terms (Utilitarianism, Chapter 2, paragraph 30).
Some readers may already be aware of the comparable ancient cultural roots — in Islamic thought(see, for example, Hadith 13), and in Confucian thought (Books 10 and 12 of The Analects) – that also foreshadow the overall aim I’m proposing in this Philosophy of Education. Those similar roots are reasons for believing that the over-arching, all-embracing aim I’m urging is notprovincial, not biased, not parochial, not culture-bound.
This over-arching aim is one that everyone can adopt in good conscience, whether they think of their own current outlook on life as religious or not.
I believe these recommendations – especially the attitudes and deliberative skills I’ll be recommending as objectives for all who teach — are highly promising . . . and likely to yield clearly helpful outcomes for people anywhere.
And beyond making these recommendations, I’ll be “making a case” for what I recommend. Like anyone claiming the name of philosopher in these times, I’ll be providing well-considered reasons for regarding these recommendations as worthy of acceptance and trial.
I caution you not to expect a complete handbook full of details on how and what to teach. This is not like a cook-book with nearly all the step-by-step instructions for baking a cake, nor like a complete guide for creating a vineyard. But there will be details enough to enable many who study it — to judge for themselves, and to apply what I’m recommending.
Because this is philosophy, I will at times focus on certain terms or words – including “love,” “bullying,” “selfish,” and “agency” that are pivotal or key to what’s being considered, for the sake of making what’s vague or ambiguous more definite, making what’s less than fully clear, more clear.
And because this is philosophy, I will consider and carefully reply to objections – that is, to reasons that have been (or might be) given for rejecting, opposing, or dismissing what is being recommended.
What follows illustrates that consideration of, and solid reply to, objections:
Objection: “The Golden Rule – Treat your neighbor as you’d want to be treated — is an unreliable guide for conduct, because peoples’ tastes differ!”
The Nobel Prize winning Irishplaywright George Bernard Shaw rejected the ancient imperative known as the Golden Rule for the reason that your neighbor’s tastes may differ from your own!
(A character of Shaw’s – author John Tanner – sets forth that objection in his — Tanner’s — “Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion.”)
So any thoughtful reader may well comment: Tastes do vary from person to person, and an individual’s tastes often vary over time. And this old saying has a lot of truth in it: One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Dr. Cox, Isn’t that good enough reason to dismiss that pair of ancient imperatives?
Not really. Consider a particular situation: You and your friend do have different tastes: You much prefer Norman Rockwell’s art while your friend prefers Rembrandt’s; and when it comes to fermented alcoholic beverages, you much prefer semi-dry Riesling table wine, while what your friend really prefers is his favorite craft beer.
The two of you have gone hiking in a remote scenic area that’s somewhat hazardous. You fall and your arm is badly cut.
Isn’t it perfectly clear that, in such a situation, tastes – whether alike or not – are simply irrelevant, beside the point? But obviously the Golden Rule regarding how to treat others, and the Love your Neighbor as you love yourself imperatives are not irrelevant.
And knowing the facts about how to safely stop serious blood loss is also just as relevant as the Golden Rule, and is crucial for applying that AncientImperative in this situation.
In such a situation what you desperately need in order to survive, is to have a tourniquet applied to your arm.
So, regardless of whether my tastes are the same as yours, or very different from yours, the fulfillment of your desire to survive, rooted in our shared,gene-based instinct of self-preservation, is crucial if any of your tastes are to be fulfilled in your remaining time this side of the grave!
Notice further that the Golden Rule and the Love your Neighbor as you love yourself imperatives also yield credible guidance in the very differentsituations where matters of taste are relevant:
In common circumstances, loving a close one as we love ourselves certainly will involve our acting to fulfill that person’s flavor-preferences or preferences in art, or other matters of taste.
Expressions of love for one’s spouse, and one’s family members and close friends, will often properly be guided by those individual taste considerations. This will include his or her particular combination of likes and dislikes when it comes to such matters as flavor- or color- or fragrance- or beverage- or leisure- or entertainment- or sports teams- preferences, and the like – and it will not aim at fulfilling our own flavor preferences, or our own literary or artistic preferences, or similar likes – although it will result in fulfilling those in the happy circumstances when the tastes of spouses or friends coincide.
Doesn’t such conduct, that’s clearly called for by that pair of Ancient Imperatives, illustrate the way we want to be treated by our close ones, at least in normal circumstances?
* * * * *
Although I address several difficulties, reservations, and objections in the course of what follows, there are quite probably others that are not presented. (That’s just one reason for regarding Philosophy as unfinished, and subject to ongoing discussion.)
Because many people now have electronic access to virtually all sorts of information, this philosophic effort will be more down-to-earth with actual examples, both illustrating and confirming main points,than it would have been in pre-internet days.
This quite new electronic access also extends to the immense quantity of scholarship worldwide, from centuries past and from the present. But not everyone has such access; I think just now especially of those living in the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, but there are many others.
At this time when hostility and hatred towards many groups of people are widespread, intense – and deadly — I hope to speak to allmanner of people – regardless of their educational “level,” regardless of their national and religious (or non-religious) ancestry and current status, their youth or advanced years, their political party (if any), their skin color, their gender, their wealth or lack of wealth – small-town and rural folks, suburban folks and city folks – everyone (philosophers, theologians, and lawyers included) — whether among some fortunate “elite” or not, and regardless of the economy where they live, and how they’ve spent their years to this point.
I’ll try to emphasize only what’s evident and clear, and I’ll try to avoid jumping to conclusions, although such hasty leaps in thinking are common among all of us when we’re alarmed, as well as among those who are rigidly traditional, or bullishly science-minded (or anti-science-minded), or bullishly religion-minded (or anti-religion-minded), or among folks who suspect or fear (or who now know) they’ve been deceived, misled, lied to, even swindled or “fleeced.”
I’m also writing for folks who know that they and their region or community have been largely left behind, neglected because of sweeping social changes, including those resulting from industrialization (or from de-industrialization), or from the digital revolution, and from profound climate change.
Parents, everyone who teaches, and students in their teens and beyond – as well as clergy, (and, in the Western world, perhaps even some late-night TV social critic-entertainers) may find it of real interest.
I respectfully ask all to read patiently, thoughtfully, and persistently. The upshot should prove personally attractive and credible, and worth acting on — putting into practice. . . . Perhaps you’re already doing that.
What I’m writing is not a course of study, or a program. But organizations and individuals who do design and who do revise courses, curriculums, and programs and units of study – and, I believe, anyone who teaches — will find this Philosophy of Education to be of practical interest. Without the cooperation of those practical efforts, these philosophical efforts will prove much less than fully fruitful.
[LINK about AUTHOR: GrampaGrape]
Our contemporary helper
To help ensure that what follows is readily accessible to folks who’ve never taken a Philosophy course, my beloved wife of more than three decades, Shirley, (a devoted mother and highly respected retired teacher — who has not taken even one Philosophy course) has agreed to go over every section for readability, clarity, common-sense-reasonableness, and the like. Her encouragement has been important, and her comments have led to significant improvements.
As I was doing the writing, comments by others (mainly non-philosophers) on various portions have helped in those same ways.
[Link to acknowledgments]
Because it’s certainly not entertainment, this philosophical voyage won’t be a casual “pleasure cruise,” but it will provide its own intellectual satisfactions. Like many a substantial voyage, it will call for some sustained, thoughtful involvement. Perhaps you’ll choose to pursue additional internet searches for still images and videos related to its topics on your own; some of them could prove richly rewarding.
We both trust that you, friend Reader, will find this educational voyage genuinely interesting and mind-engaging, and we both hope you’ll travel along with us. The challenge at this point is to build the foundations of a Philosophy of Education, and that will require sustained, reasonably paced, attention that avoids straying into side-channels or “weeds.”
The two Ancient Imperatives about to be examined offer insightful and powerful guidance to just about anyone – not only to people with a higher education, or specialized legal, or philosophical, or scientific, or theological training.
The guidance these Ancient Imperatives offer is both for intelligently taking a principled stand against the diverse harms and evils that we human beings encounter, and for intelligently, wisely, pursuing human lives that are fulfilling – lives of human happiness . . . flourishing . . . thriving.
Please keep in mind the sort of world that I’m urging for us all to aspire to, and take steps to help bring about:
As people put them into practice, these two Ancient Imperatives will be giving shape to a world where people will not be indifferent to the well-being or to the suffering of their fellow human beings – near or far.
Instead, in this ideal world worth working for, people will be inclined to understand and to care constructively about others, choosing to treat one another as they would want to be treated – both individually, and through their various organizations and groupings – from couples and families acting together, to recreational and sporting groups, educational programs and institutions, businesses of all sizes, and not-for-profit organizations, to religious denominations, and political parties, varied community groups, state and national governments, and such international organizations as the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and others, that will contribute to Mutually Assured Disarmament for the sake of that world of human lives that are fulfilling – lives of human happiness . . . flourishing . . . thriving.
CHAPTER 2 WHY THESE TWO “ANCIENT IMPERATIVES”?
The Two Ancient Imperatives
From Leviticus, chapter 19:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18.
And, from Jesus of Nazareth’s “Sermon on the Mount,” the Golden Rule:
“Do to others whatever you want them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in The Law and The Prophets.” Matthew 7:12.
(“The Law and The Prophets” refers to major portions of the Hebrew Bible, or Christians’ Old Testament.)
The important role of self-love in these imperatives is often overlooked. Because both Ancient Imperatives include self-love as basic, or pivotal, for judging and deciding on the rightness of actions . . . of conduct . . . the section immediately ahead of us offers a brief sketch to illustrate what our natural human self-love involves.
Self-love: “As you love yourself”. . . “What you’d want them to do to you”
I understand Self-Love to be the attitude – that is, the settled way of thinking and feeling and being inclined to act and speak — that aims at what’s beneficial for oneself.
Self-love is sometimesconfused with selfishness, but these are profoundly different. Selfishness will be addressed in chapters 5 – 7.
An infant’s or young child’s desires for nourishment, for rest, and her aversion to pain and her tendency to withdraw from threats – clearly are instinct-rooted precursors of self-love as just defined.
Self-love, Threats, and Truth
When it comes to threats, our rudimentary, far-from-educated, self-love inclines us to jump to conclusions that are often mistaken.
Something that, at first glance, appears to threaten you or me as youngsters — perhaps as we’re walking along a roadside we notice an oncoming, swerving, honking truck – that thing really is a threat, something to be avoided – fled from!
But sometimes – perhaps, because of something else we notice in the situation, or thanks to a parent’s or friend’s instructive words – instead of jumping to a false conclusion, we realize that another apparent threat that startles us poses no real threat to us. Perhaps it’s a nearby snarling dog (but one that’s tethered securely), or an unusually dark thunder-cloud (but that’s in the distance and moving away). What we’ve just learned – the accurate, reliable information we’ve just gained — spares us some needless fright and a pointless escape, or flight.
So, believing what’s true, deciding and acting in the light of what’s true, giving and receiving friendly advice and guidance that’s based on what’s true – to avoid the oncoming truck, or, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to keep out of unmasked gatherings of unvaccinated people — can be a life-or-death matter (even though the 45th President of the US downplayed the virus, and claimed early in the pandemic that it would soon miraculously disappear).
Believing what’s true, — that is, what accurately represents the facts – can be a matter of life or death.
A reader might wonder about what philosophers have to say about what the term “true” (and its equivalents in other languages) means. There are several theories – examined in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and elsewhere. For us to study those theories now would complicate my project unnecessarily, and take us into one of those “side channels” mentioned earlier. You can safely trust me on this; I’m not using the term “true” in any way that conflicts with the usual idea that “true” means accurately represents facts.
One’s attitude of self-love becomes more intelligent – more enlightened – as one makes a practice of having his or her set of accepted beliefs as to the facts shaped by what’s true, and makes a practice of trusting those people and organizations that do such things as follow the rules of journalism, that publicly mention their sources, express themselves carefully, acknowledge and correct their own mistakes, and have earned a reputation – not for popularity, norfor millions of views, but for honesty — for truthfulness.
The literally vital importance of believing what’s true when it comes to personal self-love was acknowledged belatedly by several American men who realized they were about to die – not because of an oncoming truck — but from the Covid-19 virus.
Previously they had chosen to trust the US President when he downplayed that virus. Their death-bed statements from intensive care units of hospitals were made and televised for the benefit of others – to warn them against believing the false and misleading statements the then-US President had actually made – the President who himself later, following the extraordinary medical care he was given for Covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Hospital, chose to be vaccinated against the virus – but privately.
What an honest and knowledgeable person claims is a real threat to someone’s life probably is a life-and-death-matter – even if they’re not one of the people (or one of those attractive and popular information outlets) you or I may have gotten in the habit of paying attention to.
And what could be more important for any person, since we all have instinct-based self-love, including the crucial instinct of self-preservation?
When it comes to learning (and to teaching), paying attention to, and heeding, people and organizations known for both truthfulness and for normal, unselfish, instinct-based caring about others, is among life’s most important lessons.
Who in their right mind, and wanting to live, wants to be deceived, misinformed?
But sometimes we people learn too late. In the spring of 2022 many older Russian citizens – limited then for news largely to Russian government-controlled propagandistic TV – were ignorant of their government’s murderous disregard of the lives of their own Russian military sons, and of Ukrainian civilians of all ages. Heavy Russian losses would soon inform those Russian citizens.
More Marks of Mindful Self-love
In my era and my region, a fortunate youth’s or adult’s informed self-love – their enlightened self-interest – might well be marked by such things as, say, drinking enough clean water to stay hydrated — thus avoiding toxic dehydration, getting adequate nourishment, exercise, and sleep, taking aspirin, Ibuprofen, or the like, to deal with a headache, spending mutually fulfilling (“win – win”) time with friends, taking time to learn — to increase one’s skills and one’s knowledge and understanding, and taking time for leisure and recreational activity, taking shelter from extreme weather, consulting with a doctor, especially when ill, and generally behaving non-threateningly, lawfully, and in a civil manner.
Love for other human beings – which includes making decisions that treat others as one would want to be treated — calls for an attitude towards them that includes being generally supportive of the other’s own informed self-love, their enlightened self-interest. This attitude contrasts sharply with the attitude typical of schoolyard bullies.
Some attractive acts that conflict with self-love
Some acts that conflict with a person’s self-love may nevertheless appeal, even strongly appeal: A very young child may literally want to play with fire.
Or a youth or young adult may want to experience an intense drug-induced “high,” but, if we’re vividly aware of the very harmful, deeply life-troublingconsequences that can accompany such highs, including drug– (or alcohol– and tobacco– and other sorts of) addiction, our self-love (our enlightened self-interest) will incline us to choose a different path.
We’re not born knowing such things!
Or we might “feel like getting even with” – retaliating against — someone who has criticized, snubbed, insulted, or bullied us. Often it becomes obvious that trying to get even can have a real downside for us: more retaliation . . . perhaps vicious cycles. So trying to get even is likely to be incompatible with an individual’s informed, enlightened, self-interest – self-love.
If someone has seriously wronged us by an illegalact, it can make sense to speak to the police, consult with friends and family, and perhaps with a lawyer, and even to bring charges against them in civil or criminal court. That presumes, obviously enough, that in a world that still is not one where everyone treats others as they themselves would want to be treated, there often are – in addition to friends and family – police, lawyers, and systems of civil and criminal law that may help.
When – contrary to those imperatives — a nation (or other group) attacks or invades a nation, those Ancient Imperatives oppose mayhem, and support self-defense and paths that minimize and end that harm. The successful precise targeting of terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022 seems to illustrate such a “necessary” evil, an action that was both retributive and protective.
My childhood misunderstanding of those Ancient Imperatives
Although youngsters are capable of understanding and using these two closely-related (and all-too-commonly-ignored) ancient imperatives, they have often been misunderstood — misinterpreted. For a time, as a kid I completely misunderstood the one urging us to treat others as we’d want them to treat us, — not – as I then thought – to treat others the way others (including a neighborhood bully) were treating me!
The very wide range of acts that show love for others
Love of one’s neighbor as oneself is an attitude – that is, a settled way of thinking and feeling and being inclined to act and speak — that’s expressed in extremely diverse actions.
What follows suggests the diversity of loving acts.
In its own time and place, each such loving act has a fairly detailed, particular “motive” or purpose of its own.
A suggested definition of love of one’s neighbor – that attempts to identify love’s unity in that obvious diversity — will follow these illustrative examples.
(1) Diverse acts that are early steps toward — and beginnings of — a person’s loving both self and others, especially many of one’s acts as a normally playful, inquisitive, and non-bullying child, and one’s acts as a conscientious student growing toward both humanly helpful and wisely self-interested (“well-advised,” “prudent”) life with others in society.
(2) In sharp contrast with stealing from one’s employer (or stealing from those who expect to be served by that employer), and in contrast with being exploited by one’s employer by being under-paid (or by being required to do seriously dangerous or forced labor, etc.), but rather choosing to put in a good day’s work, by acts that benefit both oneself and others, plainly exemplifies treating others the way we’d want to be treated.
(3) Mutually fulfillingacts also exemplify such loving acts. These include privately giving and receiving fulfillment of erotic desires by adequately-informed spouses who have wholeheartedly chosen each other, and who continue to learn. These are in marked contrast with the unique suffering experienced by rape victims, and in marked contrast with those transactions of paid sex involving a trafficked, enslaved sex worker, or the sensations provided by a highly-paid “elite” prostitute, or any rapist’s satisfactions, etc.
(4) A mother’s nursing her newborn also exemplifies loving another – treating another beneficially, as one would appreciate having been treated as a newborn – and may well have been.
(5) Either parent’s considerate, middle-of-the-night changing of their crying infant’s messy diaper, and
(6) Anyone’s simply choosing to hold a door open for someone who’d benefit from and appreciate that.
(7) Decisions not to disturb someone can also count as acts of love. Surely there are frequent times when you and I benefit from and appreciate not being disturbed! But not if we’re sleeping as a wildfire or tornado or tsunami or hostile invasion force threatens!
(8) A complex economy with producers that range from tiny to huge, and with supply chains that can be very long, requires many individuals doing what’s essential to bring a diverse array of real benefits to us consumers.
But very often those essential supply chain contributions have been unseen or overlooked and under-appreciated by those who – directly or indirectly –benefit from them.
I suggest you view this two-minute video to sense the deep appreciation – the real love that’s being encouraged — for vital (but often under-appreciated) essential workers during (and brought to light by) the Covid-19 pandemic. One powerful capitalist, Apple Chief Executive Officer, Tim Cook, urged 2020 Ohio State University graduating seniors to take note of and to appreciate the crucial contributions of such workers. Thanks to Fareed Zakaria, CEO Cook’s very brief urging – in effect, it’s a call to love — can be viewed online at: “Last Look: Tim Cook’s Reflections for 2020 graduates.”
The schools, twenty-first century media, and timely celebrations can help to remedy that lack of appreciation.
Also exemplifying love of others as one loves oneself are:
(9) Typically less frequent decisions, like, with the support of one’s close ones, choosing toleave the familiar comforts of one’s home, family, and community for a time of service work as an individual, or as a member of a relief group – as seen again recently in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, or Hurricane Ida, and the horrific Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
Love of others and treating them as one would appreciate being treated as oneself is more dramatically evident in less common acts by adults, including:
(10) Heroic voluntary acts that seem likely or certain to cost that person’s life in aiding others. Have a close look at John 15:13.
An aside: Perhaps in an attempt to quell the anger of parents and family of the thousands of Russian soldiers killed early in the first phase of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Putin seemed to be referring to that Scripture . . . John 15:13 . . . in his contrived rally on or about Mar 18, 2022.
Led by a Putin loyalist, the Russian Orthodox Church, seems to show no awareness of those Ancient Biblical imperatives. Putin – who benefitted from a photo opportunity in the Russian Orthodox Easter service in 2022 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow – has (as I write this) the backing of that branch of organized Christianity in his apparent quest to “Make Russia Great Again.”
Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and most if not all informed Christians are opposed to Putin’s criminal war.
To apply the Ancient Imperatives: Would Putin want to be on the receiving end of that military undertaking?!
Back to acts that express love of others:
Some heroic acts — including the self-sacrificial acts by New York City first responders to the shocking surprise attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, and the very different acts of some US military personnel in late August, 2021, in checking individuals for hidden weapons near an entry to the Kabul International Airport — are heroic acts that these adult actors implicitly committed themselves to – in effect agreed in advance to perform if needed — by having chosen those dangerous lines of work.
11. Other heroic self-sacrificial (“selfless”) loving acts by adults are above and beyond any call of duty – like a soldier’s self-sacrificially throwing him- or herself upon a grenade that’s about to explode harming others, or — to protect others – an unarmed student’s courageously charging at, rather than fleeing from, a school-shooter equipped with lethal weaponry.
For additional examples of what love’s imperatives call for, see upcoming section: “More on love for others.”
What do such acts by individuals have in common that identifies them as Loving acts? Towards a definition.
What ties such diverse acts of Neighbor Love together is that they aim at directly or indirectly benefitting – voluntarily doing something that’s good for – one or more others who are certainly (or likely) to be impacted on the receiving end.
Because the recipients of one’s actions will themselves have some measure of self-love, loving those neighbors as we love ourselves will include acting towards them in ways that respect their own mindful self-love – perhaps as basic as wanting to go on living – self-preservation.
Love aims to do something that’s beneficial for the recipient – including action that prevents or lessens what would be harmful for the recipient(s).
In ways that have often differed concretely from culture to culture, all of them, including decisions not to disturb or interrupt, express a desire to be directly or indirectly beneficial, or helpful, kind or compassionate — especially to one or more other human beings.
As an individual’s human instincts become more enlightened, they provide the basis for a desire and for a hope for others to live, to benefit, to thrive, to flourish in community with other human beings who are also thriving.
The appropriateness of the term “love” to briefly sum up such actions and attitudes is suggested by Dr. Jill Biden’s decision during the coronavirus pandemic to wear a jacket with the single term “LOVE” prominently on it for her June 2021 diplomatic trip with her husband, the US President, to meet with world leaders. That single word – both verb and noun — spoke powerfully to millions, and probably more meaningfully than any other single word in English.
And during the Covid-19 pandemic some advertising by corporations including auto manufacturer SUBARU, and socks manufacturer BOMBAS — advertising that announces benevolent actions those corporations will take in response to customer purchases — clearly takes for granted that consumers do tend to lovingly care about their families, their fellow human beings, as well as their pets, and about neglected animals, especially those suffering from harms prominent in hard times.
Those advertising appeals are quite different from what have often been the usual appeals to the short-sighted self-interest, the immature self-love, of some consumers. Advertisers have often emphasized “sex sells,” the proverbial “shiny objects,” and the desire to exercise “loud, sensational power,” in order to grab consumer attention.
I’m confident your own internet search of “Golden Rule,” or “Love of Neighbor,” will confirm the way of understanding “love of neighbor” that ties it to voluntary action to promote real benefits (or to prevent or lessen real harms) for those directly or indirectly on the receiving end — results that the actor understands as something he or she would appreciate receiving in such circumstances.
You might decide to witness a polar opposite of love of one’s fellow human beings. If so, consider the attitudes displayed by adult members of ISIS(and attitudes ISIS tragically “teaches” to children)byviewing the 12-minute investigative Frontline documentary: Children of ISIS; but be cautioned: it’s disturbing to watch.
In 2022 the ways of love stood in undeniably clear contrast with the ways of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s armed forces’ murderous, criminal mistreatment of Ukrainian civilians.
Putin’s decisions as commander of Russia’s military make perfectly clear that it is not only when people act as individuals that we manifest love or its opposite.
More on Love for Others
Our innate rudiments of love for people help to explain why it is natural for many of us to want to reach out to others in need or in danger, as seen in the strong public responses to, for example, CNN’s invitations to contribute to vetted, checkable providers of disaster relief for victims of exceptionally destructive Hurricane Ida, and of Russia’s 2022 outrageous invasion of Ukraine, or torrential flooding, as in Kentucky.
Along with many of my American contemporaries, I am struck by the – sometimes annoyingly inefficient — huge numbers of bona fide, often non-governmental, often religious, checkable, not-for-profit benevolent agencies seeking donations. Through these agencies we are encouraged and enabled to provide relief or other needed assistance to our fellow human beings near and far – people we’ll probably never meet — but who are in serious need.
We have such opportunities, and we cannot avoid making choices.
Documentaries make plain our human instinct-rooted attitude of concern for others who’ve witnessed or suffered tragic loss. Such concern is unmistakable in the lives of members of New York City’s Fire Department and others who were close to the profoundly shocking events of 9/11/2001 at New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.
More recently, vital support such as that provided by the Poles, for millions fleeing the Putin-directed, brutal invasion of Ukraine, speaks plainly about our instinct-based attitude of supportive concern for others.
More often than we may realize, the instinct-rooted and well-nurtured, whole-hearted attitude of caring about others – is shown in extraordinary patriotic love for others. This took place on 9/11/2001 by passengers who courageously attacked the airborne hijacking Middle-Eastern terrorists near Shanksville, PA, — very probably to prevent the destruction of the US Capitol, and untold subsequent harm.
The loving intervention by those heroes in that precarious and extreme (and tragic) situation was marked by prompt, decisive, agreed-upon, cooperative action to limit and to prevent grave harm.
Whether or not we’re aware of it, many of us have remotely witnessed – via broadcast of an unplanned video recording — a critically endangered child or adult being instinctively rescued by complete strangers who happen to be nearby – whether in Xinjiang, China, or Yonkers, New York.
The value of thoughtfully understanding and living out those Ancient Imperatives is intimatedby (1)their roots in our own genetically-based instincts, and also by (2) their fruits – their beneficial consequences — in guiding humankind toward the fulfillment of enduringly attractive, and unmistakably confident hopes of some ancient prophets (for example, see Isaiah 2:4) and, naturally, toward fulfilling the desires of human parentsfrom every generation for their own sons, daughters, and grandchildren.
PERILS OF IGNORING THOSE IMPERATIVES Informed and loving action can help us to reduce (and sometimes prevent) “naturally caused” harms that threaten people via Nature’s earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, meteor collisions, and weather extremes including tornadoes, hurricanes, super-storms, tsunamis and floods, droughts and famines, and from wildfires, nature’s poisons, and predator attacks, and nature’s pandemics, drug (and other) epidemics, and more common illnesses, including cancers, blindness, as well as phobias, depression, dementia, allergies, stings and bites, and diseases known to be genetic diseases, like sickle-cell anemia.
Ignoring those Ancient Imperatives invites monumental peril — especially in humankind’s “high-tech” time of new social media, powerful news media, artificial intelligence, drones, cyber-crime, cyber-bullying, cyber-attacks, recurring directed pulsed-energy – microwave — attacks, cluster munitions, vacuum bombs, hypersonic missiles with evasion abilities, biological and chemical weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, and unimaginably devastating inter-continental nuclear weapons.
Who knows how much harm even one misguided organization (or powerfully-placed individual) with control of such modern weaponry, or control of one of the relatively new and powerful yet deceptiveand profit-driven and/or propagandisticso-called“news and information” sources on today’s “social media” can cause?
Long before such “high-tech” threats to human flourishing — which have been enabled by modern-science and technology, and certainly won’t be thwarted by STEM education alone — there were and still are an assortment of “low-tech” harms and injuries.
It was into a world marked by “low-tech” harms – but plagued by “man’s inhumanity to man,” suggested by much of what is forbidden in both ancient and modern codes (including murder, false testimony, and theft) — that the Ancient Imperatives were introduced. Some are mentioned later in the discussions of bullying, chapter 6.
This Philosophy of Education recommends educating for attitudes shaped by those Ancient Imperatives for humanely coping with both the high-tech and low-tech harms (including rape) that threaten and that mar a great many human lives.
Some especially serious concrete troubles of recent, twenty-first century decades should serve all of us as wake-up calls.
Among others, at this writing these include:
(1) The9/11/2001 middle-eastern (mainly Saudi) extremist terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington,
(2) The world-wide Women’s March of January 21, 2017 (Chapter 5)
(3) The long string of racially motivated killings of black Americans by whites, that reached peaks because of spontaneous citizen videos of the May 25, 2020 outrageous racist murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the racist killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020 by white citizens near Brunswick, GA, and the senseless March 13, 2020 killing by Louisville, KY, police of Breonna Taylor. And more such killings continued.
And more recently:
(4) The much-videoed deadly January 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington DC against the US Congress – clearly intended to prevent the traditional peaceful, constitutional transition to the democratically elected Chief Executive of the United States of America, Joseph Biden, and to keep Donald J. Trump in that office unlawfully.
(5) Recurring extreme weather events and continuing evidence of profound climate change and global warming.
(6) My Republican Party’s having utterly lost its way. (link)
(7) Vladimir Putin’s brutal, criminal, Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Some of my studies of those and related matters are accessible to readers by plainly labelled links. These linked studies do not need to be consulted in order to understand this Philosophy of Education, which, however, has been shaped in part with their help.
Chapter 3 Why Not Something Modern and Cross-Cultural?
A thoughtful reader may wonder: These Ancient Imperatives from the Middle East – to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to treat one another as we’d want to be treated — have been on the human scene for over two thousand years. But much of the world remains very unloving – a place where they are widely ignored. A thoughtful reader may well suspect that’s because that pair of Ancient Imperatives is outdated.
“Aren’t there modern teachings that are more promising? What about (1) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? and (2) Utilitarianism? Don’t they provide more promising moral bases – moral foundations — for education by parents and by all who teach in the 2020’s and beyond?
What about a more up-to-date – a 20th century basis for our moral choices — a basis with cross-cultural, world-wide input, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formed by the United Nations after World War II?”
My Reply: Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is itself much more recent than those ancient sources for the Golden Rule (and similar moral teachings), that Human Rights tradition of recommendations for human conduct is also very ancient.
The history of that tradition is long and complex; just glance at the Wikipedia article “History of Human Rights.”
For reliable general perspective on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I suggest reading through the brief Britannica article entitled “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
In modern times the Human Rights tradition surfaced prominently at the times of the American and French Revolutions, when “the people” were being seriously impacted by the misdeeds of their governments. (I suggest you take time to view on line the 9 ½ minute video: Magna Carta and Human Rights; A Brief History of Human Rights.)
The American Declaration of Independence (1776) declares: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” (Emphasis added.)
Accordingly, the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791) included amendments that explicitly limit the power of the new American government. They “declare” states’ and citizens’ rights against the new American Government (as well as obligations of that government toward its citizens):
AMENDMENT I declares: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. . . . (Emphasis added.)
In that important 18th century context, the “Declaration” of Independence with its reference to “self-evident human rights” — provided an attractive premise – an attractive (but not altogether clear, let alone genuinely self-evident) starting point for reasoning in favor of limiting, curtailing, — certainly not increasing — the power or authority of “the state” – the power of a potentially oppressive new government.
Even if the UDHR is the most credible 20th century rendering of the human rights tradition, there are several reasons parents and others who teach should prefer the “Love your neighbor/Golden Rule tradition” — the “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated” tradition, for educating all the individuals of each succeeding generation:
(1) The UDHR itself asks far too much of those who teach, namely: “that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms. . . .” (Emphasis added.)
I respectfully ask readers to thoughtfully read through its 30 articles.
I suspect you’ll agree with the UDHR’s recognition – in Article 1 — of the importance of education, but you’ll almost certainly agree with me that it would be a rarely gifted individual (whether a student, or parent or other teacher) who would be able to do what Article 1 urges, namely: to keep these 30 articles “constantly in mind!”
Like the UDHR, I am recommending a guide for conduct to be learned and adoptedby “every individual and every organ of society.”
But the guide I’m recommending – that pair of Ancient Imperatives – is one that actually can be learned, kept in mind, and intelligently (I don’t say infallibly!) used, even by the young.
Although the UDHR’s 30 articles are much briefer than Maimonides’ list of 613 commandments, is there any doubt that the UDHR is asking far too much of those who teach when it asks them to keep those thirty articles “constantly in mind”?
(2) Unlike the thirty articles of the UDHR, the two Ancient Imperatives really are teachable to the quite young.
And, very importantly, it’s much easier by far to teach what it is to love one’s neighbor as oneself (see chapter 2) than it is to teach what it is to have a supposedly self-evident human right!
Teachers take note: — from the earliest years through advanced studies, with the help of attainable, enlightened instruction, and with practice and discussion (not just posters on the wall, and not just words written on a page, or on a test, or presented on a screen, or words of agreement or of assent repeated in conversational exchanges), even young children – who do arrive in this world equipped with the rudiments of both self-love and love for others (see chapter 4) — can “get the hang” of . . . can catch on to . . . the way of deliberating, and deciding on human conduct, that’s called for by these Ancient Imperatives.
(3) Some of what the UDHR asks readers (and everyone who teaches) to accept – to believe — is, actually morally dubious, even dangerous. Look at Article 22:
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. (Emphasis added.)
In Article 22 the UDHR introduces alleged rights that are radically different from restraints, or limitations, designed to limit or restrict government in its relations with — in its treatment of – its citizens.
The alleged rights mentioned in Article 22 – “Everyone . . . has the right to social security and is entitled to realization . . . of . . . the free development of his personality” would require an increase, not a restriction, in the powers of the government.
The late Professor Roger Scruton was probably right when he said:
“The concept [human rights] that was introduced in order to guarantee individual freedom is now being used to constrain it.
“In the name of human rights, activist courts are enforcing orthodoxies that could never be imposed on us by an elected legislature.” (Emphasis added.)
You Tube: Roger Scruton July 1, 2018 “Human Rights” especially minute 24 and following.
Those familiar with the history of western thought will recognize that Scruton’s criticism is straightforwardly reminiscent of important criticisms made earlier by both Alexis de Tocqueville (in Democracy In America) and John Stuart Mill (in On Liberty) on the topic of the “tyranny of the majority.”
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that those who teach should dismiss the content of the UDHR! Teachers, parents, and young students may find it helpful to spend time on the website: Kids for Global Peace, which provides child-oriented, rights-based instruction rooted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, I recommend noticing how the content of those articles indicateswhat that pair of Ancient Imperatives themselves may regularly call for in the present era. For example, Articles 3 and 4 of the UDHR depict as “rights” the sorts of things that love of neighbor, and treating others as one would want to be treated, would surely call for.
Interested students might well be challenged to explore, discuss, and write about connections between these two documents: the 30 articles of the UDHR and that pair of Ancient Imperatives as developed in this philosophy of education (especially in chapters 1 and 2).
Further, they may find it instructive to compare that pair of Ancient Imperatives with the thirteen rights presented at the Kids for Global Peace website.https://www.kidsforglobalpeace.info/camp.html
They’ll do well to find out how tyranny of the majority itself is to be judged by applying the Ancient Imperatives.
And they’ll do well to consider cases where conflicts among rights themselves occur.
The pair of Ancient Imperatives central to this Philosophy of Education seem not to have been examined closely by most modern ethical theorists.
Perhaps like some others who’ve studied modern ethical theories, I was quite recently surprised to notice the very high praise that highly regarded modern ethical theorist, John Stuart Mill, hadfor this same pair of Ancient Imperatives from the Middle East. Mill – not really a religious man – wrote:
“In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.” (Emphasis added.) Utilitarianism, chapter 2, paragraph 19.
Modern philosopher, science-minded Mill’s remarkably outspoken support for these Ancient Imperatives should command the attention of every thoughtful person.
Somewhat like Mill, I had explicitly subscribed to the ideal that reflects those two ancient imperatives. That ideal – a powerfully attractive ideal world in which those imperatives are being fulfilled by everyone — is the over-arching aim I had “dared” to propose in this Philosophy of Education.
But unlike Mill, I contend that in the here and now — in our current, far from ideal, world — we ought to teach ourselves and others, especially the young, to follow – to “apply” – to USE that pair of Ancient Imperatives — when we decide on – when as individuals, as well as members of groups, we choose — our courses of conduct, and decide on our group or organizational policies.
That putting into practice will make our actual, often very unloving world (a world marked by far too much violence and hate) more like the attractive ideal Mill so emphatically supported himself in commending those (Ancient!) Imperatives.
In the 12th century CE, focusing on the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, the scholar Maimonides counted 613 commandments – a great many specific “Thou Shalt’s” and “Thou Shalt Not’s” — to be obeyed.
Jesus of Nazareth, who had emphasized that pair of Ancient Imperatives more than a thousand years earlier, reportedly said of them that they are “the essence of all that is taught in The Law and The Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
This teaching of Jesus is a truly radical intellectual simplification that’s especially important for all those who teach.
Whether or not it was original with him, it surfaced amusingly in a story about the highly respected, and exemplary Hillel the Elder. It was said that he summed up the Torah’s (the five books of the Hebrew Law’s) teaching — along those concise, simplified lines — for an inquirer who wanted it done in the time that inquirer could stand on one foot!
As for recent times, some modern Western philosophers, following more familiar portions of Mill’s writings, have recommended Utilitarian tests for the rightness of conduct – tests that have us ask: (1) Is this the act that will do the most good for all who are affected directly and indirectly? (“Act-utilitarianism”)
Other Utilitarians propose that we test acts for their rightness by determining: (2) Does this act comply with the set of rules that, when generally followed, brings about the greatest happiness of the greatest number? (“Rule-utilitarianism”)
Strongly in favor of these “modern” Utilitarian proposals is that they do stress the consequences of actions, the human harms and the benefits – and thus the thriving, the flourishing, the happiness, of people — that’sat stake in human conduct.
Probably the most serious problem with both of these modern Utilitarian tests for the rightness of actions is that, when it comes to actually applying those tests, Utilitarianism requires an agent to have unrealistically sweeping information as to facts (information regarding all the resulting harms and benefits) – information as to the greatest happiness resulting from the alternatives (the possible acts, or those sets of rules) — information that is rarely, perhaps never, accessible.
Regarding that first version of a Utilitarian test: very often (perhaps always), when a particular action is being considered, as agents we simply don’t know what the entire array of consequences will be for any of the options. And since the agent doesn’t know those consequences, she doesn’t know which of her options is the right one, and is left without a conclusion. So, according to that version of Utilitarianism, what is a person — an actor, an agent — to do?
Regarding the second version: we simply don’t know which set of rules of conduct will be the set that, when generally followed, will cause the greatest happiness of the greatest number. So which set of rules are parents and other teachers to teach? We may have well-founded guesses as to the right rules, but we can hardly be fully confident about guesses.
In this philosophy of education I’m proposing the teaching of an attitude (that is, a settled way of thinking and feeling and being inclined to act and speak) that includes skill (and so calls for actual practice) in applying the Golden Rule – in order to learn which act(s) would treat the other person(s) as the actor himself (or herself, or themselves) would want to be treated.
Those ancient imperatives can and should be part of a teachable, learnable attitude that directs us to check (or “test”) any act by whether we’d want those we know and love (ourselves included) to be on the receiving end of – to be impacted by — that act.
Of course consequences – human harms and benefits — are central to this test. And be sure to notice: The Ancient Imperatives direct us to judge by consequences that those who must choose and act DO have substantial access to; they don’t have to just guess, or conjecture as to probabilities.
These Ancient Imperatives tell us to treat others the way we’d want to have our loved ones (including ourselves) treated.
These are consequences that we can often confidently know – consequences that, when it’s needed, can be thoughtfully discussed among available loved ones.
I suspect that this test provides the implicit basis for the intuitive (unanalyzed) moral judgments of many millions of thoughtful, conscientious people. Compare with Paul’s (the former Saul of Tarsus) letter to the Romans chapter 2, verses 14 and 15.
Response by the inquirer to the second – the Utilitarianism — suggestion: In view of those replies to my objection, to my surprise, those Ancient Imperatives do clearly seem more defensible than those two modern Utilitarian theories. But what are the “implications” of that pair of Ancient Imperatives for such things as:
1. A democratic government where no one is above the law, vs. an autocracy?
2. How to judge which option would be fair or just when the options involve actions that distribute some public benefit – like funds to rebuild after a hurricane, among many individuals?
3. Whether to support a punitive criminal justice system, or a restorative criminal justice system as in Norway?
4. Whether a developed society should institute a universal basic income?
5. Whether US presidents should be chosen via the “Electoral College” or popular vote, and whether the US Senate’s Filibuster rule, and the Supreme Court’s prohibition of early abortions are justified?
Chapter 4 We begin as Blank Slates, right? Wrong!
Whatever one’s first language may be, I suspect that most folks understand (and many are struck by the fact) that human (and other) infants are born with instincts that powerfully serve the needy newborn’s interests. Perhaps that fact led the ancient Psalmist to say “It is He Who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100, verse 3.)
But given the catastrophic troubles – especially both world wars and the soul-shocking evils of Auschwitz and the other Nazi “camps,” the murderous eastward sweep of Marxism across much of Asia, and the recent Putin-ordered atrocities in Ukraine — that our 20th and 21st century world has seen, it may seem doubtful indeed that we the people are born with benevolent, other-assisting, cooperative, “love your neighbor” instincts.
In the prologue to his 2019 Humankind, A Hopeful History, contemporary Dutch historian Rutger Bregman concisely surveys an array of powerful sources – both religious and non-religious — that have led many in the western hemisphere to believe in a very “dark” – a cynical — view of human nature. That tendency had surfaced prominently in Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. It is evident in the writings of Sigmund Freud.
Bregman points out that helping to prop up that bleak, dark, pessimistic outlook was Nobel Prize-winning William Golding’s fictional Lord of the Flies – translated into more than thirty languages – which sold tens of millions of copies and was widely read, often in schools. It was the basis of two movies.
Do search Bregman’s May 2020 article in The Guardian: “The Real Lord of the Flies – what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months.” What actually happened when six boys were shipwrecked was in marked contrast to Golding’s dark and pessimistic fiction. They exhibited both what I’ve been calling self-love and care – love — for one another. That revealing non–fiction story in The Guardian is well worth bearing in mind.
Recent well-conceived research also indicates that, as there are inherited rudiments of self–love in our genetic makeup, so too there’s also good reason to believe that there are inherited rudiments of love for others as well.
Research by Paul Bloom and others suggests that obviously helpful acts depicted by puppets are commonly approved even by infants too young to speak or walk, and that even such infants regularly disapprove obviously unhelpful or mean acts depicted by puppets.
“A growing body of evidence . . . suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone.” (Emphasis added.) www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html
Although it still seems we all come into the world lacking substantial knowledge – and that we’re initially totally ignorant about all but the most obvious effects on others of our individual actions, let alone the effects of our later collective actions — it’s clear we normally do arrive with gene-based instinctual inclinations or pre-dispositions. We’re not “blank slates” at birth.
And normally we soon come to exhibit curiosity: we pay attention and focus, and show some desire to explore. When we speak we soon ask questions, begin to find out, and sometimes we actually come to have well-justified and confident beliefs, and to know. And (despite what the awesomely brilliant Aristotle probably believed) that includes girls as well as boys!
We are all shaped by the relatively stable “nature” we human beings inherit – that is, by those genetic similarities and differences that researchers have begun to understand increasingly and in detail – a genetic heritage much of which people – we human beings — share with other species.
It’s a genetic heritage that can be – and is — impacted by choices people make.
And we are shaped especially by our instinct-rooted desires to:
(1) avoid pain and being harmed, and to experience life’s pleasures and enjoyments, and to
(2) have companionship and amicable relations with others, and to
(3) ask questions (including a child’s: “Why? . . .” when that’s asked even after we’ve given an explanation, but an explanation that seems to invite yet another “But Why?”).
We want to learn, explore, and find out – about all sorts of things, from the latest neighborhood news, to our gender differences, to information about the rise, or coming to be, of things (What makes earthquakes happen?) and the passing away of things (Does everybody die? What happens after we die?).
Many wonder about Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Some are adding to humankind’s information about the galaxies most distant in time and space, while others – like Jennifer Doudna – have concentrated on very small (but very powerful) entities and processes in our own genetic material (see Walter Isaacson’s book The Code Breaker).,
(4) And we sometimes wonder about who we humans ultimately are, when all is said and done. (Psalm 8, verse 4).
Pleasure’s Early Power, and Fulfillment
It’s no surprise to readers that our instincts and childhood desires lead us to want to avoid painful experiences – like being burned, or witnessing someone else being burned — and to repeat experiences that are pleasant – like eating tasty food, being gently massaged, and embracing and being embraced by a close one, going sight-seeing or fishing with friends, or perhaps building a sand castle or snow fort with them, etc.
Both ancient and modern psychological theories (including egoism and hedonism) – and our own observations — reflect the power of pleasure. A toddler who has just had her first taste of chocolate candy or chocolate milk leaves no doubt about the power of that pleasure, that enjoyment. And a flame or hot stove emphatically teaches the child who touches it.
If a genetically normal girl or boy is loved, and so benefits from a supportive setting, then the experience-based branching out over time of our own instincts and childhood desires often brings us as children to want to listen to certain stories repeatedly, to hear and sing our favorite songs, to learn new words, to seek and inquire, to speak in sentences, to play, to travel, and to make, build, and create things.
We may want to fashion — and show to others — our own drawings and other pictures, our own physical accomplishments (like summersaults, jumping rope, rock-climbing, bike riding, etc.), and to listen to, and to say or sing, and to do things that interest or amuse others, and that produce laughter, and those that yield to us the rewards of their praise, commendation, and sincere expressions of their gratitude.
And in addition to our inherited instinctual “nature,” we are shaped by the “nurture” we receive: Parents, teachers, and other close adults usually try to do what they can to provide for our physical and emotional wellbeing, help us develop adequate nutritional habits, acceptable relations with others, provide support for our medical needs, and the like.
Met with encouragement, helped by coaching and instruction, and by some satisfying success along those lines, we will grow in personal and social skills and habits, in creativity, and in mutual emotional supportiveness with some others.
And as we acquire a language, don’t we usually take pleasure in, enjoy, and desire repeated association, conversation – and other activities — with close ones and childhood friends and playmates who share that language? Other terms in English for this developing camaraderie include “family,” “pals,” “buddies,” “companionship,” “friendship,” “fellowship,” and “community.”
Impediments, Neglect, and Loss
Sadly, however, the young are notalways given strong nurturing, encouragement, helpful coaching, and instruction. Apart from such extreme practices as those of ISIS toward youngsters, impediments and neglect often interfere. That neglect and thoseimpediments work against the desirable growth sketched a couple of paragraphs back.
An especially poignant individual American example of such impediments to growth, and their tragic impact on an individual, is one that was encountered as a beginning teacher by Jonathan Kozol, and mentioned in his Savage Inequalities, on pages 194f.
“An eight-year-old, a little boy who is an orphan, goes to the school to which I was assigned. He talks to himself and mumbles during class, but he is never offered psychiatric care or counseling. When he annoys his teacher, he is taken to the basement to be whipped. He isn’t the only child in the class who seems to understand that he is being ruined, but he is the child who first captures my attention. His life is so hard, and he is so small; and he is still quite gentle. He has one gift: He draws delightful childish pictures, but the art instructor says he “muddies his paints.” She shreds his work in front of the class. Watching this, he stabs a pencil point into his hand.”
Commendably, Kozol kept track of and provided assistance to him. But eventually, as a young man, he was incarcerated for murder.
It wasn’t only that particular art instructor who had failed to live out that important pair of Ancient Imperatives – and who had taken part in the bullying of that youngster.
Do take a few minutes to envision for yourself and to describe briefly in general terms some of the impediments that hamper the development of children somewhere whose parents are enslaved, orwho are forcibly confined like the Islamic Uyghurs by the Communist Party of China in so-called “re-education centers” in western China.
Or envision and describe the array of impediments faced by girls in patriarchal societies like Afghanistan in the 2020’s that oppose, or that severely limit, schooling for girls, or the impediments facing young girls – for example in the Indian subcontinent — whose utterly destitute parents find they must choose between either (1) their own starvation, or (2) selling their young daughters; or envision and describe some impediments imposed by persistent bullying!
Even though legalized slavery in the US was itself eventually overcome, its lingering effects (including conscious racial dislikes, fears, and hatreds, and remnants of legalized racial discrimination) continue to impede the growth of many learners – especially those descended from enslaved persons.
This has been evidenced often by their publicly under-funded classrooms, their faculty members’ experience, their gyms, their air quality, their school yards and playing fields, their labs, libraries, and equipment, and their course offerings, and, of course, by their school budgets.
That pair of Ancient Imperatives directs us to ask, if you are a tax-paying citizen in 21st century America, are those conditions what you’d want for your loved ones . . . for your own children and grand-children?
Worldwide, the power of bullying, of racial-, ethnic-, and religious prejudice – including long-standing anti-Semitism and prejudice against Palestinians, Muslims, Asians and others — has been evident in the harms done to people – to our fellow human beings — stereotypically targeted because they are members of an array of “different” groups,and it continues at this writing. Those hatreds (and too-easy access by some civilians to personal automatic weapons of war) have led to shocking mass killings – especially in the US.
So there’s more than enough challenging (yet fulfilling) reforming work for ongoing, wisely led and organized, generously-supported, enlightened, long-term labors of love.
CHAPTER 5 MALE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN — WHY?
At this point I want to respond as a philosopher of education to one of those early 21st century wakeup calls – or historical “jolts” – and that is the Women’s March of January 21, 2017.
It was not an accident, on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the US, that the largest single-day protest in American history took place. Rather than passively stay on the sidelines, thousands of women – individuals who had been mistreated by men, and many others who cared deeply — stood up, organized, and were speaking out powerfully.
And there were comparable protest marches in more than eighty other countries – on every continent except Antarctica! Women in France, for example, demonstrated against award-winning film maker Roman Polanski — who had fled the US in the wake of his appalling rape of a minor in the US decades earlier – older folks may remember him – or you can check the online article about him in Wikipedia.
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington gave voice to their desire for a variety of social changes. But I want to focus on one of those intensely desired changes, namely, overcoming sexually predatory behavior – including violence against women – by more than just a few men. Those sorts of misconduct include impulsively grabbing women by their genitals — like Donald Trump had bragged about in those Access Hollywood tapes that became public during his campaign against the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton.
A few of the many other American men called out for sexual assault during this period included comedian and TV star Bill Cosby, ex-Fox-TV news host Bill O’Reilly, Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Trump nominee to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, teacher, turned banker, turned financial consultant, multi-millionaire (or billionaire), Jeffrey Epstein (who appears to have taken his own life soon after being imprisoned), and many others. We could mention the appalling, 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, High School gang rape – widely disclosed with pictures on the internet.
Public allegations by women against men for sexual harassment and assault became almost commonplace.
Although those 2017 women marchers were seeking a variety of specific objectives – fairness in pay, freedom for young women athletes from abuse by certain male coaches and doctors, etc. — probably all marchers were united in their desire for such predatory male mistreatment – including violence against women — to stop.
And that concern is the focus of what follows now.
* * * * *
Readers, would you have wanted to be on the receiving end of such treatment – or have your beloved spouse, or child, or grandchild, or other loved one treated that way? No? Nor would I.
Then do pause, do reflect, and do notice: You and I have, in effect, just applied those Ancient Imperatives ourselves; we’ve come out against sexual assault — we’ve just judged sexual assault to be wrong — on the basis of those Ancient Imperatives.
* * * * *
Seems remarkably simple, doesn’t it? Some – indeed many, (but not all) — important recent and contemporary examples of misconduct really are morally simple – are morally uncomplicated . . . and I believe you’ll find that they’re easily and reliably agreed upon by those who’ll reason and judge by those Ancient Imperatives.
In 2017 those many thousands of women marching in the US Capital may well have believed that changes to our nation’s laws would help bring about the changes they hoped for in the conduct of many men. Washington D. C. is, of course, the nation’s law-making capital — not just the White House home for that prominent “dis-respecter” of women, Donald Trump.
(If you don’t know about Donald Trump’s objectionable attitude toward women, for starters try, for example, an internet search of the videos from the 17-year history of Howard Stern’s interviews with Donald Trump. Or search what Trump said in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tapes.)
HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION TO END THE VIOLENCE ?
Legislation aiming to empower women based on an appeal to natural or human rights dated back at least to the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, which gave American women – actually, it gave white American women — the legal right to vote.
The 19th amendment was clearly an example of legislation that had brought important benefits to American women – at least to white American women.
The 19th amendment has made a big difference. And if as an American woman you didn’t vote, it was not because there was any law preventing it! You had that legal right, provided you were white.
But — Could the enactment and enforcement of laws go far to END the violent predatory behavior of some men against women – the sorts of behavior that led many thousands to take part in the Women’s March the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President?
At the time of that Women’s March there was already fairly extensive relevant federal legislation on the books:
23 years earlier — in 1994 — the complex Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was the first comprehensive set of federal legislative provisions designed to END violence against women. Then-Senator Joe Biden had led in getting that legislation enacted into law. It has been re-authorized since then.
Its most controversial provision gave American women – for the first time — a legal right they had not previously had: It allowed victims of gender-based violence to sue their attackers in a court of law.
Surely most women and girls – well aware that men tend to be bigger and stronger than girls and women — want and hope for much more than freedom from violence in their various dealings men!
The very fact that the 2017 Women’s March even took place showed plainly that that 1994 legislation had not even come close to ending male violence against women.
For that law – or any such law — to work, men would need to have some knowledge of the law, and fear the consequences of violating it.
But plenty of American men didn’t know a thing about that law. Even among those who did know about the law – or who should have known – it’s obvious that many were not deterred by the prospect of legal punishments — perhaps because they believed: “I can get away with it; chances are I won’t get caught. And if I’m caught I’ll escape punishment, because I’ll find a lawyer who’ll successfully defend me. It will be worth the cost.”
And very importantly, that new 1994 legal right for her to sue her attacker came with a heavy cost to the woman who tries to exercise that right, who tries to bring the force of law down on her attacker, to “make him pay:”
Even if the attacker is identified and caught – perhaps with the help of DNA evidence — the wheels of justice often turn very slowly and painfully, forcing victims of sexual abuse to endure costly, long, seriously uncomfortable, embarrassing waits, even mortifying public disclosures, in order for legal justice to be done – in order for her to get what she has a legal right to – that is monetary punishment and/or incarceration for the perpetrator, and perhaps some financial compensation for herself.
How many assaulted women will want to endure court cases in which often well-paid trial lawyers compete for victory in her case? How many women – in order to exercise their “new,” 1994 legal right— will want to undergo a lawyer’s cross-examination that aims to undercut the evidence that her legal team presents?
It’s no wonder that, despite that 1994 Violence Against Women Act, many women who’ve been sexually assaulted would instead choose to quietly get along as best they can without speaking up, without seeking legal justice, without seeking their new legal right.
What About a New Educational Emphasis, instead of relying mainly on Laws, Courts, and Lawyers?
Women (and, I’d like to believe, a large majority of men) rightly want male abuse of girls and women to stop. But, instead of focusing entirely on human rights, legal rights, legislation, courts of law, and on lawyers to address their desire for male abuse of women to stop, I believe that Education that effectively stresses character, and stable, mutually beneficial humanrelations of all sorts — should be the focus.
I believe – and I think that, after a closer look, common sense agrees — a great deal of the predatory behavior of those men toward women is rooted in ignorant selfish concern for their own sensual pleasure — but certainly not rooted in informed and loving regard for the other person’s immediate sensual pleasure before, during, and after sexual relations – let alone the other person’s happiness, their flourishing, their thriving, afterwards.
Such men’s conduct is often emboldened by impulsive approval and support from similarly ignorant and selfish males.
1. An Education that’s rooted in – and respects — our human nature
The kind of education I’m advocating is rooted in both our innate self-love and love of others (chapter 4). Because of that, it’s education that promotes character and conduct in accord with those two Ancient Imperatives: Love your neighbor as yourself, and Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. (chapter 2).
The sort of education I’m advocating is also rooted in our natural desire for what’s pleasant, and our natural desire to avoid what’s painful. (chapter 2)
It’s education that takes seriously the importance of the information that’s critical in order for human agents to gain those benefits, and to avoid those harms: It’s education rooted in our desire to know, and to avoid being deceived and misled. (chapter 2)
I’m advocating an educational emphasis on taking explicit note of conduct that is mutually beneficial – even the often-heard “Thank YOU” from a TV interviewee who has just been thanked by the interviewer or host.
(2) Such education draws students’ attention to mutually beneficial (“win—win”) human conduct. Bear in mind: We are certainly not born with that knowledge, nor can we count on all the more important examples being acquired informally, and it is often humanly very important.
Such education points out to all learners the benefits that commonly flow to those who make choices – to agents themselves — from the many kinds of action that can be very beneficial for recipients.
For example, a comfortable, affordable, safe vehicle can be beneficial to all involved, from those who provide its raw materials, to its designers and producers, to sellers, to those who regulate its use, and to those who use, and those who maintain the vehicle. That’s also true for a wide array of things people prize. Such a web of interactions can be an “everyone wins” web. And over time, although it brings new challenges, it enables significant human progress.
Childhood is the time to begin to learn about the unfolding array of fulfillments (pleasurable activities and experiences) – whether old or new, whether calm or exciting, whether “freestanding” pleasant experiences – or joys that are clearly fruitful, consequential, — that are available to those who use their power of choice – their agency — in accord with those Ancient Imperatives.
(3) Such education alsopoints outin age-appropriate ways some of the serious harms that selfish conduct by older teenagers and adults, and by adult organizations, can cause on the grand scale, including price-gouging for necessary medications and fuels.
Reader, do you want to be on the receiving end of those things? Or be subject to police brutality, or mob violence? No? Then help provide education that takes that pair of Ancient Imperatives seriously!
(4) The kind of education I’m advocating for self-love and other-love, and against selfishness, will square well with standard dictionary definitions, which say that selfish persons are those who are [Merriam-Webster and others] “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself:” seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. To say that someone is selfish is to convey that they “lack significant consideration for others,” and are “overridingly concerned with their own profit or pleasure, etc.”
Do notice: To say of someone that they are selfish, or that they acted selfishly, is not to neutrally describe (as when we mention, say, eye color or blood type on a driver’s license application), but, as the definitions themselves indicate, to say some person is selfish – although it does describe — it does more than describe; it criticizes: it expresses the speaker’s disapproval by attributing a fault – it finds fault.
In the natural, genetically-based pursuit of pleasant experiences — of fun — young children, often those who are bigger or stronger or craftier than others in a group, will sometimes act selfishly. For example:
They may stingily refuse to share their playthings (or the playthings that have been provided to their group), or
Insultingly engage in name-calling, or
Grab (or stealthily take away) the belongings of other children – or
Carelessly damage the playthings that belong to the others (or that have been provided to the group), or
Encourage the exclusion of kids who lack companions, or are different, or
Without provocation, physically attack others, or
Cheat in order to win a game by breaking the rules . . .or
Exhibit hostility toward competitors (and competitors’ fans) in games.
Such examples illustrate selfish behavior, selfish conduct, by children.
Such actions are obviously at odds with desirable relationships among those involved – the amicable, pleasant relations toward which our DNA instinctively inclines us, and which our personal experience normally rewards.
(6) Failing to address Selfish Acts
Sometimes a selfish act on the part of a child goes unnoticed, or if it is noticed, it may be ignored by whoever’s supposed to be supervising. So the selfish actor “gets away with” what they did. When selfish actors (kids and grownups) succeed – when they “get away with it” . . . and when they find it rewarding, and learn that “it pays” . . . they are likely to repeat, and to make a practice of those, or similar, acts. They seem likely to associate with and to embolden like-minded people.
Such uncorrected selfish conduct promotes selfish character. There’s a superabundance of material online about character formation. Books for children emphasizing character written by widely recognized author Joy W. Berry should not be overlooked.
Selfish actions and character – because they “lack significant consideration for others,” and are “overridingly concerned with their own profit or possessions, or their own pleasure, etc.” — obviously conflict with desirable, amicable, friendly relationships among those involved.
Selfish actions and character clearly conflict with BOTHmindful self-interest (mindfulself-love), and the mindful love of others that’s necessarily involved in treating others the way we’d want to be treated – that is, in loving our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.
This retired philosopher of education is urging parents and other teachers not to overlook emerging selfishness in the young.
Instead, I’m urging them to make a point of teaching the young both: mindful self-love and loving one’s fellow human beings as oneself – treating others the way they’d want others to treat them, pointing out the benefits likely for all.
If those Ancient Imperatives are a strong, clear focus of the education of the young, the benefits will include less violence against women, less rape, and a reduced need for a repeat of the Women’s March, January 21, 2017.
Chapter 6 Bullies and Bullying
1. What is bullying?
Like most of the terms we hear or read and sometimes use, “bullying” – like “selfishness”– is another one many of us feel we understand when we hear it or read it. “Bullying,” however, hasn’t always meant what it now means. And these days it’s being used frequently and in important contexts.
You may be startled by differences among some specialists when it comes to defining “bullying,” and startled especially by the implications for identifying bullies and for making practical decisions and recommendations about bullies.
When it comes to practical decisions and recommendations you’d make regarding individual human bullies:
Would you hire or recommend a babysitter or elder caregiver that you believe (or know) is a bully? Would you knowingly retain or recommend a bully as a teacher, or as a coach, or a young women’s athletic team doctor? Would you knowingly marry and have children with a bully, or would you recommend against it? Should sperm banks accept sperm from bullies? Should you knowingly assist a bully in his or her bullying by making financial donations to that bully?
1. The Merriam-Webster definition of bullying says that bullying is “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.” The same source says the transitive verb to bully means to treat (someone) in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion.
A bully is a person who teases, threatens, or hurts smaller, weaker, or more vulnerable persons.
To bully: To make timid or fearful by, or as if by, threats.
These definitions deserve high marks for several reasons, including:
They do suggest the kinds of reasons we’d probably give for answering “No!” to those important conduct-related questions just listed: “No, I wouldn’t hire or recommend a bully as a doctor for a school sports program, or to provide eldercare, etc., because this individual is a bully and therefore he might well abuse or mistreat the vulnerable people – the children or the old folks, or the youth — he’d be dealing with.”
And beyond highlighting those reasons, the definition also captures what distinguishes bullies from those on the receiving end – those who are bullied: By definition, the bullies are “stronger, more powerful” than those bullied; those on the receiving end are, by definition, “vulnerable.”
But it is important to bear in mind both that none of us is totally invulnerable, and that conducting oneself in a civil, humane and caring way itself can make one vulnerable to those who lack civility. Wasn’t this exemplified in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?
Because of decisions and policies of their leaders – organizations (not just individuals) can count as bullies. Organizations and their leaders – whether they realize it or not – are sometimes bullies.
Clearly illustrating that important point is Amazon’s treatment of its warehouse (“Fulfillment center”) workers. Amazon’s “mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful,” is brought out in a detailed, sustained way by the revealing and important 2020 Frontline investigative documentary: Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos.
Of course other types of organizations as well, including nations, can bully.
Do bear in mind that in order to see — to recognize — that an example of bullying conduct (whether by an individual or by an organization) is wrong, one need only apply the test of that pair of Ancient Imperatives: Would those agents – including organizational agents — want to be on the receiving end of such conduct, or have their loved ones in that position?
2. The Wikipedia site on bullying is full of information: By its definition, bullying is the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual, physically, mentally, or emotionally. This definition, too, seems to square fairly well with my own understanding of what bullying is. But why insist on “repeated”?
3. A third website – namely the US government’s website: stopbullying.gov — often came up at the top of the list of sites when I searched for sites about bullying.
It presented this definition:“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged childrenthatinvolves a real or perceived power imbalance.” (Emphasis added.) To amplify that definition, the site says: .Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Do notice that this definition very narrowly limits who can count as a bully (and just as narrowly limits who can count as someone who has been bullied) — to “school aged children”!
Here are some straightforward undeniable logical implications of that definition that appears at stopbullying.gov: No rape involving only persons beyond school age, would count as bullying by this US Government’s definition of bullying! That’s because, by this official definition, no bullying of any kind whatsoever occurs among those who are beyond school age!
Those infamous and appalling 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, high school gang rapes, and the rape of Christine Blasey Ford (who accused Trump nominee to the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, of a rape that took place when she and her rapist were both of school age), would certainly count as bullying.
Bear in mind that by that definition, bullying is something that occurs among school age children. So, no bullying of any kind whatsoever occurs among those who are beyond school age!
But surely inclinations to make threats, spread rumors, steal from or attack someone physically or verbally, and to exclude someone from a group “on purpose” do not cease to be present when young people pass beyond school age!
Because at least some of those school-age persons become more sophisticated, more “worldly-wise,” more skillfully devious, and have attractive, tempting, new targets and options, etc., doesn’t it make more sense to suppose that bullying takes on some additional new forms as young people — in and beyond their twenties and still with bullying tendencies — have new experiences and new opportunities – perhaps as influential participants in, or leaders of, organizations. These may well enable them to continue (or resume) “to treat in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion” but in a more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, worldly-wise, devious, and/or powerful adult way – and with much MORE TO GAIN than a schoolmate’s lunch money or his chocolate bar!
As for that third definition – with its clear implications that no individual beyond school age, nor any government or corporate or religious or news and information organization, could qualify as a bully — you may be inclined to laugh – or maybe cry — to see this far from sufficiently mindful example of our US tax dollars at work.
4. Recent Republican Bullying
My main source for this section is McKay Coppins’ 2018 article, “The Man Who Broke Politics,” in the Atlantic, November 2018. What follows is drawn from the link: “My Republican Party Lost Its Way.”
From childhood on, Newt Gingrich had been impressed by evolution’s predatory savagery. You have probably seen that predatory behavior yourself in nature documentaries that show old and weak members of one species being cooperatively attacked, killed, and devoured by members of another species. Newt was certainly not the first to notice that there’s violent, predatory behavior to be seen in Nature. You may be reminded of Tennyson’s phrase from the nineteenth century “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”
Republicans had been out of power in the US Congress for decades when Gingrich was elected to the House of Representatives. It was 1978.
Newt deliberately stirred up a lot of very strong and continuing partisan political conflict by distributing to fellow Republicans influential lists of words for savagely attacking – not the old and weak members of a different species — but for savaging their elected Democratic colleagues!
This lifelong, zoo-frequenting fan of evolution publiclyurged his fellow Republicans, in what Newt himselftermed their “war for power,” to use such uncivil warfare words as anti-flag, traitors, radical, corrupt, pro-communist, un-American, and tyrannical – lists of words he actually distributed to them to use when speaking about their fellow American Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen!
Gingrich pioneered a style of partisan combat—with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism (including government shutdowns)—that has poisoned America’s political culture.
(Perhaps you’ll wonder: Is there some “antidote” for that poison? What about effective teaching of that pair of Ancient Imperatives, and outspoken public criticism for dangerous violations of them?)
For their party – the Republican Party — to succeed, Gingrich said, the next generation of Republicans would have to learn to “raise hell,” to stop being so “nice,” to realize that politics was, above all, a cutthroat “war for power”— and to start “acting like it.”
And those who’ve been paying attention will agree that many – indeed most — Republican congress people have been “acting like it.” Prominent exceptions are Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Of course thedefinition of bullying at stopbullying.gov COULD NOT apply to Gingrich’s “political” conduct in Congress, because his treatment of his colleagues was not conduct among school-age people!
But the Merriam-Webster definition of bullying clearly would apply to the conduct Newt was urging: It says bullying is treating (someone) in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion.
So Newt’s advocacy of using those “warfare words” to characterize their Democratic colleagues, and his equipping them with lists of names to call them, was clearly a call to bully them.
Gingrich was on candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 short list for the Vice Presidency. The long list of their past wives would not have made them popular with many traditional Republican – often white, rural, evangelical Christian – social conservatives, who were attracted to the apparently strong, tough, and apparently financially very successful Donald Trump, who had sometimes spoken like a pro-life advocate – and who favored punishing any woman who had an abortion, and promised to build a wall to control both illegal drug trafficking and heavy immigration (mainly by brown immigrants). He wanted to ban Muslims from immigrating, and promised to Make America Great Again.
Donald Trump already had a long history of bullying. For details see Trump expert David Cay Johnston’s books: The Making of Donald Trump and It’s Even Worse Than You Think, and more recently: The Big Cheat. And Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man should certainly not be neglected. You might search the web for: (businessman) Donald Trump’s long history of “stiffing” – swindling — small contractors.
The “perfect” phone call for which Trump was impeached (the first time) was a clear case of bullying because in it Trump in effect threatened Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy that he’d withhold millions of dollars of US taxpayer aid already congressionally approved to go to Ukraine, if Zelenskyy didn’t grant him a favor.
Trump’s admiration for autocrats like Russia’s Putin (recall that meeting in Helsinki), his habitual insulting of America’s professionally trained, remarkably credible free press – as “the enemy of the people,” and his frequent public insults and repeated lies about any candidate running against someone he wants to see win an election — all illustrate the tactics of a powerful and clearly dangerous bully.
By inciting organized followers on January 6, 2021 to bully Congress (“if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country”) – and by seeking to have hundreds of his armed followers proceed to the Capitol — he attempted to retain political power as US President despite the repeatedly court-confirmed voters’ choice of Joseph Biden.
Subsequently he is being copied by such far-right elected Republican members of Congress as Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz.
I firmly agree with Thomas Zimmer’s conclusion in the April 13, 2022 The Guardian:
What we are witnessing is one party rapidly abandoning and actively assaulting the foundations of democratic political culture. Every “Western” society has always harbored some far-right extremists like Greene. But the fact that the Republican Party embraces and elevates people like her constitutes an acute danger to democracy.
5. My fifth source about bullying: In a Feb. 28, 2022 editorial in the Toronto Star, Tony Volk, a faculty member of Brock University who has been studying bullying for about 20 years . . . a developmental scientist whose research focuses on bullying, parenting and anti-social personality, wrote:
“In my lab, we define bullying as aggressive, goal-directed behaviour that harms another within the context of a power imbalance. . . .
“They’re aggressive, arrogant, selfish individuals who prey on those who often can’t or won’t defend themselves. They scheme and thrive on power imbalances in service only to themselves. . . .
“Bullying rarely stops on its own. It almost always ends in one of two ways: either the bully realizes the benefits of co-operation, or someone stops the bully.” (Emphasis added.)
Readers may be interested to learn that the title of Volk’s late February 2022 editorial is: “Vladimir Putin is a classic schoolyard bully who must be stopped, not appeased”
I find Tony Volk’s editorial both interesting and credible for many reasons. Volk realistically works with a far more credible definition of “bullying” than the one presented at stopbullying.gov!
6. And finally, a sixth source: Another scientist’s very different perspective on bullying.
Hogan Sherrow, a Yale PhD, is an evolutionary primatologist who has studied chimpanzees, bears, and other primates on several continents, (but doesn’t hesitate to generalize about groups of human toddlers). You can see and hear him in online videos. What follows first are extended excerpts from his Dec. 15, 2011 guest blog in the Scientific American. (Emphasis added.)
“Bullying was there during the birth of our species having been inherited from the earliest of our social ancestors. . . .
“The tendency to bully, or coerce, others is natural and deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, and emerges in any group of toddlers playing freely.”. . .
“It’s easy to get consumed with the impacts and immediate causes of bullying in the US, and to ignore where bullying stems from. However, understanding the origins of bullying is critical. Without the deep understanding the origins of a behavior provide, efforts to prevent bullying will continue to fail.”. . . .
“Language allows us to communicate abstract ideas, coordinate behaviors and express thoughts and feelings to others. Language also allows us to gossip, and gossiping is a key psychological element in bullying and can have serious, lasting effects (Sharp, 1995). . . . (Emphasis added.)
“While nearly all anti-bullying programs are well-meaning and can show progress in the short term, they fail to get at the root of the problem. Addressing bullying through culturally based social programs is like taking the flowerhead off a milk thistle. You will slow the growth and spread of the plant, but not for long. It is only through incorporating a deeper understanding of the antiquity of a behavior like bullying in our policies that we can hope to alter its impact on society.”. . . (Emphasis added.)
Sherrow suggests that “culturally based social programs” to deal with bullying fail because they don’t get at “the root of the problem,” a root – he contends – that’s in human heredity — and so, apparently, in human genetics.
Sherrow does notproceed to a discussion of eugenics (the reader can find wildly contrasting articles on that topic), nor does he discuss the sometimes horrendous 20th century history of eugenics, a history in which some efforts to, as he phrases it, “get at the root of the problem”— spreading from England to the US to Hitler’s Germany — were themselves examples of bullying of the most extreme sort.
Sherrow does, however, state that gossiping is a key psychological element in bullying and can have serious, lasting effects (Sharp, 1995). So he allows that what people say – at least when they gossip — can have serious, lasting bullying effects.
But without citing any evidence, this Yale PhD primatologist denies that what people learn – what we find out – could, quite apart from eugenics, solve or help remedy – the bullying problem.
This puts Sherrow at odds with Volk, who has studied bullying (among human beings) for two decades. Volk asserts:
Bullying is notoriously hard to prevent, whether it comes from a colleague, a classmate or the Kremlin. And it’s often successful — but only in the short term. In the long run, Putin (like so many before him) will learn that co-operation is always the more beneficial choice. (Emphasis added.)
Volk contends that bullies sometimes Learn that cooperation – not bullying — is the more beneficial choice.
Primatologist Sherrow belittles “culturally based social programs” to combat bullying.
But developmental scientist Volk, on the basis of two decades of his own bullying-focused studies, has found that bullies (whether or not their bullying “stems” in part from pre-historic genetically inherited tendencies to bully) can learn that cooperation is the more beneficial choice.
7. This “Daring Proposal: A Philosophy of Education for Everyone” strongly recommends the kind of teaching at all levels of education that promotes everyone’s insightfully heeding those Ancient Imperatives for the choices made both by individuals and by organizations: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
As those who teach succeed in that, and individuals and organizations guide their conduct by those Ancient Imperatives, bullying will decrease. Given what those imperatives call for, perhaps bullying will be on the way out. After all, which bully wants to be bullied, or have their own loved ones – (if they have loved ones) — bullied?
Which bully wants to have someone violate those Ancient Imperatives when he (or she), the bully, is on the receiving end, and when mutually beneficial – “win/win” — options are real?
8. FORM THE ATTITUDE EARLY:
Whether the “latest findings” on character formation confirm this or not, I believe that the wise course of conduct for those who help shape the character of the young is not to postpone or delay early instruction in understanding (nor delay early practice in applying and in following) those two Ancient Imperatives.
Chapter 7 Selfishness: At School and at Scale
In this chapter I’ll sketch a few things I hope will help those who undertake to teach and to promote both individual lives that embody those Ancient Imperatives, and, indirectly, institutions and organizations whose decisions and policies pass this test: Is this the sort of decision or policy I’d want to be on the receiving end of, or have my loved ones impacted by?
Since selfishness – especially when coupled with a kind of ignorance — is probably the most crucial part of what obstructs the rise of such fulfillment, we’ll be focusing on that selfishness.
This chapter will include an emphasis on selfishness evident in the drug and “opioid epidemic” in the 20th and 21st centuries.
There is a kind of genuine teaching — not conditioning or brainwashing, but teaching that respects our important natural desire to learn, and to know what’s true, and to avoid being misled — that can help us in overcoming our widespread human tendency toward ignorantly selfish conduct.
That tendency is often expressed in the objectionable and apparently very widespread male mistreatment of girls and women that was highlighted by the 2017 Women’s March and discussed in chapter 5.
It seems quite obvious — and very important — that selfishness should also be mentioned in any attempt to explain cheating in games, or on an individual’s (or a company’s) income taxes, and the like.
In the late summer of 2022, the Attorney General of New York State is bringing to light details of extreme tax cheating by the Trump Organization. Their use of grossly inflated and deflated property valuations came to public attention through the confession of convicted former Trump Organization (now disbarred) lawyer, Michael Cohen. The Trump Organization illustrates selfishness on the grand scale. Rupert Murdoch’s extremely powerful news and entertainment empire appears to be even more influential, and at least as selfish. See CNN’s documentary series: The Murdochs: Empire of Influence.
The difference between the attitude of selfishness and the attitude of love I’m urging is profound enough to be characterized as a renaissance, or re-birth, or being born again, although fortunate individuals may grow up developing and embodying that loving attitude from their very early years.
The highly important ignorance that such learning overcomes is ignorance of the real — sometimes profoundly fulfilling benefits — that frequently arise for an agent –whether an individual or a group agent – when that agent acts in ways to benefit others.
Because this is philosophy of education, I’ll pay attention here to standard meanings and to principles, and I’ll offer some practical cautionary notes.
2. Defining “selfishness.” Beware of calling a youngster “selfish.”
Readers should bear in mind the explanations of self-love and its need for truth that are presented early in chapter 2. Those explanations are taken for granted in this treatment of selfishness.
Despite the evident innate tendencies toward love of others (chapter 4), very young and inexperienced humans surely tend to be largely preoccupied with their own needs and interests! How could it be otherwise?!
But that certainly does not, and should not, lead us to pointedly criticize the very young as selfish!
Standard definitions indicate: Someone is selfish to the extent that they are “concerned excessively or exclusively with one’s own interests”. . . that they “tend to seek or concentrate on their own advantage, profit, pleasure, or benefit without regard for others.” The very young are not yet distinguishing – not even aware of – such things as another’s profit!
To say that someone – some actor — is selfish, or that they acted selfishly, is not to neutrally describe them (as when we mention, say, eye color or blood type on a driver’s license application).
Instead, as standard definitions themselves indicate, to say some person is selfish – although it does describe — it does more. It criticizes: It expresses a speaker’s disapproval by attributing a fault – it functions to find fault.
So, emphatically expressing disapproval of a young child, by calling them selfish, is certainly not something I’m generally advocating.
I suspect that, in more than a few cases, doing so would go counter to the general aim I’m recommending, and it would probably violate the test I’m recommending for judging whether a particular action is right.
Bear in mind — that general aim I’m recommending is a world in which people and their organizations are conducting themselves in ways that are — to put it in one word — loving, that is: beneficial for, not harmful of, their fellow human beings or themselves.
And bear in mind the test I’m recommending for testing actions (and institutional policies and practices) for their rightness: Would I want to be – or have any of my loved ones – on the receiving end of that act or policy?
3. Childhood Examples; SELFISHNESS “at school”
In the natural, genetically-based pursuit of pleasant experiences — of fun — young children — often those who are bigger or stronger or craftier than others in a group — will sometimes act selfishly. For example:
1. They may stingily and forcibly grab – or sneakily take away — what belongs to other children – or
2. They may cheat in order to win a competition by breaking the rules . . .or
3. They may exhibit hostility toward their competitors (and competitors’ fans) in games.
Such cases illustrate selfish behavior, selfish action, selfish conduct, by children.
Such actions are obviously at odds with desirable relationships among those involved – at odds with the amicable, pleasant relations toward which our DNA instinctively inclines us, and which our personal experience normally rewards.
4. Responding to selfish conduct noticed in the young:
a. Ignoring it.
This retired philosopher of education is urging parents and others who teach not to turn away from emerging and obvious selfishness in youngsters you deal with. Try not to let your own work, your other obligations, your rest and relaxation, or your entertainment interfere. Don’t ignore selfish conduct on the part of the young who cross your path.
Uncorrected selfish conduct promotes selfish character. There’s a superabundance of material online about character formation.
Selfish actions and character obviously conflict with desirable, peaceful, amicable, friendly relationships among those involved – because those actions lack significant consideration for others, and are “overridingly concerned with one’s own profit or possessions, or one’s own pleasure, etc.”
In some cases, an adult’s ignoring the selfish conduct – deciding not to intervene – failing to speak up — may itself amount to selfish decision-making, selfish conduct.
b. Individual intervention.
Suppose you witness two youngsters – one of them, Bill, is clearly stronger than the other. Bill is forcefully trying to take away both the packed lunch and some money belonging to the other kid, Tom. You’re a young teacher, and much stronger than Bill. You intervene, and outspokenly scold the would-be thief: “Is that the sort of thing you’d want a bigger kid to do to you?!” Bill stops, and Tom hurries off with both his money and his packed lunch.
C. Cooperative intervention may be in order.
Suppose the situation was a bit different: You and a colleague are together when you encounter two young, would-be thieves stealing from Tom. One of you says to the other: “Let’s make them stop so that little guy doesn’t get ripped off.” You both successfully engage them, and Tom runs off, still in possession of his lunch and his money.
That cooperative intervention is perhaps the simplest sort of organized intervention into something that a group of individuals finds objectionable.
As regards adult agents, workers who believe they’re being selfishly mistreated by management may attempt to defend their interests by creating or joining a labor union.
To protect themselves from rapacious nations, other nationsmay form or join a military alliance.
To protect vulnerable consumers from producers of dangerous products, consumers (via non-profits, for-profits, and via those who govern) may form methods and agencies to provide for that protection.
5. About Individual (or personal) Agency.
Even the quite young need to learn that they are agents. Some of the “mental roots” of agency are evident in the studies by Paul Bloom, mentioned in chapter 4.
Somewhat later, youngstersshould be introduced to the fact that they are beings who can, and do, (and must) choose among options . . . that they are beings with “personal agency” — that they themselves can bring options to mind, and that they can begin to compare the impacts and merits of those options. They can judge (or “weigh”), in the light of relevant reasons — pros and cons that are person-centered . . . they can judge in the light of harms and benefits to self and to other persons (and other sentient beings).
“You didn’t have to do that. What would it have been better to do?!”
Since even youngsters typically have individual (or “personal”) agency, they can be called to account, that is, required to explain – to justify or to excuse something they’ve done, or to acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
That calling to account may include involvement with legal authorities and violations of the law. We aren’t born knowing this sort of thing!
Explicitly commendingthe young agents who have done what’s good or right should become second nature for (but not overdone by) those who teach them.
6. When there are misdeeds by a young agent:
When there are misdeeds: The young should learn that makingshabby, inauthentic excuses, — that is, explaining one’s action only in terms of causes other than his or her own choice among real options – is very different from offering a genuineapology. This generally implies giving assurances not to repeat such a misdeed.
One example of a genuine apology — one that we can witness via an online search — is the one Tiger Woods made in 2010 for his own marital misconduct – an apology that was accepted.
It may be important that someone who has committed a misdeed make amends. That is a matter of going beyond a verbal apology to whomever has been ill-done by – and to perform further actions that are appropriate for that situation – such as a change of one’s ways.
There’s a vivid example that includes an adult – a tax collector — making amends in the Gospel (= “good news”) according to Luke, chapters 3 and 19.
In first century CE Palestine, Jewish tax collectors like Zacchaeus, working for the powerful Roman imperial occupiers, often selfishly bullied vulnerable Jewish taxpayers – including farmers and poor widows. These selfish bullies commonly demanded more than what their Roman rulers required, and kept the difference for themselves.
The preacher-cousin and forerunner of Jesus of Nazareth – John the Baptist — urged that tax collectors should not take more than what Rome required. (Luke chapter 3).
A chief tax collector, very wealthy Zacchaeus (who was very small, in contrast with the storied massive bully, Goliath), — changed his ways, stopped his selfish bullying as a tax collector, made some very impressive amends (Luke 19: verses 8 and 9) and enjoyed fellowship with the Teacher – Jesus of Nazareth, Himself (Luke chapter 19:1–10).
And it’s reasonable to suppose that Zacchaeus himself experienced much better relations with thoseformerly extorted – but then very well re-compensated – taxpayers to whom he made amends (and with their close ones)!
7. SELFISHNESS AT SCALE
Those who educate should bear in mind – and convey to those they teach — at times and in ways that are age-appropriate — that organized ignorant adult selfishness has given rise to — and has sustained – a very wide range of grievous ills and crimes – acts that clearly fail our test for rightness, since no one, including any of our loved ones, wishes to be on their receiving end.
Many of these large-scale ills still plague our world.
These selfishness-rooted ills go far beyond schoolyard bullying and the widespread male mistreatment of women, against which many thousands of women – worldwide — marched the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated US President in 2017 (see chapter 5).
Credible standard definitions of “greed” make it explicitly clear that greed is itself a kind – a form – of selfishness. For example: “Greed isa selfish and excessive desire for more of something (often money) than is needed.”
Young people need to learn that selfishness in the form of the greed of some adults – and of some adult organizations — has sustained such major historic evils as slavery and the slave trade.
It has also sustained corporate and governmental (and religious) abuse of indigenous people including forcefully removing and confining indigenous peoples to places not of their choosing.
More recently, millions of us have been complicit in Nestle’s theft of water in Canada and elsewhere – to sell to the rest of us by the bottle.
Selfishness in the form of greed is central to cruel corporate profiteering like that that produced the Sackler family’s scandalous multi-billion-dollar wealth via Purdue Pharma’s corrupt marketing of addictive painkiller OxyContin. This is carefully detailed in the 2021 book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Corporate adult greed was also evident in Michael Shkrelli’s profiteering by raising the price of Turing Pharmaceutical’s anti-parasitic drug by 5,000%.
At painful – even deadly — cost to consumers, such greedy corporate capitalists have obviously failed to embody and to live out – instead they have clearly violated — those two Ancient Imperatives: Love your neighbors as yourself, and treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
Stockholders of offending companies may fail to realize their own enabling complicity, and may later come to regret it, and do something about it.
In 19th century America, as steel production (aided by continent-spanning railroads) was rising dramatically, Andrew Carnegie rose from abject poverty to become the richest man in the world.
Unlike other leading capitalists (such as railroad magnate J. P. Morgan, who is remembered for saying “I owe the public nothing”), Carnegie (remembered for, among other things, his philanthropy) had a real, life-long love for others. He deeply regretted having given so much authority to general manager, Henry Frick, while away and isolated on his own annual vacation.
With Frick in control, management selfishness led to the blood-drenched strike at Carnegie’s Homestead Steel plant near Pittsburgh. View the Homestead story on American Experience.
And have a look at the insightful cartoon depicting the principal options confronting Homestead’s management — at alamy.com/stock-photo/Andrew-carnegie-puck.html
In the 2020’s there’s plenty of greedy selfishness involved in the persistent corporate spreading of doubt regarding climate change, and in corporate urging of delay when it comes to curbing hydraulic fracturing.
Big oil companies hatelosing the main source of their immense wealth: gasoline-fueled vehicles. And they don’t want to diminish profits by curtailing our reliance on fracked shale gas, despite its abundant, seriously dangerous methane air pollution. Both gasoline-powered vehicles and the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas go on contributing to harmful global warming and already, in the early 2020’s, a marked worldwide increase in deadly weather extremes.
The 2022 Frontline TV investigative series on Big Oil’s (especially Exxon-Mobil’s) response to credible scientific findings on climate change, examines the length to which Big Oil has used its political power to block well-informed government action that would provide some protection for people and our environment.
Wars between nations can frequently be traced in large measure to the foolishly ignorant, selfish, and unspeakably harmful greed of national leaders, including multiple-palace-rich Vladimir Putin and his multi-billion-dollar cronies, especially his Gazprom and Rosneft oligarchs. Seeking to protect their extraordinarily large and luxurious private yachts from indignant members of the public, such oligarchs – well aware of the vulnerability of their palatial yachts — try to conceal them from the public.
Folks of all ages need to become aware of (and intelligently, caringly, and –through impactful organizations — responsive to) the needless powerful selfishness – including the selfishness of more than a few as they act in corporate, political, religious, and governmental roles — that adversely impacts human lives.
That awareness of large-scale harms stemming from selfish corporate, political, religious, and governmental policies and actions should not blind us to the fact that Mindful Organizational Self-love is compatible with organizational policies that benefit those on the receiving end: citizens, customers, and consumers generally! Sometimes recognized as the founder of modern capitalism, Adam Smith was aware that self-love is different from selfishness, and that an economy can flourish without the selfishness.
To illustrate: A comfortable, affordable, safe, environment-friendly vehicle can be Beneficial to ALL involved – without requiring selfishness — from those who – acting from self-interest and not primarily from benevolence — provide its raw materials, to its designers and producers, to advertisers and to sellers, to those who regulate its use, to insurers, and to those who use, and those who maintain such vehicles.
Because such things are also true for a wide array of goods people need, want, and prize, the historical rise of attractive economies that are free of forced labor and slave labor, and free of abject poverty, have become genuine possibilities. We’ll be better off when — thanks to mindful care of self and others — selfishness wanes and is limited to the ranks of ills that are being overcome.
8. Those who teach should be aware of threats to personal agency itself.
Selfishness is a central factor in the incalculably harmful “drug trafficking” carried out by gangs and cartels, as well as by an array of American corporations, and by more than a few doctors!
Especially in our era, learners need to learn that their own personal agency – their ability to choose mindfully among promising options – options really open to them – is seriously threatened by addictions, by getting “hooked on” – addicted to — harmful substances including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and dangerous opioid painkillers.
With ongoing careful medical supervision, some of these can assist with control and reduction of very serious pain that follows some serious surgeries. But otherwise they offer “highs” – that is, brief periods of more or less intense euphoria – which tend to be followed by very intense cravings to use more of the substance, which promote a trapped, unfulfilling life of trying to fulfill those insatiable cravings.
The widespread and unmistakable harms of alcohol addiction triggered America’s 19th century Prohibition movement and, finally, the enactment in 1920, of the excessively sweeping, short-lived Prohibition amendment.
Following the repeal of that (unwisely too-restrictive) amendment, and explicitly aiming at rapid corporate growth and maximum profit by purchasing their competitors, some producers, like the Canandaigua Wine Company, beginning in 1945, capitalized on the impoverished, often alcohol-addicted, inner-city market. They harmfully produced cheap, high-alcohol wine, rather than emphasizing lower alcohol table wines suitable for moderate consumption during meals with family and friends.
Later, in the 1980s, in response to the temptations of the illegal street drugs of that time, including marijuana, and both crack and powder cocaine, US First Lady Nancy Reagan urged those tempted to: “Just say No!”
That advice commendably suggested the importance of personal choice – personal agency. And “saying No” to (– much more accurately: refusing —) the costly pursuit of the drug-induced, purely subjective, conscious states – those highs – is crucially important, especially because taking that drug-paved pathmay well undermine and overpower one’s own personal agency itself.
One’s failure to Refuse – or, more recently – one’s being diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder or disease — now calls for very painful and very costly rehabilitation, provided that’s available.
If drug addiction is a disease, surely theUS CDC — Center for Disease Control and Prevention — should be seriously addressing its prevention.
The attractiveness of that euphoria — those highs — and the power of those insatiable cravings, creates an extremely powerful, very high profit-generating Demand for opioids. That demandhas been especially strong in (but certainly not limited to) communities heavily impacted by the decline of industries, like coal mining in Appalachia, that have depended heavily on the production and use of fossil fuels.
The extraordinary 2022 book American Cartel, by Pulitzer prize-winning authors Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, very readably brings to readers the incontrovertible evidence of the moral corruption (especially in the form of greedy selfishness) of some highly placed individuals in the US Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as some corporate executives of the drug companies that manufacture those opioids – including Johnson and Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and others.
American Cartel also documents the greedy complicity of some crucially placed individuals among such cooperating distributers as AmerisourceBergen Corp., pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc., trade associations, and some morally corrupt doctors selfishly violating the traditional oath not to harm.
This important book also illustrates the role of lobbyists and skillfully-staffed lobbying firms in “assisting” our congressional representatives by framing legislation and in crafting for them misleading talking points that powerfully serve the interests of, and protect, those corporations that are profiting richly from the profoundly harmful opioid epidemic.
Because the greed of those individuals typically involves them (and their companies) in illegal acts, that greed gives rise to multi-million dollar lawsuits – also surveyed by Higham and Horwitz.
But those lawsuits begin, and they continue, because of deadly harmthathas already been done. Their focus is on money, and not, of course, on preventing that deadly harm already done to human beingsand their loved ones.
As a retired philosopher of education, in this Daring Proposal I urge all who teach to embody and to teach the attitude that will – when widespread — reduce (and tend to prevent) — the occurrence of such harms – the costly, sometimes deadly, addictions themselves. Those addictions give rise to the multi-million-dollar-lawsuits that preoccupy the parties seeking to win them, including those powerful corporate agents seeking to minimize corporate financial loss for offending companies.
There’s a better path than the long-standing costly “war on drugs” with its violent raids, its wasteful trials, and its many thousands of costly, often racially biased, racially unjust incarcerations of drug users.
And prevention is a far better path than the very difficult and costly rehabilitation that those who are addicted (or victims of substance abuse disorder) require.
As early as fits their situations, all learners need to learn realistically about the dangers of addiction, including the facts of chemical dependence involved with some valuable pain medications, and about the non-medical paths that sometimes lead to tragic (and avoidable) addiction.
They also need to learn that there are far better options for them than the highs for sale in schools and on some inner-city (and suburban) street corners . . . better options that include becoming engaged instead in enjoyable non-addictive recreation and extra–curricular activities – including sports and amateur dramatics, musical and arts and crafts groups . . . in satisfying, constructive, and gainful work, in successful, rewarding study, and mutually beneficial local, national, and international service activity, including working with therevived Peace Corps.
In addition to being a fulfilling alternative to living lives consumed with the pursuit of drug-based euphoria and driven by insatiable cravings, well-organized, well-targeted international service at scale – by making life better in less-fortunate societies – can help relieve some of the very troubling heavy immigration pressure the US Congress has failed to deal with comprehensively for decades. I was pleased that assistance to make life better for people in societies like Columbia – which has a reputation as a “cocaine state” — was emphasized by former President of Columbia, Ivan Duque Marquez, on the 9/23/2022 PBS program Firing Line, hosted by Margaret Hoover. He agrees that Demand for addictive drugs in affluent societies needs to be curbed.
Those who lead our society — and “we the people” in a democracy — must see to it that our society includes such live options as those. Parents and others who teach must guide learners toward those and similar live options sketched a couple of paragraphs earlier.
So addiction-prevention is itself part of this direct approach to what has often been called moral education. It involves a way of seeing and dealing with one another as persons with understanding — who make real choices.
We’re not simply organisms pushed and pulled by pleasures and pains, or by events in our nervous systems. Do reflect carefully on the paragraphs on Behaviorism in the next chapter.
We all – including those who’ll become corporate executives and employers, and political leaders and governmental and religious leaders, and so on — can learn to live as personal agents with choices guided by the attitudes of enlightened, informed love of self and of others.
So, by our persistent and peaceful educational combat – our informed and loving peaceful culture war against ignorant selfishness in our young — and in our adult world — those who teach will be engaged in the important task of contributing to the sort of world that’s worth aiming at, a world of pervasive mutual human caring, which is literally unthinkable without both mindful self–love and mindful love of others.
Chapter 8 Many sorts of Play and of Work. Success
1. Why take up PLAY in this Philosophy of Education?
Some may think: Kids don’t need to be taughtto play . . . kids will naturally play when they get the chance, but they often do resist working. Kids really do need to learn to work! So why take up PLAY in a Philosophy of Education?
My reply is that we hardly begin to understand children and their activity if we ignore their desire to play, including their desire to play with the adults closest to them, as well as to play with other youngsters, and with pets. Those who teach children will benefit from paying attention to this strong – instinct-rooted — desire to play that children have.
It’s obvious that a great deal of work must continue to be done if kids (and any of us) are ever to enjoy some play: Food must be produced, shelter and transportation must be provided, supply chains must be staffed, etc., etc. No philosophy of education should neglect work. Learning itself often requires work – like memorizing an alphabet, and practicing, and studying – and those are likely on occasion to conflict with a person’s desire to play.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that – despite the fact that some work is truly, utterly, dreadful — sometimes the same activity can be both work and play.
The importance of this desire to play — that children normally share — is clear from the fact that virtually every nation in the United Nations has declared that every child has a human right to play. [note: The 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child] Surely you don’t favor ignoring that desire and violating that human right to play — as ISIS does, in its cruel, controlling abuse of children! [note: The Frontline video: Children of ISIS]
Now consider a less extreme case of misconduct toward a youngster than that of ISIS. Recall the earlier example when, unseen, you, a new teacher, witness a bigger kid – call him Bill — beating up a smaller kid, Tom. You quickly approach and demand that Bill stop. Because you stood up to him, he stops, and Tom hurries away.
Attempting to justify himself, Bill says “We were just playing. Tom was playing with me.”
Without giving thought to the concept of play –that is, to what it means to play — are you prepared to reply insightfully to what Bill the bully has just said? (That will require going beyond the Ancient Imperative-rooted moral challenge to the bully, namely: Was that the way he’d want to be treated by a kid bigger and stronger than him?)
2. What Play Is.
Typical speakers of English can easily identify some examples of people engaged in play. And they can identify many other actions as clearly not examples of play. So, at least among many who speak English, there is a widespread (but usually unanalyzed) understanding (or “idea,” or “concept”) of play.
Our common, widely shared idea of what counts as play, leaves no doubt: Tom was not playing with that bully when he was beating Tom up.
(The bully’s false claim that Tom was actually playing with him, would simply be a lie he thought might help him to escape civilized adult repercussions – being held accountable, or responsible, for having bullied Tom.)
Towards a Definition
Upon some analysis, our widely shared concept of “play” is that of activity that is voluntary, and engaged in for the fun of it, engaged in without external constraint or coercion. That play is voluntary is indicated by such invitations as “Let’s play catch – or Five Crowns — after supper.”
It should go without saying that play is engaged in for the fun of it. Play is a form of enjoyable activity or experience, engaged in (and sometimes consciously chosen from among several options) by children, or older folks, simply for the fun . . . the personal pleasure – the enjoyment — of engaging in it – for some limited span of time.
Back to our example: Tom was coerced, forced to undergo – to suffer — being hit by his attacker. He was certainly not having fun. He was glad to have the bully called off, and he left. Clearly he had not been playing.
And if someone forced him to say he had been playing at the time, that would certainly not make his forced statement true.
An internet search reveals that (in addition to the vastness of the literature about play) there’s a wide array of direct objects of the verb, “to play,” – that is — very different things that can be played, including playing the stock market, playing the ponies, playing a large fish, playing the slots, playing the piano, playing cards, etc.
Those sharply different things that we can speak of as things played certainly complicate any intellectual effort to analyze conceptually – to spell out — what playing is! That wide array of very different things we speak of as things played strongly suggests that our idea (concept, notion) of playing is an intellectually very messy idea.
And that intellectual messiness only increases when we take the playing of games as our focus.
And notice that beyond the intellectual mess there’s a “practical mess” – I’m referring to the quarreling, the cheating, the insulting, the fighting, etc. — that’s often closely connected with the playing of games.
But first, before dealing with that intellectual mess, and then with that practical mess, let’s begin with:
3. A Brief Look at 3 Broad Sorts of Play.
(1.) “Just Playing”
“Just playing” — whether alone or with another – perhaps a young child is playing in a sandbox or a bathtub or an inflatable wading pool, or “just playing house” under a table with a doll, or building a sandcastle or a snowman, etc.
Later, just bouncing a suitable ball off a wall and then scooping it up on the short hop; or playing catch with someone else (or with a playful dog), using a ball or a Frisbee, — or flying a kite – would illustrate just having fun, “just playing.”
Just playing — and work
It counts as play when, around the close of World War II, like other neighborhood boys, I built and flew rubber-band powered, tissue-covered balsa-wood flying models. Both the building and the flying were examples of play, since no one was forcing us to do those things, and because we were doing them just for the fun of it.
But was our building those models also work?
Without dismissing our ordinary, unanalyzed idea of work, let’s pay attention to a credible definition of the term: “work.” Work seems well defined (Merriam-Webster) as exerting oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity. (Emphasis added.)
At least some phases of our airplane model-making certainly required us to “exert ourselves . . . in a sustained effort:” We had to cut out carefully all those small notches in the balsa formers for the balsa stringers; we had to be careful to create dihedral that resulted in the same slight upward slant for each wing. Ours were indeed such “sustained efforts for a purpose.”
So, as we builtthose models, our play also counted as work. If a parent had called upstairs to ask what I was doing, it would have been accurate to reply: “Working on my model.”
Further: No one and no thing was forcing – compelling — us to make or to fly those models.
If some official or other adult, or political organization, had forced us to make them and to fly them, certainly neither our making them nor our flying them would count as playing, since playing – by definition – is not done under compulsion or forcing, but is done simply because the one doing it enjoys doing it, has fun doing it.
Let’s note that by the definition of “work” we’ve been working with, the work one is forced or compelled to do – think of work done by slaves — certainly does count as work.
And sometimes, as we’ve just noticed, “playing” – as with building those flying model warplanes just for the fun of building and flying them – also counts as “working.”
Sometimes when kids are just playing they’re mimicking things adults do.
Our simple, non-competitive childhood play, often reflects both our desire for experiences that are pleasant, and our growing awareness of the places (including workplaces) and the array of activities(including adult occupations) our universe contains. So it should not surprise us that childhood play often mimics adult activity, and so it often mimics the work (and other activities) that adults do, work that involves interacting with others, and that often benefits those others.
Young boys playing war, with a girl playing their doctor, during the war-crimes-laden Bosnian war of the early 1990s [check Wikipedia], are briefly depicted at about minute 32 in “Amanpour and Company” March 9, 2022.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the strong tendency of children to mimic adults is not only beneficial, but dangerous as well. Its ramifications are very large for the oversight, care, and teaching of children – by their parents and by others who teach.
Those who teach at different stages of education can and should focus discussion on both the valuable contributions of those different occupations and on any associated harms and dangers.
Those who teach should help learners to clearly grasp intellectuallythemotives and the values – especially the harms and benefits for human beings — that are at stake in the success or failure of the adult activities that children may have just begun to mimic – especially those harms and benefits that are not obvious to “the young” — in that broad array of activities that children mimic. This will make careful new vocabulary instruction important.
(2). Beyond “Just Playing” there’s Playing “Competitive Games”
By definition, to compete is tostrive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same. Merriam-Webster (Emphasis added.)
In addition to “just playing,” our childhood play (like adult play) also includes play that is plainly competitive, because it includes playing games that are clearly competitive.
Our simple, early – but competitive — games might include the crude, very old game King of the Hill (a.k.a. King of the Castle), with its inevitable pushing (but kicking – and harsher acts are ruled out). Do you remember starting it with “I’m the King of the Castle, and you’re the dirty rascal”?
King of the Hill typically involves bullying, and has political and business associations. Politically, think of coups d’etat, insurrections, and revolutions. For more modern bullying in business, think of hostile corporate takeovers.
Clearly competitive games played by children also include simple foot-racing, hide and seek, and cops and robbers. Other competitive games I vaguely remember playing long ago include “musical chairs,” “cowboys and Indians,” and “snatch the bacon.” And then there was ping-pong (a.k.a. table-tennis), and baseball, and touch football.
When I was about ten Dad bought two pairs of well-padded boxing gloves, and he and my older brother and I often took turns sparring with one another. I even subscribed to Ring magazine. In 1946 Joe Lewis and Billy Conn fought for the heavyweight title! – and the match was televised!
Boxing matches are rule-governed and competitive, but folks don’t call a boxing match a game.
But why don’t we call it a game, since that standard Merriam-Webster definition of “game” is: “a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other”? (Emphasis added.)
Playing even the most gentle competitive games – even Tiddlywinks and Pick up Sticks — is noticeably (and importantly) different from “just playing,” because (1) they involve rules which must be understood and accepted by those who are playing them, and (2) a competitive game normally has a winning playerorteam, and one or more losers.
Children’s understanding and acceptance of the rules of games provides a powerful counter-example to a once-fashionable (and still somewhat influential) theory in psychology (and education): Behaviorism.
Contrary to that theory, youngsters are much more than behaving organisms. Understanding a game’s rules is not the same as any behavior – just as being in pain is not the same as any behavior that one’s pain may give rise to.
In addition to our “outer,” publicly observable behavior that readily lends itself to scientific studies and measurement, is our “inner,” “private” world of both what we’ve learned and our ongoing consciousness, (both of which presumably have correlated brain states): Knowledge, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, pleasurable recollections, sweet, idyllic dreams and fear-filled nightmares, disappointments, debilitating, terror-filled memories, important deliberations and decisions etc., are often (but not always) expressed “outwardly” in our demeanor, and in those decisions and choices we enact as sentient, human personal agents – for which we are often responsible, and may be held accountable.
Behaviorism has tended to make folks overlook, misinterpret, or de-emphasize those humanly very important things. (Similar misconceptions lurk or surface in more recent technologies aiming to measure an individual’s productivity.)
Whether or not human beings “have” or “incorporate” an immortal, non-physical soul substance, it is imperative to bear in mind that we certainly “have” that important “inner, private” world just mentioned, a world that gives meaning to conduct that is loving – as well as conduct that is indifferent to the pain and suffering – or to the joys — of others, or perhaps conduct that is hate-filled.
Back to winning and losing:
As for Winning and Losing: Winning is fun; losing isn’t.
In the 1970s, the introduction to Jim McKay’s Saturday afternoon Wide World of Sports TV program melodramatically exaggerated the fun – the enjoyment — in winning, as well as the disappointment of losing:
“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!” (Emphasis added.)
There are surely exceptions, but generally: Winning is fun – enjoyable — and losing isn’t.
The responses of spectators and acquaintances can add to the fun, to the elation experienced in winning – and to the disappointment, the let-down in losing.
And prizes and trophies for winning – and the hope of achieving recognition, even acclaim – perhaps as an MVP, or as a league champion, or state or national champion, even a world champion — often call forth great effort to succeed in winning that competition.
Think of the amount of effort put in by those who’ll compete as Olympians. And bear in mind the unacceptable extremes(including use of banned, performance-enhancing substances) that a nation has gone to in hopes of being the most medal-winning nation among those sending competitors to the Olympic Games.
Lest a reader be carried away by these observations, and jump to utterly romantic, head-in-the-clouds conclusions regarding the glories of victory in competitive games, he or she will do well to bear in mind the gladiator games that took place in Rome’s awesome Coliseum. Beginning in 264 CE, this extremely popular form of entertainment featured fights — usually between slaves – to the death.
St. Augustine describes the loud, wild cheering of the crowd on seeing a seriously wounded combatant’s gushing blood. That wild cheering overpowered his lifelong friend Alypius, who had been struggling to avoid watchingand being personally entertained by that “sport,” that gladiator game – struggling against being personally entertained by, and against cheering with the crowd during that gory, pain-filled, lethal spectacle.
But Alypius was overcome by the crowd’s wild cheering, and he joined in doing what he hated! [Augustine’s Confessions 6. 8. 13.]
This is an especially vivid example of what has been called “herd” or “mob” mentality. And perhaps it contributed to Augustine’s historically very influential views on inherited original sin and what would be needed (such as baptism of infants to save their souls from hell) in order for humans to cope with the continuing evils Augustine attributed to the choices made by the first humans – Adam and Eve.
In view of such human mob attitudes displayed in the Coliseum, one may well wonder about the prospects for durable democracy and for lasting national and world peace.
What must we the people learn for those hopes to be fulfilled?
Games and practical messes
Given the standard Merriam-Webster definition of “game” as: “a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other” it’s easy to see just how practical messes – heated disagreements, quarrels, fights, etc. – do arise from playing games:
Playing a game requires awareness and understanding of, and compliance with (“obeying” or “following”) the rules, which, together with definitions, define that game, including rules as to what constitutes victory, or winning that game. (Informally worded examples of a few of baseball’s many rules: “3 strikes and you’re out.” “A foul ball counts as a strike, but not when the batter already has 2 strikes, nor when, before it hits the ground, a fielder catches the foul ball (or the catcher catches a foul tip).” “The team that has more runs at the close of 9 innings wins.”)
So playing games necessarily involves judgments as to (1) whether and when one or more of its defining rules has been violated, and 2) whether and when victory/success has been achieved.
Those inescapable judgments are sometimes made – in the absence of officials — by the competing players themselves. But because a player’s (or a team’s) desire to win can be very strong and sometimes conflicts with the desire to make an accurate judgment, the judgments tend to be more reliably made by officials, judges – provided the judges are unbiased, not subject to bribes (say, by someone who intends to wager on the game), and when their “calls” (and their non-calls) can be checked via photos or video-recordings.
The powerful desire to win, the absence of officials, and the decisive bad calls made (and failures to make a needed call) by officials, are sources of disagreements: Frustration, cheating, quarrels, fighting, property damage and destruction, and even killings. For one example of competitive game-rooted killings, search the lethal fighting among fans – among fanatics? — at a Mexico league soccer game in Mexico, in March 2022.
Students may well enjoy and benefit from discussing two thought-provoking meanings of the term “fanatic:” (1) a person exhibiting excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion toward some controversial matter (as in religion or politics), and (2) a person who is extremely enthusiastic about and devoted to some interest or activity. (Merriam-Webster – Emphasis added.)
Spontaneous videos and articles dealing with such incidents, including some that are powerfully revealing and show the rage of irate spectator-parents of school kids – whose kids are just “playing a game,” are plentiful on line as I write.
Obviously, actual games are not always “all fun and games!”
Those who teach the young, and who teach older learners, are probably teaching people who are, or will be, players, perhaps officials, probably spectators, and very probably consumers who’ll be dealing with sponsors – including, very large corporate TV sponsors — of really big games, viewed by millions.
It will be interesting and worthwhile for some instructional time to be given to presenting audio-visual examples of actual conduct, (including both commendable – such as the post-game ritual of winning athletes commending those who lost — and deplorable conduct, (suggested above) for discussion, including intuitive evaluation by students. Then students might be guided to work out their own defensible answers to:
(1) What counts as (a) good playing of a game, (b) good officiating, (c) good watching (good “spectating”)? (d) good sponsoring of competitive playing?
(2) What connection do students (and instructor) find between those intuitive evaluations of theirs and the two Ancient Imperatives?
That second activity will require (a) identifying the actor(s) in question. And it will require (b) determining whether the actors — those on the “doing” end — would want to be on the “receiving” end — or to have their loved ones on the receiving end.
It will prove instructive to have students locate some of these actions and to discuss them.
(3) It should prove worthwhile to have students address and discuss the questions: (a) Why is winning fun, and losing not fun? and (b) How important for genuine personal happiness is winning competitions – bearing in mind the definition of winning: “. . . defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same”?
(4) Advanced students might compare and contrast the account of love in chapter 2, above, and the list (on line) in the Amazon.love memo.
Some competitive games involve a randomizing factor – something beyond strength, skill, or acquired information – such randomizing things as the shuffling of cards, the spinning of a wheel, or the like. Players know that winning and losing are determined, at least in part, by luck, by chance.
Fortunately, after the Covid-19 pandemic eased somewhat in our vicinity, and congenial card-playing (with the help of a resident’s card-shuffling device) resumed in our retirement community’s card room, wins or losses at euchre or pinochle still do not arouse passionate disagreements, or create fanatics among these elderly, generally civil, vaccinated, boostered, and mostly masked, (and unarmed!) players.
(3) Playing Non-Competitive Games – Thank you, Shirley!
What kind of play – if any — is there besides (1) “just playing,” and (2) “playing a game” which, according to a standard definition, involves competition, thus winners and losers?
As my beloved wife of more than three decades – a respected retired teacher — pointed out to me, there are non–competitive games that kids (and others) sometimes play. Videos of the playing (and lists of the rules) for both competitive and non-competitive games can be found online.
For example, there are such non-competitive games as Sevenses, and Solitaire — or games like Jacks and Hopscotch that can be played either competitively or non-competitively. Like Hopscotch, golf too is a game that can be played either competitively or non-competitively.
Note that even when golfing non-competitively, golfers often keep score. If there’s any competition in “playing non-competitive games,” I suppose it’s competition against oneself, against one’s previous efforts in this sort of play.
So the Merriam-Webster definition of “game” that requires striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same, is mistaken by being too narrow: There are non-competitive games, and there are games that can be played either competitively or noncompetitively.
While sorting out the “intellectual mess” surrounding the playing of games, we should also note that two very different activities may bear the same name – such as (a) the non-competitive game called Hop, Skip, and Jump, currently manufactured to be played by young children, and (b) the athleticactivity – hop, skip, and jump (a. k. a. the triple jump, an Olympic game since 1896) — engaged in by teen-age and older athletes — that’s clearly competitive — designed to differentiate a winner – who’s best at it (at least on a given occasion) — from others, the losers.
Perhaps it’s because competitive games are so common and so numerous that, by a common, standard definition, the term “game” is even defined as competitive: The Merriam-Webster definition says a game is “a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other.” (Emphasis added.)
But, by failing to accommodate non-competitive games, which have rules – but neither winners nor losers — that definition of “game” is too narrow.
4. Play in Retrospect
a. Surely, in some straightforward sense of the terms, competition is inevitable, and the young should be educationally prepared for it. On line there are numerous lists of “the benefits,” the “values,” of competition. I won’t offer another such list, nor assess any of those.
My concern has been to clarify meanings to show that:
(1) Not all playing is playing of games.
(2) Some playing of games – namely, non-competitive playing of games — does not involve anyone’s losing to someone else, and so does not conflict at all with our normal, instinct-based preference or desire for experiences that are fun, pleasant, enjoyable.
(3) In our present, far-from-ideal world, for us to approach that ideal world of human fulfillment — (see especially chapters 1, 2, and 9) – I urge that both work and the competitive playing of games should be guided by workers, (and those employing or overseeing them), and by players, whose attitudes include the love called for by those Ancient Imperatives.
(4) I suspect that a very strong interest in – and the frequent excitement about — attending and viewing competitions – (especially athletic competitions – including major league American football) viewed by millions, hyped by pep rallies, fanned by sensational cheer leaders and half-time extravaganzas . . . athletic competitions that are very profitable to corporate advertisers, broadcasting, cable, and streaming corporations, and team merchandise producers), stems from an unsuspecting, insufficiently examined overestimate of the importance of both personal success in athletic competitions and in becoming prominently wealthy.
Some individuals prominent in the world of professional sports are aware of, and outspoken about, the greater importance of other values: At the passing away of National Basketball Association super-star Bill Russell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said – in a statement in the Washington Post: “Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league.”
How humanly important – how fulfilling for human beings — is it, for example, to be “the best,” or “the champions“ at American football, or the world’s champion in the pole vault (or any other competition), or the owner of the world’s most wealth-garnering race horse, or to be one of the world’s five richest persons?
Let the reader be sure to note at this point that there are many important forms of non-competitive — often shared – enjoyable human activity — including visiting friends, conversing and having a meal with them, singing, playing a musical instrument, listening to music, jogging or going for a stroll, enjoying a significant pause to behold (and perhaps to describe, to draw, to paint, or to photograph) a remarkable scene, or going on a trip with friends, and many more.
Childhood is the time to learn about many of this unfolding diverse array of delights (pleasurable, satisfying activities and experiences) – whether old or new, whether calm or exciting, whether “freestanding” pleasant experiences – or joys that are clearly fruitful, consequential. Competition, winning, and losing, must be seen in that perspective, against that backdrop, in that setting.
The story of very “successful,” – or more accurately: very wealthy — Wall Street hedge fund manager, Sam Polk, is a dramatic illustration of both the unfulfilling nature – the personal turmoil and emptiness – that can result from successful devotion to personal wealth, as well as the personally fulfilling nature of Neighbor Love – treating others as one would – on reflection — appreciate being treated in such circumstances.
Despite his financial success, and vividly realizing his own personal turmoil and emptiness, Sam left his very high-paying hedge-fund management job, and chose a personally fulfilling – and widely admired and appreciated — life of bringing affordable food to many folks who live in the “food deserts” of low-income neighborhoods.
Sam’s memoir – For The Love of Money – is riveting, widely praised, and should not be overlooked. His story has been repeatedly commented on in the NY Times.
Unlike the young Donald Trump, no youngster should be given the impression that worthwhile human activity is limited to success in competing for personal wealth.
The benevolent sorts of lives chosen during retirement by extremely wealthy Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett – people with extraordinary options – speak volumes. And so do the lives of less prominent people who are fortunate enough to enjoy the genuine human fulfillments described a few paragraphs earlier.
5. Under compulsion or necessity: Joyless, Unfulfilling, and Dreadful Work
William Warfield’s and Paul Robeson’s performances of Old Man River, from the 1923 musical Showboat, powerfully express profound personal dissatisfaction with a life deeply marked by pain and oppression, and by wearied struggle as a black laborer on a Mississippi riverboat, in a time after slavery had been outlawed in the US.
Such life is dominated by a “land” that’s racially prejudiced – a land that is no more caring about his life than the Mississippi River is.
Some of the lyrics:
Here we [or Niggers, or Darkies] all work ‘long the Mississippi
Here we all work while the white folk play
Pullin’ them boats from the dawn till sunset
Gettin’ no rest till the judgment day . . . . .
You and me, we sweat and strain
Body all achin’ and racked with pain
Tote that barge and lift that bail
You get a little drunk and you lands in jail
I gets weary, and sick of trying
I’m tired of livin’, but I’m scared of dyin’
But ol’ man river, he just keeps rolin’ along
Robeson’s recording of The Song of the Volga Boatmen conveys the emptiness and mind-dulling repetitiveness that can mark lives that are polar opposites of play-filled.
Ilya Repin’s 1873 painting of the Barge Haulers on the Volga foreshadows how some inventions can help to make slavish toil a thing of the past:
Notice that steam–powered tugboat in the distance near the right edge of the painting. That invention will eventually replace the grueling labors of those featured barge-haulers. And steam-powered tugs won’t be impeded by the headwind depicted near the left edge of the painting.
Ukrainian grape-growing expert, Konstantin Frank (PhD, Odessa National Polytechnic University) would – during Stalin’s rule — invent special plows for use on the first tractors to reach Ukraine. Thousands were produced.
Those plows would relieve thousands of peasants – mainly women – from their back-breaking work every year of burying grapevines as winter approached, and uncovering them in the spring – with only shovels and hoes for their tools – all to produce fine table wine to be enjoyed by the well-to-do.
While Dr. Frank was living in Ukraine – before he emigrated to New York State’s Finger Lakes region — Communism arose in Russia, and Nazism arose in Germany.
Britannica provides reliable concise accounts of the rise of both of them. Both must be mentioned in this chapter on both play and work, but will not be developed.
Communism involved a call to the workers of the world to unite and by a violent revolution to throw off the bonds of rule by capitalists. From the Britannica article on concentration camps: Many corrective labour camps were established in northern Russia and Siberia, especially during the First Five-Year Plan, 1928–32, when millions of rich peasants were driven from their farms under the collectivization program. The Stalinist purges of 1936–38 brought additional millions into the camps—said to be essentially institutions of slavery. (Emphasis added.)
For my purposes in this chapter, Hitler’s Nazism is to be remembered for both (1) its mainly anti-Semitic concentration camps which were the scenes of inhumane starvation and lethal forced labor, and for (2) extermination centers, or death camps, that specialized in the annihilation (Vernichtung) of unwanted persons, mostly Jews – but also Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, alleged mental defectives, and others.
The extermination camps played a central role in the Holocaust, which was “the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.”
You may access the CNN documentary 8/26/2022: “Never Again: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: A Tour with Wolf Blitzer.”
The extraordinary September 2022 six-hour PBS documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust” — Executive Producer Ken Burns – depicts those horrors most instructively.
It is perfectly clear that both Communism and Nazism must reject or ignore – and are utterly incompatible with — the kind of all-embracing, over-arching educational aim advocated in this Daring Proposal (see especially chapters 1, 2, and 9), which calls for Education that:
(1) helps to prevent the rise of — and helps to overcome — those attitudes that sustain mistreatment of any human beings, as with enslavement in the US of blacks by whites, mainly (but not only) in the southern US, beginning in 1619 CE, and as with both Communism and Nazism.
Positively, this Daring Proposal calls for education that:
(2) instead helps to form in every learner (and every parent, and others who teach – and those who will employ and those who will govern others) — the attitude that actively embodies – that brings to life — that pair of ancient imperatives.
Do check online for Apple CEO Tim Cook’s very brief: Tim Cook’s Last Look: Reflections for 2020 Graduates.
When employers live out that attitude of love for one’s fellow human beings as oneself, the negative quality of experience of those who are oppressed – a quality given expression in the lyrics of “Old Man River,” will be fading.
That “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated” sort of education will
(3) Help to overcome both:
(a) persistent lingering working class hostility toward the moneyed minority, as well as remaining indifference on the part of the moneyed minority to the quality of life experienced by the non-moneyed masses, and the
(b) persistent Nazi (and neo-Nazi) hatred of Jews (and of the other targets of Nazionalsozialismus – Hitler’s National Socialism – including LGBT people).
And that sort of education will:
(4) Encourage and facilitate the invention, development and the sustainable and constructive use of labor-saving machines and devices – as sometimes took place with cotton gins, tractors, and special-purpose plows like those developed by Dr. Konstantin Frank.
(5) Encourage personally fulfilling ways of producing and distributing goods and services — that replace painful, dehumanizing, mind-dulling work, and sadistic forced labor, and slave labor, all ofwhich stand in dramatically sharp contrast with both work that’s fulfilling and normal play.
6. Play and work, incidental learning, and troubling tendencies
Both play and work can and often do provide a setting – an occasion – for the incidental learning of beneficial attitudes, habits, information, and social skills (including those associated with emerging leadership and dependable, mindful followership). These will serve him or her well, and benefit their future associates and others.
Such incidental learning during childhood play can include sharing one’s playthings rather than being selfish with them, being considerate, being a cooperative “team player” able to make, to discuss, and to intelligently support valuable suggestions — rather than being, either unthinkingly acquiescent, or bossy, let alone disturbingly noisy, or unwantedly pushy, or excluding some from joining in playing, despite lacking a good reason — a justification for excluding them that stands up to moral scrutiny.
And, whether or not such learning takes place while working, or in some form of play, incidental learning can develop skills that can make later engagement in some beneficial activities easier, more like “child’s play,” even “a piece of cake.”
However, parents and school teachers and administrators (and school nurses, school-bus drivers, custodians, school guards, and cafeteria personnel) may well be aware of, and troubled by, such “negative” tendencies – just mentioned – that kids sometimes exhibit, when they might instead be playing, or at least not bothering, badgering, or insulting anyone.
Those “negative” tendencies have long troubled not only those on the receiving end, but educators and others, including thought-leaders like Augustine. Those “negative” tendencies present us with two groups of questions:
1. Why does such unfriendly conduct on the part of kids occur? Is it simply because such kids spontaneously (then habitually) mimic some conduct they’ve encountered in their entertainment, or elsewhere in adult conduct?
If so, how could such conduct get started in the first place?
Is there something genetic at work in these kids, but that is not effectively at work in those who don’t exhibit such unfriendly conduct? Or shall we shrug and dismiss it with the quip: “There must be something in their water.”
2. What should be done by adults – parents, teachers, or others — to cope with, to address, those negative tendencies? Will genetically-informed counselling be sought by couples considering starting a family? Will gene editing be called for?
Those Ancient Imperatives urge actions that will benefit – not harm – all who act — as well as the others they care about and love. As new information on remote causes of our harmful tendencies comes to light, then we may have new and important opportunities, and, as the old hymn suggests, “New occasions teach new duties.”
Looking back on this long chapter on work, play, and success, we’d be Pollyannaish if we ignored the fact that many of the evils that threaten us and that we deplore have themselves emerged alongside — or in the midst of – play and entertainment. And far too many have come to light as work that some people have cruelly forced others to do – things they’d certainly not want done to themselves or their loved ones.
Chapter 9 Looking Ahead with Realistic Optimism
In times as troubled as those of the 2020’s, how, if at all, is it possible for those responsible for teaching the new generations – for educators — to look forward with realistic optimism?
As the term “Kindergarten” suggests, young children (and older learners too) are like things growing in a garden: They are beings – entities — that develop and grow, and can flourish, can thrive, if they’re provided with suitable conditions.
But they can also fail to flourish, fail to thrive. Friends have remarked to me about the mess of an untended herb garden, and I have repeatedly witnessed – first-hand — vineyards that once were flourishing, but that are now abandoned – post-and-wire trellises largely intact, but vines dead, aisles obstructed, and all of it overgrown with an array of humanly unused, unwanted, large and small “volunteer” flora – a vineyard “re-wilding.”
The realistic optimism that those who teach – who educate — can have is significantly like the optimism of a well-informed, adequately-resourced, skilled gardener or vineyardist.
Educators can have that realistic optimism despite the monumental differences between – on the one hand: humans (with their complex “nature” and interrelations) — and on the other hand: flowers or herbs growing in a garden, or grapevines in a vineyard.
A vineyardist needs to be realistic: She needs to actually use reliable information that bears – directly or indirectly — on her objectives . . . such things as the vineyard’s climate and microclimate, its soil type, the length of its growing season, perhaps how conveniently located it is to receive needed goods and services, and for supplying its tasty grapes (or delicious juice or satisfying, healthful table wine) to the “end users,” etc.
Whether starting from scratch or not, vineyardists should – but sometimes don’t – make realistic, well-informed choices – choices guided by beliefs that are at least approximately true – that “fit the facts”. . . that closely “correspond to reality.” Many such beliefs become traditional, but must – to yield hoped-for results – be realistic.
A persistently wet soil would be a bad choice of soil for growing Riesling, or Everest, and many other grape varieties – even when grafted on pest-resistant rootstocks. And planting a cool-climate grape variety in a warm-climate zone would be another bad – and given global warming, probably a disastrous — choice by a vineyardist.
Of course, those who teach are dealing with people, not grapevines!
And Unlike grapevines, people are guided by their own choices, beliefs, and desires – which are shaped partly by their heredity, and also by what they are taught, and by what they incidentally “pick up,” and by what they find out – or somehow come to believe — on their own.
And Unlike grapevines, people normally become aware of options – that can have consequences of varying known or unknown harm and benefit to themselves, to their loved ones, and others.
And no one is born knowing more than the rudiments of the consequences of human actions. Still, we can’t help but make choices among options . . . selecting, then deciding to stay on our current path, or to change to another.
Further, Unlike grapevines, individuals frequently form couples and families. And we and our contemporaries culturally inherit from preceding generations a world of other groups and organizations, including (to point out a few types): businesses, labor unions, non-profits, nations, religious, and international organizations. Each of them comes with its history and traditions, its current aims, and so on . . . .
So the ongoing vineyard of humankind is far more complicated than any actual vineyard of grapevines!
And today’s human vineyard is marred by such things as irrational beliefs, unnecessary prejudice-based dislikes and hatreds, by explosive anger, blatant lying,baseless, false accusations that divide, andgroundless, ignorant “conspiracy theories” about suspected but non-existent enemies supposedly conspiring against some of us.
Today’s human vineyard is crippled by addictions, by alienating selfishness, by avoidable starvation, and by serious corporate greed yet to be overcome.
Our human vineyard is suffering from destructive climate change with itsshockingly rapid, widespread, lethal droughts, wildfires, and floods,and the harms that come in their wake.
And there’s lurking terrorism – and in this long and diverse list of contemporary ills and evils, did I mention war and its contemporary high-tech threats?
(Older folks like me may wonder what lyricist Sheldon Harnick would write in our time for his sardonic “The Merry Minuet,” popularized by the Kingston Trio about 1960, which reflected ills marking the undoing of European colonial imperialism in Africa, and the arrival of nuclear weapons.)
Although it shows considerable promise in some quarters, today’s deeply troubled “vineyard of humankind” urgently cries out for change.
Taken one by one . . . from (1) the abuse of women by some men, (2) the abuse of workers by more than a few employers, (3) abuse by some corporations of their nearby neighbors, of taxpayers, of the natural environment, and some of their customers, (4) the lethal abuse of some stereotypically targeted minority fellow human beings (Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, Blacks, etc., etc.) by a variety of abusers, (5) the criminal warring abuse of Ukrainian citizens by Putin’s military, and so on . . . and on: . . . those troubles have arisen in large measure because of voluntary human actions . . . because of choices people have been making . . . sometimes quite knowingly, and often unknowingly. Often those choices have, in effect, been tolerated, and accepted, not mindfully and collaboratively opposed.
We can treat these and other troubles as wake-up calls – as motivation for people to choose to rally, organize and strive to make the needed changes.
Our vineyard of humankind cries out for well-qualified “vineyardists” – teachers . . . educators . . . who are slow to anger, whose desires and beliefs and whose attitudes (including an inclination to continue to learn), and whose skills suit them to cooperate with likeminded people who will help guide the individuals, the groups, and organizations of our present troubled world into a much less troubled world.
As we succeed, “the life of the world may move forward” to use Winston Churchill’s words “into broad, sunlit uplands,” or more literally: a world of widespread human flourishing and fulfillment.
Apathetic or fainthearted, teachers — selfish, prejudiced, short-tempered or bullying teachers — poorly-informed, misinformed, illogical, and fuzzy-thinking teachers — won’tbe doing the kind of teaching that’s needed in our troubled “vineyard” of humankind.
For the sake of a peaceful world of widespread human flourishing and fulfillment, I’ve been proposing that — in the course of their professional work — those who educate should themselves embody and, as educators give a prominent place to, and insightful demonstration of, and instruction in, and practice in using the pair of Ancient Imperatives, for testing individual choices as well as group and organizationalchoices.
Daring Proposal is certainly not a call for indoctrination. It’s a call for genuine teaching that respects our natural desire to learn and to know and to avoid being misled. Fulfilling those human desires calls for respecting relevant argument (that is, lines of reasoning and evidence, not quarrels)!
This Daring Proposal calls for teachers who are prepared to respectfully – not angrily or condescendingly — refute (that is: disprove — make a solid case against) – rather than unmindfully dismiss, or impulsively, willfully, or stubbornly just deny – attractive, potentially influential false beliefs, or ill-advised goals and aims, or faulty tests for truth.
That will include addressing the faulty reasons some still repeat for rejecting or dismissing that pair of Ancient Imperatives to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and treat others the way we’d want to be treated.
Apparently accepting George Bernard Shaw’s dismissive comment (“people have different tastes” p. 386 of Bregman’s 2019 Humankind, A Hopeful History), even brilliant contemporary Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, did not see how the ancient Golden Rule, when mindfully applied, yields trustworthy conclusions about how we should treat one another. Nor did he notice that it applies credibly to matters of differing individual tastes, as well as to individual – and organizational — matters of life and death. (For details, see above, especially chapters 1, 5, 7 and 8.)
That shortcoming (certainly not unique to Bregman) should not obscure the importance of Bregman’s own remarkably tenacious curiosity in uncovering and bringing to our attention very good reasons for overcoming – decisive evidence for growing beyond — the widespread cynical, overly dark, pessimistic “modern” view of our human nature and our future.
Who will forget his superbly documented account – chapter 18 of his 2019 Humankind, A Hopeful History — of literally entrenched individual human warriors during World War I, under orders to fight and to destroy the enemy – violating those orders by – one after another — climbing out of their opposed trenches on Christmas Eve, 1914, exchanging gifts, and singing Christmas carols — with their enemies? These facts are no pipedream.
And who can fail to admire Bregman’s devoted tracking down of the evidence – summed up in his May 2020 article in The Guardian: “The Real Lord of the Flies – what happened when six boys really were shipwrecked for 15 months.” What actually happened when six boys were shipwrecked on an island, and on their own, was in very marked contrast to Golding’s cynical, dark, pessimistic fiction.
The marooned boys actually exhibited both what I’ve been calling self-love and care – love — for one another: The actions of each boy regularly measured up well to the test of treating those on the receiving end of one’s actions as we’d want to be treated — as we’d want our loved ones treated.
In the Epilogue (which defies a short summary) Bregman presents his own “rules for living” bolstered by his significant historical studies. Many readers will find his ten suggested rules at least attractive. The rules he suggests clearly reflect his “more optimistic” view of our human nature.
Readers of Daring Proposal will concur with his rule that, for example, (rather than being inattentive or unhelpful – let alone cruel –) we should tend to be kind.
And since, as Bregman points out, kindness tends to be catching, educators who embody and teach those Ancient Imperatives will have another reason for being realistically optimistic: “Vineyardist” educators who follow such imperatives in today’s troubled vineyard of humankind will be disseminating the productive, fruitful, ways of love.
Again: the pair of Ancient Imperatives is — From Leviticus:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18.
And, from Jesus of Nazareth’s “Sermon on the Mount:” Matthew 7:12:
“Do to others whatever you want them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in The Law and The Prophets.”
Summing up: That pair of Ancient Imperatives calls upon us to love – that is, to act so as to benefit, and not to harm — our fellow human beings . . . including opponents and enemies! . . . as we love – that is, seek to benefit, and not to harm — ourselves.